tips for saving money with kids

Emma on Valentine’s Day
Loafers / Heart Bag (But come on. The avocado bag?!) / Newer Heart Sweater (Also love this one and this one!)

Mitch here!

Saving money as a parent is a tough proposition. Raising kids is expensive, stressful and time consuming and, frankly, throwing money at most parental problems usually makes those problems go away. But I’m an old school money-saving warrior who pinches pennies with a viselike grip, and I’ve been working hard over the past few years to find little angles. And today I gift a few of those angles to you. 😜 Ca-ching!

Consider this your parenting trigger warning disclaimer. I’m about to discuss parenting and money, which are two internet hot button issues. Please understand that while these ideas and decisions might conflict with your own, I mean no offense. This is just what I do, and I’m certainly not saying that it’s my way or the highway. I’m not the authority; we’re all in this together! Which is why I’d love if you left your own money saving tips in the comments below. Thanks!

10 Tips for Saving Money with Kids

1. Be frugal, not cheap

Parenting is a team effort, and it’s a safe bet that your teammate’s money habits differ from your own. I like not spending money way more than spending it, but that mentality lasted about 15 seconds into my parenting journey… and not because of Kelly. I still love saving money, but I also love free time.

I learned quickly that our goal is to be frugal, not cheap… and to spend our money in a way that achieves our fundamental goals as parents yet also values our time as adults and human beings. No, I don’t want to boil carrots late at night to save $0.75 on baby food. I’d rather spend that time with my wife. That said, I do want to do some easier, less time-consuming things to save money that won’t take away from our quality of life!

2. Visit the library

Did you know that a short drive from your home, there’s a magical building staffed with professionals who are trained to hand out free stuff?! And did you know that the library isn’t just that musky old pile of books you remember from high school? It’s actually one of the best money-saving parenting hacks in this whole list! Most libraries are stocked with huge rooms of children’s books and toys, and in Chicago, they even lend out passes to museums, zoos and the aquarium! It’s awesome, and one of our favorite (free) places to visit.

Side note: Many libraries lend out movies and video games now, too, which is awesome for dads. :) And at some, they’ll even let you check out the video game SYSTEM!

And if you simply can’t beaar the thought of physically visiting a library in 2019, I have you covered. The public library smartphone app, Libby, lets you wirelessly checkout eBooks and AudioBooks straight to your phone with no fear of late fees.

Libraries! I’m tellin’ you!

3. Join a playgroup

A well-established playgroup can be a fundamental component of any frugal parent’s toolkit. Babysitters, daycare services and play place expenses add up, but if you can find a few like-minded parents who are down with doing rotating kid hangout sessions, everyone wins.

Now, yes: this tip does require sociability and, yes, you’ll occasionally need to invite a pile of kids over to destroy your home. But the benefits outweigh the costs. Your kid will have a blast, and playgroup is also a great way to break the ice with a new group of adult friends. It’s like BumbleBFF but not all creepy. I highly recommend bringing along one of those huge $6 bottles of wine, which makes it even better. (Kelly’s favorite, when she isn’t pregnant, is “Liberty Creek.”)

4. Look into services offered at the gym

This tip might not be as universal, but it’s been so beneficial to us that I had to include it. Many gyms and wellness facilities offer free or very reasonable daycare services, peewee programs, classes and camps.

At ours, lots of work-from-home parents utilize these amenities so they can get their stuff done, and the staff is totally good with it, which is really nice! (Same with my brother’s gym!) Granted, we’re required to physically stay at the gym for most of these activities, but they have a coffee pot and wifi, and Emma LOVES going. She’s made a ton of friends, and so have we! As a result, we spend most of our lives at that gym, and haven’t died from sleep deprivation yet. Sometimes we even work out.

5. Create smart incentives

If teaching public school for a decade taught me anything, it’s the value of rewards to get 30 kids through a difficult class activity. But most teachers will also tell you that without good structures in place, incentives can break the bank.

And man, did I fall victim to the incentive game early on with Emma. I had Amazon boxes flying in left and right for every little routine achievement Emma put any effort into.

Now that Emma’s old enough, Kelly and I are trying to structure our incentives in more meaningful ways. Emma now earns points towards more engaging rewards, like trips to the Children’s Museum, which we have a membership to… instead of quick, meaningless and pricier rewards, like new toys. No, we aren’t perfect, but we’ve found smart incentives to be an incredible money-saver in the short time since we’ve started.

6. Approach gifts differently

I’m about to sound like an ungrateful jerk here, so if any of you parents who live in small homes can identify, please back me up.

Up until recently, birthdays and the holidays have been stressful for us, with gifts and duplicate gifts quickly filling every cabinet, drawer, closet, nook and cranny of our tiny home. It goes without saying that our friends’ and families’ generosity has been incredible, and we’re so grateful! But we were literally tripping over all of it.

This year, I had a little “stuff freakout” before Christmas. The thought of more of it nearly broke my brain. But telling people “no gifts” doesn’t really work; they get sad. So instead, Kelly and I sat down to develop a wish list to facilitate space-sensitive and smart gift giving.

At first, we were nervous about it coming across as ungrateful or even greedy, but everyone loved it, and was totally on board with getting her physically small things or even experiences! It saved our friends and families time, and there were no more duplicates. Plus, everything was either something she really wanted or needed–which, in the end, saved our family money. Emma’s eyes lit up when she opened the presents, which made the gift-givers super happy, too!

I highly recommend Amazon Wish Lists. They make things very easy!

I should also mention another incredible gift idea: Brightstart, the 529 College Savings Plan website, which makes it easy for donors to contribute to kid’s college savings plans. No, it doesn’t make for an exciting Christmas morning, but I promise the kids will appreciate it down the road, and it’ll help your family financially. Though attaching something little–like a book–makes it so they have something fun to open! (Read Kelly’s college savings post here).

7. KonMari the toys and unneeded stuff

And you thought you’d found the one Marie Kondo-less blog post on the internet. But hear me out! Emma had so many toys that she couldn’t even play with them anymore. We found ourselves actually buying her new toys because she couldn’t open her toy cabinet due to “toy overload.” So we went in as a family, and thoughtfully donated every toy that didn’t bring Emma joy. It was one of the best parenting moves we’ve ever made and Emma was too cute picking out her little toys to be donated to the less fortunate. Now Emma plays with her favorites all the time and our rate of new toy purchases is way down. Everybody won and we’re all happier!

Similarly, we sold a lot of the pricier, more valuable baby gear. Yes, we have another baby on the way, but we realized that there was a lot of stuff laying around that we didn’t even use when Emma was a newborn. I think we simply know what we’ll actually need with Baby #2, so we were able to get rid of the excess! To sell, we primarily used Craigslist and eBay.

8. Buy generic

If you’re this deep into a “How to Save Money” blog post, I’m hoping you’ve already bought into the whole generic revolution, but I really can’t stress this enough. With few exceptions, Kelly and I run a mostly generic household, and it might be the single best piece of money saving advice I could ever offer. Whether it’s your grocery store’s in-house bottom shelf cereal or it’s a trip to Aldi or Trader Joes which almost exclusively sell generics, even the fussiest toddler (or wife) can’t tell the difference. Just put everything in those clear food storage containers and you’re good.

Of course, there are a few examples where generics fall flat, but our rule is to opt for the generic whenever possible. Oh, and Aldi’s Oreos are better than the original.

9. Don’t skimp on quality

Kelly lives her life by this creed and it’s both the worst and the best. Spending money to save money just shorts out my circuits… but now that I’m a million years old and I’ve started to reap the rewards of Kelly’s quality purchases all those years ago, I’m starting to see where she’s coming from.

An example: After our basement flooded we spent nearly all our money getting it rebuilt. After the renovation, the last thing in the world I wanted to do was buy expensive furniture. But Kelly convinced me that if we bought a proper, solid wood set instead of cheaping out, we’d never need to replace it… and we haven’t. My drawers still work. No metal pieces randomly fall off them in the middle of the night. It’s great.

The point is that if you’re able to, sometimes buying a quality item could be the cheapest move. Ugh, it’s so annoying how right Kelly is sometimes.

10. Take advantage of your town or city’s free activities

There’s no wonder why “The best things in life are free” is such a cliche. I mean, it’s true! And if you live in a city like we live in, there are literally hundreds of fun and free activities to choose from each and every week. I’m talkin’ about free admission night at museums, public plays and art activations. Aiming for a free family activity is a great way to push your boundaries and experience unique things that are outside your wheelhouse.

If you live in Chicago, then you’re in luck. A random Reddit user named _Guiness put together a full calendar of the best free activities for the entire year. From street fairs to fireworks displays, he’s got it all. Now, of course, the calendar slows down a bit in the winter while everyone hides indoors, but when the weather warms up, I use it like a bible. You can install the calendar to your Apple Calendar or Google Calendar or whatever, and it updates all the time. Pretty great.

Parent or not, do you have any good tips for saving money? Let us know in the comments below!

Mitch. OUT!