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Kids are expensive, no doubt about it. From diapers and toys, to keeping them fed, clothed, and happy, the expenses really add up.
There are tons of articles for expecting moms and dads on how to save money on babies (including my own!) but far fewer on how to save money on kids.
There is a lot to buy for a new baby, but many of us are lucky to have baby showers to help out. Once kiddo is out into the world though, the help drops off and parents are on their own.
That’s fine, of course. I chose to have children so I am responsible for supporting them. But it does add up fast so I am always looking for ways to save money on kids’ expenses.
Since I figure no one wants to spend more than they have to, I have compiled this master list of ways to save money on kids. Now, my kids are only three and five so I am only scratching the surface on how to save money on kids. I hope you more experienced parents chime in below with your money saving tips!
Never Pay Retail on Clothes
When I was pregnant, my friends with small children gave me bags of hand-me-down clothing. I hardly spent anything on clothes for the first couple years of my older son’s life.
As he got older though, we got fewer and fewer hand-me-downs and I had to start thinking about how to save money on my kids’ clothes. I’ve become a bit of an expert shopper when it comes to kids clothes!
When they’re little, it seems like kids grow out of their clothes every other week! That’s why I seldom, if ever, pay full price for clothing. I shop discount stores and sales, but I have recently started to look at consignment and thrift shops too. And now that summer is upon us, it’s worth checking out garage sales.
Young kids don’t care about brands. Take advantage of it while you can and shop the discount retailers. Before you know it you’re going to have a moody teen insisting on the latest (and expensive) fashions. No sense overspending now!
If you don’t want to shop secondhand, make sure you’re shopping smart. Search for promo codes on sites like Retail Me Not. Sign up for store loyalty programs to keep on top of sales and receive coupons. And finally, make sure you shop through Rakuten (formerly Ebates), to get cash back on your purchases.
Sales + Rakuten + Promo Code = Huge Savings
To show you how to pile on the savings I wanted to provide an example of how I shop for my kids. My five year old is transitioning out of toddler sizes and into big kid clothes, so I need to update his wardrobe. One of my go-to stores is The Children’s Place, because I love their rough and tumble cargo pants.
I’ve signed up for their emails so I can tell when they’re having a big sale. As soon as I get that notification, I head on over to Rakuten and search for The Children’s Place. If they’re offering cash back, I go ahead and open my trip.
I pick out what I want and proceed to check out. Now, I check out promo codes from sites like Retail Me Not to see if I can get free shipping or an additional discount. You can also just type in The Children’s Place (or whatever store you’re shopping at) promo code into a search bar and see what you come up with.
Between sales, Rakuten, and promo codes I have saved hundreds of dollars on shopping over the years. I do this process for my own clothes too. It’s so exciting to save over one hundred dollars on a shopping trip just by shopping smart!
Don’t Over Schedule
As parents, we want the best for our kids. We want to fill their childhoods with fun activities and make sure we’re taking advantage of enrichment programs like music lessons, coding camp, and language classes. We want to be sure they’re healthy and fit and learn about teamwork so we sign them up for sports. Before we know it, our kiddos have an activity almost every day of the week. We’re shuttling kids to and from school to lessons to sports. It’s expensive and exhausting for everyone.
The registration fees for these classes are expensive enough. Once you add in gas to get kids to all of these places and the equipment needed, it can put quite a dent into your budget.
Kids today are much more scheduled than I was growing up in the 80s and 90s. I remember during the summer playing outside for hours, only coming home for lunch and dinner time. Studies have shown that kids today have significantly less free time than their parents. And this lack of free play has profound effects on their emotional well-being, ability to cope with challenges, and form relationships. Kids need play to understand the world around them, and by over scheduling them with structured activities, we are denying them those crucial learning opportunities.
Especially if you have younger children, limit the number of sports or lessons to just once a week, or even hold off signing them up for anything for another year. Not only will reducing the number of activities benefit their well-being, your pocketbook will be happy too!
Go on Cheap Vacations
You don’t have to take your kids to Disney every year. And they don’t need to be globe-trotters by kindergarten. I’m all for traveling and getting kids to see the world, but you shouldn’t sacrifice your financial future by going on expensive vacations.
I know some will disagree with me, but when kids are little, I think less is more. If I am going to spend a lot of money on my vacation, I’m going to want to jam-pack my schedule and do as much as possible.
But at my kids’ ages (3 and 5) they just don’t have them in that yet. They’re little troopers but a full day out of climbing cathedral towers, going on bus tours, or checking out masterpieces at museums is just too much for them. Plus, they’re too little to do some of the adventurous things my husband and I like, such as scuba diving and zip lining. I’m going to save those vacations for when they’re older so we can get the most out of our trips.
This year, we decided to rent a house at the Outer Banks for a week. We will have a kitchen so we can have most of our meals in. Just doing that will save us a ton of money! Plus, my sister and mom are joining us so we can split the rental costs. I plan to spend most of our time at the beach or relaxing at the house. We may do a few activities, but I expect our entertainment costs to be pretty minimal.
If you don’t have a beach nearby, I highly recommend camping. I know it’s not for everyone, but you will be hard-pressed to find a more economical vacation. Besides, playing in the dirt, eating s’mores, and sleeping outside? What kid wouldn’t love that?!
If you’re not ready for a tent, many campsites offer cabins for a less rustic experience. This is also a great way to try out camping without having to buy a tent and other gear.
If I’ve piqued your interest, be sure to check out my post on why camping is the best frugal family vacation.
Nothing wrong with a staycation
Who says you have to go anywhere on vacation? Kids are going to remember the time they spend with you. What you do and how you spend that time is more important than where you go and how much you spend. Don’t sweat it if a vacation isn’t in the budget this year. There’s no need to try to keep up with the Jones’s!
Instead, get a kiddie pool to set up in the backyard, make ice pops, and try out some DIY spray chalk. Have a water balloon fight, take the kids to a matinee showing of the latest movie, and stay up late stargazing. Make a fort, play with a water table, and ride bikes. There are tons of free and cheap activities to build wonderful memories with your children right at home. For more inspiration check out my Pinterest boards for Cheap Summer Fun, Kids Crafts, STEM/STEAM Activities, and Cheap/Free Kids Activities.
Don’t Go Overboard on Birthdays
One of the first birthday parties my older son was invited to was at a bouncy house place. The kids got to play on lots of inflatables and then had pizza and cake in the party room. It was tons of fun so when I got home I checked out the pricing, thinking it might be a good option for his upcoming birthday.
My jaw about hit the floor when I looked at the packages. They started at about $500.
$500 for a preschooler’s birthday party? I think not.
Obviously the cheapest way to go is to host a birthday party at home, but I totally get if you don’t want your home inundated with a bunch of crazy kids. If your child has a birthday during the warmer months, renting a pavilion at a park is also a great frugal option.
My son’s birthday is in March, so it’s usually too cold to do something outside in New Jersey. But I don’t want a houseful of kids either. Somethings just aren’t worth saving money to me (ha!). Instead, we look for less expensive options. So far, we’ve had great parties at the YMCA and a local gym. Both had structured activities and party rooms to keep the kids playing and having fun. Other options to check out include bowling, ice skating rinks, and community pools.
Save money on food by going simple with pizza or sandwiches. Or do it at an off time and only serve snacks. Get a bottle of juice and paper cups instead of juice boxes to cut down on expenses. For the cake, try baking it yourself. If that’s not an option, don’t go to a baker and spend a ton on a fancy, customized cake. Chances are, a cake from the grocery store will work just fine.
You also don’t need to go crazy on favors. Think of how much junk your kid gets when s/he goes to parties. We probably have bags full. Get one or two small items, or bake cupcakes for them to take home and call it a day. Parents will thank you for not adding to their clutter at home!
I also have a Pinterest board on how to save money on kids’ birthdays, so if you’re planning a party soon, be sure to check it out!
Frugal Fun to Save Money on Kids
I first wrote about frugal fun when I talked about doing a no spend challenge with a family. I won’t repeat everything that I discussed in that post, but basically I tried to make the point that there are tons of free or low cost activities you can do with kids. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Story time at the library
- Street fairs
- Family picnic
- Go the a park
- Swim in a local lake/creek
- Beach day
- Neighborhood scavenger hunt
- Go fruit picking at an orchard
- Make a fort
- Kids crafts
Control Food Expenses
Food makes up one of the biggest expense categories in most family budgets. To save money on kids, you need to save money on food.
A lot has been written on how to save money on groceries so I won’t go into crazy detail here, but here are some tips to get you started:
- Keep your meals simple. Avoid specialized ingredients you’ll only use once, heavily processed foods, and expensive cuts of meat
- Have more meatless meals
- Buy fruits and veggies in season
- Meal plan, to avoid scrambling for dinner and ordering takeout
- Use coupons, including digital coupons (but don’t lose your mind over it!)
- Sign up for your local stores’ loyalty programs
- Bulk up on items when they’re on sale (but only if you’re going to use the items!)
- Use cash back sites like Ibotta, SavingStar, and Checkout 51
If you want to get really serious about saving money on groceries, I highly recommend the Load Your Cart for Less e-course from Savvy Savers Academy. In just one shopping trip, I more than made up for my investment in the course using the saving strategies I learned. For more information, read my review of the course, including an interview with the course creator!
School lunches are another opportunity to save money on kids. Skip buying lunch at school and check out these cheap and (mostly) healthy lunchbox ideas instead!
Save Money on Kids: Every Bit Helps!
I’ve said it time and again, but whatever you can do to save money will help. You don’t need to go extreme or stress yourself out trying to save money. Do what you can, when you can, and you will reap the benefits.
At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that I’m just scratching the surface of how to save money on kids. What are your go to tricks to save money on your children’s expenses? For those parents with older or grown up children, what advice would you give to parents of younger children to save money? Drop a line in the comments below so we can all learn!