Print Friendly and PDF

Having a family is expensive. In fact, the estimated cost to raise a child from birth to 17 years old is $233,610, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While that's undoubtedly a scary number, there are ways to keep costs down and the kids happy.


We chatted with five budget-conscious mommy bloggers (and one daddy blogger) about their top money-saving tips and how they keep their family on a budget. They've mastered everything from meal planning and child care to family vacations and birthday presents.

Here's how they do it.

1. Meal planning

“We've all heard the common advice to make a list of meals for the week, write up a grocery list and only buy what's on the list," says Robyn of A Dime Saved. “I say do the opposite!" Yup, when it comes to figuring out how to feed her family on a budget, Robyn goes to the store, sees what's on sale, and then plans her meals around what she buys.

FEATURED VIDEO

“Tomatoes are on sale," she says. “Go home and google tomato recipes. Is canned corn on sale? Look in your cookbooks for recipes with corn. Some of my favorite food recipes I found because I was searching what to do with food that I bought."

Robyn also says this adds a bit of adventure and excitement to her family mealtime. “I discover new foods that me and my family like that we wouldn't have thought of before," she says. “I had a memorable meal two weeks ago where I tried tons of beet dishes because beets were dirt cheap."

She adds, “I can save anywhere from $20 to $100 a week, or way more. It's also a great feeling to know that you can feed your family on $20 a week if needed, which I have done."

2. Student loan repayment

When budgeting for student payments, the first thing you need to do is figure out how much you can afford—whether you have a family or not. Remember, your bill is not set in stone. If you have federal loans, there are many different loan repayment options to work with. If you just entered the job force and are having a hard time paying your bill, look into a graduated repayment plan. Your payments start small and then increase over time.

“Sometimes things happen in life, and you struggle," says Kumiko Ehrmantraut, founder and creator of The Budget Mom. “For these times, I suggest looking into the income-based repayment plan. Your total due every month is based on your income, rather than the standard plan they initially set you up on. Make sure to talk to your loan provider and figure out your options."

3. Family vacations

“Travel during non-peak times if you have some flexibility around your children's schedules," says Cliff Hsia of Live, Family, Travel. “Not only are airports and destinations packed with people, everything is much more expensive. By flying during the offseason, we've saved at least $2,000 to $3,000 per international trip for our family."

If traveling during the off-season is not feasible for your family, consider using credit cards with sign up and spending bonuses and incentives, and use those points for free nights at hotels and flights.

“With lots of credit cards offering rewards points there are many opportunities to accumulate a good amount of points to use for free nights at hotels and for flights," says Cliff. “My personal favorite credit cards are Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred, and the Starwood Preferred Guest card. Every time we use points for hotels, we save at least $150 or more per night."

While using points to pay for travel can certainly help with bringing vacation costs down, it's important to make sure you can afford to pay down monthly balances in full. If you are unable to pay in full, then the accrued interest on purchases can counter any potential savings from points.

Cliff also advises staying in Airbnb apartments to save money on costly hotels. “For stays longer than a week, staying in Airbnbs makes a lot of sense," he says. “You'll get a kitchen, more space, and lower overall prices."

For most of their travels around the world, Cliff and his family stayed in Airbnbs, which cut their accommodation costs by at least half. “On our trip through 10 countries in 10 months in 2015, we saved at least $10,000 in costs by staying in Airbnbs instead of hotels," he says. “And our price for over a month-long stay in a nice two-bedroom apartment in the middle of Barcelona? $66 per night."

4. Family activities

Finding ways to entertain your family can be difficult and expensive. That's precisely the problem Peggy Chang faced when looking for ways to keep her kids occupied. That's why she created ActivityHero, an online marketplace where you can shop for camps, after-school classes, workshops, and kids' nights out.

What she learned from setting up the website was that you could save money on family activities by signing up for free workshops and events. “Many retail stores and shopping malls have free weekly or monthly craft or building activities," says Peggy. “You'll find free activities on ActivityHero.com, Eventbrite, Facebook or Nextdoor."

Another one of her money-saving tips: “Save money on summer camps by getting early registration discounts, sibling and multi-session discounts. Look for value-priced camps that have a longer day if you need it." Since camps can often be half days or full days, you'll want to look for the ones that have the best per-hour rates. If you work a full-time job, finding a camp that has a full day of activities with a lower hourly rate can help with savings.

Regarding budgeting, make a category in your budget labeled “family fun" to allow for a little extra spending money for things like the amusement park or the zoo without breaking the bank. Kumiko recommends putting aside $100 a month if you can. Take whatever is unused each month and roll it into the next month. That way you can save up for a much bigger day out.

5. Kids' needs

When it comes to clothes and back-to-school supplies, remember you don't have to buy everything new. A great money-saving tip is to shop at secondhand stores for kids' clothing.

“As a mom, you know that clothes don't last long, so buying them new doesn't make a lot of sense," says Kumiko. “I make sure to buy clothes that are a little bigger so my son can grow into them. Also, I find that the best time to shop at thrift stores is when seasons change. It's the time when people are cleaning out their closets or going through their seasonal clothes."

In particular, Kumiko says a great time to go to a thrift store is around the first of the year. “People just got done buying new stuff during the holidays," she says. “And are getting rid the old stuff to make room. It's also the deadline for making donations that you can write off on your taxes."

6. Mortgage/rent

“For mortgages, consider refinancing when possible if it will drop your interest rates," says Cherie Lowe creators of Queen Of Free. She went from having 22 years left on her mortgage to 15, saving her family around $50,000 if they go full term.

You will have to pay some upfront closing costs, which is why it's important to do the math and find out how long it will take to recoup your closing costs. “If your rate lowers 1%—you are saving roughly $1,000.00 ($2,000.00 if 2% saved) for every $100,000 owed each year," says Cherie.

For rent, check into referral programs your landlord might have, suggests Cherie. If you bring in a new tenant, some places offer a referral reward to you and the new resident. “When we lived in an apartment, we did this more than once," she says. “If you live in a privately owned home and are in hard times, you may want to check with your landlord to see if there's any way you could have your rent reduced for a set period of time."

7. Transportation

When it comes to transportation, car issues can be one of the biggest expenses. “It's never a question of if something is going to happen to your car that you will need to shell out money for, but when," says Cherie. “Find a trusted mechanic and stick with the same one over a lifetime rather than hopping here or there to have the oil changed."

She adds, “It may cost a little bit more but having a relationship with your mechanic can save you hundreds and even thousands of dollars over the years. A lot of chains work on commission and/or high pressure sales. A hometown mechanic can shoot you straight without overselling because they're in it for a long term maintenance approach rather than one time shot based on a coupon or deal. This will keep your car up and running longer."

Don't know where to find one? “Ask your social network," says Cherie. “People love to brag about reliable, worthwhile service."

Cherie also advises putting time into maintaining your car as well as a preventive measure. You may have your hands full with the kids, but make it a point to regularly check your tires and tire pressure, get your oil changed regularly, and buy good windshield wipers.

8. Child care

Child care can be one of the most expensive parts of raising a child. According to 2016 Care.com member data, the average cost of a daycare center for infants is about $10,468 per year, but can go as high as $20,209 a year in some locations. Toddlers have similar pricing of about $9,733 a year. Opting for the nanny route? For one child, it will cost you about $28,905 a year, but can go as high as $32,677.

“If you don't need a nanny 40+ hours a week, consider doing a nanny share," says Juliet Izon of Juliet's Married. “That's when one nanny watches multiple children at once from different families. That way you're not paying someone full time, but you can still attract candidates looking for a full-time salary."

Juliet also adds, “Consider asking your boss if you can work one day from home and have your spouse or partner do the same. That way one to two days out of five working days are covered. That can add up to some big savings."

If you average about $10,000 a year for child care, that's about $42 a day. If two days a week are covered by you and your spouse, that's over $300 a month in savings.

9. Holiday gifts

Birthdays and holidays can be tough when it comes to both pleasing your children and your budget. To help pay off their $127,000 worth of debt, Cherie and her husband Brian stopped giving each other presents and put the money they would have spent towards their debt. But, when it came to their kids, they knew they couldn't stop giving gifts.

“We'd always give each of our kids three gifts for Christmas," says Cherie. “They get a book because reading is a gift, they get an item of clothing because not everyone gets a beautiful blue coat, and they get one big gift or electronic. They get something to open and at least one big item, which is all they need."

Cherie also got creative with her stocking stuffers. “I actually use small pillowcases filled with practical but fun things like nail polish, junk cereal, a toothbrush, and bubble bath," she says. “It's practical and inexpensive items but feels splurgy. A huge box of goldfish was one of my daughter's favorite gifts."

10. Dining out

Just because you have kids doesn't mean you can't enjoy a nice meal out. While meal planning certainly helps with the day-to-day expenses of feeding a family, there are still ways to save money even at a nicer restaurant when dining with children.

“At a restaurant with no kids menu," says Juliet. “It never hurts to ask if they can do a half portion of an entree like pasta or chicken. You won't be charged for an adult portion, which will go to waste and your little one can work on refining her palate, to boot."

Originally posted on Student Loan Hero.

You might also like:

The very best of Motherly — delivered when you need it most.
Subscribe for inspiration, empowering articles and expert tips to rock your best #momlife.

Subscribe for inspiration, empowering articles and expert tips to rock your best #momlife.

Thanks for subscribing!

Check your email for a confirmation message.

In the middle of that postpartum daze, the sleepless nights, the recovery, the adjustment to a new schedule and learning the cues of a new baby, there are those moments when a new mom might think, I don't know how long I can do this.

Fortunately, right around that time, newborns smile their first real smile.

For many mothers, the experience is heart-melting and soul-lifting. It's a crumb of sustenance to help make it through the next challenges, whether that's sleep training, baby's first cold, or teething. Each time that baby smiles, the mother remembers, I can do this, and it's worth it.

FEATURED VIDEO

Dayna M. Kurtz, LMSW, CPT a NYC-based psychotherapist and author of Mother Matters: A Holistic Guide to Being a Happy, Healthy Mom, says she sees this in her clinical practice.

"One mother I worked with recounted her experience of her baby's first smile. At eight weeks postpartum, exhausted and overwhelmed, she remembered her baby smiling broadly at her just before a nighttime feeding," Kurtz says. "In that moment, she was overcome by tremendous joy and relief, and felt, for the first time, a real connection to her son."

So what is it about a baby's smile that can affect a mother so deeply? Can it all be attributed to those new-mom hormones? Perhaps it stems from the survival instincts that connect an infant with its mother, or the infant learning social cues. Or is there something more going on inside our brains?

In 2008, scientists in Houston, TX published their research on the topic. Their study, "What's in a Smile? Maternal Brain Responses to Infant Facial Cues", takes data from the MRI images of 26 women as they observed images of infants smiling, crying, or with a neutral expression.

The images included the mother's own infant alternated with an unknown infant of similar ethnicity and in similar clothing and position. In each image, the baby displayed a different emotion through one of three facial expressions; happy, neutral, or sad. Researchers monitored the change in the mothers' brain activity through the transitions in images from own-infant to unknown-infant, and from happy to neutral to sad and vice versa.

The results?

"When first-time mothers see their own baby's face, an extensive brain network appears to be activated, wherein affective and cognitive information may be integrated and directed toward motor/behavioral outputs," wrote the study's authors. Seeing her infant smile or cry prompts the areas of the brain that would instigate a mother to act, whether it be to comfort, care for, or caress and play with the baby.

In addition, the authors found that reward-related brain regions are activated specifically in response to happy, but not sad, baby faces. The areas of the brain that lit up in their study are the same areas that release dopamine, the "pleasure chemical." For context, other activities that elicit dopamine surges include eating chocolate, having sex, or doing drugs. So in other words, a baby's smile may be as powerful as those other feel-good experiences.

And this gooey feeling moms may get from seeing their babies smile isn't just a recreational high—it serves a purpose.

This reward system (aka dopaminergic and oxytocinergic neuroendocrine system) exists to motivate the mother to forge a positive connection with the baby, according to Aurélie Athan, PhD, director of the Reproductive & Maternal Psychology Laboratory (a laboratory that created the first graduate courses of their kind in these subjects).

These networks also promote a mother's ability to share her emotional state with her child, which is the root of empathy. "A mother cries when baby cries, smiles when baby smiles," Athan says.

While there's a physiological explanation underlying that warm-and-fuzzy sensation elicited by a smile, there may be other factors at play too, Kurtz says.

"In my clinical practice, I often observe a stunning exchange between a mother and her baby when the latter smiles at her. A mother who is otherwise engaged in conversation with me may be, for that moment, entirely redirected to focus on her little one," Kurtz says. "This kind of attention-capturing on the part of the baby can enable and cultivate maternal attunement—a mother's ability to more deeply connect with her infant. The quality of attunement in early childhood often sets the stage for one's relationship patterns in the future."

Whether a physiological response, a neural activation, simple instinct, or the tightening of emotional connection, the feeling generated by babies' smiles is a buoy in the choppy ocean of new parenthood.

And while the first smile may be the most magical by virtue of its surprise and the necessity of that emotional lift, the fuzzy feeling can continue well into that baby's childhood and beyond. It keeps telling parents, you've got this!

[This was originally published on Apparently]

Life

Chrissy Teigen is one of the most famous moms in the world and definitely one of the most famous moms on social media.

She's the Queen of Twitter and at least the Duchess of Instagram but with a massive following comes a massive dose of mom-shame, and Teigen admits the online comments criticizing her parenting affects her.

"It's pretty much everything," Teigen told Today, noting that the bulk of the criticism falls into three categories: How she feeds her kids, how she uses her car seats and screen time.

"Any time I post a picture of them holding ribs or eating sausage, I get a lot of criticism," she explained. "Vegans and vegetarians are mad and feel that we're forcing meat upon them at a young age. They freak out."

FEATURED VIDEO

Teigen continues: "If they get a glimpse of the car seat there is a lot of buckle talk. Maybe for one half of a second, the strap slipped down. And TV is another big one. We have TV on a lot in my house. John and I work on television; we love watching television."

Teigen wants the shame to stop, not just for herself but for all the other moms who feel it. (And we agree.)

"Hearing that nine out of 10 moms don't feel like they're doing a good enough job is terrible," she said. "We're all so worried that we're not doing all that we can, when we really are."

The inspiration for Teigen talking publicly about mom-shame may be in part because of her participation in Pampers' "Share the Love" campaign. But even though Teigen's discussion coincides with this campaign, the message remains equally important. Advertising can be a powerful tool for shifting the way society thinks about what's "normal" and we would much rather see companies speaking out against mom-shame than inducing it to sell more stuff.

Calling out mom-shame in our culture is worth doing in our lives, our communities and yes, our diaper commercials. Thank you Chrissy (and thank you, Pampers).

News

Dear fellow mama,

I was thinking about the past the other day. About the time I had three small boys—a newborn, his 2-year-old brother and his 5-year-old brother.

How I was always drowning.

How I could never catch my breath between the constant requests.

How I always felt guilty no matter how hard I tried.

How hard it was—the constant exhaustion, struggling to keep my home any kind of clean or tidy, how I struggled to feed my kids nutritious meals, to bathe them and clean them and keep them warmly dressed in clean clothing, to love them well or enough or well enough.

FEATURED VIDEO

Those years were some of the toughest years I have ever encountered.

But mama, I am here to tell you that it doesn't last forever. Slowly, incrementally, without you even noticing, it gets easier. First, one child is toilet trained, then the bigger one can tie his own shoelaces, then finally they are all sleeping through the night.

It's hard to imagine; I really really get it.

It is going to get easier. I swear it. I'm not saying that there won't be new parenting challenges, that it won't be the hardest thing you have ever done in your life. It will be. But it will get easier.

These days, all of my kids get the bus to school and back. Most of them dress themselves. They can all eat independently and use the toilet. Sometimes they play with each other for hours leaving me time to do whatever I need to do that day.

I sleep through the night. I am not constantly in a haze of exhaustion. I am not overwhelmed by three tiny little people needing me to help them with their basic needs, all at the same time.

I can drink a hot cup of coffee. I do not wish with every fiber of my being that I was an octopus, able to help each tiny person at the same time.

I am not tugged in opposite directions. I don't have to disappoint my 3-year-old who desperately wants to play with me while I am helping his first grade bother with his first grade reading homework.

And one day, you will be here too.

It's going to get easier. I promise. And while it may not happen today or even next week or even next month, it will happen. And you will look around in wonder at the magnificent people you helped to create and nurture and sustain.

Until then, you are stronger and more resilient than you can even imagine.

You've got this. Today and always.

Love,

A fellow mama

Life

I am broken.

It has happened again and I am breaking even more. Soon, the pieces will be too small to put back together.

The negative pregnancy test sits on my bathroom sink like a smug ex-lover. I am left pleading, How could you do this to me again? I thought it would be different this time. I had hope.

We are still trying. It has been 11 months and 13 days and there has been no progress. No forward momentum. No double solid lines. The emptiness of the space where the line should be mocks me.

I am broken.

FEATURED VIDEO

No amount of planning and scheming and effort is enough. I am not enough because I cannot make a chemical reaction happen at the exact moment it needs to happen. I cannot do what I want but oh how I wish I could.

It almost happened once. Two months ago, I felt different. Sore breasts and aware of the world like never before. I felt not empty. The blankness had been replaced by someone. I was sure of it. And I was late. Six days late and I thought this is it.

I didn't rush to test because I didn't want to jinx it. Or perhaps I just didn't want to let go of that string of hope. Without evidence that you're not actually here, I can pretend that you are.

So I waited. And I Googled early pregnancy symptoms and I kept an eye out for red spots I hoped I would never see. I finally couldn't wait any longer and decided the next morning would be the test.

But when I woke up, I knew it was just me. The feeling I had been feeling was gone and I knew, just knew, what I would find.

This test had words instead of lines. 'Not pregnant' it blared loudly, obnoxiously, insensitively.

I am broken.

It was four in the morning and I stood in my tiny bathroom apartment silently sobbing. Alone.

Perhaps you were there for a brief moment, but then you were gone.

I stared again at the stick.

Not pregnant.

Not pregnant.

Not pregnant.

It was taunting me now.

I wrapped it in a paper towel. Walked down three flights of stairs to the front of my building and threw it in the garbage can outside.

Later, when my husband woke, I told him I was wrong. There was nothing there after all.

And I mourned. All day long, I mourned. While I walked to work. While I said hello to my co-workers. While I answered questions and pretended to smile and tried not to think of the broken body I was living in.

The next day the blood arrived. Furious. Both of us infuriated it was there once again.

Can I keep doing this?

Am I broken?

Will I get to the point where I just… stop? Stop hoping. Stop praying. Stop wishing. Stop. Trying.

Am I broken? Or can I keep going?

Life
Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.