Raising kids is expensive. The Consumer Expenditure Survey by the U.S. Department of Labor figures that households with incomes above $39k/year will spend between $170k and $250k to raise a child from birth to age 18. Of that, $1320-$1720 is for clothing in the first 8 years. Another $3000-$5000 will be spent in those same years for "miscellaneous" expenses that includes toys, equipment, etc. Housing, food, health, daycare, & education are not in that category.
This article is meant to help you cut your clothing and "miscellaneous" expenses in half or more for a potential savings of $2160-$3355 over 8 years.
But money isn't the only thing we need more of when raising a family. Especially, for two-income families, or single parents, time is a very scarce commodity as well. Tips on saving money that cost you time, wouldn't be very helpful.
We'll show you several methods of cutting expenses, in order of time-savings (least to most). You decide which method(s) best suit you and your needs.
Gifts: Whether new or used, from family or friends, gifts obviously are the cheapest way to clothe and equip your child. Unfortunately, we don't have control over the generosity or timing of others. A couple tips, however, to maximize this method:
- Register for what you need for your baby shower, and ask your shower's hostess to let guests know where you are registered. Also let them know, that second-hand gifts in good condition would be welcome. Your guests can afford to be much more generous and instead of getting the 10th set of "take-me home" clothes, you'll get something that is actually useful.
- After your child arrives, there will be many more occasions for gifts: birthdays and Christmas. Before these holidays, be sure to let potential gift-givers (most notably the grandparents) know what your child most needs and that second-hand items in good condition are fine. After all, will your two-year old really care?
- Be sure to send out the "thank-yous". As soon as your child can hold a crayon, include their scribble on the note. It'll be something Grandma will cherish for years.
Yard Sales: These can yield feast or famine, but some prior planning can help you make the most of yard sale season.
- Always have your best tools with you before you leave: the newspaper and your map. Read the paper the night before and map out your route. If any yard sales have phone numbers, call them. You can be sure the best items will be gone before the sale even starts.
- Go to the most promising sale first. If you go there second, what you wanted will be gone.
- Don't be afraid to negotiate, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
- Look at rain as being a friend. Unless the ad specified a rain date, chances are it'll still be held. After all they paid for the ad and you're more likely to have less competition and get a better price.
eBay: There are whole books (and courses) written for Ebay, but here are a few tips:
- Always know the retail value of what you're bidding on. And know the condition of the item. Don't be afraid to ask questions and request additional pictures.
- Know exactly what the shipping & handling & insurance costs will be. Understand the seller's return policy and if S&H is covered, most do not.
- Only bid if the seller has an established (and good) reputation.
- Search for items with common typos or misspellings. Most people search by keyword rather than by category so the $200 "brest pump" starting at $10 may go unnoticed unless you search harder.
- Check out “Buy It Now” items, you won't have to wait for the auction to end before you know if you get it.
Second-Hand Stores: There are several types: thrift, which are run by non-profits and receive their items by donations; consignment, for-profit and receive items from consignors with whom they split the sale after the fact; and resale, also for-profit and buy their items outright from the previous owner. To get the most out of second-hand, keep the following in mind:
- Organization: It won't save you any time having everything in one place if you can't find it. However, even in the best organized shop, you should always check neighboring sizes for misplaced treasures. Also, different manufacturers may size differently.
- Lighting: That great deal on the Osh Kosh overalls won't seem so great if you could see the yellow stain dim lighting might hide.
- Return Policies: If there isn't a place for you to have your child try on the clothes, think twice if there is any possibility it might be too small unless you can return it.
- Wish List: Second-hand stores are constantly changing. If you don't see what you need today, it may be in tomorrow and sold the next day before you visit again next week. Ask if the shop maintains a wish list, so they can notify you if your item come in.
- E-Mail/Direct Mail List: Many second-hand stores also keep customers informed of sales and inventory by e-mail, direct mail, or on their website. Make use of them to save you time and money.
- Play Area: Is there something to keep your child occupied while you shop? A bored child will make it hard to find bargains.
- Lay Away: In these tough times, it's helpful to avoid the credit card whenever possible - ask about Lay Away policies for larger purchases and plan ahead for the holidays.
Final Thoughts: The different methods of shopping second hand were, as I said, in order of time savings, least to most. Not in order of money saved. I've seen yard sale prices and Ebay auctions higher than items in second-hand stores and vice-versa.
The best way to ensure you save money is to be familiar with the prevailing retail price. You should never pay more than 50% of the retail value for something second hand, including Shipping and Handling (if using Ebay). And be open to what you may need in the coming year, not just the current season as great deals don't always come around when you need them.