The cost of raising a child in today's economy seems to rise substantially year after year. Kids have a lot of needs that extend well beyond three squares and a cot; there's clothing and food, lessons and toys, medical care and a college savings plan. And it all adds up quickly. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it will cost the average, middle class family about $222,360 to raise a single child who was born in 2009 from birth to age 18. That's a whole lot of dough for a figure that doesn't even include college.
Sure, it's nice to have those additional tax credits, but ultimately, they don't make much of a dent in that whopper of a total. Fortunately, there are ways to cut down on some child-related expenses. Here are five ideas you can put into play.
The first year of breastfeeding will save you around $1,000 in formula costs.
When baby makes three, you have a lot of big decisions to make, and one of the first is whether or not to breastfeed. This is a bit of a controversial topic, so we'll skip the pros and cons in lieu of discussing the financial aspects of breastfeeding. Beyond the fact that you'll save money on not buying formula, babies who are breastfed are less likely to need medical care than their peers who are formula fed, so you also save on doctor's visits and medications. Also, breastfed tots can be introduced to solid foods later than their formula-fed counterparts, meaning savings on your grocery bill -- for a little while, at least.
4: Buy Used
Clothing and toys quickly become expendable objects due to the speed children outgrow them. So, instead of buying new and buying everything, check out used items instead. Get on the list to be the recipient of your friends' hand-me-downs as their kids grow. Garage sales and consignment stores are great for finding gently used kids' items.
If you're a germophobe this may not seem like an option for you, but take note: A quick wash on the hot cycle will remove any lingering cooties. Exceptions to the buy used rule are cribs and car seats. Manufacturers are continually upgrading these to meet new safety specifications, so you'll want to be current on these items.
3: Child Care
You can write off child care costs on your taxes. Just be sure to keep accurate financial records of what you spend.
In this era, it's quite common for both spouses to have careers they'll continue with after their children are born. This means finding daily child care until the kids are of school age, which can chip a big chunk out of your monthly take home. Daycare centers are generally cheaper than nannies, but finding one that's close and also fits your child-rearing philosophies may be challenging. A way around this is to find other parents in your neighborhood with the same challenges and set up a babysitting co-op or a nanny share. You can also ask your employer for flexible work hours or permission to telecommute when possible so that you can be home more during the day.
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Your monthly grocery bill is most likely one of the biggest line items in your family's budget. Clipping coupons is an obvious way to save some cash, but that really only applies to name brand packaged foods. You could buy generic, but that still comes in a box or a can. What about trying to feed your family fresh food on a budget?
For starters, skip the specialty and gourmet stores and head to your nearest farmer's markets for fresh, organic produce that was probably grown pretty close to your house. Better yet, grow your own. You can plant a small kitchen garden with enough veggies to get you through a couple of seasons for much cheaper than you can buy it. And best of all, your kids can get involved in the garden. Not only will that help cut down time on maintenance for you, but it will give them a hands-on appreciation of where their food comes from.
Experts say that contrary to our tendency to schedule our kids' lives to the hilt, they actually need unstructured play time to explore and create, too. "Free play" helps kids learn social skills, cope with stress and develop problem-solving skills.
How many holidays have you spent surrounded by hundreds of little pieces to games and toys that delight your kids for about a day? Kids don't need every single new toy and fad that comes around. Unstructured and undirected play is crucial to a child's development, and it can also create less of a strain on your wallet. Skip the coloring books and give them blank pieces of paper. The backs of paper you've already used will work perfectly. A box of old clothes will give them hours of dress up fun, and items found in nature make great art supplies.