Here on Frugal Friday, it’s about time we discussed one of the biggest expenses that the typical family will face: children. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against children, and hope to have a few of my own at some point in the future. But they can be rather expensive: It now costs the typical middle-income family $226,920 (no, that is not a typo) to raise a child from birth to age 18, according to the USDA. (Even that rather impressive looking figure doesn’t include the cost of college, which could easily tack another $60,000, $80,000 or maybe even $100,000 onto that total, assuming the parents foot the bill.)
With such a high cost for raising a child, there should be some way to cut down on the expenses without putting your children up for adoption. Luckily for you, that is in fact the case; if you put some effort into it, you can keep your children AND more of your money too. All it takes is a little bit of ingenuity, but you can cut down the cost of raising children, even starting from the time they are born.
1. Stick With Used Clothing: If there is one universal truth about children, particularly young children, it’s that they grow, and grow fast. The clothes you buy them, particularly in the first few years of life, will fit for a few months, at most, before it’s time to buy new clothing. Rather than paying a small fortune for new clothing that your child will wear a few times before getting too large to use, buy some used clothing for a fraction of the price. When your child grows out of them, you can either sell them, throw them away or, if they have sentimental value, keep them to embarrass your children when they bring home dates in the future (you can already see what kind of dad I’m going to be). On a related note:
2. Swap Baby Clothing and Other Items With Friends or Relatives: While clothes make the man (or baby), they’re not the only thing you need to raise your child: you’ll need everything from rattles and other toys to cribs, bassinets, and changing tables. If you buy everything yourself, the costs will quickly add up; when you consider that you’ll need them for a few years at most (Unless you are planning a truly large family), it doesn’t make sense to pay for it all out of pocket. Instead, try to find some friends or family members with children around the same age as your children (or ideally, just a bit older), and see if you can use their supplies when they are done. When your children get too old for sleeping in cribs or being changed, you can, in turn, pass on the supplies to others. You’ll save a lot, and might even be able to pass on some of your own favorite toys or other mementos to your offspring.
3. Keep Spending on Baby Supplies to a Minimum: I realize that your first instinct is going to be to buy everything your child could want, and then some (I don’t even have children yet, and I already am feeling that sort of itch), but remember that (a) your child will be a baby for only a few years and (b) they will have no memory of that time when they grow up. Rather than spending a small fortune on your infant, buy the needed supplies as inexpensively as you can, and put the money towards future child expenses. Don’t compromise your child’s safety or anything like that, but ask yourself: Do I really need to get a $1000 dollar crib when the $100 crib is just as safe and sturdy? (Since cribs, amongst other infant products, have to meet rigorous safety standards, it’s a good question to ask.) On that note…
4. Decorate for a Child, Not an Infant: It’s tempting to do up the room like an infant’s dream, all soft colors and ultra cute animals. But unless you’re planning on having other babies to put in there (as you move your growing children into their own, appropriately decorated rooms), they’re not going to want to sleep in a room that’s decorated for an infant when they turn six (to say nothing of sixteen). Instead, keep the decorations fairly plain, and make it easy to shift the decorations as your child grows. Plainly painted walls in fairly neutral colors, a minimum of decorations (easily removed ones, ideally) and no expensive accessories that your child will likely tire of in a few years (race car bed, anyone?) will allow your child to grow with their room.
5. Buy Generic (Particularly When You’re Throwing It Away): It’s tempting to want to give your baby the best of everything, but when it comes to things like diapers, you can probably afford to buy generic. As with most things, not paying the ‘Pampers Premium’ can greatly reduce your costs, and allow you to spend more money on other things to make your baby healthier, happier, and better ready to greet the world. (Likewise, you can consider cloth diapers, as they have the potential to save even more; but that’s a personal choice and might depend more on your individual feelings as opposed to a strict dollars and cents analysis.)
One last note: regardless of how you try to save money on your new baby, keep one point in mind above all others: Be Safe. As important as it is to try to keep your spending to a minimum, nothing, and I mean NOTHING, should be done that could put your child in danger. If you are choosing a car seat, for example, your first priority should be safety, with cost coming a distant second (or perhaps even lower, after issues like comfort for your child and ease of properly loading into the car). Don’t put your child at risk to save money.