How to Slash the Cost of Raising Kids

Periodically, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announces the average cost to raise a child, and every year that estimate raises eyebrows. Or at least it should. Most recently, the number was more than $233,000.

I’ve read this report for years, and I’ve concluded that it is hogwash. There are plenty of ways to cut the cost of raising a kid that can keep your grand total far below that $233,000 mark.

Housing

According to the USDA, housing is nearly one-third of the cost of raising a child. In this category, they include rent, mortgage payments, property taxes, insurance, repairs, utilities, furnishings and appliances.

Here are some ways to cut these costs:

  • Utilities. There are lots of ways to save, from energy-efficient light bulbs to programmable thermostats.
  • Property taxes. Too high? Fight ’em! Call your county and ask how.
  • Insurance. The simplest ways to save are higher deductibles and shopping your policies. But there’s more: See “How to Save on Every Type of Insurance.”
  • Furnishings and appliances. Careful shopping, buying scratch and dent, and simple negotiating can radically reduce the cost.
  • Repairs. When it comes to things like changing air conditioner and furnace filters, caulking and other simple maintenance and repairs, do it yourself.

Child care and education

For this category, the USDA included day care, baby-sitting and school costs, including books and supplies. As with other categories, the higher their income, the more parents spent.

Looking for ways to trim child care costs? Check out “9 Ways to Pay Less for Baby-Sitting.” There, we offer tips such as the following:

Combine forces with a friend and hire one sitter to watch both families’ kids for a certain period of time. You don’t necessarily have to go on a double date, but you can certainly plan your date nights for the same evening.

Food

This includes food and nonalcoholic beverages purchased at grocery, convenience and specialty stores, dining out and school meals.

How do you save? We count the ways in articles like “The 27 Absolute Best Ways to Save on Food,” but here are some quick ideas:

  • Stop paying for names. Generics can reduce prices by 30 percent or more. (See “20 Products You Should Always Buy Generic.”)
  • Bulk up. If you know you’ll use all of it, buy it in bulk. Can’t begin to use it all? That’s what friends and freezers are for.
  • Shop salvage grocery stores. You can save 30 percent to 50 percent shopping salvage — stores that specialize in things like dented cans and odd lots.
  • Use coupons everywhere. Always use an online coupon search engine to find deals before you shop. Another good source is manufacturers’ websites. But the simplest thing to do is to plug the names of the items on your list into your favorite search engine along with the word “coupon” and see what comes up.
  • Price match. Some retailers will price match any store’s weekly ad. See if yours does. This not only saves on food, but on the cost of driving from store to store.
  • Substitute cheaper ingredients for expensive ones. Just because a recipe calls for the fancy cheese doesn’t mean you have to use it. You can substitute cheaper ingredients in most dishes — or use substitutions for an ingredient you don’t have on hand.
  • Make your own. Homemade is not just cheaper than premade and prepackaged, it tastes better and is typically healthier.
  • Extend meat. Use less of it in a dish or add another ingredient to it, like canned tuna stretched with chopped hard-boiled egg.

Transportation

This category includes vehicle costs and payments, along with gas, motor oil, maintenance and insurance.

The simplest way to save on a new car is not to buy one. Buying used can save you a lot of cash. Check out “7 Steps to Buying a Reliable Used Car.”

Some additional quick tips:

  • Use a cash-back gas credit card.
  • Buy at a warehouse club like Costco.
  • Shop around on your phone with a free app like GasBuddy.
  • Keep up on vehicle maintenance for the best gas mileage.

Conclusion: It costs what it costs

My parents both came from large families and grew up in the Great Depression. Think their parents spent the 1930s equivalent of $241,000 to raise their kids? Not a chance.

The fact is when it comes to family, we find a way.

What do you think of the government estimate? Offer up your opinion, experience or tips on our Facebook page.

Angela Brandt and Chris Kissell contributed to this post.

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