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My family recently received the best kind of dividend. He’s small in size and already has made a huge impact on our lives. Our family of three has become four, as we welcomed our second son into the world.
Once the initial shock and joy wore off, I remembered that kids are expensive. They’re also unlikely to speed up a plan toward Financial Independence. Well, unless that plan is to have your kids support you.
When it was time to write this post, I was a little sleep deprived. With a foggy brain, I decided to reach out to some experts in the Personal Finance Blogging community. I asked for their strategies on keeping the cost of children under control. I think you’ll like their answers and expect you’ll also find some ways to save money on child expenses.
Use Gifts, Get Items for Free and Buy Second Hand
“For the kiddo’s clothes, we use mainly the clothes we got from our baby showers, and also clothes that friends keep gifting us. The only few times we have bought her clothes was for special occasions such as Halloween and Christmas outfits, and this year for a basketball game. We were going to buy Valentine’s and Easter outfits but we decided against that.” – 99 to 1 Percent
“Try not to buy too many clothes as relatives tend to go overboard. Also, if you can get things second hand like clothes and equipment (i.e. strollers, high chairs, etc) at thrift shops, craigslist and local second hand stores it will help.” –Adventures in Mobile Homes
“One of the first things that we did was check Craigslist for discounted baby items. We set alerts for baby items that we were needing or wanting. We have picked up multiple Pack n Plays, toys, clothes, and even two Maclaran strollers for free via Craigslist. We were also able to find some really great baby furniture, like a changing table and rocking chair for very low prices.” – Mustard Seed Money
“Craigslist can get sketchy and sometimes down right scary (before you judge I sold my car on it) but there are Facebook groups you can join to sell your old kids stuff. You can get really nice stuff and people don’t seem to flake out as much.” – Budget on a Stick
My family has not done very much second hand shopping in the past, and the irony is that some of our son’s favorite toys are a wagon and a dump truck that we got from second hand stores. I’m not exactly sure why we don’t go this route more often, but I will consider buying second hand – first – from now on. Facebook parent groups seem much better than buying on Craigslist, so maybe this will be the way we finally start buying second hand. Mrs. WPF is already a member of our town’s local mom’s group.
One item that I’d add to this list is to borrow whatever and whenever you can. We are so appreciative of the clothes and baby items we have been able to borrow from friends and family. Don’t be afraid to ask those in your network to borrow stuff they’re not using. They will probably be glad to lend it out and free up some space for a while.
Shopping Tips for When You Need to Buy New
I’m the cliche mom that loves Target, but it’s really a great store! You can get almost anything there and the prices are competitive, plus you get the convenience of making one stop which is a big win when you have kids with you. They offer many discounts- the Target credit card giving you 5% off, the cartwheel app with ever changing coupons and deals that you easily click and load to your phone, and my favorite which are gift cards when you make certain purchases. (For example, right now you can get a $10 gift card for $50 spent on certain baby items). If you time purchases only when these deals are going on you can stock up on all the things you’ll need at some point anyway- diapers, wipes, etc. And the gift cards are as good as cash in my mind because there’s always something I need there. – Mrs. Winning Personal Finance
“Before we buy baby items, we go online and look for the cheapest price and have the item either delivered to us or we reserve it and pick it up from the store. That way, when we go in the store, we just go in and out. This helps prevent any unnecessary extra purchases.” – 99 to 1 Percent
Pick up and go to avoid an unplanned purchase, GENIUS! It’s so easy to impulse buy when you are strolling through a store. Marketers are great at getting you to buy stuff you don’t need. Don’t fall for the temptation. You can combine this trick with the gift card rebates at target too!
Don’t forget to click through EBATES or a different cash-back site before online shopping. Doing so could earn you some cash back for minimal extra effort. If you don’t have an account with them yet, you can earn $10 for signing up through this affiliate link. I’ve earned over $100 cash back since signing up and have found it to be an easy and hassle free way to save some money on the stuff you were going to buy anyway. (Signing up through the link could be a win/win. You get a few bucks and can support your favorite personal finance site at the same time!)
“Regarding entertainment, use the library! It’s a great resource. Especially when it comes to educating your children. Many tend to under utilize it. Books, videos and educational programs are great!” –Adventures in Mobile Homes
My Family On A Budget provided a great list of free entertainment options including: go to the playground, have a picnic and check out Home Depot workshops
Chief Mom Officer has a post dedicated to her kids playing with a “Not a Box”.
“Her toys consist of homemade toys. For example, her shaker, is macaroni in an empty water bottle. Fortunately, she actually doesn’t like real toys, and prefers playing with random things.” – 99 to 1 Percent
These suggestions are spot on. Not only are they free or very inexpensive but they are all fun and add to your child’s development as well. I’m so sick and tired of re-reading the books in our house and a visit to the library is always fun way to find a new story. You can even get your Disney movie fix borrowing from most Libraries!
Our family also loves to combine a picnic and playground visit in nice weather. It’s even better when we ride our bikes to the park and can spend the whole day car free!
The FREE Home Depot workshops are available once a month. They are a fun way for kids to learn about creating with their hands. I try do a father/son trip for this any time we are available the day of the workshop.
My 3-year-old son’s favorite toy right now is a large box that he decorates and crawls in. We have hundreds of dollars worth of toys laying around the house and he plays with a box, markers and stickers. Who would have guessed?
Diapers & Formula
“Don’t be afraid of store brand diapers and formula. Actually, the unscented store brand diapers worked better than anything else.” – Savvy Family Finance
At our babies last doctor’s appointment, I asked the doc if there are any benefits to the brand name formula. I’m all for saving money but would never put my child’s health and development at risk to save a few bucks. Anyway, the doc said “No, the brand name and store brand are the same. I think that the store brand is even made by the same company.” The list price cost difference for a 22.2 oz container at Target right now is $11. That’s some serious potential savings for two items that are virtually identical!
We did not try the generic diapers with our older son. I’m planning to give them a whirl this time around to see if there is a difference. It would be amazing if they were less expensive and better!
“Our tip would be to not go crazy buying everything that other parents tell you to need. The baby industry wants you to buy all sorts of gadgets and stuff you don’t really need. And just because other parents insist they couldn’t have lived without something doesn’t mean it will work for your kids too. For example, our first 2 kids loved their bouncer seat and we totally got our money’s worth with them. We bought a new one for our youngest when he was born and he wanted nothing to do with it. Each child is different.” – Budget Kitty
You certainly don’t need everything that’s for sale. The more stuff you have, the more cluttered your house ends up!
“If you pay for childcare, make use of a dependent care FSA if you can. If that same, insanely expensive childcare lets you pay with a credit card (that offers rewards!) do it – as long as you pay in full each month. Given current daycare rates, it is insanely easy to rack up points/cash back that way.” – Savvy Family Finance
Our family took the most expensive route with childcare. We forego the opportunity of Mrs. WPF’s salary so that she can stay home with our boys. The FSA is a no brainer if you do qualify though. But remember, the amount you contribute is use it or lose it. Winning Personal Finance love’s credit card rewards! The key is to pay the bill in full each month. Credit card interest is not a winning move.
“You do not necessarily need a bigger home just because you have kids. I wouldn’t want to live in an air stream trailer or tiny house with a kid, but that does not mean you need mansion, just a small extra room for the kids to sleep and play in.” – Full Time Finance
While more space is always nice, depending on your goals it may not be worth the cost. You would be amazed at the random spaces that kids can entertain themselves in. Mrs. WPF and I purchased the smallest house we thought would meet our needs. It gives us much more flexibility elsewhere in our budget!
“Extracurricular activities are important for the development of a child, just be cautious how much you spend. If you are looking to save your family money and time consider letting your child only sign-up for one extracurricular activity a year. You will save money on fees and equipment but also teach them a valuable lesson. A child’s priority needs to be family and school first. It also prevents you and your child from getting burned out.”- My Family On A Budget
We might be overdoing this one with our 3 year old. He’s currently in preschool (including swim), music class, gym class and ice skating. I’d like to cut the music now that he’s getting a similar experience in school. I think the other activities help his development and are worth it. I push the ice skating so that he will get more out of our family ski trip this winter. The skills for a beginner are complementary and ski lessons are much more expensive.
“Vacation travel does not need to stop, but air travel may need to be cut back. Traveling via car and other methods where you pay by the vehicle rather than the person can mitigate the costs somewhat.” – Full Time Finance
These points are fantastic. We cut down our air travel significantly this year as a cost saving measure. Our only flying was for a family wedding. We still had some great vacations though. I was even able to prove that there’s some excellent skiing on the East Coast when you time it right.
“Single biggest saver? Having your children be the same gender.” – Othala Fehu
It’s better to be lucky than good! We have already benefited from hand me down boys clothes and plan to do the same with toys once the baby is old enough to need them.
Thank you so much to all my collaborators on this article. The tips above will add some great value to all the parents out there. By saving money on these typical child expenses, you can continue to save for financial independence.
Now I’m going to get some sleep…