If you believe the number put forth by the USDA last August, the cost of raising a child born now through age 17 will exceed $240,000. Have two or three kids, and your costs really skyrocket! While it’s no great secret that kids are expensive, many parents struggle with ways to keep their costs down while still keeping their kids happy, healthy, comfortably dressed, and well fed. If you feel like your spending on your own kids could be reeled in a little bit, check out these 101 tips to save money on kids, from birth to high school graduation.
1. Breastfeed instead of using formula. Once those free formula samples run out, it costs a small fortune to buy the stuff. Breastfeeding, on the other hand, is free.
2. Check to see if your health insurance plan covers the cost of a breast pump. If you don’t have to go out of pocket to buy this essential device for working moms, you can save a few hundred bucks.
3. Buy a set of cloth diapers and use them as much as you can to cover your baby’s bottom.
4. Or, if you use disposables, buy large boxes to cut down on the cost per diaper. The best time to do this is when your baby goes up to a new size so that you’re not stuck with a bunch of diapers that are too small.
5. Try store-brand or generic brand disposable diapers rather than name brand. They offer the same protection, but they usually cost much less money.
6. If you don’t use cloth diapers, try to potty train early. The sooner you can get your child out of diapers, the less you’ll have to spend on them.
7. Make your own baby food. Those little jars and pouches can add up quickly.
8. There are $10 strollers and $1000 strollers. The $10 might not be best for an infant, but you can get a decent stroller for much less that $1000. Shop around.
9. If you have a crib and a portable Pack and Play, you probably don’t need a bassinet too.
10. Before buying any expensive piece of baby gear, see if a friend has one that you can try out first.
11. Don’t buy a crib bumper. They are a SIDs risk and an unnecessary expense.
12. If you pllan on having more than one baby, buy your big baby gear (like a stroller, car seat, high chair, and so on) in gender neutral colors and use it again in a few years.
13. Carefully consider all the baby gear you buy. Some items may look and seem cool, but they’re ultimately not necessary. For example, a wipes warmer may seem like a good idea, but you can certainly do without one.
14. People who are handy with yarn and a needle will frequently ask if they can knit you a blanket, hat, or something for your baby. Say yes! You can never have too many blankets or knit baby items.
15. Check out a mom-to-mom sale for good prices on gently used baby gear
16. If you have your baby in a hospital, you’ll likely get offered all kinds of freebies, like diaper bags, diapers, and even onesies and sleep wear. Take anything that is offered to you.
17. Keep your diaper bag stocked with everything you need when you’re out. The goal is to avoid buying something that you already have at home.
Child Care Expenses:
18. A day care center is almost always less expensive than hiring a nanny or in-home babysitter.
19. If you do hire a nanny, hire a well-qualified student instead of someone who considers themselves a professional nanny.
20. Share a nanny with one or two other families. The nanny can watch two or three kids at once, and you can share the cost.
21. To eliminate some or all child care costs, adjust your work schedules. If one parent works during regular business hours, see if the other parent can work in the evenings. Even if there’s some overlap, paying for a few hours of care every day is certainly less expensive than paying for full days.
22. Ask a grandparent or other relative if they are willing to watch your child one day (or more) per week.
23. if your workplace offers on-site child care, their costs may be lower than an off-site daycare center.
24. Set up a child care co-op with a few other families. You watch all the kids once per cycle (depending on how many families are involved), and the other families watch them on the other days.
25. Take advantage of the child care tax credit for a tax break.
Keeping Them Clothed:
26. Designer labels have started putting out their own lines of baby and kids clothes. They are lovely, but they are also incredibly expensive, especially when you realize that your child will outgrow them in a few months.
27. Try to have some restraint when buying kids clothes. Yes, your child will look adorable in all of the little outfits. No, you do not need to buy all of them.
28. Think in terms of what you’ll actually need and use. That ladybug raincoat might be the cutest thing ever, but if you live in an area where there’s not a lot of rain, it’s probably not a smart thing to buy, no matter how cute it is.
29. Baby clothing manufacturers have been marketing going home outfits for your baby to wear home from the hospital. They are often expensive. Skip the gimmick — anything your baby wears home from the hospital is a “going home outfit.”
30. Newborns do not need shoes. Soft foot coverings are perfectly fine. Yes, the shoes are cute, but they are an unnecessary expense.
31. Check out consignment shops, thrift stores, and garage sales for gently used clothing.
32. Take advantage of all offerings of hand me downs from friends. Save your first child’s clothes for your second (and third?) children to wear.
33. If an item of clothing gets a stain on it, sew a fun patch over the area. Your kids can keep wearing that shirt or pair of pants, and it will seem new to them because of the embellishment.
34. Hit up end-of-season clearance sales to buy a size or two up for the following year.
35. Also check out pre-season sales for early discounts and a better selection. Buy your kids’ summer clothes in April, winter clothes in September, and so on.
36. If you can, make clothing for your children.
37. New pajamas can be prices. However, old, soft clothes, even items with stains, can be used as pajamas.
38. if you have multiple kids of different genders, buy big items like boots, coats, and hoodies in neutral colors so they can be passed down.
39. Don’t buy anything that just fits your child — they’ll outgrow it in a week. Always buy a size up.
40. For dress-up occasions like a wedding, don’t buy a dress or suit that your child will wear only once. Instead, ask around to see if you can borrow one from a friend, or look into renting what you need.
41. When footie pajamas get too short, take a pair of scissors and cut the feet off.
42. If your kids take a bath before putting on pajamas, those pajamas can be worn more than once before they need to be washed.
43. Wash kids’ clothes only when you have a full load. If you have several children, combine their dirty laundry piles.
44. Older kids will want the latest fads and fashions. Limit what you spend on these things. If they really want them, encourage them to get a job, save their money, and buy what they want.
Keeping Them Fed:
45. Clip coupons, use coupon apps, and pay attention to sales to pay lower prices on everyday essentials.
46. Grow your own vegetables and, if you can, keep chickens for lots of eggs. Get your kids involved in gardening and caring for the birds — it teaches them vital skills, and you won’t be stuck doing all the work yourself.
47. Don’t take small kids grocery shopping. They often ask for things you don’t need, and while you say no to their pleasing more often than not, you’ll still end up giving in to one or two of their requests and spending more than you planned to.
48. Don’t buy “kids” food: chicken nuggets, frozen french fries, and heat and serve items. Encourage your kids to eat the meals you prepare for the whole family.
49. Buy whole foods rather than convenience foods.
50. Do your best to use all the food you buy. Throwing away food is like throwing away money.
51. Cook big, relatively inexpensive meals like chicken noodle soup and lasagna. These are crowd pleasers that can be made for a modest amount and can feed a huge family.
52. Allow your kids a limited amount of juice. Water is better for them anyway, and if it’s from the tap, the cost is almost nothing.
53. Kids will often shout for you to stop the car when you drive by a fast food joint. Don’t stop!
54. If you do eat at restaurants, eat at places where kids eat free, eat what they weigh, or eat for some other significant discount.
55. Or, when eating out with small children, order one entree for you and your child to share. Restaurant entrees are often too big for one person anyway, and the adult entrees are usually tastier and more healthy than anything on a so-called “kids” menu.
56. Get a membership to Costco, Sam’s Club, or other warehouse store so you can buy items you use a lot of in bulk.
57. Try to avoid buying kids’ snacks in single serving bags or containers, where the price per ounce is considerably higher than buying a big bag. Instead, buy big and portion out individual snack sized bags or containers at home.
Toys and Playthings:
58. Buy gently used toys at garage sales, on ebay.com, and on Craigslist. Big items like play kitchens, bikes, and trampolines can be found for a fraction of their original cost.
59. Or, to reduce your costs, clutter, and boredom, rent toys through one of several toy rental websites.
60. Try to limit how many toys you buy. Encourage your kids to donate or sell the items they no longer play with.
61. Ask friends who have kids a few years older than yours; chances are their kids are sick of their old toys and will gladly give them to you for free.
62. Encourage unstructured play to develop kids’ imaginations and also to keep your spending down. For example, a box of matchbox cars and no instructions can be a lot more interesting than an elaborate racing track that sends the cars in only one direction.
63. Give your kids a box of plain wooden blocks. They’ll have hours of fun making thousands of different creations, and plain blocks cost a lot less than other, more elaborate toys.
64. Save the big boxes that appliances come in. Your kids will turn them into a fort, a fire truck, a boat, and more.
65. Instead of toys, temporarily repurpose household items. For example, a few wooden spoons and some pots become an awesome drum kit.
66. Use all the crayons before buying new ones. The small pieces color just as well as the fresh ones.
67. Coloring books are fun, but blank paper is even more fun. Plus, it’s cheaper and it encourages kids to artistically express themselves more fully.
68. Save your old clothes, put them in a box, and let your kids play dress up. They’ll love pretending to be you.
69. Give kids your old, expired credit cards, mobile phones, old purses and wallets, and other items to play with. These things may seem useless to you, but to a five year old, they are oddly entertaining.
70. Check freecycle.com for people who are looking to give away things they no longer want, including toys that their kids have outgrown.
71. Get together with some friends and have a toy swap. Your kids can trade the toys they’ve lost interest in for a friend’s toy that’s no longer seeing lots of use.
72. Limit toys that use batteries. You’ll always be buying batteries.
Keeping Them Entertained:
73. Check with your local movie multiplex to see if they offer free kids movies. Many theatres will do mid-morning free screenings of last year’s kids features in the summer, on school vacations, and on the weekends.
74. Take the kids to a matinee, where tickets cost less than evenings shows.
75. Check your local park’s summer schedule for free family concerts.
76. On holidays, head to your local main street for a parade. Kids will love seeing all the floats, performers, and attractions pass by.
77. Look into free or reduced cost days at zoos, museums, and other attractions.
78. Seek out all the free playgrounds in your area, and visit them on a rotating basis to keep them all new and exciting.
79. See what your local library has to offer. In addition to a big collection of children’s books, many libraries have an extensive list of kids programs and activities, all of which are free to residents.
80. Cut out your cable or satellite television bills. Instead, watch free videos and shows aimed at kids on YouTube, Hulu, and other websites.
81. Keep your kids’ after-school activities to a set number, maybe two per week. This not only saves some money, but teaches kids to prioritize.
82. Summer camps can be expensive. Limit the number of weeks your child can attend camps, and allow them to choose what they’d like to do.
83. If you plan to visit an amusement park, buy tickets in advance to save a significant portion off the face charge.
84. Research less expensive vacation options, especially ones within driving distance.
85. Doing a family trip to a Disney park? Resourceful visitors before you have discovered hundreds of ways to save money on the trip, from admission fees to lodging to food costs. Check out books from the library and visit websites for Disney saving tips.
86. Swim at free public beaches rather than paying to use a private one
87. If you allow your children to play with your iPhone, iPad, or Android device, download free apps rather than paid apps for them. If they want a paid app, see if there’s a free, lite version of it and make sure your child really loves it before buying the full version. It’s also a good idea to limit how much you’ll spend on apps for your kids or how many you’re willing to download per month.
88. Make sure you switch off all in-app purchases! We’ve all heard the stories about kids inadvertently spending $500 or more in a single app. Don’t let it happen to you.
89. Create a family budget and stick to it.
90. Keep birthday parties reasonable. A blow-out party at a giant bounce house establishment might be a blast for your child and his or her friends, but so might swinging a bat at a piñata in the backyard. The latter is substantially cheaper.
91. Start saving for college early! It’s not unheard of to start right after they’re born. A little bit here and there will really add up.
92. If your health care plan won’t cover required immunizations, call your local health department. They can often get your kids the vaccines they need for a nominal fee per shot.
93. Send your kids to public school instead of private.
94. Limit how much commercial television your kids watch. They’ll see fewer ads, which means they’ll ask for fewer things.
95. If you smoke, quit. You’ll save money on cigarettess, plus you’ll save on healthcare, since secondhand smoke causes all sorts of ailments in small children.
96. Teach kids to turn off lights when they’re not in a room, not to let the water run, not to leave the door open when it’s cold outside, and to do other things to keep utility bills down.
97. Bathe small children together. You’ll have to fill the tub only once, which helps to keep the water bill lower.
98. Pets cost money. If you’re willing to let your child take care of a pet, the smaller the better. Goldfish are perfect, as are animals that don’t need a lot of stuff. If you can borrow or get an aquarium or a hamster cage for free, though, tropical fish or small rodents are good too.
99. Learn how to cut your kids’ hair. It may save only a little bit, but over the course of their childhood, those small amounts will really add up.
100. Swap and barter skills with friends. If you become good at cutting hair, trade with your friends: one haircut by you in exchange for something from them.
101. Rather than giving in to every whim your child has, give them an allowance so that they can spend their own money on what they want. They’ll learn how to make decisions, and you won’t always look like the bad guy every time you have to say no to them.