According to the US Department of Agriculture, it takes approximately $245,340 to raise one child from birth to age 18 in the United States. We have four. This means, when all is said and done, my husband and I will have spent almost a million dollars caring for our family (pardon me while I take a moment to pick myself up off the floor). Add to this staggering number the fact that we are a one income family (100% by choice – no complaints here!), and it becomes fairly obvious that some creative and careful budgeting has been required.
Beyond the more popular money saving strategies (using coupons when possible; shopping at Aldi; always waiting for a sale; researching the best price for insurance, utilities, etc.) we have come up with a few less obvious ways to save.
Never fear the hand me down. Much of what we own is second hand. Even better, much of it was second hand and free! From dressers to cribs to our dining room table, we have furnished much of our home with someone else’s unwanted (but perfectly acceptable) stuff. Due to an amazing stroke of luck (and some super generous friends!), we even have a hand me down tractor.
Develop a clothes sharing network. Children grow quickly, especially when they are small. This means that all of those absolutely adorable baby clothes that you had to have only get worn a handful of times before they are outgrown. This is excellent news for our budget. We are blessed to have a wonderful group of friends with a wonderful group of girls, perfectly spaced for sharing. Do some things end up looking a little rough near the end of the line? Yes. But, because the majority of your kiddo’s wardrobe was attained at no cost to you, there’s a little bit of money to spend on those things that need replacing (or are just too dang cute to pass up!).
Pack a snack. This is a huge money saver for us. With four hungry children, even a light snack when we’re out and about can cost a small fortune. So we pack them instead. Think fruit snacks, raisins, squeezable applesauce, ziplock bags with pretzels or crackers. Keep them in your purse, diaper bag, and car. That way, when the inevitable “I’m STARVING” begins, you can end it without busting your budget.
Supplement your take out meal. Even on a tight budget, we do allow for a certain amount of take out food. It’s quick, it’s convenient, and has more than once saved me from a complete breakdown. But you can save money here too. Instead of that extra pizza, make a salad at home. Skip the full meal, opt for just the sandwich instead, and add fruit, vegetables, and drinks of your own. It saves you money, and adds a little nutritional value as well.
Keep your pantry stocked with staples. Want to prevent the “What the heck am I going to make for dinner tonight?!” fast food run? Keep a good supply of quick and easy meals on hand. Taco seasoning and ground turkey or beef, spagetti sauce, and noodles and cheese are some of our favorites. Any meal that can be thrown together with relatively little effort and in a fairly short amount of time is well worth having on hand.
Skip the grocery. Take a week and shop your pantry. Obviously you’ll need milk, bread and produce, but instead of starting from scratch, write your meal plan using what you have on hand. Even if you only have enough to make it a few days, that’s a few days without a grocery bill. And all that food that has been hiding in the back of your cupboard for weeks finally gets some use.
Limit extra-curriculars. We have a pretty strict “one paid activity per child” rule. Costs for classes, sports, and after school activities add up, and inevitably the dance class that advertised an $85 per semester fee ends up costing way more once shoes, dance wear, and recital outfits are purchased. We love this strategy for several reasons. 1) Having only one activity allows our kids to focus their attention and time on perfecting the skills required, whether that be the perfect plie or a flawless rendition of “Hot Cross Buns”. 2) My husband and I do not have to run all over town, scrambling to get them to this and that activity on time. 3) It gives our children down time to play, read, create, etc.
Find the free stuff. Trust me, it’s out there. From storytimes and book clubs at the library to free activities at a local park, there is nearly always something fun (and free!) to fill your time and offer a break from the everyday. CMB publishes a great monthly list of family friendly events in the area, many of which won’t cost you a dime.
Invest in a pass. This does involve some expense initially. However, if you use them, yearly passes can save you a bundle. If you keep a look out for membership sales you’ll save even more. We get our money back (and then some!) in the first month alone for the zoo and museum. However, when it comes time to renew, make sure to evaluate the costs. Did you use it enough to offset the expense? Is it worth investing again? We dropped our membership to the YMCA for this very reason.
Clearly define “want” versus “need”. This applies to both children AND adults. Take some time to think about every non-essential purchase. We have found that, although we initially were positive we had to have that newest life changing item, after we really thought it out we realized we could actually manage to carry on without it.
Although it probably goes without saying that it takes much more to keep our budget under control, sticking to these strategies certainly helps, proving the theory that a little bit can go a long, long way.