How to choose a car seat on a budget

One of the items you must have before baby arrives is a car seat! That is unless you live about a block away from the hospital.

Choosing a car seat can be one of the most overwhelming decisions a parent has to make. You want your baby to be safe, but you probably don’t want to overpay at this time in your life.

Parents are usually focused on safety, but know that all car seats are safety tested. Some car seats are better than others, yes, but they should all have passed a certain standard.

Focus on finding a few good features you want in a car seat and look for those features. Spend more time learning about how to properly install the car seat and how to properly secure your baby.

The sad reality is that most adults don’t know how to properly install and buckle their child into a car seat.

Today’s article is all about finding the right car seat on a budget!

Choosing a car seat can be difficult, especially for a family on a budget. There are so many questions: What is the best and safest car seat? How do you install a car seat? This article is all about the best tips and features to consider when choosing a car seat for your precious infant or child.

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How to choose a car seat on a budget

What’s the difference between an infant vs. convertible vs. booster car seat

There are three different car seats you may find yourself using, infant, convertible and booster. So what are the major differences in car seat styles?

Infant car seats

  • Infant car seats are for children roughly one year of age or younger. The car seat is rear facing only, which is the safest position for your baby. Infant car seats tend to click in and out of a base, making it easy to move your sleeping child.

What do I love about infant car seats? They’re lightweight and the car seat often clicks into a stroller (travel system) for parents on the go.

What are the cons for infant car seats? Infant car seats typically only get used the first year of babies life. You don’t actually need an infant car seat because you can go straight to rear-facing convertible.

People looking to save money on car seats should go straight to the convertible seat. I love infant car seats, so I would recommend adding it to your registry anyways.

Convertible car seats

  • Convertible car seats can change between rear-facing and forward-facing. This car seat will last a long time, usually until your child reaches 40-50 lbs depending on the seat directions. You should keep your child rear facing for as long as possible.

What do I love about convertible car seats? You save money by choosing a convertible car seat over an infant seat. I like to leave the car seat in my car so it’s always ready. Because you can change seat direction the car seat will last for the majority of the time a car seat is needed.

What do I not like about convertible car seat? They’re big and bulky which makes them difficult to carry and they take up space in your car.

Booster car seats

  • Booster seats are for when your child has outgrown your convertible car seat but is too small still for the normal car seat. Different states have different laws on when a car booster seat is required.

Car seat safety features to consider

Car seats come with a lot of different features that are aimed at convincing you to buy that specific product. So what are good features to look for?

Side impact protection

Look for a car seat that offers side impact protection. Not every car seat will offer side impact protection even though side impacts are common!

You can be the most cautious driver, but it only takes one person to blow through a light to cause a side impact. As my family always says, “Watch out for the other guy!”

Side impact protection is a must!

More anchor points!

The more anchor points a car seat includes the safer it will be during a crash. More anchor points distribute the crash force better, meaning there’s less chance of anchor point failure.

Check to see what anchor points your car has by inspecting the car and reading the owners manual. You can also look up YouTube videos on how to install a car seat in your particular car.

Some cars come equipped with the LATCH system (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children system). Ideally, you will have a LATCH system around the middle seat in the back. Otherwise, you will have to install your car seat with seatbelts.

As an engineer, I truly believe more anchor points should be a consideration. Some car seats only allow for two anchor points while others allow up to five. Personally, I prefer to use a three-point anchor system.

Buying a new car? Make sure the vehicle has the right number of anchor points!

When we found out my wife was pregnant the decision was that I needed a different car. While I love my car, two seats just won’t cut it with precious cargo on board.

We attended a car sales event at our local park and met with a salesman who showed us around. We made it very clear, we would not be interested in any car that did not have three anchor points.

Other than the anchor points, I’m a pretty easy customer.

The car salesman showed us multiple cars, but really thought we needed this one car. The problem? Besides us not being overly enthused, the car only had two anchor points.

We mentioned the two anchor points only to have him start to argue that two points are fine. Once those words left the salesman’s lips, I could sense my wife’s blood boiling.

Fortunately, I was able to calmly diffuse the situation. As an engineer with a protective wife, we don’t need to be told how many anchor points work for us.

You shouldn’t have to put up with pushy car salesmen either. Know what you want for your family and stick to your guns!

Easy harness adjustments

Your child is going to do a lot of growing. When your child grows, the proper harness position is going to change as well.

This means you are going to be constantly changing the position of the harness. I believe most of you would make the effort to change the harness position. However, when faced with constant difficulty, sometimes people let things slide.

You are more likely to make the adjustments if you ensure that your child’s harness is easy to adjust. Proper adjusting is critical to the safety of your child!

As an added benefit, easy adjusting harnesses will make it easier for your child. A lot of children don’t like car seats, especially at first. Putting them through a rough harness adjustment is no way for your child to become friends with the car seat.

Car seat “Ease of use” considerations

There are several car seat features that are “nice to have.” Which features are worth your time and money? Here are the features that I highly recommend looking for in a car seat.

Smaller cars may need a smaller base

Not all car seats have the same size base and some may take up more room than others. You should check to make sure that the car seat you are interested in will fit in your car.

Bubble indicator

The bubble indicator is going to be the easiest way to determine if your car seat is level. I like the bubble indicator because it’s the simplest way to ensure you’ve installed the seat level. All you have to do is match what the bubble is doing to the picture on the car seat.

Easy to use LATCH tightening strap

When I was first introduced to car seats I would laugh at my wife. It seriously looked like a wrestling match between her and the car seat.

Then it eventually became “my turn” to install the car seat. I learned the hard way, installing a car seat is an all body effort! My wife finally got her chance to sit back, watch, and laugh at this ordeal.

We have an easy to use LATCH tightening strap and it’s still difficult to install. I don’t want to even try to install a car seat that doesn’t have an easy tightening strap.

Take my advice. Go with the easy strap!

Car seat use with a stroller

If you’re going to use an infant car seat, I recommend getting a travel system. A travel system comes with a stroller that the car seat clicks into.

You don’t have to disturb your babies slumber just to run into the car real quick. A travel system is ideal for any parent who makes frequent outings.

Where is the safest car seat location?

You should always consult your car owners manual to determine proper car seat location. In addition, always read the car seat manual for proper installation instructions.

You can always stop by a fire or police station if you need help installing your car seat. Fire and policemen are always willing to properly install car seats and answer questions.

However, these tips should help protect your child when installing your car seat:

Back middle seat

The safest location in your car is the back middle seat. The middle seat is the furthest seat within your cars “crunch zone,” making it ideal for side impacts.

However, your car may not include the LATCH system in the middle seat. You should consult your owners manual or check your car.

Ensure your car seat is right for age, height, and weight

Always verify your child meets the requirements for the car seat. You should know when your child will grow out of their current seat.

Ensure car seat is installed tightly

As a dad, I dislike installing car seats. I always feel like I was in a fight for my life trying to install the car seat base. However, just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be done correctly!

You must make sure that the car seat is installed tightly and doesn’t have much wiggle room. Dads, if you think the strap won’t tighten anymore, call your wife. The strap will pull more if the car seat has room to move.

Don’t be one of those parents that drive around with a loose car seat. If you do then you’re endangering your child.

Dads, get on top of your car seat and wrestle with it like your John Cena until your blue in the face or the seat is sufficiently tightened.

Ensure baby is tightly and properly secured

Your car seat should be leveled appropriately, which is why the bubble indicator is a good feature. Ensuring your car seat is leveled will make sure your baby is riding at a safe angle, and as the seat was designed.

Adjust the harness strap to be at the babies shoulder level. Check the strap by attempting to pinch it. Tighten the harness strap more if you can pinch it. Your baby may not like the tightened strap but it’s for their own good!

Do not buckle your child in with a large coat! Extra padding between the baby and seat belt may cause your baby to slip out of the car seat in an accident.

By far one of the most helpful videos for car seat installation on YouTube is by Babies411:

See it on YouTube

Recommended car seats

Best infant car seats

See Graco Snug Ride 35 Infant Car Seat with Click Connect on Amazon

The Graco Snug Ride 35 is one car seat that is loved by most parents. It’s lightweight and can support your child up to 35 pounds.

Click connect allows you to set the car seat into the base and have it “click in.” I love this feature because it allows me to hear feedback from the seat so that I know the seat is secure.

I’ve had a few instances where I’ve put the seat into the base and it didn’t sound right. After giving the car seat a wiggle I would hear the final “click.”

If you’re looking for a cheaper infant car seat, consider checking out the Graco Snug Ride 30 with Click Connect. It’s about half of the price as the Snug Ride 35 and is highly rated.

Best convertible car seats

See Safety 1st Grow and Go, 3-in-1 Convertible Car Seat on Amazon.

The Safety 1st Grow and Go will grow with your child up to 100 pounds. While I could tell you about the features of the car seat, I think this parents review says it all!

I’m so happy this mother’s child was safe! I’ve known parents who have had less than fortunate incidents in car seats. I love the fact that this car seat looks like it was designed to take a car accident.

Recommended add-on products

Car Seat Mirror

See it on Amazon

Babies have a way of getting into trouble when you least expect it. A car seat mirror will allow you to see your baby by glancing into your rear-view mirror. A mirror gives me the peace of mind that baby is doing ok and doesn’t need my assistance.

Car Seat Cover

See it on Amazon

Car seat covers can help protect your baby after the seat has been sitting in the sun. They also make a tent-like structure for your baby to sleep in undisturbed with limited outside stimulus.

This car seat cover doubles as a breastfeeding scarf. Simply slip the cover over your head for nursing privacy!


If you are looking to save more money, consider signing up for our free course on budgeting and saving money. The course is full of information to help your family save money so that you have more for what is important to you.

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