While the joy of starting is priceless, the reality of what new family members cost can be daunting. During the infant and toddler years especially, the costs of diapers, formula, clothes, toys and gadgets, and child care can feel overwhelming. The new Child Tax Credit program—an unprecedented financial resource for American parents—might be adding a boost to your monthly income, but it probably doesn’t cover all your family’s financial needs.
Read more: Child Tax Credits: What you need to know
The good news is that if you’re looking for ways to save money, you’re not alone. Many parents have learned how to how to stay within a tighter budget while still providing everything their children need.
“Focus on what you can control, which is your spending,” says Bright Dickson, co-host of the Money and Mindset podcast.
Here are some ideas for how to start saving money for your family in the big spending categories for families with younger children—particularly babies and preschoolers.
1. Use an FSA and your network to reduce child care costs
Even before you have a child, investigate the care options you might need. Good day care centers, especially the affordable ones, usually have long waitlists, so it’s important to apply early. Talk to your employer about a dependent care Flexible Spending Account (FSA), which can help you save a lot by setting aside tax-free money for certain child care expenses.
Caring for your child can be expensive, but it’s also an opportunity to use your existing social networks in new ways. Reaching out to your family is a good place to start—not just to see if they can help watch your little one, but to see who they might know who can help. Trusted teenagers and family friends can be affordable child care options.
Build your network of parent friends to share both child care costs like nannies and sitters in addition to insider tips on affordable opportunities. You might even find a stay-at-home parent who’s willing to care for your child while you’re away. That can be an affordable option for you and some extra money for them.
If you’re working, ask your employer for flexibility in hours or the ability to work from home, which can give you the ability to multitask work and child care (this can be tough, but if your baby or toddler is on a regular sleep schedule, it can make it a little more manageable).
2. Buy supplies, clothes, and toys used when you can
Babies grow so quickly that things like clothes, supplies, and even diapers can become outdated or ill-fitting soon after you buy them. Try to buy as much as you can used. Join local parent groups on Facebook or Nextdoor to share resources and swap supplies. Expensive things like breast pumps, baby swings, maternity chairs, and more cost a lot when they’re new but become obsolete to parents as their kids grow up. Websites like Buy Nothing and Freecycle are full of these kinds of treasures, free of charge. And on Facebook Marketplace, parents are often eager to get rid of unneeded toys, books, and clothes in an effort to declutter.
Remember the parent network you’re tapping into for child care? Expand it to include parents of children slightly older than you. You can save money just by being downstream from someone slightly older than your child and getting the benefit of their castoff new-ish clothes and supplies.
The temptation to buy new will be strong, especially for special occasions like birthday parties. Remember your child’s priorities probably aren't the same as yours—they often play with the box the expensive toy came in more than the toy itself—and a big, packaged birthday party might overwhelm them. Work with friends to make events special without breaking the bank.
3. Save on formula and food by buying bulk and making your own
Some mothers are able to provide nourishment by breastfeeding, but that still comes with a cost—not just in giving your time and body, but for materials like pumps, bottles, and nursing bras. For those who don’t breastfeed, the average cost of baby formula is between $1,200 and $1,500 per year.1 But there are ways to save on the costs of baby formula. For example, try asking your doctor for free samples—they frequently receive cases and coupons from formula manufacturers.
Since babies can drink formula until they are a year old, it might make sense to buy formula in bulk at places like Costco or Amazon. Most formula companies offer rewards programs. Signing up at the websites for Enfamil, Similac, and Gerber can get you coupons, free samples, and rewards.
As your child gets older and starts eating soft food, the costs of feeding them change. The small food containers seem cheap at about $1 a piece, but they can add up to hundreds of dollars a month when your children are eating several times a day. Instead of buying containers of baby food, you can make it yourself with a blender and fresh foods. That way, you could not only save more than a hundred dollars a month, but you also guarantee your child’s food is healthy and without additives. You might even think it tastes good yourself!
As your toddler begins eating the same foods you do, weekly meal planning can help you control costs and keep your budget low. It’s easy to fall into the habit of preparing two meals at once—one for the kid, one for everyone else. Avoiding this through meal planning saves you money and time and develops a healthy family habit of eating together.
That spirit of togetherness won’t just help you bond as a family—it can help your bottom line, too. Parenthood can and should be an enriching experience—even if sometimes it makes you feel poor! As you meet other parents and develop the social bonds to improve your life and your child’s life, those bonds can also make parenting more affordable and rewarding.