Being Financially Fit When Raising a Child

Written by Meg Haley
Published February 11, 2019
being financially responsible when raising a child being financially responsible when raising a child

Sticking to a budget is hard. It’s even harder when you have kids because they want a lot of stuff. Staying on track is difficult because there are so many things marketed to them (and for them to you), especially those tiny clothes and shoes that are so cute they’re almost irresistible. You feel guilty if you don’t keep up with all the activities and gadgets your neighbor has for their kids. We get it. So, we’ve spent a little time thinking through some big areas of expense that we encounter as parents, and how to stay smart about spending.

The Necessities

Safety gear, clothes, food, hygiene items, even the list of necessities can sometimes feel overwhelming. We’re going to let you in on a little secret: buy second-hand. That’s right, we said it. Outside of a car seat, toothbrush, or mattress, pretty much everything you’ll need for your kiddo from birth through, well, middle school at least, can be purchased second hand without sacrificing quality. We go to Once Upon a Child or Kid-to-Kid at the start of every season to stock up on a new wardrobe. Then let grandparents and friends fill in some fun new items for holidays or birthdays.
To save on food and meds, we recommend bulk buying if you can! For everything else: go generic and save a ton.

Education

We know that childcare in those early years can be really expensive. So much so that many parents don’t even think about saving for higher education until their kids are already nearing middle school. However, if you start an account in your kid’s name now (savings, 529, whatever your financial expert advises for your situation), the pressure won’t be so high, and your small contributions will have plenty of time to add up.

Invest in Experiences

Don’t sweat buying all the latest and greatest toys—especially when your kids are little. Instead, start investing in experiences early in their life. They’re much more likely to remember all the family trips to the aquarium and museums than the random plastic gadget they got when they were four. This is a great way to get grandparents and other gift-givers involved, too. Ask for contributions towards a membership to the local children’s museum, towards summer swim lessons, or sports team participation fees. Savings bonds or other contributions toward the child’s education can also make a great gift! Your kids will be a lot heathier for it, and you’ll feel so much better about your investment.

Rotate Toys

This is one of our favorite practices that not many parents do, but those that can swear by it. This method is exactly what it sounds like: instead of having giant toy chests where everything gets tossed in at the end of the day, have a more purposeful rotation of toys. It requires you have a spare closet (or another storage system) you can dedicate to the items not currently available, and some shelves that are the right size and height for your kids to reach on their own. (This can be started from birth.) Then, you put out a variety of toys, presented on a tray, basket, or flat on the shelf so the child can easily see what’s there, without crowding the shelf space. Then sit back and watch! Pay attention to what’s getting used, and what’s not, and adjust accordingly.

Get Smart About Holiday Gifting

In addition to the experience-focused mode of asking for gifts for your kids, it’s important to set limits for yourself. Some parents buy as many gifts for the child as they are years old. Others create categories, so every year the child knows they’ll be getting "something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read." Seeing how the parent will interpret the "rules" this year creates excitement for the child, too. It’s also a good parameter for the parent to think about what the child really wants, and needs, and allows them to squeeze some of those necessities into the fun budget.

Birthday Parties

Do not look at Pinterest when your child’s birthday rolls around. I repeat: Do not look at Pinterest. You’ll spend as much as your mortgage, and still (likely) be dissatisfied with the result. Let’s be honest: you’re doing it for yourself or the other parents anyway, not your kid. Instead, work against the social pressures and imagine what kind of birthday celebration your child would enjoy. If they tend towards the dramatic and over-the-top, don’t just ask them what kind of party they want—but instead give options. Ask if they’d rather have a party at your neighborhood pool, or your backyard, for example. Then you can pick out decorations together. Set a dollar limit before you get to the store and tally it as you shop. If you’ve got an introvert on your hands, a big party probably isn’t on their wish list. Maybe a special dinner out with the family, or daytrip with one best friend would be ideal.

Those Special Moments

If you really want to, you can spend a veritable fortune on professional photos of your children over their first five years. We’re talking in the tens of thousands. For most of us, that’s not a reasonable way to invest that kind of money. So be conscientious about what you’re doing, when, and why. Be realistic about what you do plan to do with those photos! If you’re tempted to have a huge annual shoot each fall to get one photo for your Christmas card, think again. Many photographers will do mini-sessions with Santa or other backdrops for just such a purpose at a greatly reduced rate. Also, look around for free locations in your area where you could have a friend snap a few shots for the card. Odds are, they’ll be good enough. On the other hand, if you’re plastering the walls with all professional shots, and that’s something you’re passionate about, check with photographers in your area and see if they’ll do a package rate for booking a few years in a row. You can also pick up a used camera and do it yourself!

While it’s not always easy, it is possible to keep to a budget even with kids. Think ahead, set limits (for yourself and them) and recognize that quality time is even more important than expensive gifts. Share your new philosophy with others in your child’s life!