Sarah and I had a lot of requests over on our Instagram for frugal or low-cost parenting tips, so today’s episode covers this topic!
(Sadly, for two people who hate to waste time, this was actually the second time we recorded this episode. We recorded it when we were together in Miami, then realized that we must not have turned the mic on. All the sound files were blank. At least this didn’t happen with a guest! Sigh – so a quick recording session after Sarah got home from work yesterday.)
Listeners sent in a ton of tips, such as making good use of the library, swapping clothes and toys with friends (especially newborn stuff! do not spend much on newborn stuff!) and shopping from lists at a limited number of stores (e.g. Aldi and Costco) that you know have the best prices on whatever it is you buy.
Several listeners suggested asking for memberships at area kid-friendly attractions (zoo, aquarium, science museum) as presents for birthdays or Christmas. Instead of a grandparent buying a $30 toy for each of three kids, plus a present for you and your spouse that you don’t need, he/she could get a zoo membership, and you all would have free entertainment for many weekends all year.
One listener suggested that if you’re going to buy a membership somewhere, buy it in mid-summer. That way you get the feeling of two summers for the price of one (you’d go a lot during late summer the first year, and then a lot during the beginning of the summer the next year. Related, but not mentioned in the episode: If you’re buying annual passes to theme parks, look for fall specials. Often, post-Labor Day, you can buy annual passes for the following year that will then cover the rest of that year and then the next calendar year. So for the first year you do this, you’re getting 15 months for the price of 12. And by the end of 15 months, you might be tired of that park anyway!)
A few hacks I use…We’ve lately figured out how to use Libby (which lets you borrow ebooks from your local library). I’ve already checked out a handful of Encyclopedia Brown books for my 9-year-old, who is consuming them at a rate of about 1 per hour. Not buying them has been a big savings!
We also joined the YMCA, which is great for winter entertainment (indoor swimming!) and is comparable in cost, for a family, to what a private gym might charge for one person. This also gives you access to discount swimming lessons and kid activities, plus older children can use the gym. The child watch center offers up to 2 hours of care per visit.
Sarah pointed out one major savings: a bigger family doesn’t automatically mean you need a big car. She can fit three Diono carseats across her backseat. Of course, once you cross to 4 kids…but still, minivans can be cheaper than some of the SUVs out there. We will be driving our 2014 Toyota Sienna for a while.
Also: Kids can share rooms. Buying (or renting) a 3-bedroom place vs. a 4-bedroom place could dwarf the savings on a lot of these other tips!
For people looking for affordable summer activities for kids, I suggested looking into local churches’ Vacation Bible School options. Obviously, if you follow a different religion, or would prefer to avoid religious instruction, this wouldn’t work, but we’ve found that these tend to be the cheapest day camps out there (like $50/week/kid, vs $200+ for places with similar hours). Very few places require that your family be members to send your kids.
Another summer activity/camp hack: Area businesses and camps often donate a week for school/church/league silent auctions. The starting bids tend to be much lower than face value, and these are often not the items that get bid up. I once got a week of gymnastics camp for about 50-60% off through one such silent auction. (Of course, once there, I then signed up for another week…and a year of gymnastics lessons…which is why places offer such things to get you in the door. But of course you don’t have to do that!)
We’ve also found that renting vacation spots through VRBO (or Air Bnb) can be more economical for a larger family than multiple hotel rooms or a suite. Plus you have a kitchen, so you can eat breakfast/lunch at your vacation spot rather than needing to eat out for every meal. And don’t forget visiting family and friends as an affordable option! Kids the same age can entertain each other, so you don’t have to shell out for pricey activities.
And one of our favorites: if you don’t want to or can’t outsource, insource to your kids! Certainly by the time kids are pre-teens, they can do various chores such as laundry, assisting with cooking, and lawn work. We just (literally this last weekend) started experimenting with the sibling babysitting concept. Small steps (like less than an hour to start with) but this opens up all sorts of possibilities!
Please give the episode a listen and feel free to share your tips too.