Parents

How To Raise A Family On A Tight Budget

05/30/2017 05:01pm ET | Updated May 30, 2017

The USDA reports that it costs $233,610 to raise a child to the age of 18. I don’t believe a word of it! Well, OK, I know this number is based on real statistics, but I know it’s nowhere near what I will spend raising my own two children, of that I’m sure.

The report states the the biggest cost is housing (29%) as many families require more living space as they expand. Food (18%) and childcare/education (16%) are the next most expensive costs after housing.

My own family lives in the rural Midwest, which plays a big role in our lower expenses. Our living costs are much lower here. However, our family practices many money-saving tactics that reduce our costs even more, making that staggering 6-figure number quite a bit lighter.

The best money-saving strategies for raising a family:

1. Less is more. Since the cost of housing is the number one expense for most families, let’s start there! You can absolutely enjoy more with less. As the “American Dream” has morphed from big-house-picket-fence to something less definable, from tiny homes to location-free living, many Americans have found that big homes are not necessary or desirable for every family. In fact, living in smaller living spaces might help prevent the broken spirits created by unrelenting chores. Sharing rooms with siblings is one of those rites of passage through childhood that require cooperation and getting cozy. I always say that I would drop our 4-bedroom home in an instant in favor of an apartment, just to save on the cleaning and upkeep that can drive a person batty-eyed. A smaller home gives a family extra wiggle room for travel or other adventures. A smaller home on sprawling open land is a nice compromise if it means trading frenzied city living for the serenity of the country. I just love this idea of downsizing to upgrade. Keep your home simple and your experiences colorful.

Keep your home simple and your experiences colorful.

2. Make healthy food at home: since food is the second-most costly expense for a family, I thought it wise to discuss that next. There are all kinds of ways to save on food, even healthy food. I get a little bit flummoxed whenever anyone says it costs a lot to eat healthy, because produce and lean meats are cheap compared to meals-in-a-box or meals-through-a-window. If you live by an Aldi or a Costco, you can save hundreds on groceries. It also helps to keep your food simple. A grilled chicken breast with sliced cucumber and brown rice is a simple, healthy, well-rounded meal that costs only a few dollars. Stay away from unhealthy fast food as much as possible, and you’ll also save on the next point by default.

3. Intercept health care costs: Healthcare, from having a baby to nursing broken bones, is another costly expense families face. In order to intercept those costs, it pays to take preventative measures and go in for routine care, such as checkups and teeth cleanings. Something simple like teaching your children how to floss will set them up for a lifetime of self-care and reduced healthcare needs. Make fitness a regular part of your family’s routine so it becomes the norm. Show them how to eat healthy. And always check your hospital bills, because billing errors are very common.

4. Buy secondhand. I have rarely ever bought my children outfits at full price. Maybe a Christmas here or baptismal outfit there, but that’s it. We get some outfits as gifts, but the bulk of their clothes (and mine!) are purchased secondhand from consignment shops, rummage sales, and thrift stores. So many friends who’ve had children before us have given us nearly new clothing and equipment so we didn’t have to invest much. Our monthly clothing budget has been whittled down a meager $35, but you would be surprised what I can do with that $35 a month!

5. Save on childcare costs: I know I am super lucky, but I have a mom and a sister who are available to watch my children while I work. I pay them, but certainly not as much as a nanny or daycare. If you have the opportunity to reconfigure your childcare, you can save so much money every month. If one parent can stay home, if one person can work an alternate shift, if one person can work at home during naps, then you can avoid some of those childcare costs that gouge so many parents and perhaps be able to spend more meaningful time with your children in the process.

6. Use what you have. If you have a backyard, you have enough activities to keep your children busy forever. If you live near any city, you likely have multiple parks, a library, and sandy beaches to explore. One summer, I made a point of hitting up all different parks in our city for picnic dates with my son and nephew. We ate healthy, we made so many memories, we had so much fun, and it didn’t cost any more money than if we had just ate at home. If you’re resourceful, you can keep your kids happy and busy using only what’s already available to you.

7. Remember, experiences matter more than things. Really, the things that matter? Don’t cost any money. You can make memories without spending money. In fact, the best memories are usually made when you haven’t spent a thing. Eating dinner by candlelight, running around in the rain, eating dinner inside an extravagant blanket fort—these free activities make for the most extraordinary memories. Many memories are built around making everyday activities special. But taking once-in-a-lifetime trips also contributes to a child’s development and sense of wonder, building memories all along. Those once in a lifetime trips are exceedingly more important than a few more toys overflowing the toy box. Use the extra money you’ve saved from this list to check off some items on this dreamy Safari Bucket List or this list of places to see before you die.

Suggest a correction