Editor's note: This article originally ran on Money Blue Book. It has been reprinted here with permission.
According to data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture last year, the average cost to raise a child born in 2013 to age 18 is expected to be $241,080. Government number-crunchers examined weighty expenses such as groceries, transportation, shelter, day care, health care and education to reach this frightening figure.
The cost of raising children is definitely something to think about before you have kids. Your kids will need necessities like food, shelter, health care and education, and some of these expenses may be hard to skimp on without losing something in return. However, it is extremely easy to save on other everyday needs your children will have. Here are a few ways to do it.
1. Stick to secondhand
Thanks to garage sales and the magic of the Internet, you can find all kinds of used kid's stuff for pennies on the dollar. Some of the best items to buy secondhand are toys, baby gear and kid's furniture, although it's also easy to save by buying used clothes, sports gear and bedding for your kids as well. The bottom line: If it's available for kids, you can probably buy it secondhand. One notable exception: Because they are susceptible to invisible damage that can impact their effectiveness, child car and booster seats are best purchased new.
2. Start a clothing co-op
It's tempting to pick up all of the adorable baby outfits you see in stores these days, but that doesn't mean it's wise. Kid's clothes depreciate faster than almost anything else, and that means they're a terrible investment. In addition to garage sales, one way to score gently used kid's clothing is to start a clothing co-op with family members, neighbors and friends. To do this, simply host a get-together for people to bring their used kid's clothes and trade until everyone has the sizes and types of clothing they need. It's free for all involved and can be fun too.
3. Keep food waste to a minimum
According to a report by the National Resources Defense Council, the average family throws away between $1,365 and $2,275 of food each year. Imagine how much you could save if you could cut that number in half. To cut down on food waste, try planning meals a week in advance based on ingredients you already have. Also make sure that everyone is eating leftovers until they're gone. Otherwise, you're practically throwing money away.
4. Understand the tax code
The federal child tax credit allows you to reduce your federal income tax by $1,000 for each qualifying child under 17, although certain requirements must be met. You may also qualify for various other credits for being a parent, such as the Child and Dependent Care Credit (an additional child credit for low-earners), the earned income tax credit (which depends on your income and how many children you have, among other things) and others. If you want more information on tax credits for parents, check out the Internal Revenue Service's website at irs.gov.
5. Seek out low-cost child care options
Child care is often the biggest expense for new parents, especially in areas of the country where costs run higher than most. If you're looking for ways to save, consider sending your child to a licensed in-home day care instead of a large day care center. They are typically cheaper and may also be able to offer your child more personal attention and care. Another option is joining a babysitting co-op. These groups generally include several parents who alternate child care responsibilities so that others in the group can work. Since that option results in free child care, it's a win-win for all involved.
It's true that kids are expensive, but you don't have to do everything the way your neighbors and friends do. The truth is, there are plenty of ways to save on your kids that will make a huge impact over the course of their lives. Those savings can then free up extra money for savings, retirement or even college tuition, and make having kids a much more enjoyable (and less stressful) experience.
Holly Johnson is a wife, mother of two and frugal lifestyle enthusiast. On top of writing and running her own blog, Club Thrifty, she also works in a mortuary with her husband and is the queen commander of her household.