It takes a village to raise a child...and $233,610, according to the latest figures from the Department of Agriculture.
Yeah, kids are expensive, and we realize that's not new information to any parent. However, young parents might not realize that many expenses are optional, provided that you're willing to be the Big, Bad Parent that denies certain creature comforts.
To be clear, kids will always be fairly expensive, but you'll save a few thousand bucks by cutting out...
1. Trendy Toys
A good rule of thumb: If your children want something, wait a month. Those trendy toys won't be as irresistible when all of the other kids have moved on to a new fad.
You might be tempted to buy those ultra-expensive toys for Christmas, but stick to your principles. Remember that your kid will move on from the trendy stuff fairly quickly. The best gifts come from the heart, as corny as that might sound.
What's more American than a swing set in the backyard or a little log cabin for the kids' playroom? Playsets are a classic children's gift, but they're also a ridiculous purchase in many households.
Here's why: For kids, playsets typically hold their allure for a few months, at most. For parents, they become an obnoxious obstruction. If they're indoors, you have to clean around them. If they're outdoors, they can actually lower your property value.
On top of that, they're often expensive if you buy them new. As with so many of the other items on this list, you can save a ton by buying used playsets (trust us, there are plenty of parents looking to get rid of these things).
As for swing sets, you could go old school and build one yourself, although you should make sure that you know what you're doing. Just be aware of what you're getting into.
Your kid wants a brand-new, state-of-the-art computer capable of playing all the latest video games. You might consider dropping a thousand dollars or more for the latest and greatest tech, but that machine will be obsolete within a few years (if your kid doesn't manage to break it first).
First, consider whether your child actually needs a computer, and make sure that you've got the requisite tools to keep your kid safe online.
Alas, even if you're a tech guru, your kid is eventually going to be better at computers than you are, so your safety precautions need to be absolutely foolproof.
Once you've worked through those considerations, look into starting out with a cheaper machine, at least until your teen has established good internet habits.
Low-powered laptop computers are an excellent option, as they're well equipped for browsing the internet, writing documents, and playing simple games.
They're also quite inexpensive, so if something goes horribly wrong, it's not a big deal. Still unsure about what kind of computer to purchase?
The Wall Street Journal brings up an interesting debate in tech differences below.
4. Musical Instruments
We're certainly not saying that you shouldn't get kids started on music early. However, before you blow a fortune on a trumpet (pardon the pun), make sure that you're getting something that your kid actually wants—and that he or she will stick with it.
Many schools can hook you up with an instrument rental program. If your school isn't helpful, hit up the local music store. They'll also be able to give you some tips on what to buy (or how to rent) for a younger learner.
That could help you avoid wasting money on an adult-sized instrument that your child won't be able to manage. And, always try to buy used.
Take the money that you were going to spend on a new, shiny instrument and put it toward lessons; you'll get much more bang for your buck, and your kid will stand a better chance of becoming a well-rounded musician if they get the guidance they need right away.
5. Expensive Clothes
Young kids don't care whether their shirts are name brand. Up until seventh or eighth grade, kids will love whatever you can provide for them, provided that it's not absolutely hideous (we'll never forgive our moms for getting us those camo print cargo shorts, either).
Sure, babies look cute in Louis Vuitton, but they'll grow out of those expensive clothes in a matter of weeks. Most clothes don't have any sort of resale value whatsoever, so your best bet is to go with the best deal.
That doesn't necessarily mean cheap clothes, however—buy well-made garments that will last through a few tussles on the playground before they inevitably end up in a Goodwill donation bin.
Oh, and by the way, Goodwill? It's a totally great place to shop for children. Where else can you pick up seven name-brand shirts for a couple of bucks? Just be sure to launder those clothes before you pass them off to the kids.
Sure, every kid on your block has a smartphone, but your job as a parent isn't to make your child like every other child; it's to do what's best for them.
That might mean refusing a request for a new cellphone, at least until your child is responsible enough to carry one. Ditto for tablets and other mobile devices.
When you believe that your kid's ready for a phone, try giving them a cheap, non-smartphone (yes, they still make them) for a few months. If that device isn't irreparably damaged by the end of the trial period, you can consider a more expensive option.
Remember, even if your kid's ready for a smartphone, you don't need to buy a brand-new model. Look on Craigslist for a gently used smartphone, taking care to wipe the storage before handing it over. Your pocketbook will thank you (even if your child doesn't).
Well, new bicycles, anyway.
Bikes are expensive, and there's not a huge advantage to buying them new. With a little elbow grease, you can fix up any old bike so that it looks great, and those brand-new mountain bikes aren't so great in the first place—just ask any bike repair shop for their opinion on the big box store specials.
If you can find them, older bikes are built to last, and they'll teach your kid some important skills (repairing a flat tire, for instance, or resetting a chain). Your kid won't care if a bike's secondhand, anyway, and you'll save a decent amount of money.
You can put the cash you save toward new safety gear, which is a must.
Be sure that your child gets into the habit of wearing a helmet and pads, and never buy helmets secondhand, as a single crash can compromise the helmet's structural integrity.
Your kid should understand the risks of riding without a helmet; make firm rules and stick to them.
8. Big Vacations with Babies
Don't learn this lesson the hard way: Big family vacations can wait.
We totally get it, by the way. You're excited about your new baby, and you're ready for your first family vacation. You choose some far-off destination and start packing your bags. It's all in good fun, right? Think of all the memories you'll make!
But trust us, it won't be easy. There are few things worse than traveling with an infant, and until your kid is at least potty trained, you probably won't have a great experience. True, their innocent delight at the sights and sounds of a new destination might be worth it, but be prepared to spend much of the trip dealing with tantrums, feedings, and general misery.
While some people may want their toddlers to see the world (and that's understandable), it's not until a kid is 8 or 9 years old that they'll really appreciate what they're seeing. Holding off until that age could serve the kiddo and your wallet well.
That might be a bummer, but knowing when to spend and when to save is an important part of being a parent. Good luck.