How to Curb the Rising Costs of Parenting

Parenting is the most difficult yet rewarding job I’ve ever had in my life. It definitely hasn’t been easy on my pockets, either. And apparently, I’m not alone in my experiences.

According to a released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average cost to raise a child born in 2013 will be $245,300. That’s the equivalent of a decent home in my area. Here’s a detailed breakdown of the expense categories:

  • Housing and Transportation: $107,970
  • Food: $39,060
  • Clothing and Miscellaneous Expenses: $33,780
  • Health Care: $20,130
  • Child Care and Education: $44,400

Obviously, the amount you spend will depend on your area of residence and lifestyle, but there are ways to cut costs across the board.

Housing

Unfortunately, there aren’t a ton of ways to slash housing expenses for your children. However, there are two options worth considering:

1. Downsizing or relocating

This is easier said than done, especially if you’re locked into a mortgage on a property where the home value has taken a hit. Unless you can unload the home for the equivalent of what you owe, the costs of downsizing will definitely outweigh the benefits.

On the other hand, renters have more flexibility. Moving into a smaller (and cheaper) home or relocating to a less expensive area could save hundreds of dollars per month. But be sure to consider moving costs, your commute to and from work, and the quality of education at the school your child will be attending. You may discover it’s worth it to just bite the bullet and find other areas of your budget that could use a little trimming.

2. Shared rooms

If you’re running out of room but can’t or don’t want to pay a premium for a bigger home, try having the kids bunk together. You’ll erase the costs associated with an extra room and they’ll have more bonding time. (However, this could be a painful process if they’re older and used to having their own space.) If you have small children, start now. They’ll enjoy each other’s company at nighttime when all the lights go dim and you’re ready to shut down for the day.

A year or so ago, we had to decide whether to relocate or make do with the space we had. Being that we’re both frugal, the latter was definitely the more favorable option. So, I decided to pair up the boys and use the extra room for an office, and it worked out well for our household. The boys look forward to the late-night chats in their room and, most importantly, stay out of my hair in the wee hours of the morning.

Food

This is without a doubt one of the biggest expenses in our home. Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years to slash the grocery bill in half:

1. Shop wisely

As a busy mom, I understand that your time is precious and you may not have hours to spare during the week to hunt down coupons and travel from store to store cashing them in. And honestly, I don’t either. However, that doesn’t mean you have to empty out your wallet on each grocery trip. Instead, pick one or two grocers and stick to them. Once you’ve narrowed down your options:

  • Set a budget. This amount should be realistic, but not too excessive. Remember, the goal is to save money.
  • Grab a copy of their weekly circular. You’ll want to spend a few minutes flipping through the pages and circling the items that stand out.
  • Highlight items you’d like to have that are within your budget.
  • Create a meal plan from your selections.
  • If time permits, do a quick Google search or visit or  and print out coupons that apply.

Tada! You have a complete grocery list for the week that’s within your budget.

Once you arrive at the store, don’t give in to the urge to grab additional items that aren’t on the list. If you forgot to add something, check the bottom racks first.

2. Shop on Wednesday evening

Most stores begin their weekly sales on Wednesday, so the shelves are full of sale items. You may luck out and convince the cashier to honor the prior week’s promotions, too.

3. Try generics

But test the products out first before you go overboard and stock up the pantry or deep freezer. We used to spend a fortune on Froot Loops until we switched over to the generic brand. To my surprise, the children actually enjoyed Fruit Spins much more. The cereal was much crunchier, tasted better, and came in $2.00 cheaper than I was used to paying.

4. Avoid pre-portioned items

If you pack your children’s lunch, it’s easy to grab a fruit or veggie cup, throw it in the lunch box, and go on about your day. These items come at a premium to help the manufacturer absorb packaging and distribution costs, so buy fresh and do the slicing and dicing on your own. Plus, you’ll skip all the unhealthy preservatives.

5. Feed the children before you go

Assuming you take them with you on grocery trips, the last thing you need is their appetites going into overdrive while parading up and down the food aisles. Fail to heed my warning and you’ll end up spending way more than you initially bargained for.

6. Leftovers

Why spend countless hours in the kitchen preparing a scrumptious meal for your family only to end up tossing out what remains? Instead, prepare enough to last your family for the next day’s lunch and maybe even dinner. You’ll cut costs and save yourself a little time laboring over the stove the following day.

For your children’s lunch, try heating up the food and placing it in a thermos immediately before they depart in the morning. If lunch is in the first few hours of the day, the meal will still be warm and fit for consumption.

7. Think outside the ‘grocery box’

Have you ever considered purchasing pricier perishables, such as meat, veggies and produce, from an alternative source outside of the nearest grocery store? It’s definitely worth a shot. In fact, I’m addicted to local produce stands and meat markets; it’s a great feeling to know I’m supporting local farmers and fisherman and saving a ton of money while doing so. Plus, my children love bananas, so at 35 cents per pound — versus the 69 cents I’m accustomed to paying at the grocery store — the visits are definitely worthwhile.

8. Handle your food with care

You should treat your food like your most prized possession. Handle it with care. Refrain from leaving leftovers on the stove or countertop overnight, store perishables in air-tight containers, don’t store meats in the fridge for an extended period of time, butter cheese to prevent mold… the list goes on. In other words, use common sense and follow instructions found on the packaging to prevent wasting the food you paid good money for.

9. Follow the golden rules of dining out

So you’ve decided to treat your family to a nice meal out on the town, but you don’t want to spend a fortune. Understood. A few suggestions:

  • Select water as the main beverage. It’s much cheaper and healthier. I have no desire to spend $2.50 for a cup of apple juice for my toddler when I can get an entire bottle for the same price.
  • Look for kids-eat-free nights. Every Tuesday, the local Texas Roadhouse has free dining for kids and, of course, I’m on the mailing list just in case I need a reminder.

Clothing

Whether it’s for a special occasion or recital, children will always need clothing. (And babies will need a little extra underneath it all in the form of diapers). In case you didn’t notice during back-to-school shopping, apparel and footwear prices have catapulted through the roof. The days of affordable sneakers and matching short/pant sets at low prices are over. A few tips to cut costs:

1. Save on diapers

I know I spoke against it earlier, but coupons were a lifesaver during the diapering phase. It’s not as time-consuming as you may think if it’s all your searching for.

Another suggestion: Explore your options. If your child’s bottom isn’t sensitive, try switching to a more cost-efficient brand, such as Luvs, to give your wallet a break.

2. Don’t buy unless it’s on clearance

Easier said than done, right? Well, not necessarily. I didn’t grow up in a household surrounded by money trees; my parents worked hard for every dollar they earned, and it was not uncommon for my mother to proudly parade in the store and make a beeline for the clearance rack. So, this is second-nature for me. If it’s not on clearance, I don’t buy it.

3. Buy off-season

Is it snowing outside? If so, it’s a great opportunity to stock up on summer clothing and vice-versa. Don’t wait until the demand is high; buy the items no one else wants and your pockets will thank you. And definitely don’t wait until the last minute to rack up on weather-appropriate clothing or you’ll be among the multitude of other parents who also procrastinated.

4. Thrift shop

If your children are older, they may have a serious problem wearing secondhand clothing. But if they give you a guilt trip, remember that you’re the one coughing up the dough. Be on the lookout for dollar days and irresistible buy-one-get-one-free sales. If you’re lucky, you could easily save 50% or more on designer labels.

Health Care

You never know with children; a few sniffles could turn out to be a nasty virus that lingers for days on end and wreaks havoc on your pockets in the form of medical bills. So you definitely don’t want to skimp on health care coverage. But the costs sometimes outweigh the benefits. Here are a few ways to soften the blow:

1. Ask questions!

When in doubt, ask questions. And never make assumptions; I did and it resulted in a $400 bill for a 20-minute speech evaluation.

2. Urgent care

I recently spent hundreds of dollars on an ER visit that could have only cost me a $50 copay had I given urgent care a shot. Reasoning: They had all the proper equipment on hand and it would have been a package deal. (I called my insurance provider after the fact to confirm.)

3. Generic prescriptions

I’m no physician, so consult with your primary care provider or pharmacist to see what options may be available to you. I’ve saved up to 75% buying generic drugs for my children in the past.

4. Dental schools

Struggling with exorbitant dental bills? Give the local dental school a try. You’ll receive thorough care from a trained and well-supervised student at a fraction of the cost.

5. Other affordable options

Check with your local health department to inquire about options that may be available to you outside of the plans offered at your place of employment.

Child Care and Education

Depending on your area of residence, it may be best to enroll your child in private care, so I’ll let you make the judgment call on that one. But here are a few tips to reduce steep daycare costs:

1. Private care

Going this route saved over $100 per week when my children were infants.

2. Workplace facilities

The price may be comparable to that of standard facilities, but it’s much more convenient.

3. Income-based programs

Check with your local child readiness program to learn more.

4. Ask relatives

Is grandma sitting around waiting for something to do? Here’s the perfect opportunity to occupy her time in a meaningful way.

5. Stay at home

If the cost of care is equivalent to your income, is it really worth sending your child to daycare? Plus, there are a number of perks to being a stay-at-home parent.

6. Share a nanny

But be sure to iron out the details beforehand. You can also use Care.com to narrow down your options.

7. Use your FSA

The IRS allows you to contribute $2,500 (single) or $5,000 (married filing jointly) of your pretax income to a flexible spending account, which can be used to cover eligible child care expenses. By paying with pretax dollars, you’ll in essence be receiving a sizable discount. But if you don’t use the money, you lose it, so plan wisely.

All the other extras

Until there’s more wiggle room in your budget, the extras need to be put on hold. I’m not encouraging you to deprive your children of extracurricular activities, educational tools, or the latest gadgets, but make purchases within reason. If two sports leagues have identical registration fees, but one requires substantially less travel than the other, go with the more cost-efficient option.

By implementing a combination of these tips, even parents should experience some relief in their wallets.

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