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Shot of a mother and father playing with their two sons in their bedroom

Raising a child is not cheap.

Expenses change depending on your child’s age, but there are always ways to save money on items your child needs. In order to save money after your child has arrived, you’ll need to plan ahead for their needs. Planning ahead will allow you to shop around to find a deal. Here are a few places you can save money depending on the age of your child.

When Your Child is a Baby

It’s easy to go overboard when you’re buying items for your baby. Even I’ve had moments of going a little overboard buying things for my friends’ new babies. One of the most important things to remember is to not overspend. It can be easy to spend too much on all of the cute items that your baby will only wear or use for a short time. The little outfits and cuddly baby blankets are almost irresistible. Moderation is key when buying baby items, especially the cute ones.

Baby food is one baby item that can get expensive. Making your own baby food can be significantly cheaper – and as many believe – healthier for your baby. Matt Williams is a father and manager of The Golf Prof. He said that he and his wife never bought baby food from a store.

“We bought fruits and vegetables that are in season and made our own baby food,” he said. “We steamed a big batch, then pureed and portion them into an ice cube tray.”

It’s also easy to spend a ton of money on baby toys. I’ve seen a baby keep himself busy with nothing but a spoon for 20 minutes. Babies don’t know what the latest and greatest toys are or if they were hand-me-downs. Focus on getting a few multifunctional items that will be fun and helpful for your baby’s growth.

Tangela Walker-Craft, from Simply Necessary, Inc. says that babies don’t know what a trend is.

“Babies are unaware of fads; don’t spend money on expensive toys,” she said. “Age-appropriate household objects are just as interesting as store-bought items.”

Baby furniture can also get quite expensive. Don’t get caught up in thinking your baby needs all new furniture. Be open to buying second-hand furniture and refinishing it to match the nursery theme. Refinishing or painting furniture is an easy way to make furniture that doesn’t originally go together, match. Another way to save money in the long run is to buy a crib that converts into a toddler bed, and then later to a full-size bed headboard. A convertible crib could be a little more expensive when you buy it, but then you won’t have to buy new beds as your child grows.

That Toddler Phase

Babies and toddlers don’t really know what they’re wearing. They don’t know whether they’re wearing a brand-new, designer-labeled outfit or something that came from a second-hand clothes store. Kids grow quickly so they probably won’t wear these garments very long. This is one area where you can save hundreds of dollars while your children are young. Three great places to look for quality used clothing are resale kids clothes stores, garage sales and mom-to-mom sales.

Like babies, toddlers can be easily occupied by items that cost little to no money. I know that when my siblings and I were young, one of our favorite things to play with were cardboard boxes. Yes, cardboard boxes. Don’t underestimate the amount of fun and adventures a cardboard box can bring. You can give your toddler a handful of crayons, markers, or colored pencils and let them decorate their box. You can even cut out a door and they can make it their little house. Cardboard boxes are free and can keep your kids and their imaginations occupied for hours.

Another place to save money is to not take your young kids to the movie theater to see every new film.

“Borrow popular movies from the public library or rent them instead of taking toddlers to the theater,” Walker-Craft says.  “They often don’t have the attention span to sit through a movie.  As long as they get to see the movie, there’s no rush to see it in theaters.”

Those Elementary and Middle School Years

Stock up on school supplies at the beginning of the school year when they’re on sale. This way, you don’t have to buy school supplies in the middle of the year when they might not be on sale.

Kids have school photos taken every year. The photo packages through the school can be expensive and cost too much to share with family that want photos. To save money, shop around and have photos taken at a local photo studio. Sometimes, you can get lots of photos in the same “school-like” pose for less then $20.

Think through what the best options will be for your child’s extracurricular activities. Sometimes, the most economical way for your child to participate in an activity is through their school or the parks and recreation in the city you live in.

This can be most helpful when your children are young and might need to try a few different activities before they decide on what they enjoy doing most.

“If a child shows an interest in a particular activity or sport, encourage them to try it out at school,” says Walker-Craft. “Extracurricular activities at school are often less expensive than paying for private lessons or coaching.”

Headed to High School

Getting the items that people say you need for the significant events toward the end of high school can be expensive. Although, a few of those items that people think they have to buy through the school are available elsewhere.

One item that can be bought outside of the high school is a class ring. Before buying a class ring, talk to your child about whether they actually want a class ring. I purchased my class ring through Walmart and saved a bunch of money. My ring was less expensive than all of my friend’ rings, and I had more options to choose from. I’m glad I got my ring at a cheaper cost because I wore it for a few months right around my graduation and I now it’s been sitting in my jewelry box for nine years.

Another event in high school that can cost a lot is prom. Prom dresses and tuxes can get expensive. It is a good idea to set a budget and start looking a few months before prom. This will give you time to shop around and find a good deal. There is no requirement that says you need to spend $500 on a prom dress (Yes, I do know someone who spent $500 on a prom dress she only wore once).

I went to three different proms. For the first two proms, I borrowed a dress from a friend who had already graduated and went to a different school. No one knew that the dress I was wearing was borrowed and the only cost to me was dry cleaning the dress before I returned it to her.

When it’s Time for Higher Education

One of the easiest ways to pay for college is to start saving early. If you start saving a few hundred dollars a month when your child is young, by the time they’re graduating high school you could have enough to pay for most of or all of their college expenses. Saving small amounts of money over time will alleviate the stress that comes with trying to come up with thousands of dollars so your child can start their first semester of school or having to take out student loans. By saving up and paying cash instead of getting student loans for your child’s college, you can save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in interest payments.

Scholarships are a great way to save money on college tuition. There are lots of places to find scholarships for college. Look for them at the college your child will be attending or even online. Some employers award scholarships to children of their employees. Some scholarships are only $500 and could help pay for books, while other scholarships could be thousands of dollars and pay for years of education. Even a bunch of smaller scholarships can add up to thousands of dollars that won’t have to come out of your pocket.

Another way to save you thousands of dollars on college is to be more selective about which school your child attends. It’s usually more expensive for your child to go to an out-of-state school. I personally saved thousands of dollars doing all of my prerequisites at a local community college and then transferring to an in-state school to finish my bachelor’s degree. If I had chosen to go directly to a four-year school after high school or to an out-of-state school, I would still have thousands of dollars in student loan debt. I’m very glad the 17-year-old me made such a smart decision.

The Most Important Thing

One of the most important things you can do to save money is to do a monthly budget. By doing a monthly budget, it is easier to keep track of where and what you are spending your money on. Doing a budget will help you pace yourself so you don’t end up having to buy a bunch of items your child needs all at the same time. One of the easiest ways to budget is to use a budgeting app like EveryDollar. I know from personal experience that the first three months of doing a monthly budget can be a bit challenging. It takes a while to get the amount of money you need in each spending category correct. If you can stick to doing the budget for a few months, it’ll become easier and make your overall finances less stressful.

Do you know of any more budget friendly at ways you can save money raising children? Leave them in the comments below.

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