As my family grew from a small to a large one with six children, I developed efficient ways to save money. Items that are small expenses with two small children become big ones as the family grows.
Below I present ten money-stretching strategies for young couples with a growing family. It takes discipline to stick to these guidelines, but the effort pays off over time. The benefits are not just financial.
- 1. Teach kids that it’s okay to be different. This gift to your children pays off again and again. Empathize with them when you won’t buy things their friends have, but stick to your principles. Train them to listen to their own instincts, and not the crowd’s pronouncements. Most important, model this attitude yourself.2. Breastfeed. Breastfeeding saves a bundle on bottles and formula. And the hormones and immediacy of breastfeeding are a shortcut to developing a loving relationship with your child, important no matter your financial status. Statistics show that benefits of increased health for mother and baby continue long after your baby or toddler has weaned. If you’re having trouble, seek out the volunteers at La Leche League, a lactation consultant and other supportive, experienced breastfeeding mothers.
3. Gradually train children to be responsible for themselves. With patience and encouragement they will show you when they are ready to do things on their own. Picking up after one child is not so hard, but picking up after three or four is another story. This will free up your time and energy for more fun and productive activities.
4. Cut food costs. Even a family with only two children will see its food bill double as the kids become teenagers. Young families can start by avoiding processed foods, offering babies a variety of table foods as soon as they are ready, emphasizing whole grains and legumes over a diet based on animal proteins and treats, choosing water over juice, and avoiding special meals for picky eaters.
5. Cultivate relationships with families who have similar values. You can trade babysitting, leftovers, equipment, school supplies, clothes, skills, and more. And your children will grow up knowing other adults they can count on.
6. Try and avoid daycare, or at least minimize time spent there. Daycare is one of the biggest expenses for young parents. While having both parents working full-time outside the home may generate the most income on paper, it can be stressful for the family and incur hidden costs, such as convenience foods and emergency babysitters. Consider saving on daycare costs by having one parent work from home, or on a different shift. Calculate whether the amount saved by doing things on your own (see #10) is greater than take-home pay once childcare, wardrobe, and transportation costs have been deducted.
7. Involve your children in your daily life. Parents who perceive their children as interfering in their lives end up overusing daycare or babysitters, or having to pay for convenience food and cleaning help. Never refuse an offer of help from a toddler or preschooler! Let them dust, sweep, wipe, sort, and measure, even if it makes more work for you at first. They may be cooking meals and washing floors long before they are teens.
8. When it comes to possessions, less is more. Books, balls, blocks, arts and crafts and dress-up clothes are better than the latest Fisher-Price. Celebrate birthdays and holidays with fun traditions instead of expensive gifts and exorbitant parties. Children don’t need possessions; they need to explore their curiosity, develop their skills, and establish their constructive role in the family.
9. Make home a fun place to be. This is another investment that pays off when kids grow. Read to them, play games indoors and out, and make up performances. Then they won’t need to look elsewhere for expensive entertainment.
10. Learn practical skills. A few generations ago most people did their own hair-cutting, gardening, cooking, home repairs, and sewing. The more kids you have, the more these skills pay off. Take a book out of the library and get started. Children are likely to become interested too.
What strategies have you used to save money in the long term?
(Photo credit: Nationaal Archief)