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How These Parents Save Big Bucks Raising Their Kids

There’s no doubt about it - raising kids is expensive.

According to U.S. News & World Report, housing, child care, and education - not to mention a mountain of diapers, clothes, and other necessities - could cost parents as much as $250,000 over 18 years.

That’s quite the price tag!

But never fear - we’ve rounded up the best advice for raising kids on a budget from the folks who know best: parents.

Living in the space you need

If you have a growing family, chances are you’ve decided to purchase a house that can accommodate your needs.

But buying a house that’s too big - and too expensive - is a classic mistake new parents make, says Kim McGrigg, the community and media relations manager for Money Management International.

“Babies are very, very small at first,” McGrigg told Bankrate.com

“I understand that you think this place isn't going to be big enough now that our family is expanding. But it's not a panic situation; you can take time, save up and think about where you're going to move,” she advises.

Kimberly Palmer, author of Smart Mom, Rich Mom: How to Build Wealth While Raising a Family, agrees.

“A baby living in a one-bedroom apartment for a while isn't going to notice or care as much as you think,” Palmer told the Chicago Tribune.

Keep additional housing costs low by buying secondhand furniture and bunking older children together in shared rooms, Maryalene LaPonsie suggests at U.S. News & World Report.

“While scientific research on the issue is in short supply, plenty of anecdotal evidence points to room-sharing as being a tolerable, and even positive, experience for siblings,” writes LaPonsie. “If storage is an issue, work with children to declutter toys and clothes so they will fit in a smaller space.”

Not only will your kids get early lessons in sharing toys, clothes, and space with others, but you’ll also be able to keep your housing costs relatively low while your family is growing.

Creeping household costs

Whether you’re feeding a household of two or five, regular household expenses start to creep up fast when you take care of little ones.

The good news? There are plenty of savvy strategies for saving big on clothes, meals, and other household items.

If you’re raising infants, consider buying unisex clothing to ensure hand-me-downs will work for your next child, too.

“I snapped up one pink dress after another when my older daughter was born,” writes Deborah Skolnik at Parents. “It never even crossed my mind that my next child might be a boy and those hand-me-downs would all be useless.”

And while cloth diapers may not be as convenient as disposables, they’ll sure save you a bundle, says Sandra Gordon, the founder of BabyProductsMom.com.

"The downside is you have to do a lot of laundry," Gordon explained to U.S. News & World Report. "There is some sweat equity involved."

By Gordon’s calculations, disposable diapers could cost as much as $2,500 for the first few years of a child’s life. In contrast, high-quality cloth diapers cost only about $300.

Raising multiple kids means mealtimes can get pricey, too. Make sure you’re planning your meals - and your grocery shopping - ahead of time, so you can save money on food costs.

Jump in the coupon game by using sites like CouponMom.com to hunt down deals from manufacturers in your local grocery store, or master meal planning with menus and meal prep.

Need some more money-saving ideas? Check out Skolnik’s list of 32 life-saving tips at Parents.

Managing child care costs

It’s the rare employer that offers comprehensive child care for their employees - though if you’re lucky enough to have the option, this is often the most cost-effective route.

Without other choices, working parents may wind up paying $2,000 a month for regular child care in urban areas, cautions LaPonsie at U.S. News & World Report.

For most families, arranging for one parent stay home to watch the children - and cut down on child care costs - simply isn’t an option.

So what are parents to do?

One solution, suggests Jared Snider, senior wealth advisor with Exencial Wealth Advisors, is to ask for flexible full-time working hours.

"Maybe it means working four days for 10 hours," Snider told U.S. News & World Report. "I have a client who's a graphic designer who worked it out to work from home a couple days a week."

Splitting the costs of group child care with another family may be another way to ease the burden of full-time care, as can depending on older relatives or parents who live close by.

Brian Hickey, a 35-year-old father from Raleigh, North Carolina, had to ask his parents to help care for his children when they were ill.

“Thank God my parents were in the area,” Hickey recalled at NPR.

Paying for school

Even if you send your kids to a great public K-12 school, you’ll still have to foot the bill for school supplies, sports equipment, and other adolescent hobbies.

With a little bit of planning, you can avoid late registration fees for organized group activities and save big on the hobbies your kids love.

“Some organizations give a discount for early registration, and registering early gives you time to prepare for the activity so that you can accommodate it into your budget without last minute surprise expenses,” Clare K. Levison, the author of Frugal Isn't Cheap: Spend Less, Save More, and Live Better, advised Parents.

Volunteering your time for the team, signing up siblings for the same sport or activity, and buying secondhand equipment can all help you lower your expenses.

Once the high school years are over, the real financial hurdle you’ll have to clear is college or another form of post-secondary education.

And with tuition costs at a public four-year university rising at about 3.5% every year, plenty of parents worry about helping their teen receive a quality education.

Make sure you have a conversation with your teens about the financial realities of paying for college, personal finance expert Paul Sisolak advises.

Depending on your family’s financial situation, your kids may have to set their sights on a realistic, affordable option.

“Of course, you want the best for your kids, but be realistic about your finances before picking schools,” writes Sisolak at StudentLoanHero.com.

“Plenty of affordable colleges and universities across the country may offer the perfect academic program for your son or daughter without breaking the bank.”

Make it clear that you expect your teen to help foot the bill, and discuss your college budget openly and frankly, so your family is all on the same page.

It’s not an easy expense to address, but open communication will help your entire family plan for the future.

Whether you’ve just started your family, or you’re getting ready to send your teens off to college, there are tried-and-true savings strategies you can use to stick to a family budget.

These parents and financial experts have thrifted, borrowed, and pinched pennies like pros. Take a page out of their book to master your household budget and ease anxiety about raising kids - they need less than you think to be happy, healthy, and whole.

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