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. 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.
“Because we are trained by society to be busy, and because having children truly does make life quite full, parents may lean towards quick fixes to bring ease,” Courtney Harris, M.Ed, an experienced educator and parenting coach, tells HealthyWay. “When we feel overly busy or overwhelmed, it’s easier to buy things or say yes to options that bring temporary relief (or even just the possibility of temporary relief).”
To be clear, kids will always be fairly expensive, but you’ll save a few thousand bucks by cutting out…
1. The Trendiest Toys
Popular electronic toys for babies and young children can seem like a necessity—especially when the product is marketed as “educational.” However, in reality, these products usually don’t offer much in way of actual substance.
“They cost a lot. And they create a lot of sensory stimulation—sounds, changing lights, movement, etc. which is not so great for young kids,” psychologist Anna Prudovski tells HealthyWay. “Babies learn about their world through interaction, which is meant to be slower-paced. Over-stimulation makes them tired and cranky but doesn’t teach much.”
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.
2. A Castle in Their Kingdom
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, and some insurance providers might cancel your policy if the playsets create a liability.
On top of that, playsets can be extraordinarily expensive. 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).
Alternately, you can build your own—and in the process, you’ll be avoiding pressure-treated wood with preservatives like copper, chromium, and arsenic.
3. Go Go Gadgets
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 essentially 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 like Chromebooks are excellent options, 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.
4. Learning a Few Chords
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.
“When a kid is 4 or 5, she’s usually capable of learning an instrument,” a St. Louis-based music instructor who asked to remain anonymous tells us. “Parents shouldn’t push their kids too hard, but it’s never too early to start. With that said, many kids grow out of it, so rent before you buy.”
That could help you avoid wasting money on an adult-sized instrument that your child won’t be able to manage. As 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. Fashion Model Status
When it comes to what clothing they wear, “before the end of middle school, kids don’t really care,” according to Prudovski.
“When they start caring, this often turns into yet another source of struggle, as they want the latest popular brands and trends—no point of getting them to that stage earlier than needed.”
Kids will be absolutely fine in 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.
6. IDK My BFF Jill
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.
“There’s usually a lot of pressure from the child to get the phone early. And if could be reassuring for the parent to know that the child is just a call or text away at all times,” says Prudovski. “But more and more studies point to a correlation between excessive use of electronic devices and mental health issues. Most kids could really do without a smartphone until high school or at least late middle school.”
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).
7. Cartoon-Covered Bicycles
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 specials from big box stores.
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.
Oh, and make sure that both the bike and helmet are sized properly; the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides a simple guide with more safe biking tips.
8. Baby’s First Vacation
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.
“To be honest, kids do not need most of the expensive things we buy them,” says Prudovski. “They need a safe and calm environment and a parent who can interact with them. No electronics and expensive toys or gadgets required.”