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Published July 05, 2012, 11:30 PM

Richards: Planning, frugality can trim kid-related costs

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it’ll cost my husband and me nearly $235,000 to raise our son, Owen, to age 18. That’s how much a middle-income family may spend to raise a child born in 2011, not adjusted for projected inflation, an annual USDA report released last month shows.

By: Sherri Richards, INFORUM

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it’ll cost my husband and me nearly $235,000 to raise our son, Owen, to age 18. That’s how much a middle-income family may spend to raise a child born in 2011, not adjusted for projected inflation, an annual USDA report released last month shows.

The figure includes housing, transportation, food, clothing, health care, child care and education (not college).

The report estimates we’ll spend $12,690 on him this year alone, though I don’t think that author is familiar with Money-Savin’ Mama’s frugal ways.

Don’t get me wrong, kids are expensive and some expenses, such as medical bills, are unavoidable. We’re still waiting to see the total damage of an ER visit this spring.

But there are plenty of ways to cut kid-related costs, if you’re willing. Some parents will spare no expense when it comes to their kids. I’m kind of the opposite.

I don’t care if the tag says Gymboree or Garanimals, as long as the clothes are cute and clean. Extra frills on car seats or cribs don’t make my baby any safer. Generic diapers have worked as well for us as name-brand. We’re choosy about which activities we enroll our kids in.

Before Eve was born in 2008, we purchased and requested as gifts gender-neutral baby gear, including a high chair and play yard. Owen has inherited most of it, including a not-at-all-neutral pink and floral-patterned convertible car seat. He doesn’t seem to mind.

Breastfeeding both my kids saved us hundreds, perhaps thousands, in formula costs, and this time around I’ve made Owen’s baby food rather than buy prepackaged plastic containers.

I’m not sure why I didn’t for Eve, because it’s super easy. All I have to do is steam vegetables, and then puree them with the cooking water in my food processor. I pour the pureed veggies into ice cube trays, freeze, and store the cubes in zip-seal bags. Rather than buy itty-bitty jars of baby applesauce, I purchase jugs of unsweetened applesauce, which are far less expensive per ounce. The ingredients are exactly the same.

Clothing is one of the biggest expenses we’ve managed to trim. According to an article about top baby costs at BabyCenter.com, expected clothing costs are between $20 and $50 a month. I probably spend about $50 per year per kid, thanks to garage sales, hand-me-downs from friends and family and secondhand stores.

One of my family’s favorite ways to stock up on kids’ clothes is to hit up Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch Thrift Store bag sales, held twice a year at each of the four Fargo-Moorhead locations. This year’s summer sales will be July 14 in West Fargo, July 21 in south Fargo, July 28 in north Fargo and Aug. 4 in Dilworth.

Clothing is marked down the week leading up to the sale, and then on that Saturday, for $4, you can fill a bag with as much clothing or shoes as will fit. The smaller your child, the more clothing you can get in the brown paper bag.

Another place to get secondhand kids’ clothes in really good condition is Once Upon a Child. Usually this consignment store is still a bit too pricey for me, except during its seasonal clearance sales. For example, this Monday, all clearance spring and summer clothing will be marked to $1 at the Fargo store.

Child care is one expense that can be difficult for frugal families. I’m grateful I’ve been able to work part-time from home, meaning we haven’t yet paid for day care for Owen. Some families manage by staggering work schedules or relying on family or friends. Taking advantage of a flexible spending account through your employer offsets some of the expense with tax savings.

Even those medical bills can be trimmed down. I’ve gotten 5 percent taken off clinic and hospital bills by simply calling and asking for a discount for paying in full.

The USDA report points out that annual expenditures increased with the age of the child. Obviously, the older my kids get, the more they’ll eat. They’ll begin to shun the bargain-bought clothes. Their interests and activities will become more expensive.

I’m hopeful, though, that we’ll maintain our frugality into their teens. I’d rather use our financial resources to save for their future than spend frivolously on fleeting wants.

Sherri Richards is thrifty mom of two and an employee of The Forum.

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