Life Hacks for Parents: How to Afford Your Offspring

Wende Dahlsten
Greater Nevada Credit Union
As my husband and I embark upon parenting a human, we did a little research and found that according the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average cost to raise a child born in 2013 to age 18 is expected to be $241,080. We thought it would be smart to start learning from the experts and reach out to some friends who have kids to discuss their financial strategies

Coupons and Deals

My friend Amy, mother of 3, is a coupon and wallet loyal. She tells me "I don't believe in paying full price for anything. But having this philosophy means I don't buy a certain brand on anything. I will also stock up on items when they are on sale". You can cut coupons from your local paper, or go online to get offers.  Many times local sites like Groupon will have kid-related deals. Another friend, Susan, loves taking her son to the movies, so they cut costs by attending matinees only.

Child Care 

You may have to get creative when looking at ways to save money on childcare. Some flexible spending accounts allow you to put pre-tax dollars aside for dependent care expenses. This will lower your taxable income by the amount you put into the account and those dollars add up. Also when factoring in a day care or babysitter; consider the distance to your home. Mileage and time add up and should be considered when choosing a daycare. Don’t forget to look at non-traditional solutions. In general, home-based day cares and ministry day cares (those operated by a church or religious organization) can save you thousands of dollars, but you'll want to do your homework and make sure they are independently accredited and check with other parents for reviews.

If you can adjust your schedule at work to either work from home or work 4 days per week, you will need less child care. One other great idea is to start a child care co-op and trade off babysitting duties with other parents.

Going Out to Eat

Eating out can cost a fortune. And from my limited experience with kids, they rarely eat much of what they order even when they get a kid’s meal! Stephanie, mother of 4 says, "When we go out to eat we used to try to go to places that had kids meals free with adult purchase. .. and now that the 3 girls are older, they order adult meals..."  Since kids meals aren't always healthiest options, you may want to consider having your kids split adult sized entrees. There are times that my husband and I split an adult entrĂ©e and there may even be enough for a third portion. Several local restaurants have kids eat free days, so make sure they are on your radar!

I have to share the wisdom of my longest friend (she doesn’t like when I say “oldest”), Helene, who's been my best friend since I was 4 years old. Helene has 6 amazing kids and lots of practice stretching the almighty dollar to make sure they are well fed and adorably dressed.

"When (we) go out for ice cream, if each child and adult orders a single cone at 3.50 each it adds up so fast.  That's easily $20 or more per visit.  I always surprise the kids by ordering a huge banana split or something gigantic and impressive.  Those fancy sundaes typically run $7-8.  If we order one of those and share it, I come out more than ahead money wise, and there's very little wasted food. Plus, in the store, the other kids who got single kid cones look over at us with a little envy.  We share, but there's enough for everyone."

But that’s not all she’s learned: "Fast Food tricks: I carry small Dixie cups in my van which work awesome for splitting up serving sizes, and they fit in the cup holders and hands of small children.  Ordering 4 small fries is $6 but one mega size is $2.99   I fill the cups with fries and they have their own container to hold.  Same with beverages, a typical fountain drink is .99 for a small.  A large is 2.55. I buy the large and pour a serving into the child-sized cups. Buying 6 drinks at .99 is crazy.”

Here's one last tip for eating out from my friend Katherine, who takes her kids with her to Costco at lunch time and lets them dine on samples as they shop.

Dining At Home

Katherine also dilutes juice with water (50/50) to stretch juice out. It’s probably a good idea to reduce sugar intake as well as save money!

My friend Michelle has a great strategy for making the most of eating in. “I prepare, cook and freeze foods in bulk. I spend one weekend day either a Saturday or a Sunday a month preparing, cooking and freezing foods. I will cook up 4 quarts of tomato or spaghetti sauce or throw meat like pork, beef and or chicken in 2 – 4 crock pots each with a different spice or marinade all on the same day. I will make large batches of pancakes or waffles or whip up cookie dough and freeze them. The pancakes can be tossed in the toaster oven for a quick breakfast and the cookie dough you can scoop out a few at a time and bake them.  I cook large pans of lasagna, stacked enchiladas, roll burritos, ground beef with taco seasoning, soups, etc. and freeze them too. The more liquid type foods can be frozen flat in quart size bags so they stack on top of each other. “

“Cooking in advance helps you avoid wasting money on last minute shopping trips,” Michelle said. “Every time you run into the store and your kids are with you, they see all those tempting items and get a bad case of the ‘I want its’. This strategy also helps you avoid fast food restaurant drive-throughs. Knowing you have food at home ready to go makes it easier to ignore your kids in the back seat saying ‘I’m hungry!’ You can just take the frozen prepped dinners out of the freezer and put them in the fridge the night before and since they are frozen in smaller batches they are thawed and ready to heat when you come home. Smaller portion freezing saves space on storage and shortens thaw time and beats the heck out of ‘frozen dinners’ you get in the market and it’s a lot more affordable too.”

Shop (Strategically) Till You Drop

According to Helene, "The time to buy presents, toys, and seasonal clothing is during the clearance sales.  Buying in advance saves money but it also saves time.  When your child has to attend a birthday party and bring a gift, it's convenient to be able to shop in the hidden stash, where you're not rushed into spending more money than you need to because you're in a hurry.  Also, keeping a selection of bargains allows you to be able to donate to clothing drives and other charitable causes without spending a fortune,  For example, at the end of the winter season, our Target had all kinds of gloves, hats and scarves marked down to .79 each. These had been $6.99 at the beginning of the season.  At this price, I stocked up in sizes that made sense for the future. Sure enough, the very next fall there was a coat and mitten collection at our school.  My kids proudly brought their donations and it did not set me back.  Also, since kids are notorious for losing these items, I found that having a stash hidden away came in handy."

"For Lunch boxes/backpacks/school supplies, back to school door-buster and one cent sales at the office supply places happen right before school starts.  Even if your list does not require glue sticks, crayons, pencils and other almost freebies, buy them anyway. They make great additions to your at-home art studio. Store art supplies with some fancy coloring books, puzzles, and science project supplies so that you’re all set for snow day amusement."

Store brands are your best friends when it comes to kids. We have been doing respite foster care for a few months now and cereal is always a big hit with kids. I saved more than $3 a box by buying store brands of kid-friendly cereal. (We've yet to find a generic version of Lucky Charms, however and that seems to be the most popular cereal among 5-11 year olds these days.)


Andrea and Deborah, two other friends of mine, love to travel and they do take their kids with them. Debbie lets her kids tag along when they go on business trips and both Andrea and Deb visit family when they travel to cut down on cost. Another way to save is to bank your credit card points and use them for travel. Because airlines have a very limited amount of seats that they allot for points travelers, you will need to plan in advance and book early.

Travel snacks: When you're travelling by car bring a cooler. Pack drinks, lunch meat, cheese, veggies, fruit, crackers and treats. It's always fun to pull off on a pretty place and have a picnic. Airport food is outrageously priced, so cram whatever non-perishable treats you can into your carry-on.

Kids Stay Free: There are many hotels out there where kids stay and eat free. You can also join AAA for a ton of discounts and travel services. You can give the AAA agent your trip itinerary and tell them to book you rooms that give the best discounts for kids.

Pet Penny Pinching

Since there are so many pet parents out there, I have to include some tips for you too! We find that staying on top of vet visits usually helps prevent illness in our “fur babies”. Regular checkups with the vets can help prevent major illnesses which can be very costly. We have an 18-year-old lab mix who has had his ups and downs, but for the most part he’s pretty healthy and we do take him to all of his checkups at the vet.

We don’t indulge in the extras: no doggie costumes or painted nails for our puppies. They are pretty much no-frills. We do, however, buy the stuffed animals at Kohl’s for our dogs to play with. They have an awesome program called Kohl’s Cares for Kids, where 100% of the net profits go to children’s health and education initiatives nation-wide. Each stuffed animal is around $5 and they are usually themed around a popular children’s book. This is good to know for your two legged offspring as well!

Some of my friends have invested in Pet Insurance. I know that it may sound silly to some, but pet insurance can save you thousands of dollars if your pet becomes ill or has an injury.

I know I'm only scratching the surface of the expenses we'll incur as we become adoptive parents.  We now have some money saving tools in our arsenal when it comes to raising a family thanks to my super-smart friends... I really appreciate your input!

Do you have any family friendly money saving tips to share with us? We would love to hear from you!