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How to Raise a Child on a Budget

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To raise a child today, experts say, it costs upwards of $300k. Here are some ways to give your child what they need and want without going broke.

I read a report recently that stated that the current cost to raise a child is assessed at $245,000. Cat talked in this post about how to know if you’re financially ready for children earlier this week, and it’s vitally important to have a plan in place and know your financial situation before taking on the raising of a child.

However, I’m a firm believer in simplicity when it comes to raising children. In many ways, we have bred a real sense of entitlement in today’s children. They “need” a smartphone, a car, name brand clothes and all of the things that “everyone else” has.

We homeschool our children, but I grew up in a traditional school system, and am well aware of pressures that today’s kids face.  As a “poor” kid, I had my share of criticism and of being ostracized due to wearing non-name brand clothes and not having all of the “stuff” that other kids have.

It was, in part, those experiences that led my husband and I to get into the serious debt problem that we are working out of today. It’s difficult to be among such a large group of peers and stand out for not having what everyone else has. And I think that’s a large part of why people are spending so much money on their kids today.

However, there are ways to raise a child on a budget that is significantly less than $250,000. Here are some tips.

Raise a Child the Frugal Way

 

Let’s start with clothing. Name brand clothing might be a “must” in your neighborhood, however, Ebay, Craigslist, your local garage sales and the clearance racks often have great-looking name brand clothing at a fraction of the price of new clothes.

Buy used, teach your kids to take good care of their clothes, and then sell them again to earn some of that money back once they’ve grown out of them. Obviously, some things, such as shoes, usually need to be bought new, but wait for the sales and never pay full price.

Extracurricular Activities

Sports and other extracurricular activities are fun and can do well in contributing to the growth and development of your child. However, it’s really not necessary to pack up every evening and weekend with different sports and activities. I read a story one time about a family of four that, largely for financial reasons, decided to limit their two kids to two sports or activities per year. Not only did they save thousands of dollars, but their family grew closer, more relaxed, and simply enjoyed life more on a not-so-busy schedule.

Instead of jam-packing your child’s every waking hour with a task or commitment, choose to do things as a family or with friends. Plan picnics, short hikes or bike rides. Visit a park.  Visit a family member or friend. Have friends over for dinner. Teach your kids the value in having fellowship and friendship with others or of sitting home and enjoying the quiet instead of always having to do, be, and go.

Technology

Things have changed: I get that. We live in a world where technology is a huge part of children’s lives. To raise a child today means providing technology for school and just about every thing else. However, your kids do not have to have every gadget known to mankind. Give your child what they need in terms of electronic gadgets, but beware of letting time in front of a screen consume their lives. Limit the amount of unnecessary time in front of the screen and teach your child the value of fresh air, sunshine and face-to-face human interaction.

To raise a child today, experts say, it costs upwards of $300k. Here are some ways to give your child what they need and want without going broke.

When I see kids today, sitting in a group and not speaking one word to each other as they bury their faces into their smartphones, I long even more for the days when nearly every one of my great-grandmother’s 12 kids and dozens of grandchildren/great-grandchildren would pop over to her house for an unexpected visit. I think we can learn something valuable about healthy ways to raise a child from generations past.

The fun we experienced during those visits could never, ever be matched by any activity or gadget.

By remembering what’s truly important in life – people – and training our kids up to live a life that reflects that, we can not only give them an extra dose of confidence and peace, but we can save tens of thousands of dollars in the process as well.

 

What are your tips for raising children on a budget? Do you feel financially ready to raise a child? What’s something society today says you have to provide children that might not be necessary?

 

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Laurie is a wife, mother to 4, and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom, and to a simpler, more peaceful life.

36 Comments

  • Gretchen says:

    I wholeheartedly agree, Laurie! Many things deemed “needs” by the parenting experts really aren’t. Quite frankly, the less toys and technology a child has, the better they are able to develop their brain. Having fewer toys forces them to learn on their own and use their imagination! Plus, I feel like many parents use the TV or toys as a babysitter instead of giving their kids the time and attention they deserve 🙂

    • I couldn’t agree more, Gretchen! When we leave our kids to their imagination, we put them in an environment where they’re forced to learn new and different ways of doing things, and that skill is a pillar for success. 🙂

  • We had some relatives over this weekend. They have teenage boys and, while we tried to get them to go with us to Mesa Verde or on a hike, all they did was bury their heads in their phones and watch Mythbusters on Netflix.

    It was almost all I could do not to be rude. I know teens will be teens but I am going to try so hard not to get to that outcome. Ask me again in 5 years and we will see if I’ve been successful!

    • Laurie says:

      You know, Kim, I think it can be done. The rule in our house is that when we’re with company, we’re WITH COMPANY, and our almost 15-year-old knows that and obeys it because it’s just a fact of life for her. 🙂

  • Nicola says:

    I agree! I hate the fact that 5 years now have iPads, or “need” the latest technology. They don’t! They need family time, playing games and enjoying the outdoors. Much better for them and cheaper too.

  • It’s so nice to hear another person voice how we think! My husband and I don’t have kids yet, but we want to raise them on the basis of enjoying simplicity and thinking of others more than themselves (we’re trying to work on this ourselves first!). Thanks for the encouragement that it can be done!

    • Laurie says:

      So glad to hear that, Deb! We moved from the ‘burbs to the country two years ago, and our kids are SO much happier without all of the stuff and with the room to run and play for hours. Wouldn’t trade it for anything.

  • We are due to have our first child any day so I’m pretty sure I’ll have lots to say about a baby and a budget soon. It will be interesting to see how baby impacts our budget now that the mortgage and debt is gone. I’m sure that if we stick to a plan we won’t be diving in too deep at first but only time will tell as baby gets older. To prepare we’ve either had most things donated or gone to second-hand shops. The baby room is not full of expense cribs and decor either. The baby won’t care how much you spent on a decal (which by the way the one we were interested in cost $150.. no thanks) so we hit the dollar store. You have to pick and choose when it comes to quality items and what you can do with used or donated for free. A big topic that’s for sure. Thanks for sharing.

  • I don’t think it is nearly as expensive as they make it out to be. There are a lot of choices you can make to keep the costs of having kids way down- I know from experience!

  • Amy says:

    I agree with you, Laurie! Fortunately, my daughter is only four, so we haven’t experienced the desire for electronics and cars, or even brand-name clothing. We do have Disney princess dolls coming out of our ears, though.

    My plan is to require her to buy things with her own money, which I hope will eventually teach her to value what she has more, and that she has to work to have things she wants.

    In college, a friend told me that her parents would always pay for the basic model of whatever clothing she wanted, and she had to pay the difference for something name-brand. For example, her parents would pay for her Lee jeans, but she would have to come up with the rest of the price for Guess jeans (wow – that probably really dates me!). I like this approach, and plan to use this with my daughter when she gets older.

    • Laurie says:

      Amy, you are so on the right track. We do the same thing with our kids: we provide the basics, and anything over and above either has to be put on the birthday/Christmas list or saved for themselves. As such, they have learned the joy of value-based spending and appreciate what they have.

  • Kathy says:

    I know of people who have 4 kids and each one has a smart phone or I-pad. Can you imagine how much that data plan costs even with a family plan? Yikes! And something that you didn’t mention is education. Many people think that their child should only go to a private school. Especially in college, a highly rated in-state public university can save hundreds of thousands of dollars over the private version. I think that some of these articles are written by east/west coast elites where everything costs more and their sense of what is necessary is a bit warped.

    • Laurie says:

      I know, Kath – it’s amazing!!!! No one in our family has a smartphone, or an ipad, or anything else besides our PC and the laptop our 14 year old saved for and bought with her own money. I got my talk and text phone for $50 and buy one $100/100 minute card per year. I found the same phone on clearance in the spring and bought one for my hubby and one for our oldest for $25 each. Add in their $100/year cards, and we spent a total of $400 on phones in the last 12 months. Next year it’ll be $300. 🙂

  • Great post Laurie! You have touched on something here that my hubby and I have been debating how to handle with our daughter- technology! We plan to work really hard to set a good example for her in terms of staying active outdoors, and we hope she’ll learn to love things like camping, hiking, and biking, and not be a video game lizard. Cheaper and healthier, can’t beat it.

  • I love this, Laurie. We’re spoiling our kids way too much. I don’t have children, but I’m including myself to be nice =-) An 8 year old doesn’t need an iPhone because you should always know where he/she is. I understand maybe at 15 when they start going out and hanging out different places, but before that they could ask to borrow somebody else’s phone if they need to call you.

    • Laurie says:

      Exactly, Aldo!!!!! You’ve hit the nail on the head. We give our kids way too much responsibility and privilege at way to early an age these days, and it’s so sad.

  • I remember last year my step-son asked DH for a tablet…he was six. We told him that until his laptop died (I had given him my older one) there is no option of a laptop. He of course was a bit down at first but he’s never asked about it since that episode. Children become as spoiled as we encourage them to be.

    • Laurie says:

      “Children become as spoiled as we encourage them to be.” LOVE that, Kassandra – so very true. Good for you guys for keeping tight reigns on your little guy – he’ll be better off for it in the long run.

  • I think it’s not only the kids who “want” everything, but parents also get very competitive with one another. I’m sure some of it is a reflex from remembering being told “no” and not being able to have everything they wanted. Today it’s very easy to say “yes” because we have credit cards so we don’t HAVE to live within our means the way many of our parents did (at least those of us who are a certain age parents did. LOL!). The girls are starting to notice brands and what their friends wear and that’s led to some good conversations.

    • Laurie says:

      Shannon, SO true!!! We are working very hard to get back to those days where if you didn’t have the cash, you didn’t get it, period!! Even with debit cards I think it’s tempting to spend more because you can always go home and transfer money from savings via the PC, but with cash, you have more of a finite view of your money, I think. Glad to hear the girls are getting a good education on those things. We talk about that at our house too: how to be in style without spending huge money. Rick still thinks I was kidding last month when I told him we purposely bought Maddie denim shorts with holes in them because they were in style. 😉 We got an awesome deal, though, LOL. 🙂

  • I’m sure some parents have read this and thought, “But you don’t know how strong-willed my kid can be!” I have found that among my own three children, there is a vast difference in their level of acceptance of the answer, “No.” To those parents facing similar challenges, I encourage you to determine your boundaries. And hold them. To the death. (That’s not much of an exaggeration.) The key is in picking those boundaries realistically to begin with.

    • Laurie says:

      Prudence, love your advice about holding your boundaries to the death. Kids really do thrive on knowing that there are strong boundaries in their lives.

  • It is so hard to say no to our kids, but it is not only the best thing for them emotionally, it’s the best thing for our budgets. I am fortunate that I have one son and he does not care about labels or what he is wearing. We do have the technology talk all the time because his friends get certain things from their parents. I always say “If so and so’s parents want to make foolish financial choices and waste their money on technology for their kids, that is their choice. I won’t be making the same foolish choice in our home.”

    • Laurie says:

      Shannon, LOVE that answer that you give to your son. It’s so awesome that you are teaching him how to stand strong and not fall into the habit of keeping up with the Joneses. Independence is an awesome thing to have.:-)

  • I hate it when those #s come out. They scare me. People just buy so much junk for their kids though. I’m all about the simplicity.

  • Great post! Raising a child is expensive but it doesn’t have to cost as much as some make it out to be. I’ve seen plenty of babies and infants in expensive name brand clothing. Really! They really couldn’t care less what brand they’re wearing and they outgrow them so fast. I also know many co-workers out here in the suburbs where I work who spend a lot of money on sports for their kids. It’s great to be involved in sports but sometimes it’s just too much time and money commitment.

    • Laurie says:

      Exactly, Andrew!! We have to stop and say “What really matters. What is truly important?” And there are LOTS other things more important than gadgets and name brand clothing.

  • Lauren says:

    I’m striving to raise my daughter to understand that experiences and relationships are more important than things. I hope she won’t mind our budgeting ways or ever be embarrassed by them. She’s only 3 now, so I’m sure that at some point she’ll face those pressures to “keep up” with the right clothes, shoes, and gadgets. Not looking forward to that!

  • Ginger says:

    One thing that does pull up those numbers, is daycare. We spend about 1/2 my salary (as a grad student so, yes the salary is small) on daycare. That means we are extremely frugal on other aspects of our life, but even just counting daycare, after school care and summer care, you can add in about $100,000 over 18 years in an average area, to the cost of raising a child.

  • Hooper mom says:

    This was a great article and I am encouraged to know their are others still maintaining sanity. We don’t use the TV Mon-Fri and devices only on weekends. electronic time must match outside time. One sport a year and clubs are allowed (Most clubs are free or cost is low) AWANAS, Girl Scouts, Campfire, after school academic clubs etc… We do family time during dinner and at free comunity events posted in local paper. We have a college fund for our 4 that can be given to them if they get scholarships. They take school seriously just so they can get the money (Don’t tell them, but it is only 10.00 a month 🙂 I buy clothes out of season when they are cheaper and on sale. We buy bulk grocceries and planning meals saves a lot of money even without using coupons.

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