15 Money-Saving Tips Every Parent Should Know
The average cost to raise a child (birth to age 18) for a middle-income family in the U.S. is now estimated at over $240,000. If you're like most parents, you are still looking for that proverbial money tree (a really big one at that!) in your backyard. The bad news: There is no such thing as a tree that sprouts currency. But the good news: There are plenty of easy ways to stretch your parenting dollar to its fullest. (See also: Important Frugal Lessons Parents Teach Their Children)
1. Prepare Your "Defense" Strategy
Grocery shopping with kids can get expensive. It's no accident that stores place candy, gum, and snack-size bags of cheese curls at checkout lanes, where they beg the attention of your junior shoppers. One strategy to sidestep "negotiation," or worse yet, a full-fledged tantrum is to allow your child the "privilege" of putting an item of his or her choice on the shopping list before you hit the store.
2. Watch for Your State's Sales Tax Holiday
Most states offer a "sales tax holiday," which could mean a nice gift for your pocketbook. On these days, which vary by location, states and some local governments suspend sales tax on certain items for a specific time period. Most occur in late summer to help parents save money when buying back-to-school supplies and clothing.
3. Form a Co-Op
Organize a co-op with other parents. Take turns visiting the warehouse stores (Sam's Club, Costco) and split those huge boxes of diapers, baby shampoo, and potato chips. Rotate child care services, with each couple or parent taking one Saturday night (or Tuesday afternoon) a month to watch the kids while the others enjoy a grown-up night out on the town or a solo afternoon to run errands or take care of your own appointments. (See also: 15 Things You Should Buy at Costco)
4. Plan Purchases
Parents can save money by planning purchases during months when bargains are more likely. As Wise Bread outlines in the Shopping Calendar, certain items — from furniture to camping gear — tend to go on sale during predictable times of the year.
5. Take Advantage of Seasonal Sales
Stock up on crayons for $1 a box in late July and early August when the office supply and discount stores all compete for your back-to-school shopping business. Mechanical pencils, rulers, glue sticks, and loose leaf paper don't go bad, and you'll appreciate your "back stock" come February when your kids need to replenish their school supplies.
6. Shop Post-Holiday Clearance Sales
From Valentine's Day to Christmas or the 4th of July, after-holiday clearance sales provide a great opportunity to buy gift bags, wrapping paper, and decorations for next year.
7. Unleash Your Inner Negotiator
Participate in eBay auctions for everything from gently used clothing and kids' accessories to remote-control race cars or multi-packs of diaper rash cream.
What's more fun than a treasure hunt? Consignment shops offer great buying (and selling) opportunities for gently used clothing, furniture, accessories, toys, and more. Similarly, thrift shops, house sales, yard sales, estate sales can all be sources of hidden jewels — at super low prices, which are often negotiable.
8. Visit the Clearance Table Early and Often
Party store clearance sections offer a great assortment of plates, napkins, gift bags, and party favors for your child's upcoming birthday parties. Why wait until the week before the party to stock up? See something you like, grab it when it's on sale!
9. Approach Online Shopping as You Would Black Friday at the Mall
Before you hit the "checkout" button when making any online purchase, make sure to search for a RetailMeNot online discount code, ranging from free shipping to percentage off purchase price. Many websites — from Shutterfly to Kohl's and Sports Authority — frequently offer their own discounts on the website's home page. Copy and paste into the promo code box at checkout for savings!
Visit websites like Overstock.com, 6pm.com, and MyHabit.com — just a few examples of online retailers that offer discounted prices on brand-name (often designer) kids' clothing, shoes, and accessories.
10. Compare Prices
It sounds simple, but prices for the exact stroller or bath soap can vary widely from one website or local retailer to another. Sometimes "free shipping" on what looks like a steal online isn't as good a bargain as it sounds if the base price is higher. Visit ShopSavvy or RedLaserto find the best prices on thousands of items online and in stores. Both also have apps to download to your smartphone, so you can compare prices on the go.
11. Love Thy Community (And Its Bargains)
From books to DVDs to audiobooks to even study aids, your local library can be a treasure-trove of free materials to educate and entertain — both you and your kids! Most libraries also offer free drop-in read aloud sessions and other special programming for kids.
Many local park district programs offer free (or low-cost) lessons, sports programs, and entertainment options. If you live in an area without a park district, find one in a neighboring town. You'll almost always be welcome, although you might have to pay a slightly higher fee than residents.
From middle schools to high schools, community colleges and fine arts associations, many local theater departments offer variety shows, plays, and concerts free of charge for area residents.
12. Visit Cultural Venues on "Free Days"
Many zoos, aquariums, and museums offer "Family Free Days," listed on their respective websites. For example, the Milwaukee County Zoo offers six Family Free Days throughout the year where admission fees are waived. Lots and lots of other venues around the country offer free days, too.
13. Dine Out for Less
Applebees, IHOP, and many other family-oriented restaurants offer "kids-eat-free" deals, where your child's meal is complimentary with the purchase of your adult meal. The Entertainment Book and its members-only website contains local buy-one-get-one-free (or at discount) meals, movie theater tickets, bowling games, and more — not to mention retail and travel deals. Usually sold as a fundraiser, if you use the book a few times, you've usually recouped its cost — and more!
14. Reuse and Recycle
With a coat of paint and a creative eye, many pieces of furniture can be refinished or repainted to look like new — or better!
Decorating is fun — and affordable — when you look for affordable ways to upgrade or repurpose furniture to brighten up your kid's spaces.
Old white undershirts may look like undershirts — that, is, until you take your kids' artistic talents to task. Tie-dye, fabric paint, and bedazzle kits can turn an old t-shirt into a fashion statement your kids will be proud to wear — not to mention a fun afternoon activity.
Hand-me-downs often get a bad rap. Let friends and relatives know that you won't be offended if they offer you their child's outgrown clothing! Kids often love getting clothes from their "cool" older cousin or neighbor.
15. Harness the Power of "No"
Sometimes it's that simple: "No." Or "not now." Or my personal favorite: "Put it on your wish list." In addition to saving money, you could be teaching your kids valuable lessons in personal spending. Sometimes the anticipation of getting that special toy or outfit makes it even sweeter — and sometimes, after the impulse period passes, the item doesn't hold as much appeal as it did in the store. Done right, "no" can often lead to teachable moments, which no money can buy!
How do you save money on kid's stuff? Please share in comments!