We have have 3 young kids (all of them still younger than 8) and have followed some simple rules over the years that have helped us to save a bunch of money raising them. These rules must be common sense for many of you, but I have found that they are surprisingly foreign to some parents of young kids.
1. Buy used
We live in a company town, and Mark works at “the company.” In general, the employees are compensated well, or at least that’s the perception. Recently I was talking to a friend who tries to be careful with money, and she mentioned that she just bought winter clothes for all of her kids at a local store.
I was amazed that she bought clothes full price for all her kids. She seemed to be equally amazed to find out that I only ever buy clothes at garage sales and consignment sales. I think some of that surprise stems from the perception that we’re doing okay for ourselves, so why would we ever buy used?
I went to my first mom-to-mom consignment sale a few years ago in Phoenix where we lived. It was there that I discovered that I could buy enough clothes and shoes for my 12-month-old son to last him an entire year for about $30! I’ve been hooked on consignment sales ever since.
Things naturally became more expensive when we moved to snow country, and I have purchased the occasional new pair of boots or other heavy-wear item. Just a few weeks ago, I bit the bullet when I realized I had no winter clothes for my oldest son. I waited for a Kohl’s 30% off coupon to come in the mail and bought him $87 worth of clothes to use once it gets cold. A week later I discovered a consignment sale in the area, bought him the same amount of clothes for $15. Suffice it to say I will be taking the unused Kohl’s clothes back. A $72 savings right there!
A consignment sale is basically an organized collaborative garage sale on a massive scale. Good quality, low cost clothing (and everything else kid related) is in large supply. If you have not jumped on the consignment sale band wagon, you need to. I used to find out about them through word of mouth, but there are an increasing number of online resources to find consignment sales in your area. One great resource that has grown a lot over the last few years is consignment mommies.
2. Let people know you are open to receiving hand-me-downs.
There may be a stigma against hand-me-downs, but that’s mainly all my kids have, and they are quality. A few years ago, a friend whose youngest daughter is a couple years older than my daughters asked if we would be interested in her old clothes. I emphatically and gratefully told her yes, and she has been happy to pass down used clothes ever since.
This winter season my daughter grew into the first batch of clothes my friend had given us. It’s awesome! She is fully wardrobed and then some, for the entire winter. We have consistently handed our clothes down to other families as well (because, remember, we thought we were done), and I was a bit sad about that when we found out we were expecting again (that we had given away our clothes, not that I was expecting).
But wouldn’t you know it, another family found out the gender of our next baby, and I am now the grateful owner of 7 bags of baby GIRL (yep, another girl) clothes they are done with. We will spend almost nothing on clothes for this little one’s first year of life.
3. Keep holidays and birthdays simple
This might not be for everyone, but we didn’t really start celebrating Christmas (getting a tree, buying presents for the kids) until about 2 years ago. At that point, our oldest was 5, and we thought he was finally old enough to realize that others got gifts at Christmas time.
Even now, we do not really go all out. The kids do get presents from both grandparents, and then a present from Santa and a present from parents. We probably spend about $50 per kid for Christmas.
We also have limited decorations for each major holiday. Again, this is personal preference but goes along with both our desires to limit spending and limit storage.
4. Avoid library fees! Take advantage of opportunities in your community
I finally found a library where they won’t charge me late fees. This alone will probably save me over $150 a year. This is probably fairly unusual, but I just mention it because it has been available in my community the whole 3 years we’ve lived here, and I’ve even heard about it various times. Our family would be richer [hang head in shame] if we had switched to that library sooner.
What’s available in your community that will save your money but you haven’t jumped on yet? There are likely cheaper clothing or grocery stores, food co-ops, or museums that are part of reciprocal membership programs, etc.
5. Be patient with large purchases (and be open about your dreams)
The main difference between paying a lot and a little for something is time. You get can a better deal on almost anything if you are willing to be patient and wait for the right opportunity.
I had a dream a few months back– it was a trampoline for our backyard. I would occasionally tell my friends about my dream of a trampoline, but a large purchase like that is not something we would do quickly.
After a few months, someone looking to get rid of their trampoline happened to hear of my dream and called us up to take care of it. We only paid $50 to make a minor repair, and now the kids use it every day!
Other times I’ve waited on large purchases for a while only to realize that I was no longer interested. So you can either save yourself some buyer’s remorse or end up getting a better deal.
I’m not encouraging you to talk about your dreams hoping that others will make them come true. Being the recipient of a kind gesture is just a natural byproduct of being a good friend and helping others in the same way.
6. Wait for the end of the season to make purchases.
I should have bought new swimsuits for the girls at the end of last summer, but of course I forgot. We live a mile from Lake Michigan and go to the beach almost daily in the summer (a necessary step to thaw out from winter).
The girls wore their stretched swimsuits for the entire summer while I waited for August sales to roll around. It was slightly painful, but it also saved money. (Full-disclosure, in the end it was Grandma who bought them swimsuits in August, but I did wait!)
7. Don’t buy children’s furniture new.
Our kids furniture is a collection of craigslist, garage sale, and Ana White experiments. That doesn’t mean we just buy our kids junk. The furniture we have purchased is actually fairly nice and perfectly functional. You just have to be patient and stay alert for what you are looking for.
Things we are working on (or okay with)
Music. Honestly, we spend more money than average on good music teachers and instruments. If you value quality and want to make the most of your time, the $10 lessons just aren’t going to cut it.
Homeschool. Recently (as in last night, lol) I started actually spending money on more home school curriculum– I’ve always been on the skimpy, bare bones side, but we need some resources here, and that’s a whole topic by itself…
Food. I am horrible at saving on food, but my motivation has been rekindled, and I think I can cut our bill by $200/month at least. How? I’ll let you know if I actually do it.
General rules of raising kids on a budget
Not everyone agrees on what areas to cut back on, and that’s fine because everyone has their thing! After talking to my friend about our very different spending rules (even though we are both trying to be somewhat frugal), I’ve wondered how other frugal families really live. Do you have something you are willing to spend on? Are your rules different than ours?
What rules do you follow to save money in your family or raising kids?