Studies suggest that raising a child to the age of 18 may cost upwards of $250,000. This estimate includes housing, utilities, food, medical care, education, clothing and other necessities that increase with the cost of each child. While many of these budget areas cannot be trimmed too much, parenting on a budget can still be a comfortable reality.
Here we’ll focus mostly on saving on clothes, toys, activities and childcare. You may also want to look at our budget help articles for food, electricity, hobbies and other family-friendly categories.
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Budget Worksheet: Use this simple worksheet to get an idea of where you stand so you can better adjust your spending.
10 Best Blogs for Family Budget: This collection of blogs is great for regular visits, so bookmark them for a wealth of new budget-friendly ideas every day.
Raising a Child on a Blog: Learn about the most expensive aspects of child-rearing and ways to save.
Budgeting for Single Parents: Whether you’re a single parent or not, these tips will help you organize your priorities and stay on track.
10 Steps for Raising Baby on a Budget: These tips help you focus on free samples, convertible items and other cost-effective shopping skills.
Parenting Gifted Kids on a Budget: Learn about educational opportunities that won’t break the bank.
Teaching Kids about Money: Get your kids involved in the family budget or help them develop their own to teach them about saving.
Deductions and Tax Credits: Here is a comprehensive list of ways to save on your taxes or increase your tax refund based on child-rearing expenses.
Nanny Sharing: Decide whether nanny sharing could be a cost-effective option for more personalized child care.
Kid’s Clothing on a Budget
Back-to-School Budget Savers: These tips help especially with those yearly school clothes shopping trips that need a strict budget to be manageable.
How to Buy Kids Clothes for Less: Know where to find good deals and learn when you can get away with the cheaper stuff.
Children’s Orchard: Check for one of these stores near you to sell and buy gently used clothing.
Once Upon a Child: You can find great deals here on clothing, strollers, furniture and more.
Baby Plays: Buy and sell gently used (and sanitized) toys through this site, which provides fun for kids up to elementary school age.
Pley: With this site you can rent Legos for a flat fee per month. Save by not having to purchase expensive kits that will only be built once.
Swap: Here you can buy and sell kid and mom stuff, including clothing, books, outdoor and sports equipment and baby items.
Family Fun on a Budget
Free Family Activities: Take advantage of free fun in your area from the library to free museum days.
12 Best Kid-Friendly Destinations: These vacation destinations are all fun (and some very educational) for the whole family without blowing your budget.
Budget-Friendly Disney Trip: Many families dream of vacationing to Disney, but it’s with these tips that you’ll be able to make it affordable.
Fun Holidays on a Budget: Christmas and birthdays don’t have to be expensive if you focus on simple and fun activities that are free or low-cost.
Throwing a Teenage Party: Cutting corners on birthday parties is harder with teens, but with smarter choices on venue, decorations and the invite list you’ll have an easier time staying under budget.
Tips for Parenting on a Budget
Saving on Childcare
One of the biggest costs associated with raising young children is childcare. Always start here to see if there are any ways you can save.
Dual to Single Income: If your kids are young and need childcare services, you may want to weigh the benefits of cutting from two incomes to one. The income lost may be less than the costs associated with day care.
After School Programs: In some cases, a safe after school activity may keep school-aged children occupied until you get home from work. Some schools coordinate transportation to a local Boys & Girls club or other low-cost activity center.
Nanny Sharing: You may think having a nanny is out of your budget, but you can often split the cost with neighbors, friends or family. The nanny will work out of one of the homes, possibly on a rotating schedule, with the children and can provide the home-oriented and personalized care that many seek in a nanny.
Vouchers and Public Assistance: You may qualify for public assistance that helps pay for part or all of your childcare expenses. You can find a list of contact information for these state agencies here.
Saying “No” to yourself as a parent is just as important as saying “No” to things your child wants when they don’t fit the budget. This is a great way to teach kids about the important difference between “needs” and “wants.”
Take the time to talk out your own decisions when you make money-saving moves. Modeling this type of self-restraint will help make it easier for the whole family to get on board with the budget. It also lets the kids know that they’re not the only ones having to cut back on things they want.
Encouraging Your Kids to Save
Include your kids in the budget process as much as possible. You can do this by including a kids section in the family budget or by giving each child his or her own income and budget. This “income” can be allowance or pay for chores and/or good grades.
Help each child pick out an affordable and age-appropriate item or activity they would like to save toward. Then work out how long it will take to save that amount. This exercise encourages the whole family to learn how to save and allocate money.
Finding Free & Low-Cost Activities
There are many resources to find these kinds of activities. Your local schools may have the best information about a variety of fun, free things to do in your area.
Check for discount days at amusement parks, movie theaters, and other family-friendly places. Museums are especially known to host free or discount days to encourage families with children to attend.
Most towns and cities have community center classes. You may be able to find financial assistance for these classes that can include dance, art, theater, sports, and more.
Crafts can also be an affordable activity, particularly if you look for “repurposing” ones that use household items you already own. Check out your local dollar stores and hobby store clearance bins for additional inexpensive crafting supplies.
State, national and local parks can be another inexpensive experience. Pack a homemade picnic and some water and you can spend all day hiking and exploring. This is also a great educational resource if you put a bit of preparation into some games and activities, like identifying birds, plants or insects. Bring a camera along to capture the memories and you can also learn together about hobby photography.
Volunteering together is a free way to engage kids in a meaningful experience. Many volunteer opportunities are quite fun for kids, like gardening or singing and crafting with “adopted grandparents” at a local senior center.
Buying Used & Renting
Buying used is a good option for everyone from babies to teenagers. About the only time you definitely want to skip this is anything safety related, like car seats and helmets.
Clothes for fast-growing babies and young kids are often not worth a full price investment. This is especially true for special occasion clothes that are only worn once. Try to find the cute Easter and birthday outfits at local or online resale stores. Of course, you can also sell your own used items to these businesses for cash or a store credit towards better-fitting clothes.
Garage and yard sales are another great place to find used items.
Renting is another good option if you can find it. There are several companies available online that allow you to rent toys. These are great for young kids who quickly outgrow or lose interest in new toys.
Buying Convertible Items
You want your purchases to grow with your kids whenever possible.
For instance, there are car seats that work for newborns all the way up to 60 pound kids in a forward-facing booster seat. It may cost more upfront, but not having to buy a new car seat every year will save you a lot. There are also cribs that convert into beds as well as strollers, high chairs and other similar items that convert to age-appropriate uses.
Saving on Food
Food is one of the easiest budget areas to accidentally overspend. Eating out or buying a lot of processed foods can drive your monthly cost up significantly.
However, becoming too much of a perfectionist can sabotage your plan to save. If you’re eating out a lot now, don’t expect it to change overnight. If you try to, you’ll end up buying a lot of groceries that end up getting thrown out when you end up grabbing take-out. Instead, slowly reduce the amount of meals you eat out, and prep and cook ahead as much as possible to reduce the need to get outside food.