You may have heard that the cost to raise a child to the age of 18 have surged to a staggering $233,610. That’s according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), who has meticulously tracked the prices of everything from housing to healthcare and childcare throughout the years.
If you don’t have kids, this statement probably sounds preposterous – or even impossible. If you do have kids, on the other hand, you’re likely keenly aware of just how realistic this outrageous, nearly quarter-of-a-million-dollar figure is.
Between paying for a larger home to make room for extra bedrooms, a bigger car to haul your kids (and their gear) around, more food, childcare bills, clothing, school supplies, and the crazy costs of kids’ sports, it may even be surprising that it doesn’t cost more to raise your little ones.
How to Save on Raising Kids Every Step of the Way
But, here’s the thing: The numbers from the USDA and other organizations are just averages. Depending on a wide range of factors such as where you live and your spending style, you could pay a whole lot more – or a lot less – to cover the costs of child-rearing to age 18.
If you live in an expensive city like San Francisco, you can only imagine how your housing costs would dwarf those of someone living in St. Louis, for example. And if you’re the type of parent who buys their kids designer clothes and a new car on their 16th birthdays, well, you should plan on forking over more than most.
Of course, the opposite is also true. If you’re conscious about the way you spend on your kids, you could easily whittle down the costs of raising them – maybe even by a lot. And the changes don’t have to be drastic, either; changing some of your small, repetitive spending habits for the better can lead to huge savings over time.
To find out how to save money while raising kids in every age group, we reached out to parenting and frugality bloggers who have mastered the art of raising a family on a budget. Some of their best tips are included below.
Saving Money on Newborns Through Age 5
If you have young children or you’re about to start a family, you may have heard that raising babies is a pricey affair. There are certain costs you only face when kids are young, such as diapers, formula, and the sky-high price tag of newborn daycare. Plus, there’s all the gear to buy upfront – the strollers, cribs, high chairs, bouncy seats, and car seats.
But, there are ways to save on every aspect of having small kids, says money coach and blogger Jessi Fearon, who lives with her husband and three children – ages 5, 4, and 2 – near Atlanta. We’ll start off with some of Fearon’s favorite ways to save on little kids:
Buy used clothes.
Fearon says she and her husband have made a conscious decision to avoid buying new clothes. Instead, they attend clothing swaps at church and shop consignment sales and Goodwill. “Our boys can tear up clothes faster than you can say ‘don’t do it,’ so for us, purchasing them something new makes no sense because it’ll be destroyed or stained up before they’ve even worn them in.”
Fearon and her husband have adopted the French model of feeding by only allowing her kids one snack time per day. While the change was hard to implement, she feels it’s worth it. “The issue we had been having was that our children wouldn’t eat all their dinner, but then would be hungry come bedtime. But once we switched to only one snack time a day, they actually started eating all of their dinner.” As an added bonus, this change also led to less food waste at dinner time (saving money) and lower snack spending overall.
Limit toys, too.
“Hands down, toys are the biggest thing that I see parents overspend on,” Fearon says. Fearon says she gives her kids money for savings instead of toys on their birthdays, and they only get one toy for Christmas. “This saves us a ton of money and saves our sanity when it comes to managing all of the toy chaos.”
Save on entertainment and babysitters.
It’s easy to overspend on fancy outings with the kids, says Rosemarie Groner, the blogger behind The Busy Budgeter. Groner, who lives with her husband and kids — ages 2 and 5 – in North Carolina, says they keep it simple and look for free stuff to do. They buy a year-round family membership to their local aquarium for $80, for example, frequently have play dates with friends, and take turn hosting dinners with other families rather than paying for everyone to eat out. And when it comes to babysitters, they “swap” babysitting nights with other families instead of hiring someone.
Buy less house than you can afford.
We talk about the benefits of buying a smaller house all the time here at The Simple Dollar. When it comes to housing, Groner says they thought long-term and bought a house that was well under their budget but offered room to grow. “For us, that meant moving to a cheaper neighborhood with better schools,” she says.
Don’t buy every gadget in the world.
Blogger Chelsea Brennan of Mama Fish Saves says one of the biggest ways she and her husband have saved on their 22-month-old son and baby on the way is by not buying every last gizmo and gadget.
“We keep the costs of parenthood down by never buying anything as soon as we perceive our son might need it,” says Brennan. “For instance, with teethers, when he was popping a tooth we would try to give him cold washcloths or a carrot from the fridge for a few days. If he still seemed like he needed something after that, we would look on local giveaway groups or give in to Amazon.”
Brennan says that, over the past two years, they’ve realized most “needs” dissipate after a few days and their son is generally happy with Tupperware, spoons, sticks, and books for toys.
Get the kids outdoors.
Eric Rosenberg, the blogger behind Personal Profitability and the father of two girls ages 2 and one month, says he cringes when he sees parents buy young kids new electronics and too many fancy toys. Kids are only young once, and you may be setting them up for bad habits later on if you don’t set the stage for creative play.
“Keep them away from screens as much as you can, and save money with fun backyard playtime and play dates with other kids,” he says. From playgrounds to sledding hills, there’s probably plenty of free outdoor fun in your area.
Use your library.
We’re relentless advocates of public libraries, of course, and they’re especially helpful when you have young children. Use your local library to beef up your book and DVD collection with more variety, and check the calendar for free story times and other kid’s programming that can help entertain your little ones.
Save on diapers and formula.
There are too many ways to save on diapers and formula to count. One of the best ways is to buy generic brands if you can. Both Walmart and Target have quality diaper and formula brands you can try for huge savings over time. Of course, you can also try Amazon Subscribe and Save to get diapers delivered at a discount.
Buying in bulk can also help you save on diapers and formula. If you have a Costco or Sam’s Club membership, see if you can save by stocking up with each trip to the store.
Also, don’t forget you can use cloth diapers instead of store bought. You’ll save money and reduce landfill waste at the same time.
Save on daycare.
This tip comes from yours truly. My kids are 6 and 8 now, but I saved a bundle by avoiding the pricey daycares available in our city. Instead of going with a daycare center that would set us back $300 or more per week, I chose small in-home daycare centers run by people I trusted. I was happy with the care our kids received, and I felt the amount I paid over time was fair.
Buy used when you can.
Remember when we talked about the outrageous costs of baby gear? The good news is, you can buy most of it used. You may not want to buy a used car seat unless it’s from someone you know and less than seven years old, but it’s totally reasonable to buy used swings, baby bouncers, and strollers. Buy from people you know, from Facebook groups, or from Craigslist, and you’ll save a bundle.
Saving Money on Kids Age 5-11
Saving on school-age kids isn’t an easy feat, but it can be done. And a lot of the tips for babies apply here, too. You can keep on buying used clothing for kids in school, either from consignment shops, people you know, or Facebook groups, for example. And if you’re able to avoid moving up to a huge house just because you have kids, you’ll save on housing costs, too.
Here are some of the best ways to save on kids when they’re out of diapers but not quite ready for high school:
Avoid pricey kids’ sports.
One of the most important ways we’ve saved on our children is by limiting their sports to one per child. They each take gymnastics right now, and this particular sport doesn’t require fancy uniforms or more than a few practices per week. Since there are no games or “meets,” we also save by not traveling or having to spend our weekends going to and from sports activities.
Don’t “keep up with the Joneses.”
Jim, who blogs at Route to Retire and has a seven-year-old daughter, says one of the biggest money pitfalls he sees in his area is too many people trying to keep up with the spendy habits of their neighbors.
“Parents want their kids to be happy, but a good majority of them thinks that money is the way to make that happen,” he says. “Spending big money on toys and gadgets, big birthday extravaganzas, and exorbitant Christmas presents is the norm around here.” He and his wife try to keep things simple and avoid spending to keep up with others, he says.
Limit dining out.
Fast food or takeout can be an easy way to get dinner on the table when you’re busy running school-age kids around, says Jim. But that convenience comes with costs — to both your wallet and your health.
To save money and perhaps your children’s health in the future, make home-cooked meals instead as often as possible. For busy parents, have lots of posts on crock pot and freezer meals you can make ahead of time if you need ideas.
Buy the big stuff used.
Blogger Monica Louie says she and her husband have saved a bundle by not overspending on the “big stuff.”
When it was time for her son to graduate to a toddler bed so his baby sister could have the crib, she found a fun fire truck bed for only $25 on Craigslist, she says. A couple years later, they sold that same bed for $25 to someone else on Craigslist.
“When our daughter graduated to a ‘big girl bed’ so her baby cousin could have the crib, we were able to get a nice trundle bed from a neighbor for free on NextDoor,” Louie says.
Harness your childcare savings.
One thing that generally does get cheaper after age 5 is childcare: If your kid goes to public school, a once-hefty pre-K bill simply vanishes, possibly freeing up hundreds of dollars a month. Resist the urge to splurge with that newfound money, and try socking it away for big-kid expenses instead or putting it toward a 529 college savings plan.
Saving Money on Kids Age 12 and Up
Junior high and high school seem to be a big point of contention when it comes to saving money. School activities and sports tend to peak during these years, leading to higher costs than ever. And, possibly for the first time, kids start to care more about what they wear and whether it’s used or not.
Not only that, but kids become more independent and tend to need more spending cash. They may also want to drive, which means higher insurance costs for you and potentially the costs of a car.
Here are some of the best ways to save during the teen years from frugal bloggers in the know:
Buy used sporting equipment when you can.
Miranda Marquit, a money expert who also writes for Student Loan Hero, has a 15-year-old son who’s into many sports and activities. Marquit believes his activities are worth it since they’ll help him get into college later. As a result, she doesn’t want to limit his activities for the sake of frugality. Instead, Marquit says she buys used sports equipment when she can – specifically fencing equipment for her son.
Haggle for a used car.
While having a car in high school is a privilege, not a right, Marquit felt that her son needed a reliable, used car to get to sports and activities. As a result, she haggled to score a 20-year-old car on the cheap, and she uses it to teach her son some valuable money lessons. “He’s responsible for gas, so he looks to do odd jobs and pay for some of his own costs,” she says.
Make kids earn their own spending money.
Once kids are old enough to get a part-time job or babysit, it may be time to let them start paying some of their own expenses. Marquit has used this strategy to teach her son about the importance of money while also keeping the costs of parenthood down.
“He knows that he’s responsible for entertainment, lunch with his friends, and other costs,” she says, adding that “the key is to sit down and be clear about expectations.”
“I know that we’re more fortunate than others in terms of resources, but we still look to be as frugal as possible,” says Marquit.
Watch out for school-related money drains.
Liz Gendreau, who blogs at Chief Mom Officer and has three kids ages 14, 10, and 2, says school expenses tend to be absurd for her 10-year-old — and that they can sneak up on you if you’re not careful.
“Every week it seems his school is sending home pamphlets on fundraisers, things to buy, and the PTO is trying to get us to buy a special ‘fifth-grade package’ that’s filled with things we don’t want or need,” she says. “Interestingly I’ve found that this stopped when my oldest son hit middle school. I resist the pressure by simply not giving in to any of these.”
Buy food in bulk.
When you have lots of kids, buying in bulk can be a big money-saver, says Gendreau. This is especially true when it comes to staple items your family eats all the time.
“We do most of our food shopping at warehouse clubs, where we can also pick up diapers at a good price. We buy meat in bulk from either Costco, a local butcher shop, or at the stores when we find unbeatable sales,” she says.
Gendreau also notes that they have a deep freezer in the basement where they freeze meat and extra goods purchased at the warehouse clubs. She notes that having lots of staples on hand reduces their shopping trips and helps them save money.
Resist the pricey electronics.
As kids get older, everything they want tends to cost more. Nowadays it seems like every kid has a smartphone or an iPad or a brand new video game system – or perhaps all of these things and more. Gendreau says limiting these big splurge purchases is one way they’ve kept their spending under control as their kids have gotten older.
“We have conversations about how when you wait, these things drop in price and more games become available,” she says. Their eldest child is old enough to understand that and has learned patience and delayed gratification. “These are skills that will serve him well as an adult.”
The Bottom Line
Kids are costly, but most parents would agree they’re worth it. But like everything else in life, spending more won’t guarantee you a better experience. If you want to have children affordable, it pays to think through how you spend your money and when. With enough smart money moves, having kids could actually be a bargain.
Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer and the author of Zero Down Your Debt. Johnson shares her obsession with frugality, budgeting, and travel at ClubThrifty.com.