This page is in response to the March 30, 1998 U.S. News and World Report article "The Cost of Raising Children" which suggests that raising one middle class child to age 22 costs almost 1.5 million dollars.
I am writing this from personal experience. I started this page when my daughter was about 2 years old, and she is now almost 12. I don't know, and can't predict, how much she will eventually cost to raise, and indeed, many of the cost saving measures my husband I have taken are not things that all families can do. This is merely food for thought.
Breastfeeding your baby can make feeding your infant virtually free for the first six months of life, and will continue to keep the cost down if you continue even after your baby starts on solid foods. Breastfeeding can save up to $1,000 the first year. Making your own baby food costs pennies, doesn't take much time, and eliminates a lot of waste.
As a family we plan our menus in advance when possible and carefully plan our shopping list. We stick to the list when we get to the store. Store brand items are usually the cheapest, even if we have a double coupon for a name brand.
School lunches tend to have high fat contents so Paloma and I usually pack her lunch at home. Paloma is a vegetarian, and her school prohibits peanut butter, so we sometimes have a challenge coming up with a good lunch. I have found that leftovers from dinner the previous night are great lunches the next day. She doesn't mind eating them cold. Cold pizza, tofu stir fry, and macaroni are all things that she will eat the next day. Fortunately, her school also provides a microwave oven for students to use, so she can back veggie burgers, or soy nuggets and heat them up there. I often find that she doesn't eat fruit that is packed in her lunch, but is more likely to eat peas. We also have been discussing the use of disposables in lunch packing. It helps save the environment as well as money. We try to use re-usable containers for yogurt, pudding, sandwiches and water. For more information see Waste Free Lunches.
Remember that mealtime can be made special every night by having the family gather together, turning off the television, and lighting candles. We don't eat meat every night, and we don't eat big meals every night. You don't need to eat at a restaurant to make meal time special. Instead of going out to eat, invite some friends to your house.
We subscribe to a CSA box from a local organic farm. It is not that expensive and I discovered that freezing vegetables is extremely easy and prevents us from having to buy canned vegetables until well into the next year.
Childcare is expensive. My husband and I were lucky that we were able to minimize the cost by having work schedules that allowed us to trade off child care for our daughter's first three years. We are also fortunate that the College we work for has an on-site child care center with reduced fees for employees.
Look into babysitting co-ops to minimize the cost of babysitting.
We have made arrangements with friend to watch each other's children after school , and occasionally in the evening to give each other a night out.
While minivans and SUVs have become quite popular, they are not the only form of transportation available. Do you really need a big car if you only have one or two children? Do you really have to drive everywhere you go? Americans generally won't walk more than 600 feet, about 1/10 of a mile. Save some gas and try walking anywhere that you can in less than 15 minutes. Is there bus service in your area?
Paloma's private school does not have busses, all children are transported to school in private cars. I am surprised that so few families carpool. Most of the children are driven in huge vehicles that seat seven or more people. What price per gallon of gas will make people reconsider their options. I cannot understand why more people are not trying to work out a carpooling schedule.
My husband and I have chosen to live in town, rather than in the suburbs. Houses are expensive where we live but we have offset that by not having high transportation costs. We can both walk to work, and also walk to go shopping when feasible. Walking to work not only keeps our fuel cost down, we also save on our auto insurance. Our trusty 12-year old Saturn gave up the ghost in September 2004. We purchased one of the last Saturn wagons available and expect to drive it into the ground as well. We are hoping to get at least 15-years out of it as we do less driving now than we did before we became parents!
Children, in the early years, outgrow clothes before they wear them out. You can get great deals at consignment shops and can get clothes for free if you let your friends and family know that you'll take hand-me-downs. I don't know how long my child will continue in used clothes before she becomes too fashion conscious, but I intend to take full advantage of it while I can. Additionally, I don't worry as much about my daughter getting stains or tears in clothes that were free to us.
My husband and I wear hand-me-downs and used clothing too. I got one of my favorite dresses at a rummage sale for $1.00.
My daughter seems to have outgrown playgrounds, which makes me all the more happy we did not build a play structure in our yard. I do miss taking her to the playground and meeting our neighbors, though. Several years ago, my husband took this picture in Ellicott City, Maryland which I think is a sad commentary on how we are losing our sense of community.
I must admit that my daughter is more materialistic than I would have hoped! She often wants to buy something when we go out. Sometimes telling her in advance that we are only buying what is "on the list" heads off the nagging.
When Paloma's half-birthday rolls around we go through her toy boxes and find toys she has outgrown which she donates to local charities. She understands that she receives on her birthday, but has to give on her half-birthday.
When we started to give her an allowance, it was with the understanding that she divide the money between 3 banks: spending, saving and charity. She decides how much goes into each one. We started out giving her all the money in quarters. When we go somewhere where we think she may want to buy something we help her to pick an appropriate amount of money from the spending bank. She learns this way that different things have different prices and she won't always have enough money to buy everything she wants. It has been wonderful also to see that she is so generous with her money when deciding how much to put in the charity bank. The money goes to help our church buy food for lunches at the local shelter.
Back to School
I realized in the Summer of 2004 when my daughter received her list of supplies she would need for second grade, that the annual ritual that I participated in as a child of buying everything we needed was really unnecessary. We already owned almost everything on the list. My daughter receives several boxes of crayons and markers every year. It seems no one can give her a coloring book or artist kit without including crayons, markers or colored pencils to go with it, and consequently we have some unopened boxes of each. Free pencils are given out at so many events she attends I doubt I will ever have to buy another one. Many organizations accept school supply donations for teachers so they do not have to pay out-of-pocket or students who cannot afford them. Check with your local school board, the Society of Friends or iloveschools.com.
I simply tell my daughter no when she asks for a new backpack or lunchbox when I can see that her old ones are still perfectly serviceable.
Paloma's middle school requires uniforms. We try to keep the cost of this expense down by making sure she wears things out, and taking advantage outgrown uniforms from other families.
Checking out what activities we can do for free keeps our entertainment budget low. We frequently attend free concerts, parades, family days or festivals sponsored by the college or the town.
I am sorry to report the closure of our town library due to lack of funding in September of 2007. The Public Library can be a great place for free children's and family programming. A society that does not fund its libraries is a society that does not care about children.
There are other fun low-cost activities that our family enjoys. Going to a local farm and buying a bag of food to feed the animals is a favorite of my daughter.
When Paloma was very young I could entertain her for free for quite a while by doing "backyard tours". I simply pulled her around in the wagon and stopped to do things like ring the wind chimes, look at an insect, touch some plants, smell the flowers, and listen to birdsongs.
We usually rent videos rather than going to the movie theatre. Movies are usually on video within 6 months from the time they appear in theatres, at a fraction of the cost. At home we can enjoy breaks when we need them, popcorn at a reasonable price and don't have to listen to everyone around us spoiling the movie for us with their loud talking.
Find out about community theatre in your area, or attend a play production at your local middle or high school. Tickets can be reasonably priced and some of the productions are quite professionally done.
The family enjoys listening to books on tape while traveling, or having one of us read aloud to the others.
Other Money-Saving Ideas
Get rid of the television. We didn't actually get rid of ours, but since we don't have cable, we get no reception. This limits our television viewing to videos. Interestingly none of us miss it. The biggest benefit of this is that we don't see as much advertising. My daughter never knows what the latest "must-have" toy is. And my husband and I are unaware of the latest kitchen gadgets.
Plant a vegetable garden, even if you don't have a big yard. When I had very little gardening space I kept potted tomato plants on the back porch. Some herbs can be grown indoors and double as attractive houseplants.
More tips from the Center for the New American Dream
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Last updated August 5, 2009