According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it can cost more than $200,000 to raise a child these days - and that's just up until age 17, even though many large expenses faced by parents (such as college tuition) come after that point.
The government's figure only includes basic essentials like housing, food and healthcare. It's easy to imagine how the figure would skyrocket if you started adding in extras and luxury items. Which is why parents need to cut corners wherever they can - and you can start with items like these that your kids can easily live without. (Deciding whether to leave an inheritance for your children impacts the amount you save. Learn more, in Leaving Inheritance To Children Easier Said Than Done.)
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Dr. Michael Applebaum of Chicago said, "From a financial side, eating healthily is cheaper than eating unhealthily. And it sure is cheaper to keep a kid safe from the ravages of overweight/obesity than it is to rescue and repair them later."
Not to mention, fast food and junk food tends to be among the most expensive items in the grocery store. (If you keep to your planned list of needed foods, you won't be tempted when you get forced down the junk food aisle to get at the milk. Find out more, in 22 Ways To Fight Rising Food Prices.)
Electronic Games and Gadgets
Okay, this one might get an argument from parents as well as kids, but some parenting experts say it is possible - and beneficial - for kids to live without high-tech toys. Sheri Wallace, editor of Road Trips for Families, is wrapping up the tail-end of a six-week family road trip, one that involved no DVD players or other electronics, with the exception of GPS units for geocaching activities.
"Based on the past few weeks, I can say that kids definitely don't need these gadgets," says Wallace, adding, "This trip is going to change a lot of the purchases in our house."
Over-the-Top Sweet-16 Parties
Despite what they see on TV, most kids don't need a gigantic blowout for their 16th birthday. Many parents go all out and end up with a party that costs the same as a wedding, with total bills in the tens of thousands, including DJs, hall rentals and extravagant gifts.
"If you're paying for it until they're 21, it really isn't worth it," says Jen Singer, editor-in-chief of MommaSaid.net. "They'll survive with a cake at the roller rink. Really." (It's an international phenomenon: the kids that won't go away. Read more, in Why Some Kids Never Leave The Nest.)
Personal Sports Training
In recent years, it's become trendy for parents to hire sports trainers - perhaps even retired pro athletes - to get their kids in shape or sharpen their skills on the field. This is another high-priced indulgence you can easily cut from your budget, Singer says. "Some of the best soccer players in the world came from some of the poorest neighborhoods in their countries, thereby proving that all you need is a ball and a passion for sports to get ahead."
New Halloween Costumes
Your child won't want to be the same thing two years in a row, so this is a one-time use item that's often not worth the cost. Jessica Katz of MommyDontBuyThat.com says, "There comes a Halloween frenzy - people are already securing their costumes now." At an average price of around $50 new, Halloween costumes are something you should buy on eBay or at a consignment store, Katz says. (It's Halloween, and adults and children alike have been browsing costume shops for teeth, fake scars and the occasional severed hand - but who are the real monsters? Read The Ghouls On Wall Street to find out.)
Baby Shoes & Designer Duds for Pre-Schoolers
If your little one is not even walking yet, there's no reason you need to buy expensive shoes. "I have spent a fortune on baby shoes for my seven-month-old daughter," says Katz, who estimates the average cost for the most popular styles of baby shoes are around $30. "The shoes just fall off anyway, and the baby outgrows them every two or three months."
And while we agree, those trendy denim-looking diapers may look cute, your baby doesn't know the difference. Plain old regular diapers work just as well, and are easier on your budget. Same thing goes for toddler clothes by famous designers. Unless your child hangs with some pretty sophisticated youngsters, it's unlikely they will care what label is on his jeans.
The Bottom Line
It's expensive enough to raise a child. Don't add to the cost by springing for trendy or frivolous stuff your child doesn't need. (If your retirement plan hasn't worked out, at least your children can learn from your mistakes. Read Retirement Lessons To Teach Your Children to find out more.)
Catch up on your financial news; read Water Cooler Finance: Google Gains, Taxpayers Pay.