How to Save Money Raising Kids
There are many things that you can do as a parent to raise kids without going broke. I am a firm believer in the principle that it’s not kids that are expensive—it’s parents. Kids are completely happy (unless you train them otherwise by your own behavior) to play with sticks and dirt and rocks for hours. They’ll enjoy the box the toys come in as much (and sometimes even more) than the toys themselves. They’ll have endless fun playing with household items like pots and pans and plates. Most kids are quite content with whatever toys or clothes or art supplies or whatever they have—unless you teach them not to be. Or unless you allow the TV and commercials to teach them to always want new and more stuff.
We don’t watch TV in our house (not because we’re against it but because it’s just not a priority for us and so we never hooked it up when we moved into our current house—though we do watch videos on YouTube sometimes and shows we get from the library), and I’m sure that that minimizes our kids’ potential discontent and feelings of not having enough because they are not exposed to constant commercials. You might want to consider pulling the plug on TV, as well, and just get shows and movies from the library, like we do. You’ll potentially save money and the kids won’t be able to sit in front of the TV mindlessly for hours on end. You can also have the peace of mind that what they are watching you are aware of and have approved.
Millions of kids throughout history never touched electronics, and I think in general they were likely happier than our kids are overall today—and better off. Sometimes more stuff just causes more problems. So don’t feel that you always have to buy your children new and better stuff or that they have to have the best of everything. If you’ll give them your time and your attention, your love and also your affection, your patience and your kindness, your guidance and your firmness (when needed), along with an awesome (but not perfect) example of who they can become, they will be rich in all the ways that really matter.
You don’t have to go broke or break the bank to raise healthy, happy, well-rounded kids. There are lots of ways you can save money as you raise them in order to use that money for things that will ultimately bless their lives much more than another shiny toy—things like helping to pay for their college education, saving for your own retirement so that you won’t be a burden on them later in life, and saving for emergencies and for larger purchases so that they won’t feel the effects of undue financial stress. And you can bless their lives by teaching them sound financial principles by example so that they can be financially successful adults.
Here are 9 strategies that will help you spend less so that you can raise your kids without going broke.
1. Keep your grocery bill down.
One of the main things that you can do to raise kids without going broke is to save money on food. Food is one of the biggest expenses for a family. It can often eat up (pun intended :)) 10 percent or even more of a family’s budget. But food is also one of the areas where it’ the easiest to cut back because there are so many options available and the difference between what you can spend and what you have to spend is so vast. Here are just a few ideas for ways you can save money when feeding your brood (but see this article for many more ideas on how to trim your grocery bill):
Make your own baby food. When you think about it, baby food is really not a good way to spend your food dollars. And that’s why we probably bought only 10 jars maybe of baby food in the time we were raising our three little ones. Because baby food is so easy to make yourself, and so much cheaper when you do it yourself! Because I breastfed our three children we didn’t introduce them to solid foods until they were six months old, but even if you introduce your children as early as four months old to big people food, there are many things you can easily prepare that you don’t have to even blend up, like giving them wedges (not bite-sized pieces—that’s what causes a choking hazard) of banana, (soft) tomatoes, avocado, cheese, strawberries, peaches, soft pears, apricots, cantaloupe, mangoes, watermelon, cooked carrots, hard-boiled eggs, and more. And you can feed them lots of other food you already eat, like applesauce, guacamole, salsa, yogurt, hummus, refried beans with cheese, oatmeal, and hot wheat cereal (such as Cream of Wheat), just as it is. But for the food you do grind up, such as cooked peas, sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, and more, one easy way to keep it is to freeze it in ice cube trays for easy-to-make infant-sized portions. After it’s frozen, just pop the squares out of the tray and store them in zip-top bags until your little one eats them all up.
Forget the juice. Most kinds really don’t have much nutritional value. Give your kids whole fruit and water to drink, instead.
Go easy on junk food. Kids may love kisses and candy, but try to go heavy on the kisses and light on the candy. Try to help your children form good eating habits while they’re young.
Don’t take your kids shopping with you. It’s pretty much inevitable that you’ll buy more than you planned that way. Try to leave them at home with the other parent.
For more than 50 additional ideas for how to save big money on your grocery bill, read this article.
2. Find ways to reduce your money spent on clothes and shoes.
Another way to raise kids without going broke is to save money on clothing. If you have close friends or family members or fellow church members who have kids around the same age as you, see if you can set up a clothing co-op, where you trade clothes around. I’ve done that with three of my sisters (the other one’s children were older that the rest of ours), and it worked so great. Whatever clothes we bought or received as gifts from baby showers or from doting grandparents we would just use until they were outgrown, and then we would add them to the collective pool, where whoever needed clothes next would just take the appropriate size of clothes and use them as needed and then return them and grab the next size up. It meant we have all had to buy a lot fewer clothes than we would have otherwise!
Other ways to save money on clothes include buying them from second-hand kid stores (like Kid to Kid) or thrift stores, or buying them from online classifieds. This works especially well when you need a whole season’s worth of clothes that someone else’s kids have outgrown, and you can buy them in bulk and save a ton of money.
Read this article for more ways to save on clothing.
3. Buy inexpensive furniture.
When you have young children, it may not make sense to have fancy or expensive furniture. There is a high probability that your furniture will get thrashed or at least worn out while your children are young. (In fact, when we just replaced our 15-year-plus-old furniture with newer used furniture, my five-year-old said she wished we still had the old furniture—I think because my husband doesn’t let the kids eat on the furniture much anymore.) You can save a bunch of money buying used—the three gently used pieces we got were $25 each from a second-hand store (they were having a half-off sale).
4. Keep your spending on toys and gadgets in check.
Another thing you can do to raise your kids without going broke is to save money on toys and gadgets. It’s fine to buy your children some of the toys and electronics you think or know that they want—as long as you can afford it. But afford is a funny word. Sometimes people think if they can buy it without going into debt (even if they’re not saving any money at all for emergencies or larger expenses or retirement) or if they can pay their minimum balances on their credit cards, then they can afford it. Don’t fall into that trap—or if you’ve been in it before, don’t fall for it anymore. Reasonable toys and electronics and so on are fine, but don’t let your spending on those things (for your children or for yourself) put what should be more important financial priorities in jeopardy.
5. Find ways to entertain your children for cheap or for free.
And you can definitely find inexpensive ways to entertain your children that will help you raise your kids without going broke. There are a ton of fun things that you can do with your kids for cheap or for free, from walking to hiking to biking to playing at the park to going to the library to baking and cookie making and more. See this huge list of ideas for fun free and cheap activities to do with your children.
And also check out this article with more ideas on how to save money on entertainment.
6. Keep the birthday parties and gift giving reasonable.
I don’t know if the situation with birthday parties and gift giving is the same everywhere in the U.S., but I would guess that it is. Not only has the party throwing for and gift giving to the little birthday guy or gal gotten over the top, but so have the party favors and expectations for the guests. It’s almost like we feel that we have to give those who come to the party a gift for giving a gift. And though that’s a nice sentiment in theory, somewhere the trend of spending and spending has to stop. In our (extended) family, gift giving by the aunts and uncles or cousins to the birthday boy or girl is optional, not required, and when our kids are a little older and start to have parties with more than just a couple of close friends, I think I am going to ask that the kids bring no gifts at all.
That’s not because a heartfelt gift isn’t appreciated. Or that my kids wouldn’t love to have another fun toy to play with. But they already have enough. They already have bins of toys—they don’t need any more. Having kids come to play and have fun spending time together with the birthday person should be the true gift—that should be enough. So though we’re only one family in the sea of humanity, maybe we can start a tiny little ripple against the consumerism that seems to have completely taken over our country.
For more information on this topic, read this article on gift giving.
7. Save money on entertainment and vacations.
You can also find ways to raise your kids without going broke by saving on your entertainment and vacation expenses. Family entertainment that provides opportunities for time spent together and also family vacations where children and parents can strengthen relationships are important. And fortunately, they can be done fairly inexpensively. Check out this list of many free and cheap activities you can do with your kids.
And some of my favorite memories of growing up in my own family are our family vacations—even when things didn’t always go exactly as planned. Or maybe especially when they didn’t. 🙂 But you can save money on vacations, too! One of our favorite ways these days to save on vacations is to use Airbnb to book our accommodations. It’s more personal and even more enjoyable than staying in a hotel or even a vacation condo, and it’s less expensive! Triple win! For our last vacation, we stayed in a couple of great places with awesome pools and hot tubs and playgrounds, and we paid about $40 per night. And the places were definitely better than the pretty ghetto (most unfortunately!) hotel rooms in the same price range. Sign up for an Airbnb account here to start saving on your vacations and to receive $40 to go toward your first stay. Pretty awesome!
Learn more about how to save money on entertainment.
8. Make good dental hygiene a priority.
For another way to raise your kids without going broke, make sure that you brush your children’s teeth twice a day and floss at least once a day. Otherwise, you could be spending big bucks for dental work down the road.
Our son hasn’t had any cavities so far, but our girls have had 10 cavities between them—and our younger daughter just started to go to the dentist this year! And we may have to have an anesthesiologist put her under in order to fix the rest of her cavities (for $400; at the first dentist’s office we went to, they wanted $500!), since the last time the dentist tried to work on her teeth, she got nervous and things didn’t go so well. And the anesthesiologists in the area apparently aren’t covered by insurance (at least with the two pediatric dentists we’ve visited so far—if we have to actually go the route of anesthesia, I’ll definitely do more calling around to see if one is covered at one of the dentists around). All of that to say, avoid the problem of cavities if you can! We brush and floss our kids teeth every day, but when they were younger toddlers I think there were nights where we wouldn’t brush their teeth again if they wanted something else to eat later (because they didn’t eat enough dinner) or if they had fallen asleep before we had a chance to do so. We’re working to be more diligent now because, man, paying several hundred dollars out of pocket on top of dental and health insurance isn’t cool!
*Update: My daughter was able to get her dental work done without anesthesia at her last dentist appointment—but that was one down, and we’ve still got one more to go. Fingers crossed that all will go well!
9. Don’t automatically supersize your vehicle (and if you do buy a larger vehicle, buy it used for cash).
Another big step you can take as a parent to raise your kids without going broke is to save money on vehicles and related expenses. I know of a family who, as soon as they had their first little one, went out and bought a minivan. Now I guess if you needed a different vehicle anyway and knew that you wanted to have a few children then this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad idea (and I don’t know if that’s what they were thinking), but if you don’t need another vehicle, stick with your car and keep on driving it! A minivan will generally cost more for gas and insurance, let alone the fact that the price of the actual vehicle itself would often be more.
When you do buy a minivan or other larger car to accommodate a growing (or grown) family, plan to buy it with cash. (Learn here how to never have a car payment again!). And if that means that you swap your car for a van worth the same amount or just a little more, that’s OK—it’s better than getting yourself into a ton of debt to buy a depreciating asset (that may depreciate even more if your sweet little angels are rough on it).
Read this article to learn more ways to save on transportation.
10. Let your children pay for their own gas and car insurance—and don’t buy a car for them.
When they get to the point where they are old enough to drive, allow them the opportunity to pay for their own gas and auto insurance. I got in a (literal) scrape or two as a young driver, and I might have been more careful with my driving (and almost certainly would have appreciated the privilege of driving more) if my parents had required me to pay my portion of the insurance premium, which may very well have gone up during my teen years because of said scrapes.
And don’t buy them a car. If you don’t have one that they can use on occasion, buy an inexpensive third family car that everyone can share as needed. And if they have a job where they actually work a lot of hours and “need” a car of their own because of that, give them the opportunity to pay for it. They’ll take care of it so much better when they do.
11. Stay in a smaller home.
Here, again, don’t go rushing to buy a bigger house when your kiddos come along. Most families lived in small homes for literally millennia—until the very recent future. Let the kids share a room, and stay put in your 1,500-square-foot starter home to literally potentially save hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s what we’ve decided to do (our house is even smaller than 1,500 square feet), until we can purchase our next home with cash. So unless you’re in a two-bedroom home (which I would not advise buying if you plan to have children, by the way) and your kids are getting old enough where they really shouldn’t be sharing a room if they’re opposite genders (by about age eight), stay put! And invest all of that money you will save either for retirement or to go toward the purchase of you next larger home when you are in a much better position to really afford it (and maybe till you can do the 100 percent down plan, like we’re planning to do!). Yes, it’s possible that your home may feel cramped at times, especially during the winter months when everyone is cooped up inside, but keep your eyes on your bigger financial goals, and you’ll get through it. We have.
12. Have a single shared cell phone for the kids (and a cheap one at that).
Maybe it shouldn’t, but it still surprises me when I see tweens or young teens with smartphones. I know that smartphones don’t have to be that expensive (we have an inexpensive plan from Republic Wireless or you can also check out Mint Mobile or Xfinity Mobile), but kids and teens and tweens don’t need smartphones. Put that money toward their college educations instead, and consider buying them a cheap, basic (not smart) phone that your kids can share when they have a true need to use a cell phone (which is very rare because of the fact that their friends and teachers will all have cell phones, so they can use those during school activities and things). The potential to get into trouble is a lot less on a dumb phone than on a smartphone, for example. (Yes, I know there are filters and things that can help prevent that—but you won’t have to even worry about that if you don’t give them a smartphone in the first place.)
Now if they get a job as an older teen then that might be a good reason to let them have a cell phone (I still wouldn’t give them a smartphone, for reasons, like I mentioned above, beyond just the financial ones), but then they can pay for it themselves. Yay!
*Update: We just switched over to Xfinity Mobile because, since we don’t use much data at all, it’s even cheaper than Republic and Mint Mobile! We pay just $3.51 per month per line for our smartphone plan! Awesome! We’ve been with Xfinity just a couple of months now for our internet and cell phone service, and so far things have been great! Currently we pay a 12-month introductory rate of just $40 per month for internet (the same price we were paying before but for internet that is literally 30x faster than our older internet), and then it will go up to $65 per month—but you can bet I’ll try to lower our bill when that time comes. 🙂 If you’re interested in signing up for Xfinity Mobile, use the referral code 1RQ4SP to save $25 to $100 when you sign up.
Find out how to save money on your cell phone service.
13. Start saving for college early, and give your kids the opportunity to help pay for it.
Even though a college education can be expensive, it doesn’t have to be. One more thing you can do to raise your kids without going broke is to save on their college education. Because of the awesome power of compound interest, if you are planning or even hoping to help pay for your kids’ college (let’s turn that hope into reality—you can find ideas here for how to help pay for your children’s college educations), you should start saving as soon as possible. We started saving for our kiddos’ college within a month or two after they were born.
And if you do plan to help them out with college, set up the expectation that your children are going to work and pay for at least some of their college expenses themselves. Again, as with a car, they will appreciate it so much more if they have to help pay for it, and they will take their education more seriously that way and likely get better grades. There was a study done that found that students who worked while in college actually got better grades than those who didn’t—likely because they had to learn to be responsible and manage their time well and do all of the other things that first getting and then keeping down a job require.
It costs money to raise kids. But you can definitely raise your kids without going broke. It doesn’t have to cost as much as many people think—as the studies demonstrate that show a direct correlation between how much you earn and how much it costs to raise a child. Other than food, clothing, shelter, transportation (all of which you’re already paying for to some degree), and love, there’s really not that much that they need. Again, it’s parents that really make raising kids expensive—not the kids themselves.
So keep that in mind next time you’re in Target and feel tempted to buy your kids just one more thing. 🙂 Put the item back, slowly walk away, and invest the saved money in their ESA (education savings account) instead. When their college expenses are all paid for 10 or 15 or 20 years from now and you don’t have to spend any money on it month to month, you’ll be very glad you did!
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