From 0 to 18: Frugal Tips for Every Year of Your Child’s Life
Children are blessings, but raising them from birth to young adulthood can be expensive. Not only do you have to feed and educate them, you also need to clothe and provide shelter for them.
Now that my kids are older teens, I can see that I made plenty of mistakes trying to figure out the best way to control family spending. I also made some smart decisions and observed the wise choices friends made in spending for their children. (See also: 7 Important Lessons Frugal Parents Teach Their Children)
Drawing on years of my experience and those of my parenting friends, here are tips on saving for each year of your child's life.
- Only get baby essentials and avoid buying (or requesting) items you may not need. Note, however, there are likely to be things you think are ridiculous while pregnant but find extremely useful after the baby is born.
- Set up a 529 college savings plan for your child. Fund the plan with gifts from grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, neighbors, colleagues.
- Find solid foods that are easy for babies to eat but don't involve purchasing baby food. For example, applesauce is great for kids and adults. Also, consider making your own baby food.
- Develop a babysitting co-op to save on childcare.
- Buy clothing and toys at community consignment sales. You may be able to shop the preview sale (and snag the best buys) if you volunteer to assist with the event.
- Follow frugal mom bloggers like Penny Pinchin' Mom, who can alert you to special deals and coach you on saving money at the grocery store and pharmacy.
- Learn to deal with chronic health conditions. Don't fret about every little thing but know that early and consistent intervention can save money and bring better outcomes.
- Have frugal fun with basic toys and activities that are age-appropriate, such as sand buckets, big blocks, and trips to the playground.
- Limit Christmas or holiday gifts to three gifts (or fewer if you are a minimalist).
- Let kids play with items that are available around the house or found inexpensively at garage sales, thrift shops, or consignment sales.
- Access free services such as speech therapy, which may be available through your town's school system.
- Save on preschool enrollment by talking to other parents about the best values in your area.
- Encourage your kids to engage in activities they truly enjoy, not the ones you enjoyed as a child or want them to like. They'll be more likely to succeed by pursuing interests they love. Plus, you won't waste money on gear, coaches, and lessons that cause family conflict and lead to nowhere.
- Cut your child's hair at home using tips from this video or these step-by-step instructions.
- Read to your kids. One of the easiest, cheapest, and best ways to help kids do well in school is to read to them when they are young.
- Find the best public school for your child to avoid private school tuition. This process may involve getting a system transfer, tracking down a great charter school, or moving. Look for engaged teachers, strong parent involvement, and happy children as well as signs of creativity and good test scores.
- Take advantage of "kids eat free" nights at restaurants.
- Buy school supplies when they are on sale. Having items on hand will keep you from paying full price and save time during the school year.
- Sign up for free swimming lessons at community pools.
- Save on date night by staying home. Feed the kids early, and enjoy a romantic dinner for two afterward.
- Take your kids out on the town in the evening for free concerts and entertainment.
- Host simple yet memorable birthday parties, such as an afternoon at a local park with ice cream and cake.
- Teach your kids to resist the allure of advertised goods.
- Save on homeschooling materials and try frugal teaching methods, useful whether you are homeschooling full-time or supplementing your child's education.
- Have a steady supply of reading material by going to the library and shopping at consignment sales as well as frequenting used book stores or a virtual equivalent, such as paperbackswap.com.
- Visit museums, zoos, and gardens on free community days. Pack a lunch and snacks to avoid paying what are generally high cafeteria prices.
- Learn what kid-oriented services are worth spending on. For example, insights from a couple of sessions with an educational psychologist (suggested by one of my son's teachers) helped me to coach him throughout his academic career.
- Support your children's interest in youth programs such as 4-H or scouting, which offer inexpensive ways to develop practical skills and have fun.
- Sign your kids up for free summer programs sponsored by community groups, public schools, church groups, etc.
- Make memorable and valued teacher gifts, not pricey ones they'll never use. Have your child write a thank-you note. Organize gift giving among parents, combining small donations ($1-$5) for a larger gift from the class.
- Get your kids to clean up after playing with small pieces of games, puzzles, and Lego sets. By keeping things together, you are more likely to be successful when reselling games and toys.
- Teach your 'tweens to handle basic household tasks and take steps to conserve energy (and cash) through shorter showers, use of cold water to wash clothes, etc.
- Encourage your children to think of creative ways to entertain themselves and their friends, such as staging a neighborhood parade or putting together a play for friends and family.
- Take the kids to offbeat yet fun vacation spots, which may be much less expensive than more popular places.
- Carpool with other parents for trips to special activities, summer programs, and more.
- Help your kids to enjoy natural surroundings for free by taking in an early morning or night outing at a state park or exploring your neighborhood. They may enjoy seeing a sunrise, learning about constellations, or catching a glimpse of wildlife.
- Save on summer camp by signing up early or bringing a friend.
- Get dental cleanings, haircuts, and other services from students at your local university, community college, or trade school.
- Work with your kids to establish a budget for discretionary spending on things like music, video games, and clothing.
- Find frugal ways for your teen to exercise, if she is not already active. Take a hike at a local park, discover programs that teach a new sport, try a free class at the gym, or check out other fun ways to get a workout sans spending.
- Open a savings account or investment account for your teen so he or she can begin saving or investing.
- Help them to learn a trade such as babysitting, mowing grass, or lifeguarding. Not only will they be able to earn money, they won't get (as) bored and on school breaks.
- Take your teens shopping for clothes at Goodwill or thrift shops. They may enjoy unearthing designer labels at steeply discounted prices.
- Give your teens freedom with fashion within reason, especially if their choices are frugal ones. For example, let them to wear shorts year-round if it means not buying pants they'll quickly outgrow.
- Encourage them to sell their stuff for spending money. Provide guidance on selling via yard sales or eBay.
- Encourage your teens to volunteer and get accustomed to interacting with people with limited resources. Help them to appreciate what they have and better understand the need to be good stewards of money and talents, both frugal life skills.
- Teach them that it's okay to zig when everyone else is zagging. This lesson will help them to pursue their own dreams, rather than wasting time and money chasing things they think others expect them to do.
- Keep open communications so they will tell you about their plans (good and not-so-good) and their friends' habits. Don't judge, but help steer them in the right direction, so they can avoid making stupid and costly mistakes.
- Take advantage of free tutoring or assistance available at the school before paying for outside help. Ask friends to help if teacher instruction is not available.
- Don't rush your teens to get their driver's licenses; enjoy teen-free auto insurance rates as long as you can.
- Encourage your teenagers to learn money management skills for free at places like the Boys & Girls Clubs.
- Use free college-planning resources available in your community.
- Save money on college by taking AP classes in high school or attending early college to earn a combination Associate's degree and High School Diploma.
- Increase the likelihood of getting a college scholarship by starting to apply before senior year in high school.
- Let your kids do research on colleges and universities so they can see firsthand how inexpensive in-state tuition is compared to private and out-of-state colleges and universities.
- Get college application materials early to avoid paying late or rush fees for applications and related fees.
- Find the best price for college textbooks using a pricing aggregator such as Bookfinder.com.
I've learned that we cannot (and should not) spend on everything that's marketed to parents and their children. Sorting through what's worthwhile and what's not is often easier understood in hindsight, because what's right varies among families. Spending strategically can save money, reduce stress, and encourage kids to consider priorities.
How have you saved money when raising your children? What has been your most meaningful purchase as a parent?