What’s a Baby Worth?

Josie Leavitt - June 30, 2009

They are priceless, we all know that. But when a pregnant woman comes to the store for the first time and tells me she’s just moved to town, part of me thinks, Ka-ching! I know that sounds mercenary, but I’d always had a hunch that new families were good for the bottom line, and I was really curious how much money a new family can spend during a pregnancy through the first two years of a child’s life. Well, I was right. A new baby is worth just under a thousand dollars, actually $879.32 over two years.

How do I know this?  I found the perfect family to chart. Doug and Shannon are the young parents of Finn, a large, thoughtful, smiley 20-month-old boy, Guthrie.  They gave me permission to look up their purchases for this post. They only buy books for their son and twice a year for each other, so they are an excellent case study for purchases just for a new child. They started coming to the store in April 2007, when Shannon was three months pregnant. These young parents didn’t buy What to Expect When You’re Expecting — no, these guys bought twelve hardcover classics ranging from Where the Wild Things Are and Swimmy to Kitten’s First Full Moon and Olivia. They were in the store for hours, sharing their favorite stories with each other, wondering what their baby would like best. I liked them right away.

We didn’t see them again until December. They moved, actually closer to the store, and each was finishing graduate school. Oh, and Shannon had given birth in October. They brought the baby on their next visit. Together, they bought Christmas books for Guthrie. Again, all hardcovers, except for Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. They came back at Valentine’s Day. This time, not for the baby, but for each other. Doug came in on the 12th of February and bought both Barack Obama books for Shannon as well as two Valentine’s cards.

April brought Guthrie out and about for spring. He was now six months old and really getting into board books. Judging by how many Sandra Boynton books they bought that month, I’d say he had discovered his first favorite author. Shannon also bought the Nursing Mother’s Companion.  May and June brought more visits and more Boynton purchases. Guthrie was now old enough for story hour, which he attended occasionally. July brought a few discipline books and How to Raise a Successful Child. August saw more Boynton and one of my favorite recent board books, Oliver Finds His Way. Guthrie knew us now, bursting into a wide grin when I waved to him and played peek-a-boo behind the shelves.

November, and Guthrie was just over one, and was starting to assert what he liked. The purchases shifted from hardcover classics and Boynton books to Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, I Wish I Were a Pilot, and Richard Scarry’s Day at the Airport. A non-book item was purchased: a spoon made for kids in the shape of a bulldozer. I heard later that Guthrie would only eat with this. December, both Doug and Shannon came in alone and bought each other a book after much thought.

This spring Guthrie started getting some stuffed animals and went back to loving Boynton, especially the Some Swell Cow stuffed animal. Interestingly, in April the parents bought a travel book: NYC with Kids — the first family trip! In May, fresh from the big city, Guthrie came back to Vermont loving Maisy books.

Throw in a book about Going to the Dentist and My Big Boy Bed in June and you can track this boy’s whole little life — what he likes, what his parents hope for him, and how thoughtful his parents are with each other other and their son.

This is why I go to work every day—so a small child can wave at me whenever he sees me around town, because my store and I are part of his life. It’s not about the money (though the money is necessary). It’s about watching a child grow up and being a vital part of his life by providing books to the whole family. 

5 thoughts on “What’s a Baby Worth?

  1. marjorie

    What a great post!! And what delightful customers. A few years ago there was a web site called The Trixie Update, in which a new dad tracked and graphed his kid’s feedings, “output,” and sleep schedule. Pretty funny. You made me realize some supernerd booklover should do a Kid-Lit Update in which he or she tracks every book read to and read by a kid from birth on (plus reactions to each book over time). Too late for me to do this, alas, since my kids are 4 and 7. Someone get on this!

  2. Kate Messner

    I love this post, and I want to have Doug and Shannon and Finn over for a cookout. This isn’t a bookseller perspective, but I was just reading an article in American Educator about the achievement gap that exists in our schools between privileged kids and those who grow up in poverty. Libraries and schools do wonders to help bridge this gap, but reading this, I found myself wishing so much that every kid had parents like Finn’s. (And that every community had a bookstore like yours!)

  3. Sandy

    I really like this idea, and what a lovely sounding family. As for the mercenary side, don’t forget friends, aunts, uncles, and especially grandparents–that all adds up, too!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *