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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.

“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.

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If there are two things a mama is guaranteed to love, it's Target plus adorable and functional baby products. Target's exclusive baby brand Cloud Island has been a favorite destination for cute and affordable baby clothing and décor for nearly two years and because of that success, they're now expanding into baby essentials. 🙌

The new collection features 30 affordable products starting at $0.99 and going up to $21.99 with most items priced under $10—that's about 30-40% less expensive than other products in the market. Mamas can now enjoy adding diapers, wipes, feeding products and toiletries to their cart alongside clothing and accessories from a brand they already know and love.


The best part? The Target team has ensured that the affordability factor doesn't cut down on durability by working with hundreds of parents to create and test the collection. The wipes are ultra-thick and made with 99% water and plant-based ingredients, while the toiletries are dermatologist-approved. With a Tri-Wrap fold, the diapers offer 12-hour leak protection and a snug fit so parents don't have to sacrifice safety or functionality.

So when can you start shopping? Starting on January 20, customers can shop the collection across all stores and online. We can't wait to see how this beloved brand expands in the future.

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Many people experience the "winter blues," which are often worst in northern climates from November to March, when people have less access to sunlight, the outdoors and their communities. Another 4% develops Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a form of clinical depression that often requires formal treatment.

If you have the winter blues, you may feel “blah," sad, tired, anxious or be in a worse mood than usual. You may struggle with overeating, loss of libido, work or sleep issues. But fear not—it is possible to find your joy in the winter, mama.

Here are eight ways to feel better:

1. Take a walk

Research has shown that walking on your lunch break just three times per week can reduce tension, relax you and improve your enthusiasm. If you are working from 9 to 5, the only window you have to access natural sunlight may be your lunch hour, so head outside for a 20 minute brisk but energizing walk!

If you are home, bundle up with your kids midday—when the weather is often warmest—and play in the snow, go for a short walk, play soccer, race each other, or do something else to burn energy and keep you all warm. If you dress for the weather, you'll all feel refreshed after some fresh air.

2. Embrace light

Research suggests that a full-spectrum light box or lamp, which mimics sunlight, can significantly improve the symptoms of the winter blues and has a similar effect to an antidepressant. Bright light at a certain time every day activates a part of the brain that can help restore normal circadian rhythms. While light treatment may not be beneficial for everyone (such as people who have bipolar disorder), it may be a beneficial tool for some.

3. Plan a winter trip

It may be helpful to plan a getaway for January or February. Plan to take it very easy, as one research study found that passive vacation activities, including relaxing, "savoring," and sleeping had greater effects on health and well-being than other activities. Engaging in passive activities on vacation also makes it more likely that your health and well-being will remain improved for a longer duration after you go back to work.

Don't overschedule your trip. Relax at a beach, a pool, or a cabin instead of waiting in long roller coaster lines or visiting packed museums. Consider visiting or traveling with family to help with child care, build quiet time into your vacation routine, and build in a day of rest, recovery, and laundry catch-up when you return.

4. Give in to being cozy

Sometimes people mistake the natural slowness of winter as a problem within themselves. By making a concerted effort to savor the slowness, rest and retreat that complement winter, you can see your reduction in activity as a natural and needed phase.

Research suggests that naps help you release stress. Other research suggests that when your brain has time to rest, be idle, and daydream, you are better able to engage in "active, internally focused psychosocial mental processing," which is important for socioemotional health.

Make a "cozy basket" filled with your favorite DVDs, bubble bath or Epsom salts, lemon balm tea (which is great for “blues,") or chamomile tea (which is calming and comforting), citrus oils (which are good for boosting mood), a blanket or a favorite book or two. If you start to feel the blues, treat yourself.

If your child is napping or having quiet time in the early afternoon, rest for a full 30 minutes instead of racing around doing chores. If you're at work, keep a few mood-boosting items (like lavender spray, tea, lotion, or upbeat music) nearby and work them into your day. If you can't use them at work, claim the first 30 minutes after your kids are asleep to nurture yourself and re-energize before you tackle dishes, laundry, or other chores.

5. See your friends

Because of the complex demands of modern life, it can be hard to see or keep up with friends or family. The winter can make it even harder. While you interact with your kids throughout the day, human interaction with other adults (not just through social media!) can act as a protective layer to keep the winter blues at bay.

Plan a monthly dinner with friends, go on a monthly date night if you have a partner, go to a book club, get a drink after work with a coworker, visit a friend on Sunday nights, or plan get-togethers with extended family. Research suggests that social interactions are significantly related to well-being.

Realize that given most families' packed schedules, you may need to consistently take the lead in bringing people together. Your friends will probably thank you, too.

6. Get (at least) 10 minutes of fresh air

A number of research studies have shown positive effects of nature on well-being, including mental restoration, immune health, and memory. It works wonders for your mood to get outside in winter, even if it's just for 10 minutes 2 to 3 times per week. You might walk, snowshoe, shovel, go sledding or go ice-skating. If you can't get outside, you might try these specific yoga poses for the winter blues.

7. Add a ritual

Adding a ritual to your winter, such as movie night, game night, hot chocolate after playing outside, homemade soup on Sundays, or visiting with a different friend every Saturday morning for breakfast, can add beauty and flow to the seemingly long months of winter. Research has suggested that family rituals and traditions, such as Sunday dinner, provide times for togetherness and strengthening relationships.

8. Talk to a professional

Counseling, which helps you identify the connections between your thoughts, feelings and behaviors, can be extremely helpful for the winter blues (especially when you are also experiencing anxiety or stress). A counselor can assist you with identifying and honoring feelings, replacing negative messages with positive ones, or shifting behaviors. A counselor may also help you indulge into winter as a time of retreat, slowness, planning, and reflecting. You may choose to use the winter to get clear on what you'd like to manifest in spring.

The opposite of the winter blues is not the absence of the winter blues—it's taking great pleasure in the unique contribution of a time of cold, darkness, retreat, planning, reflecting, being cozy and hibernating. Nurturing yourself and your relationships can help you move toward winter joy.

Weary mama,

You are incredibly strong. You are so very capable.

Keep reading... Show less

In the space between birth and raising a baby is a mama who is rediscovering who she is and letting go of what she was. Except there is no road map that guides you on this unknown path. There is only the void, the feeling of overwhelm that comes at the juxtaposition of new motherhood, where piecing together our past and present seems like a disjointed collage.

With this space brings a tide of emotions that ebb and flow as you become acquainted with this new person birthed alongside your sweet babe. Pregnancy is just the beginning of a transformational journey that is motherhood.

But when that void is met with fear, lacking support, and confusion, it is easy to feel like you are grappling in the dark unknown. It is common to feel like you have lost yourself, like you no longer recognize the person that was when you look in the mirror. And that can be a frightening feeling.

New identities, postpartum bodies and weight loss

Coupled with this transition are the gnashing messages that play to our fears: "Get your body back," "Lose the baby weight," creating an illusion that the way to rediscover who we are is by returning to the body that once was.

This is the trap we easily fall in during our most vulnerable moments, in the identity crisis of crossing into motherhood. We are defined by how quickly we lose weight or if we get back into those pre-pregnancy clothes. In the space of the unknown, taking charge of our body size and weight gives a pseudo-sense of control; when in fact, we are seeking a defining sense of self when everything we once knew has changed.

When diet culture takes on the disguise of control, familiarity, and wellness during a time of change and uncertainty, it's no wonder we cling to its false promises, even after everything our bodies have shown to be capable of in the growth and birth of new life.

In its sneaky way, diet culture takes on many different forms, like fasting, skipping meals, cutting out food groups, counting macros and so on. It becomes easy to justify these things for the sake of wellness, but any way you are manipulating food to somehow trick your body to think it needs less nourishment falls into a dieting mentality.

Postpartum dieting is not healthy

Wellness in postpartum has been watered down to mean weight loss, which puts more value on the appearance of our bodies as opposed to its functioning. This dangerous mentality can cause poor body image and overall body dissatisfaction, which is connected with many potential problems postpartum.

Postpartum moms often see themselves as needing to lose a certain amount of weight, which has been shown to trigger body image concerns, increased mental health issues, and eating disorders.

Research has also found that high levels of body dissatisfaction in the postpartum period may be connected with disordered eating behaviors and lower breastfeeding self-efficacy. In many ways, the pursuit of weight loss in postpartum and putting greater emphasis on appearance over function of our bodies could create a vicious cycle that negatively affects both mother and baby during a critical time of development.

Could it be that the overwhelming desire to lose weight after having a baby is related to something deeper, like the fear that is connected with a loss of identity? Is the possibility of regaining your pre-baby body mean more about finding yourself again?

As women, the postpartum period is a time when we are experiencing tremendous change (physically, mentally, emotionally, etc), coupled with pressures from society to meet unrealistic appearance standards. Focusing on weight loss as a solution for "control" during such a stressful time can only further complicate things.

What if you could take a step back and figure out how to redefine new motherhood without focusing on weight loss postpartum? What if you took dieting out of the equation? How could you best support yourself and be kind to yourself during this vulnerable time of transition in postpartum?

Redefining postpartum wellness

For starters, here are some ideas for things you can do to support your postpartum recovery and healing, while being gracious to yourself during a time where there is increased pressure to make health mean dieting or getting down to a certain weight through ways that can be self-sabotaging.

Honor your postpartum body be eating intuitively

Research has found that new mothers who follow a more intuitive style of eating actually had greater postpartum BMI and weight decreases. More importantly, postpartum women who practice intuitive eating principles have positive improvements in mental health and lifestyle behaviors. Tell me which diet can offer that to a postpartum mom?

Respect your postpartum body with gentle movement

A majority of new moms who feel pressured to lose weight may engage in exercises that are actually harmful to their body that is recovering from pregnancy and childbirth. Instead of punishing yourself at the gym or rigid exercise program, move your body in ways that feel good to you in order to reap maximum benefits.

Celebrate with a postpartum closet edit

Hanging on to clothes that don't fit your changing, postpartum body will only worsen your body image and make you feel bad about yourself. Take the time to go through your closet and get rid of clothes that no longer fit your current body, style, or the season of life you're in. A postpartum closet edit can free up so much mental space to focus on what really matters and support a positive postpartum body image.

Let go of unrealistic expectations

There is no denying the internal and external pressures we face to change our bodies in the postpartum period. But what if you could let go of some of those unrealistic expectations? Choosing to care for your body by not forcing an arbitrary standard of weight loss does not mean you are letting yourself go. It means you are proactively being kind to yourself and your body for all it has brought you though.

Do you deserve anything less than that?

The postpartum transition is one of the most grueling times we experience as mothers, and the added pressure to lose weight only makes things more difficult. By being gentle with yourself and caring for your body, mind and spirit, you are creating a secure foundation from which you and your family will blossom.

In the process, you will learn to become better acquainted with the new mother birthed along this journey. You will find that within her is sound wisdom and innate sense of worthiness that has always been there. You just need to give yourself care, compassion, and time to bloom where you have been planted in this new season of life.

In the end, when you step back and look at the big picture, you will realize that those mismatched pieces you were piecing together have in fact created a mosaic, a stained glass picture of your one and beautiful life.

Originally posted on Crystal Karges.

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