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50 Tips for Raising Children on a Budget

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NOT QUITE CHILD FREE

Part of being a parent is setting boundaries and rules, and among the most important is the family budget. There are an endless number of expenses to factor in -- everything from vacations to gifts to emergencies, not to mention college and weddings. The cost of raising a child just to age 18 totals more than $245,000, according to a 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Here are 50 tips to help tighten the budget and keep money worries to a minimum.

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BUDGET FOR ALLOWANCES

Try working children's allowances into the monthly budget to assess whether a sum is realistic. As kids get older, include them in the discussion about how much they should get.

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MAKE TOYS OUT OF ANYTHING

Empty oatmeal canisters and cereal boxes turn into skyscrapers next to toy cars. While possibly best for younger children, this kind of repurposing gives the imagination a workout and teaches a powerful lesson as it saves money on toys.

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DISTINGUISH BETWEEN NEEDS AND WANTS

Teach kids the difference by discussing family purchases and whether your family needs them or wants them.

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BE REALISTIC ABOUT THE TOOTH FAIRY

Refer to the Tooth Fairy Poll -- the national average is $4.36 (but consider rounding up or down).

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BUY SECONDHAND

In the age of the online garage sale, "new to you" items are a click away. Kids grow out of toys and clothes overnight, so paying full price just doesn't make good financial sense.

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THINK AHEAD

Research high chairs, car seats, cribs, and other expensive baby items thoroughly. Some models last longer -- and are safer -- than others.

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JOIN AMAZON FAMILY

Get discounts on diapers, wipes, and other essential baby and children's products with this service, which is part of Amazon Prime.

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RESIST THE CUTE APPEAL

New parents don't need everything that says "baby" on it. A wipe warmer? Pacifier wipes? Save money for things that will be used the most.

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BORROW FROM FRIENDS

Chances are, between you and your friends who are also parents, there's more than enough stuff to get by. When you finish with one size of clothing, pass it on, and turn to friends for what's needed at the next stage.

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BE CREATIVE WITH ENTERTAINMENT

Don't feel obliged to spend top dollar to keep children entertained. Find the closest park, library, or mall play area and show them it doesn't have to cost a lot to have fun

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TRY KIDS-EAT-FREE NIGHTS

This can add up, because parents have to pay for their meals, but it can be a treat to pick a restaurant that offers a kids-eat-free deal.

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SHARE MEALS WHEN OUT TO EAT

Since children rarely eat their entire meal, order something that more than one member of the family enjoys and split it.

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CREATE A SUPPORT SYSTEM

Whether or not your family has a built-in support system, make friends with neighbors, parents of children's classmates, and friends of friends to help each other out with child care and other assistance that might cost too much for a budget to bear.

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PLAN MEALS AHEAD OF TIME

Throwing together dinner at the last minute will undoubtedly lead to wasted food and money, and possibly not to the most nutritious options. Knowing what will be on the dinner table at least a day before will save money and stress.

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CONSIDER BREASTFEEDING

There are emotional, physical, financial, and nutritional perks to breastfeeding, even if only for a few days or weeks.

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APPLY FOR A FREE BREAST PUMP

Most insurance companies will provide a breast pump for new mothers at no charge.

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BUY AGE-APPROPRIATELY

Sure, that tricycle with the big pink bow and Minnie Mouse horn is adorable, but if she isn't going to use it anytime soon, it may get lost in the mix or turn out to be something she doesn't want by the time she is old enough to use it.

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KEEP SPECIAL OCCASIONS SIMPLE

This parenting tip is especially important when children are under 5: If they don't know what to ask for in a party, they are likely too young to care. Ask friends and family to go along, aiming for quality over quantity.

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STAGGER BIRTHDAY PARTIES

If an all-out bash seems necessary, it certainly isn't for every birthday. Make an alternating schedule so younger members of the family take turns having "the" big birthday party each year.

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SKIP THE BABY FOOD

Mash up the same food the rest of the family is already eating (taking into account developmentally appropriate foods). Pre-made baby food costs much more than it takes to make the same food at home.

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LIVE WITHIN YOUR MEANS

Children adapt to the life they know from a young age. If the family budget is realistic from the beginning, frugality will come naturally.

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GO TO THE MATINEE

A matinee can be half the price of seeing a movie in the evening. Mind the snack bar, though -- buying at the concession stand can quickly eat the savings of going to the early show.

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BUY IN BULK

The more members of the family there are, the more cost-effective bulk food and home goods can be.

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WEIGH THE COST OF DAY CARE

If the cost of day care is equal to or more than a paycheck, consider whether it is worth it to keep working.

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START SAVING FOR COLLEGE EARLY

Paying for college gets more expensive every year. The more money socked away ahead of time, the better.

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SAVE FOR THE NEXT ONE

If there is a chance of having another child down the road, save everything the first child grows out of. Buy gender-neutral toys and clothing and reuse big items.

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FORGET BRAND LOYALTY

Buy whatever is on sale, including generics and store brands, as long as it fits your needs and won't go to waste.

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NEVER PAY FULL PRICE

Certain goods and services always seem to be available at a discount. Wait long enough, and a coupon or sale will bring down the cost of just about anything.

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TAKE A CHILD-CARE DEDUCTION

Up to 35 percent of child-care costs can be deducted during tax season, depending on the tax bracket.

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STAY WITHIN THE BUDGET

Debt will only continue to pile up with unbudgeted purchases, so avoid them at all costs. If the kids don't need something right away, put it on the back burner until you can afford it.

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STOCK UP DURING SALES

This goes for groceries, clothing, diapers -- even gasoline. Take advantage when things are cheapest.

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SPLURGE WHERE IT COUNTS

Kids are especially hard on clothes and shoes. It's tempting to buy the cheapest option, but if it needs replacing twice as often, it isn't worth it.

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CUT THE EXTRAS

Could Netflix replace cable? Does the home phone get much use? Is there really time or motivation to go to the gym? Get rid of expenses that have turned out to be a waste of money.

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MAKE FAMILY HEALTH A PRIORITY

Doctor visits and treatments get expensive. Prioritize preventive care to help keep health costs low.<

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MOVE INTO A GOOD SCHOOL DISTRICT

If local schools aren't up to par, parents may feel compelled to pay for extra, challenging programs or even for an expensive private school (both of which also could require more time-draining transportation).

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GET ORGANIZED

If you can't find what you're looking for, you're more likely to just buy a new one. Turn baby food jars into storage for odds and ends and try other DIY organizing ideas.

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START EARLY

Train kids on the potty as early as possible. The fewer diapers, the better.

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BE SELECTIVE ABOUT ACTIVITIES

Consider enrolling each child in only one activity each season or session. Extracurriculars, with the exception of some school activities, add up quickly. Set a budget and explain what it takes to stay within it.

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USE THE SCHOOL BUS

Most districts offer this service for free, so save gas money and put it toward something else.

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GO TO THE GROCERY STORE ALONE

Children want everything the eye can see. Leave them home while grocery shopping and avoid the arguments or expense.

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SKIP THE JUICE BOXES

Water is not only better for children, it costs far less.

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AVOID INDIVIDUAL SERVINGS

Pre-portioned snacks cost more, and food bought in regular sizes or snacks prepared at home can easily be put into travel bags or storage containers.

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BUY AN OLDER MODEL

Kids may want the latest and greatest, but last year's tablet will still get the job done. And if it's dropped, cracked, or broken, there isn't as much at stake.

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ASSIGN ONE SIPPY CUP OR GLASS PER DAY

The fewer the dishes, the less detergent and water the household will go through.

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BUY SCHOOL SUPPLIES OVER TIME

It can be a big hit to the bank account to buy school supplies all at once. Back-to-school sales aren't always the best deal.

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INSTALL LIGHT TIMERS OR MOTION DETECTORS

Children are notorious for forgetting to turn off the lights. Automate fixtures and save energy.

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DESIGNATE A 'KID VEHICLE'

Use only one of the family vehicles for transporting kids. This way, there's no need to buy two car seats for each stage of growth -- or for laborious switching from one car to another.

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TAME THE CRAZY

Playing ball or other active games in the house is likely to break or damage furniture and other expensive items. Send the kids outside or redirect their energy into something else.

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LIMIT BATH AND SHOWER TIME

This is especially important in the winter, given the cost of heating water, especially for large families. The last person to take a shower may find no hot water left in the tank.