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5 Lessons We’ve Learned from Frugally Raising our Kids


Guest post from Sarah of The Jelly Jars

My husband and I have three kids, and every time I hear reports about how much it costs to raise just one child these days, I wince a little (the latest data says close to a quarter of a million dollars per child). But then I remind myself that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here are some lessons that I’ve learned as we try to raise our kids without spending too much money on them:

1. How to get creative with activities.

We don’t have our kids in more than one activity at a time (such as soccer, swimming, gymnastics, etc.), encouraging them to fully engage in where they are, and refusing to believe the lie that we have to push them too hard from an early age in order for them to succeed later on.

Instead, we watch Youtube videos of gymnastics or ballet, for example, and either follow along with a tutorial or turn it into a fun family activity as we pretend our living room is the summer Olympic games.

2. How to find enjoyment through experiences rather than things.

In the spaces of our lives that aren’t taken up by school, work, or activities, we tend to do things together. We will go for a family hike, take a “nature walk” down the street, make muffins, or play a board game together.

We own plenty of toys, but we also try to teach our kids that the most joy in life comes from relationships rather than objects, and model that through how we spend our time together.

3. How to find great second-hand deals.

If you look at your local library, they probably have a section where they sell their old books for a fraction of what it costs to buy a new book. I’ve bought books at our library for a quarter each, greatly expanding our home book collection.

We tend to buy board games at the local thrift store for two or three dollars rather than the fifteen or twenty they cost brand new.

I also find gently used clothes that are still on trend at thrift stores, a huge benefit when kids grow so quickly and need new clothes so frequently!

4. How to make lots and lots of lunches!

I make lunches every day, not just school days. If it’s a Saturday and I know that we’ll be out running errands over lunchtime, I think ahead and pack a quick lunch.

Stopping to eat out add up quickly and I would much rather take ten minutes to put things together at home than get stuck with a big bill because we all got hungry before we got home.

5. How to teach our children about money.

From a young age, kids can begin to understand basic money concepts. By watching the ways we save, spend, and give, they are learning how to do the same.

Our kids have 3 jars labeled “Spend, Save, Give.” When we give out allowance, the kids split it equally among the three jars. The “spend” money can be used however they choose, the “save” money is money they are saving for a specific item, and the “give” is to encourage generosity.

An additional benefit in many of our methods is that they tend to be more relationally geared, creating a special bond in our family as we do life together.

Raising a family can be quite expensive, but these are tactics that work for us as we try to be wise in how we spend money in the process.

Sarah is a mountain-loving, dark chocolate-eating, Frank Sinatra-listening, owie-kissing, truth-telling, freelance writer/blogger who seeks out a passionate life with her husband and two kiddos. She writes at The Jelly Jars.

photo source

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  • I love the idea of packing lunches! I’m so guilty of running through the drive-through while we’re out running errands. We do love going to the library (reading and activities), and the one rule I’m proud of is we have all of our kids in the same extracurricular activity- karate. All 3 kids (ages 15, 12, and 7) can participate together as much or as little as we want.

  • Karen says:

    It’s so good to hear about the values you’re teaching your children. I totally agree with the one organized sports/hobby at a time. I see parents and children all around me who are constantly rushing about because they have their children in so many different programs. It wears small children down, and they don’t seem to enjoy it.

  • karen b says:

    Our children have never been in any activity! Granted we own & operate a dairy farm so they got all the extra activity’s needed 🙂 We very rarely dont pack lunches & have been very frugal in all areas. We have a almost 20, 18 & almost 15 year olds & a 1/4 million to raise them makes me laugh. We have had some pretty lean years & most people would cringe about my husbands salary now but you know what we are happy 🙂 & that is what matters.

  • Susan says:

    Great suggestions. I especially like #’s 2 and 5 because they’re good for all ages. The other suggestions apply more to the season of life where kids are younger.

    The $250k number to raise a child — I’ve read that in various places, and it takes into account education, including college. One can certainly pay that much over the years for for elite preschools, private schools, club sports, and an Ivy League college education, although certainly it’s not a necessity.

  • Money gets wasted so very quickly when you buy fast food all the time. I have made it a point this year to pack lunches and snacks when we will be away from home. It’s already made a tremendous difference in our budget!

    On top of saving money by having kids involved in one activity at a time, you are also saving everyone a lot of stress. I think that’s such a great idea!

  • The making lunches tip is a good one that many people overlook. We don’t have kids yet, but if we’re going to be out running errands for a while, I always make sure to bring bottles of water and some snacks to keep us from eating out. It definitely saves us money and just takes a few minutes of planning. And the times I think we don’t need to bring anything, we won’t be gone that long… That’s when we end up hungry and eating out unplanned. Good tips!

  • SK Bell says:

    These are all great points and benefits! Thanks for sharing! Sometimes I get discouraged about the way we are raising our children and worry they will grow up feeling “deprived” so it’s nice to read reminders like this one. We are not alone! We are doing the right thing! Thank you. =]

  • Charlotte says:

    When my kids were in school, I gave them a choice about school lunches. I gave them what a month’s worth of lunches cost plus $5. I always had stuff for lunches to make since I made my own.

    Their choice. They could buy their lunch at school or make their own and give me $.50 for the cost of lunch supplies. I was amazed at how they made their lunches and saved their money. They bought games for their gaming machines and books. It is a great way of getting your kids to be responsible.

  • Jen says:

    Yes! This is how my kids were raised, and even though we make a lot more now, we still do a lot of the same things because we’d rather go on vacations and pay cash for my son’s college than spend money on stuff we don’t really need!

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