Are you making more money than ever, yet still living paycheck to paycheck? If you’re a parent, the likely culprit(s) are those adorable youngsters. Yup, your progeny have the potential to suck you dry financially, but this doesn’t have to be the case. You’re the adult which means that you have the ability, (and frankly the responsibility) to make wise financial choices when it comes to your kids. And no, I’m not suggesting that you dumpster dive for after school snacks and construct their garments from burlap sacks. But you can provide a rich and empowering childhood for your kids without robbing your financial security.
Unsure where you’re going wrong? Look to these common parenting money pits and discover where you’re overspending.
Ridiculously expensive birthday parties
Are you shelling out hundreds of dollars for Junior’s birthday party before you’ve even bought the gift? You’re not alone. Parents all over this great nation have somehow been convinced that’s it’s no longer acceptable to bake their own cakes and host parties in their own homes. Take a step back from the Joneses. It’s perfectly okay to host your own birthday party without hired entertainment and a bouncy castle. Old fashioned games such as hide and seek, freeze tag and pin the tail on the donkey (or the dinosaur or Darth Vader) still captivate children, and a candy-filled piñata is a hit each and every time. I’ve personally hosted dozens of birthday parties in my modest home with themes ranging from dinosaurs to Star Wars, pizza to arcade fun. The average cost? Maybe $30. So bake your own cupcakes and push the furniture against the walls, because it turns out that it’s absolutely acceptable to host your own birthday parties.
Assuming that kids need specific ‘kid food’
Somehow America’s food industry has convinced parents that children require an entirely different category of meals, and trust me, the cost per serving is not doing your budget any favors. I’m talking about tubes of yogurt, pouches of applesauce and any meal that’s specifically marketed to your toddler, preschooler or school-age child. You know that your grandmother would sooner have flushed her paycheck before she prepared separate kid and adult meals. Nope! Her kids ate what was put in front of them and grew up to be open-minded eaters. Once babies are weaned and have graduated to mixed food, they really don’t require specialty products. And your eight year old? He can eat what the rest of the family eats.
Providing the latest and greatest electronics
Your daughter may try to convince you that she’ll be shunned without the newest iPhone, but this is simply not true. Perceived obsolescence is a highly effective marketing ploy that convinces consumers that their perfectly good possessions have become outdated and an embarrassment. It works on adults and it really works on kids. (Think women’s shoe trends or kitchen appliance colors.) The practice of always buying the newest electronics is sure to keep you in debt, especially when you already own a perfectly functional device. Instead look to buy one or two generations back and you’ll be sure to score a bargain. I promise, your son or daughter will survive this injustice.
Endless pricey lessons
There are many skills that simply cannot be acquired without lessons, so yes, they can be a wonderful thing. But when lessons are so expensive that they keep parents from being able to ensure their own financial stability, it becomes a problem. Piano lessons are generally not a problem. Piano plus karate plus archery plus art plus violin plus taiko is a problem. It’s a mistake to think that children need to be entertained and on task at all times. The work of childhood is play. Choose a single lesson at a time and don’t feel guilty about shopping around for the best deal. Check out your local parks and recreation department for reasonably priced classes.
Elaborately decorated bedrooms
Yes, it’s fun to create a theme bedroom for small children, but if decor is too specific you’ll be starting from scratch every few years. Your four-year-old may be nuts for Cars or Frozen right now, but that won’t be the case in a few short years. Choose neutral pieces that grow with the child and then add one or two inexpensive accessories that match up with their current obsession. A Frozen pillow case instead of a Frozen bedding set, a Cars waste basket instead of a Cars bed.
Club sports and teams
You may think that the thousands of dollars you’re spending per year on club sports are an investment on nabbing a college scholarship, but unless your child is the next LeBron James, you’d be better off sticking that money in an educational savings account. Once you’ve paid for uniforms, equipment, travel and fees, these supposedly elite teams will set you back thousands of dollars per year. Instead, look for volunteer-run recreational leagues that end up being much easier on the budget.
Bizarrely expensive baby supplies
Babies are simple creatures. They require food, comfort, shelter, diapers and clothing. (Come to think of it, with the exception of diapers that’s what adults require as well, but I digress . . . ) Take a look into any baby shower and you’d think that babies were designer-obsessed royalty who’d be embarrassed to sit in a no-name stroller. Even the cloth diapering set is competing with one another to bid on exclusive cloth diaper prints on eBay. $46 for a single diaper?!
When a stroller can set you back twelve-hundred bucks
, you’d be smart to set aside your pride and explore the second-hand market. Consignment shops, garage sales and Craigslist are terrific resources for baby’s needs, not to mention the tried and true hand-me-down route. Less is simply more when it comes to baby supplies. Tip: When choosing baby clothes and accessories, always go for gender neutral, as it can be handed down to the next child. (Of course it goes without saying that some items such as car seats should always be purchased new, and it’s a good idea to Google purchases to make sure they haven’t been included in a product recall.)
Assuming that private schools always beat public schools
Nothing is harder than trying to add to a college fund while simultaneously paying private school fees. But public education get a bad rap and should always be considered before going the private school route. Many districts include specialty magnet schools, and even the neighborhood schools provide wonderful education to America’s youth. My Portland, Oregon school district offers multiple language immersion programs, and my two blond sons graduated fluent in Japanese. Were their classroom sizes larger than the private school? Most likely yes, but they benefited from amazing and committed educators who ushered them into adulthood. And the cost? My taxes. Make an appointment to visit your area’s public school before you assume the worst.
Spending so much on the little things that there’s nothing leftover for the big stuff
If your days include a dollar here, five dollars there and then $30 spent at the drive through, you’re likely not in a good financial position. Sit down to figure out your big picture financial goals and what daily changes need to happen to reach those goals. For example, my own children grew up in thrift store clothing, but were able to participate in expensive class exchanges to Japan without incurring any debt. We’re now paying cash for the kids’ college, but I sure as heck pack leftovers to eat for my work lunches. Small painless daily sacrifices allow you to meet your big picture goals!
Being secretive about your own finances
Children learn about the world around them from their own homes, but they’ll never grasp how to manage money if we as parents are unwilling to talk about finances. Kids naturally want more, more, more and don’t understand how there can be a limit if there are still checks left in the register. Many parents feel bad about being unable to provide the same as those dreaded Joneses, and end up living beyond their means as a result. Talk to your kids honestly about your own situation and include them in the conversation. You might be surprised how empathetic and understanding your own children can be.
No one is suggesting that you hold back on paying for what is valued and important to your own family, but when you automatically say ‘yes’ to everything, it can be a strong component to a paycheck-to-paycheck existence. Deliberate and thoughtful spending is very important when it comes to parenting, and should be part of every family’s conversation.