If you’re not careful, it’s incredibly easy to waste money. Groceries become unnecessarily expensive, household products become useless, and missed opportunities for saving extra money pop up all the time. Even if you’re on a tight budget, it can seem like the cash simply falls out of your wallet — or piles up on your credit card bills.
This can be especially true when you have children. According to CNN, it can cost an average of more than $12,000 per year just to provide for the basic needs of a child. Over the course of their young lifetime, parents spend an average of $233,610 on each child from birth until they leave the nest.
Some of those costs are simply unavoidable, such as paying for food, health care, and other basic necessities. Other items, however, are much more optional. Although you likely want to give your child their every desire, that might not be best for them — or even feasible for your budget.
If you need to save money for your retirement or simply want to teach your children the value of money, the following items might be things to stop wasting your money on.
1. Brand new baby items
Do you know those Luvs commercials — the ones that show the differences between first-time and second-time parents? Many parents who have more than one child have the luxury of using hand-me-downs from their firstborn. But those parents would also likely say you really don’t need designer onesies, socks, and bibs for your kids. Those are destined to get dirty and washed more times than you can count. Besides, your child will outgrow those toddler clothes before you even blink.
You don’t have to abandon cute clothes from Gymboree or Baby Gap. Just shop at consignment stores instead of the mall. “It’s amazing what you can get for kids secondhand. Baby clothes are especially easy to buy used, since babies outgrow their clothing so quickly,” U.S. News & World Report suggests. “Check out garage sales, thrift stores and consignment shops for cute, basic outfits at a steep discount.”
2. Impulse purchases
The steep costs for children don’t stop after infancy. And one of the biggest ways you can curb your spending on your kids is finding good ways to say no to impulse purchases. “Getting kids to appeal to parents is a time-tested way to increase sales for grocery stores and other retailers,” Bankrate notes. That’s exactly why their favorite snacks are exactly at eye level in the grocery store, and your children seem to spot their favorite stuffed animal at Target every time.
At first, an extra candy bar or small trinket might not be a huge dent in your wallet. But those impulses grow as your children do — and often get more expensive. Instead, Certified Financial Planner Leisa Brown Aiken suggests keeping small amounts of money in a jar at home to be saved with your children for a specific purchase. That could be the candy bar they want or a larger purchase they save for over time.
3. Kid-branded items
Ever heard of the pink tax? It’s the idea that women pay more for basic goods, such as shaving supplies and shampoo, than men do, simply because of some fancy packaging that says it’s “for women.” The same principle applies for kids’ products and can end up leading you to waste money. Having Elmo shampoo or Barbie toothpaste isn’t really necessary and ends up costing you more than the general Dove or Crest you typically use.
“Look at the ingredients instead of the pictures. If you’re happy with what’s in it, your kids need to be happy with what’s on it — or not on it,” financial expert Dave Ramsey suggests.
4. One present at a time
Chances are your kids will be invited to numerous birthday parties over the course of their childhood. If you’re buying a la carte gifts, that can be extremely expensive — and time consuming. Instead, consider purchasing several age-appropriate gifts all at once, such as LEGO sets, craft kits, or other items that catch your eye. Take advantage of sale prices or clearance sections, and save on shipping by ordering a larger amount. Then, tuck them away, and allow your child to choose which one they want to give as a gift.
The same principle works for all ages with gift-wrapping supplies. If you buy gift bags, wrapping paper, bows, and tissue paper in bulk, you’ll be able to save much more money.
5. Unused family passes
If your family visits a theme park or your local zoo each month, getting a family pass can ensure you save tons of money on admissions. You might also be eligible for special programs for your kids, which can be priceless entertainment. However, resist the urge to sign up for every family pass option available.
In some cases, you’ll buy all of them, only to go once and leave the cards to languish in your wallet until they expire. “Next time, pass on the passes unless you’re sure to get your money’s worth,” Ramsey suggests. Pick one or two, then commit to visiting those as your family’s activity together.
6. Expensive entertainment
When holidays and summertime roll around, chances are a swimming pool, trampoline, air hockey table, or other pricey form of entertainment is on your child’s wish list. In some cases, it might make sense to purchase one of these. However, go into it with your eyes wide open. Is that expense something your children will truly use, or will it largely get lumped in with the other playroom or outdoor spaces your child already neglects?
In some cases, items, such as pools and trampolines, can also make your home insurance skyrocket, while your home value plummets. You might decide it’s worth the cost anyway for your family, but it’s best to carefully weigh all of the costs involved.
7. Abundant new toys
As we’ve mentioned, if your children’s bedrooms look like the showcases at Toys ‘R’ Us, it might be a sign you’re spending too much money on paraphernalia from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Shopkins. (And if you don’t know what those are, you probably don’t have children in elementary school.)
But as Ramsey points out, a few of those toys aren’t going to be the big money-wasters. The waste comes with toys, such as brand new bicycles, which your 5-year-old will scuff up and outgrow within a year or two. Instead, Ramsey suggests buying those (and items, such as roller blades, skateboards, or other big toys) from reputable secondhand stores until your kids are old enough to keep the same equipment for several years in a row.
8. Everything Susie and Johnny have at school
Keeping up with the Joneses starts with the “Jones” family on the playground, not just when you’re an adult. Your children will likely come home raving about the brand new lunch box their best friend had at school, the iPad they get to use on the bus, and the brand-name sneakers for gym class. You can likely afford to indulge a few of these requests, but it’s a good idea to think carefully about which ones are a solid investment.
“They’re in school or they’re bombarded with all these marketing messages, and they don’t have experience, they don’t have the long view. They’re kids. The long term to a 6-year-old is 15 minutes,” Aiken told Bankrate in relation to keeping up with what other parents are buying their children.
One tactic here: Consider sharing vaguely about how you’re saving for other goals, instead of buying every toy or pair of jeans you (or they) want. If that doesn’t work, suggest they save for an item out of their allowance.
9. Dream schools
There’s no doubt about it: Education, college in particular, can be a gateway to success depending on your child’s interests. But brand names are just as important in college searches as they are at the mall. Students are likely to apply to numerous prestigious schools just because of the name recognition, not necessarily because it’s better for their future.
It’s a noble goal to save money for your children to attend college if they wish to. But if that means shorting yourself in retirement, it could end up being a financial burden for your children later on. Bankrate suggests looking at what you can actually afford to pay and communicating that number clearly up front. You could perhaps offer to pay tuition for a quality in-state school, for example, and expect your children to cover the rest of the balance with scholarships or loans if they choose a pricier option.
10. Elaborate weddings
From cradle to the altar, there’s no shortage of ways you can spend money on your children. Many couples choose to get married older than in past generations, sometimes meaning they help to cover the costs themselves. However, shouldering the burden of paying for a wedding still often falls to the couple’s parents — and it’s a pricey one-day event.
It now costs an average of $35,000 to tie the knot — a figure that doesn’t even include the honeymoon. And many parents either offer or are expected to cover a majority of that, even if they’re on a tight budget. “Having their wedding costs covered leaves little incentive for children to control costs. That can lead to lasting financial damage to parents for what amounts to a one-day celebration,” Bankrate notes.
Are weddings a waste of money? That’s a deeply personal question to answer. However, honesty about what you can and are willing to pay is vital here. “It’s important for parents to be very upfront with their kids,” Laura Scharr, a certified financial planner, told Bankrate. “The kid’s going to understand if you explain to him your situation.”