While having kids is one of the most rewarding steps anyone can take, it’s also one of the most drastic. One day you only have to take care of yourself, and the next you’re responsible for another person. Your baby needs your help to eat, sleep, bathe and grow into the tiny person they’ll become. It’s a 24/7 job with no breaks and zero pay.
In addition, you’re responsible for financially caring for a child. This is where things get expensive. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the price of raising a single child to the age of 18 worked out to $233,610 — and it could cost more depending on where you live. And when you get them to adulthood, you have to plan for college costs.
Whether you’re preparing to have kids, are expecting soon or have children already, how much you spend depends on the decisions you make and the steps you take to keep costs down.
Fortunately, it is possible to reduce how much children cost with some simple money-saving strategies. If your goal is saving where you can, consider these hacks.
Plan next week’s meals at the end of the week
Kids can make your food spending spiral out of control if you’re not careful. Planning your meals can help save cash and reduce waste.
Let’s say you plan to cook four meals next week and eat leftovers or easy meals the other three nights. On top of dinner, you need sandwich supplies and veggies for lunch, breakfast basics and snacks. By creating a list of ingredients you need for these meals ahead of time, you can avoid buying ingredients you don’t need and make the most of your grocery budget.
Get your groceries delivered (yes, seriously)
If you want to save more on food, consider getting your groceries delivered. With services like Peapod and Instacart, you can order online and have groceries within hours without getting in your car or stepping foot in a store.
While these services typically charge a service fee and groceries may cost slightly more, they can help save time and money. You may also spend less with grocery delivery because you won't be tempted into buying stuff you don’t need.
Learn how to cook
Before kids, your idea of dinner might have been a bowl of cereal and popcorn before bed. With kids, you need to put more effort into mealtime.
Learning to cook from fresh ingredients will help your family stay healthy and help you save cash. Fortunately, the internet is a valuable resource for finding new recipes to try. Many offer step-by-step directions with pictures, so there’s no excuse to avoid learning how to cook.
Set a one-sport-per-kid limit
According to a July 2016 survey conducted by TD Ameritrade, one in five respondent families with more than $25,000 in investable assets spends more than $1,000 per month on their child’s sports. The majority (63%) claim to spend $100 to $499 per month and 18% said they spend $500 to $999 per month.
These costs are outrageous, especially since the same study showed 33% of respondents didn't contribute regularly to a retirement account and 57% didn't have a long-term financial plan.
Parents with kids should strive to limit their sports spending, especially if it stands in the way of their own financial goals. One way to do this is to set a one-sport-per-kid limit and avoid expensive travel teams. Also consider trying sports that may be less expensive — for example, gymnastics instead of team dance or soccer instead of golf.
Buy next year’s clothes at the end of each season
Shopping during the off-season is a great way to save on clothes. Pick up summer clothes for next year when they go on clearance, for example. The end of winter is also a great time to pick up snow boots, winter coats and other cold-weather clothing for the next year at a discount.
Make your savings & investments automatic
Parenthood is time-consuming and expensive, which is why you should automate your savings and investments. By making automatic contributions to bank accounts and retirement funds, you’ll “pay yourself first” and ensure you never forget to make your savings goals a priority.
Travel off-peak while you can
If your kids aren’t in school yet, you are in a great position to save money on travel. By planning your vacations during off-peak times when school is in session, you can save money and deal with fewer crowds.
Instead of taking spring break, for example, go somewhere warm in February. And instead of traveling during the peak summer travel season, plan a trip for early fall when airfare, hotels and rental condos are cheaper.
Once your kids are in school, you can still travel somewhat off-peak. Fly Tuesday through Tuesday instead of Saturday through Saturday, for example. For Christmas break, wait to take your vacation until right after the holidays. During busy peak travel season, even leaving a few days early or a few days late can make a huge impact in what you’ll pay for airfare, hotels and more.