Last week I wrote a guest post on The Dog Ate My Wallet about financially preparing for a baby. It’s important to be financially prepared for a baby. But guess what? Babies? Get older!
I know this comes as a shock but sadly, it’s true. Babies become toddlers and preschoolers and so on. And with each stage of their lives comes new adventures, experiences and financial obligations. We know about the big expenses–driving, college, proms and school dances, field trips, cell phones…those kinds of expenses. We’re mentally, if not financially, prepared for those. What no one tells you about are those little expenses that slowly chip away at the funds in your wallet. Well, prepare to be prepared because I’m going to share some of those expenses with you. I don’t want you to have the sticker shock that I’ve had lately.
Holy crap are these things expensive! My daughter’s first pair of shoes cost about $45 (fortunately, my grandmother paid for them), and the price really hasn’t dropped over the last 4 years she’s been wearing sneakers. Now, $45 doesn’t seem like a lot of money especially for good, quality supportive shoes that the kid will wear almost every day. But since their feet grow faster than the national debt, you have to buy these about every 3-4 months. Which adds up to a pretty penny over the course of a year, especially if you need to buy 2 pairs at a time (one for school, one for home).
How to curb the expense: I’ve come up with two ways. One, for her non-everyday shoes, I will purchase them at Target or Payless (last summer, I scored flip flops for $4!). Two, I will take her to a shoe store to have her foot measured and buy the shoes via Zappos. Much bigger variety, which often means more options at a lower price.
School pictures are a scam. Sadly, it’s a scam that I’ve bought into. Figuratively and literally. It’s so hard to pass up those pictures of my daughter all dressed up and looking cute with the fancy, professional background. And of course, I have to buy them for the whole family as well. I can’t have anyone miss out on the adorableness of my little girl. But don’t be fooled like I was. The photographer tries to make you think you’re getting a good deal the more you buy but really, you wind up just spending more money that you probably don’t need to (although I have used her fall pictures as Christmas and Hanukkah presents).
How to curb the expense: Commit to buying only one picture rather than the whole package. It’s nice, as the child’s parents, to have documentation from every school year via professional pictures. But to placate the rest of the family, take some pictures on the first day of school and use either photo editing software or a website like Snapfish to order some pictures. Give those out in nice picture frames or in wallet sizes and for a fraction of the cost, you’ve made everyone happy.
Now I know that music lessons, sports, arts and crafts classes, Girl Scouts or Cub Scouts, and the rest of their ilk are not a necessity for raising a healthy, smart child. But most parents do try to engage their kids in at least one or two activities during the year, particularly the school year. Overall, the cost of joining the activities isn’t too bad, especially once they enter the higher grades and can participate in after school activities for free. But are they really free? Hell no. There may not be a joiner fee but there’s fees like uniforms and equipment, travel tournaments, tickets to games, plays and concerts, and a host of other hidden fees (not to mention the horror of having to hawk cookies, candy or whatever product the team/club is selling to raise money).
How to curb the expense: The easiest solution is to limit activities. The less activities there are, the less money coming out of your budget. This works a lot better with younger kids, like my daughter, who don’t have the exposure to as many activities as older kids. If you have a kid who is participates in a variety of clubs, teams, etc., talk to the coach or supervising teacher ahead of time to try to get a handle on the costs. Make those costs a line item in your budget for the duration of the season. I think this is one of those situations where I would just pay whatever I needed to for my kid, especially for the tickets. Because even if the kid won’t admit it, having mom and/or dad at games or plays or concerts is really, really important.
While I don’t agree with the estimates that say it costs $250,000 for a middle class family to raise a child through age 18, kids aren’t necessarily cheap. And they come with costs we don’t plan for when we’re expecting. Actually, that should be a book. “What To Expect After You’re Done Expecting”. Maybe I’ll write it.
The profits can help me afford the music lessons and swim meets I know are in my future.