Make the savings automatic. Set things up so that even a small amount is put into a separate account for your child. Even $10 a month, started at birth and earning just a 5 percent annual return, adds up to $3376 for your child’s college education. That amount can make a huge difference if your child attends a local school or a state institution.
USE CLOTH DIAPERS Most people, when they think of cloth diapering, imagine a horrible mess of plastic pants, washer loads full of stinky diapers, safety pins, and other such images, so they stick with disposable diapers. The only problem is that disposable diapers are a continual cost. You have to keep buying more and more diapers, and they’re not all that cheap—often at least a quarter per diaper change for disposable. Modern cloth diapering can be quite simple and can save you tremendous money, especially if you plan to have multiple children.
SHOP YARD SALES FOR YOUNG CHILDREN’S CLOTHING Many children, particularly young ones, outgrow clothes so rapidly that they wear them only a few times before they’re too small. Many families deal with this phenomenon by selling these clothes at a yard sale. That’s where you can clean up on baby and toddler clothes that have only been worn a few times. If you have a young child, hit the yard sales hard. If you find one with a lot of clothes, offer to buy everything that will fit your child at a reduced price as a bundle.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF HAND-ME-DOWNS Similarly, if you have family members with older children, consider asking them to participate in a family hand-me-down cycle, where clothes are handed down among extended family members from child to child, and then offer to hand down your no-longer-wanted clothes to other younger children in the family.
BUY FEWER, HIGHER-QUALITY CHILDHOOD TOYS Many families are often flooded with toys of various kinds for very young children, particularly when fueled by the desire to have “the best” for those kids. In fact, though, the opposite is true: Young children are far better off with only a small number of toys rather than an overwhelming abundance. Minimize your own spending on toys, leaving most of the toy-buying to relatives who may buy your children Christmas and birthday gifts. Encourage them to focus on only one high-quality toy rather than an abundance of cheap toys, as this minimizes health risks and ensures that the toys your child plays with are sturdy and long-lasting.
FOCUS ON BUYING OPEN-ENDED TOYS Hand in hand with the idea of fewer toys is the idea of open-ended toys—those that encourage creative and imaginative play. Instead of focusing on electronic toys with limited interactivity, look at toys that offer plenty of room for creativity, such as art supplies and quality building blocks. Again, not only are these toys widely considered to be better for your child’s cognitive development, but they’re also often less expensive, meaning you can either save money or purchase items of high quality for the same price you might spend on “gee whiz” toys.
PARTICIPATE IN BABYSITTING EXCHANGES INSTEAD OF HIRING A BABYSITTER Do you have friends who also have children? Consider discussing a baby-sitting exchange with them in order to save money on babysitters. Offer to watch their children on their anniversary night, for example, in exchange for the same treatment on your anniversary. Or offer to alternate weekends. Do you like to go out with other couples or other parents? Get a cycle going where two or three parents or couples enjoy an evening together while the other couple watches all of the children. This enables you to have many evenings of fun with a reliable parent watching your children—at no cost to you.
ENCOURAGE ART SKILLS WITH AN END ROLL OF NEWSPAPER One of the best undiscovered secrets in many towns is on sale at the office of your local newspaper. Many newspapers often have a few hundred square feet of blank newspaper left over at the end of a large roll, and they will sell this roll of paper to the public for just a dollar or two. Buying one of these rolls can provide a huge amount of paper for your children to draw on to their heart’s content for just a fraction of the cost of buying such paper at the store.
EXTEND THE LIFE AND VALUE OF CRAYONS If your children love crayons, they can often wear crayons down to unusable nubs. One great solution to this problem is to collect all of the nubs, then put several of them into an inexpensive small mold (you can get a nice one at the dollar store) and bake them in the oven at a low heat. You can easily make candy cane–shaped crayons that are made up of bits of old crayons, and this new crayon will change colors as you draw with it. If you save up a bunch of nubs and do this with many crayons at once, it can save you the cost of buying a fresh big box of crayons, plus create memorable and unique crayons for your child to draw with.
TURN SUPPLIES YOU HAVE ON HAND INTO TOYS Turn an old newspaper into a paper airplane contest. Give everyone a few sheets and see who can make the best paper airplane out of the sheets. Turn pots and pans and wooden spoons into a drum kit. Sit several pots and pans out on the floor, then hit them all on the bottom with a wooden spoon and observe the different noises they make. Turn strips of waste paper into a piñata. Cut any waste paper you have into strips. Blow up a balloon, tie it off and put a paper clip around the tie-off point, then tie a piece of string to the paper clip. Mix two cups of flour and ten cups of water, then boil the solution for a few minutes until it becomes paste. Start pasting the strips to the balloon, letting it completely dry overnight every four or five layers. After a few days of putting on strips, you’ll have a piñata! Color it carefully with markers, then hang it up and let the kids break it.
READ TOGETHER AS A FAMILY
Reading is one of the most inexpensive and fulfilling hobbies that a person can have. Encouraging a love of reading in your own children is a great way to put them on the path to economic success. Plan a family reading hour each day, where everyone gathers in the same room to read independently. Then, once every few weeks, go to the library together and have everyone pick out a few books to read during that reading period. Reading time can be an hour a day where your family relaxes, improves themselves, and doesn’t spend a dime.
MINIMIZE TELEVISION TIME Where can that hour for reading come from? Take it away from time in front of the television. Not only does television gobble electricity (the average television uses about 150 watts, and the average cable box uses about 70 watts, meaning that it eats a dime’s worth of electricity every four and a half hours of use), but it’s also laden with advertisements and product placements that encourage you to go out and buy things you don’t really need. Replace that time spent in front of the television with other activities.
GO OUTSIDE One good replacement for television use is to simply go outside. Go on a walk together as a family. Play a game of catch in the yard, or try playing tag or touch football. Go to the park together. Go on a hike. Explore. Catch lightning bugs. Wade in a creek. These are all fun things that you can do together as a family in the great outdoors— and they’re all free.
SEGMENT THEIR ALLOWANCE Many families dole out allowances to their children, often giving them a few dollars once a week followed by a pat on the head. The only problem with this is that it doesn’t guide children down a healthy path of managing their own money and often parents wind up supplementing a little. Instead, segment their allowance and teach them how to manage on their own. Break their allowance into four pieces and keep it in four separate jars: one for spending now, one for saving for a long-term goal (like an expensive toy), one for sharing with others (like buying a present for Mom’s birthday), and one for charity. Not only does this teach them the basics of how to budget, but it also saves you money because they’re fully in control of their own spending decisions based on the rules for each jar. You don’t need to “slip” them money anymore, because budgeting is part of their learning experience.
SHARE THE THOUGHT PROCESS BEHIND YOUR PURCHASES Whenever you make a significant purchase, show your children how you came to the decision behind that purchase. Not only is it an opportunity to teach your children how to buy sensibly, but it saves you money as well because it keeps you honest about why you’re buying stuff. In other words, if you do the research and pick the item with the best value, you’re not only buying the best deal, but you’re also creating an opportunity to teach your children how to find the best deal.
RESIST THE TEMPTATIONS OF SODA AND FAST FOOD Junk food is a common expense for children in American homes today. It’s easy to see why: Junk food is convenient, tasty, and often makes kids happy. Resist that urge to take the easy route, though. Instead, buy inexpensive and healthy snacks to keep on hand. Buy yogurt instead of candy. Buy rice cakes instead of potato chips. Not only are healthier options often cheaper, they’re also better for you, reducing health care costs over your child’s lifetime.
INVOLVE CHILDREN IN FRUGAL PROJECTS, LIKE GARDENING Quite often, projects that can save a household a significant amount of money take a significant amount of effort. Take gardening, for example. A well-tended garden can easily save a lot of money in reduced food costs. The only problem with a garden is that it requires almost daily effort to tend it well. That’s where the whole family comes in. Take everyone out in the garden and have them all weed, plant, fertilize, and water. Teach your children how it can be fun, and at the same time you’ll spend quality time with them. You can also challenge them to weeding contests. Or show them how to make little trenches for watering around plants. Let them take charge of certain plants.
BE A FRUGAL EXAMPLE Whenever you are together as a family, put extra effort into showing your children that you don’t have to spend money to enjoy yourself. Resist the urge to buy impulse items at the grocery store. Don’t stop along the trip for a quick treat on the spur of the moment. Don’t declare that you have to buy new clothes every month or two. Use the library for books and movies. Show them how you save money in your day-to-day life and they’ll naturally do it, too.