Children may be a blessing, but they can also leave you broke. Middle-income families will spend $204,060 on feeding, housing and schooling a baby born in 2007 until his or her 18th birthday, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture — a number that doesn't include designer clothes and the latest gizmos. In these tough economic times, many parents are looking to cut the cost of child-rearing. But how do you save money without shortchanging the kids? Here are some tips for being frugal but totally cool parents. Associated Press
Set up a regular, rotating car pool. The more parents, the more gas savings, said Bonnie Harris, author of Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids: 8 Principles for Raising Kids You'll Love to Live With. She suggests involving at least one other parent for pickup and dropoff at day care and school, as well as for extracurricular activities.
Buy used. Take your kids to Goodwill, the Salvation Army or a consignment shop. On everyday clothes like T-shirts, shirts, athletic shorts, sweat pants and jeans, you can shave 90 percent off your clothes bill, Harris said.
Share. As in babysitters. A tip from Sheila Lirio Marcelo, chief executive of Care.com: Team up with neighboring parents and share a sitter. Most providers prorate their fees according to the number of children they are watching.
Call Mom. Enlist the help of a relative to help with child care duties, Marcelo said. "Parents should still plan to pay a fee, but it can be much less when a family member is willing and able to help out," she said.
Say goodbye to Gerber. Kate Ward, online director for TheBump.com, mashes blueberries, avocados and sweet potatoes for her 8-month-old. "It's good too because you can adjust the texture," she said. "It's also healthier and definitely cheaper."
Package food yourself. Instead of buying prepackaged snack items for kids, buy their favorite snacks in bulk and package them in sandwich bags, said Mary Hickey, senior articles editor at Parents magazine.
Try cloth diapers. It's a time investment (all that laundering) and an initial monetary investment (you have to purchase the cloth diapers), but it can save you money in the long run, Ward said.
Hand it down. Hand-me-downs are coming back into fashion, Ward said. "Babies stop using things so quickly, there's really no reason not to pass things around," she said. Use the Freecycle Network (freecycle.org) to give and get clothes and baby furniture.
Talk to the kids. Have an honest conversation with your children about "wants" vs. "needs," said Amy Tiemann, author of Mojo Mom. Make it a point of pride rather than embarrassment to spend only what you can afford, she said.
Save the good stuff for night. Randi Zuckerwise Madrid uses high-quality diapers at night, and a lesser-quality diaper during the day when she's changing her daughter every couple of hours.