Thrift Week — Day 5, Parenting

by Katy on January 21, 2009 · 5 comments


Thrift Week


Welcome to Thrift Week. Today’s topic is parenting.

Parenting is one of the expenses in life that can be tremendously expensive, or quite reasonable. It’s up to you as a parent to choose. 

My experience has been that becoming a parent didn’t add that much to the budget, but it did drastically decrease my earning potential. I’m an RN, and only worked full time briefly before having kids. (I was pregnant when hired at the hospital where I’ve worked for the past 14 years.) Since becoming a mother, I’ve worked part-time, which has mostly been 24 hours per week. I was never interested in having my children in day care, so my husband and I have always worked complementary shifts. Thus, one of us is always home with the kids. There is, of course all kinds of wonderful day care available, but my shifts are 7:00 A.M. – 7:30 P.M., which complicates things. I do have co-workers who bring home six-figure incomes, but I’d rather work less.

There are many ways to drop a load of money on kids, but there are equal and opposite ways to keep the expenses under control. 

Here’s a few of the methods that have worked for me in my 13 long years of being a parent:

Clothes: This category of spending is one of the easiest areas to save money. You need to get over any squeamishness you might have about secondhand clothing, because kids are always growing out of their clothes before they’re worn out. Scoring used clothes for girls, granted is a little easier for girls than boys, (my sister has never bought anything for her four-year-old daughter besides socks and underwear) but it’s still far from difficult.

We spend approximately $50 -$75 per year on clothing, shoes, pajamas and outerwear for our 10 and 13-year-old sons. And they dress great, in high end brands that last. 

Consignment Shops: Children’s clothing consignment shops are great because they’re usually very well organized, and the clothing should be stain and tear-free. The down side is that they still can be a bit pricey, although this varies from shop to shop. I have a local place where I take my kids’ grown-out-of clothes. I used to do this for store credit, but now I just take the money. I like consignment shops for finding need-it-now items like coats and such.

Thrift Stores: I love, love, love the Portland, Oregon Goodwill thrift stores, and have brought home countless items through the years that were pennies-on-the-dollar. Not everything in thrift shops are a good deal, (as the multitude of $4.99 used T-shirts can prove.) Keep an eagle eye out though, and you can find incredible deals. Make sure to check all clothing thoroughly for stains, tears, missing buttons and busted zippers. I also buy all the boys’ shoes there. (Before you get too grossed out, I only buy used shoes that look brand-new.) 

Hand-Me-Downs: This technique for getting clothes can be your biggest money saver. I once told a secretary at work, (who had triplets.) “Wow. You must have great hand-me-downs.” It was the most profitable sentence I’d ever uttered in my entire life! She gave me garbage bags full of clothes for years! We received nice, often unworn clothes that her sons wouldn’t wear. An ideal situation would be two families with staggered age kids, so that each could benefit.

Just put the word out that you’re open to hand-me-downs, and you’d be surprised the great stuff that people are happy to send your way.

Education: I am a huge proponent of public schools. I know not all school districts are created equal, but public education is one of the most important rights available to families. Keeping your child at your area school also helps to cement neighborhoods and communities. Your student will meet kids who actually live near by, and these friendships can last throughout childhood and into their adult lives.

Furniture: There is no reason to decorate a child’s room with cutesy furnishings that will soon be outgrown. Cribs and rocking chairs are easily found secondhand, (check to make sure they meet current safety regulations.) and just use a dresser with a pad as a changing table. (My 13-year-old son uses the same dresser that was once his changing table.) Again, put the word out about hand-me-downs and you can most likely score at least a free crib.

Toys: Here I am going to be a hypocrite, because my kids’ rooms are stuffed to the rafters, but I’m actually unhappy about this. Kids do not need a million toys. The best toys are those that foster imaginative play, and are not tied to pre-set television and movie personalities. My ten-year-old has been playing all days with some sticks he found in the backyard and some rubber bands. (Yup, you guessed it, he made bows-and-arrows — it’s a Y-chromosome thing.) 

Extra-Curricular Classes and Sports: This can get mightily out of hand. But fear not, it’s okay to do this lightly. Your child does not need to participate in multiple sports, music, art, dance and theater classes simultaneously. Kids need downtime, and I feel we do them a favor by giving them large chunks of unstructured time to use their imaginations and play with friends.

For those who do want to take classes that don’t bust the budget, there are always free and inexpensive classes to take. (My 13-year-old takes bass guitar classes for free at school.) My husband is on the soccer board, and our kids play recreational soccer for free. My kids participated in soccer camps last summer, but we hosted the visiting U.K. soccer coaches, which gave us a steep discount, and was great fun. 

Food: Cook from scratch and just say no to over processed pre-packaged food. There should be no difference in how you feed adults and kids. Baby food, anything with word, “Pocket,” or molded into the shape of a dinosaur should be avoided.  

Entertainment: You can take your kids to the arcade and a restaurant, or you can feed them at home and go to story time at the library. You can fly the family to Disneyland or find somewhere nearby and affordable to vacation. 

I could go on and on with endless categories of ways to save money with kids, but it all basically boils down to one point:

You can choose to buy used and spend lightly, or not. This is true for yourself, and it’s true for your kids

Having kids does not mean you have to give up on a simple, frugal life. 

How do you make sure to stay under budget, yet still provide a great life for your kids? Please share your ideas in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

Tomorrow: Thrift Week — Day 6, transportation.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Tara Morrison January 22, 2009 at 5:49 am

Not everyone has this perk but my husband travels quite a bit on business and is able to retain his miles and hotel points. We use these for our trips which are usually taken in the car. We also use an AMEX to pay for a lot of purchases, that is swiftly paid at the end of the month with our points from this we get gift cards and use them for gas and dining on trips.

Another perk, we are fortunate to have is my husband is also a part time professional musician and if the family goes with him to a venue we are usually fed and entertained.


Susan Lee January 22, 2009 at 6:07 am

As a Homeschooling family, we actually spend quite a bit less than most. For the first seven years we spent next to nothing per year, just a few dollars on workbooks at Sam’s Club. The rest of their learning was free through homeschooling field trips, our own vacations, organic gardening, cooking, daily chores around the house, animal care, etc. I’m a child of the 60’s and 70’s when roaming the countryside all day long with animals and my bike was the norm. Since our world isn’t quite like that anymore, I strongly feel that having animals and taking care of our property outside with plants, gardening, etc. is a great way of life for our kids. Keeping them outside is SO good for them physically and mentally and gets them far away from TV. We don’t do cell phones for our kids or texting, gadgets, etc. but real people, real animals and real life. And most of that is FREE.

Not spending money on school uniforms or the latest trends and shoes, school field trips, fund raisers and the like have saved us hundreds per year. They go where we go; concerts like Itzak Perlman, Celtic Woman, River Dance, the science museums, the Adirondaks, camping, fishing, riding horses and whatever else we as a family enjoy doing together. It’s not “their fun, our fun” – it provides us with all the same, fun memories.

If and when we do eat out, there are several local places that have “kids eat free” on certain nights, which saves about $10. Now only one child qualifies for that, so we’re on the edge of that option!! :-))


Kate January 22, 2009 at 10:59 am

I think the biggest difference in living frugally with our son has been teaching him what is a want versus a need, and to respect that difference. Sometimes you indulge a want, for sure, but they aren’t absolute needs.
He didn’t watch any commercial tv until this year (wish the discovery channel was more select about their ads). Parents at school would complain about their kids wanting everything they saw on tv … well they won’t complain if they don’t see it. Now as he has gotten older peers at school become an issue, but at this point he seems to understand our position on many of these things. And he is learning about himself and what makes him happy.
With only one child it could be easy to indulge a little, but we have managed to get the family to respect our wishes about toys, etc (not that he doesn’t have toys!). This is a kid, like your 10-year-old, who is happier outside creating his own entertainment.
We only do one activity at a time, the past year and a half that has been swim lessons up at the local pool. And we are ok with saying no to something and explaining why (too expensive, not our values, etc).
Hand me downs/second hand clothes are sometimes the only clothes that fit my skinny boy (that little bit of shrinkage helps).
We go to the used ski equipment sales, as owning used equipment is cheaper than rentals and allows us to ski more. We ski at night, when it is much cheaper than day ticket prices (and less busy so you get more runs in).
Now if only the shoes would last long enough to get handed down … but boys sure are rough on them, even in the three months they wear them before their feet grow!!


Magdalena January 22, 2009 at 1:31 pm

When my boys were toddlers, I bought mill ends of plaid flannel and sewed all their overalls and crawlers, with padded knees. I didn’t buy many toys, either. They seemed content with the birthday and Christmas gifts sent by my mother, and I might add one or two other items, especially books, since I knew their reading levels and itnerests better than my parents could.


carocoknits January 22, 2009 at 1:45 pm

There are endless ways to save money with children. The only advice that I can give is that the kids are not the only ones that have to sacrifice to save money, the parents need to as well. Too often, I see parents that deprive the children of so much and quote finances as the reason yet have the newest gadgets and wardrobes and… This may work when the kids are little, but when they become older, they notice. Would you like to feel that it was more important for your father to watch a movie every night than to spend some extra money on something that was incredibly important to you? We have also taken the route that we make sacrifices in one area to be able to afford what is important to us. Those ultra skates that you need for hockey? Well, that is four meals for our family at McDonalds. I was sure that my son would want new clothes for starting junior high. He surprised me by saying that he is fine with Value Village clothes because we get to do this, and this and that, and this…One other thing that has surprised me with my daughter’s friends is that they want to come with us when we go to the thrift store. It is a fun Friday night outing for them. The surprise – their parents refuse to take them because it is an inappropriate place to buy things!


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