Saving Money on Kids Stuff
By Jeannie Rodriguez | Dr. Budgets
There was a time when my daughter was around one year old that I started spending a lot of money. For a period of a few months, our expenditures were growing by a couple hundred dollars each month. I could justify pretty much all of it – it was kids stuff like sippy cups, clothes, utensils, and toys. Daniel and I review our spending every month, so we both were aware of the money I was spending and none of it seemed unreasonable… but it was just slowly increasing.
One day, I got an Amazon shipment with my latest purchases and I started processing it all. “Processing” is the term I use to describe all the stuff I have to do with the stuff I buy: opening the packages, washing what I need to wash, finding a place for it and putting it all away, wrapping presents if we’re giving them away, breaking down the box and discarding the packaging… all that stuff. So, I’m processing all this stuff and I realize that I hate this. I hated bringing a bunch of stuff in to clutter my home… I hated spending money on stuff that I don’t feel brings me a lot of value… I hated that a lot of this stuff was probably going to end up in a landfill… I hated the time I was spending on buying and processing all of it… it was all just annoying and I hated it.
I had to sit with that for a while because I didn’t feel like I had a choice. After all, kids need stuff! Our daughter was growing and, along with it, her needs and wants were growing. She needed clothes to fit her growing body and toys and tools to fit her growing abilities.
Then, one day, I dropped my daughter off at her preschool and her teacher took out an empty (clean) coffee creamer bottle and a small stack of colorful wooden sticks. I watched as my daughter carefully and thoughtfully slid each stick into the narrow opening of the coffee creamer top. “She loves this,” her teacher said, “she’ll sit there and do that for a good 20 minutes.” And then I realized something… kids really don’t need that much stuff – here my daughter was playing with a recycled bottle and some wooden sticks (and she was loving it!). The list of things that kids need is actually very short, and so I decided to rein in my spending on stuff (since I hated it anyway).
I began to think about how I was going to accomplish this new approach, and I decided I was going to try to do two simple things before buying anything new:
1) Press pause – Take a moment to think before buying anything and ask myself some questions:
- Does this address an actual need?
- Is the problem I’m trying to “fix” with this purchase an actual problem? Is it a long-term problem or a right now problem?
- What are my motivations? Is this something Clara really cares about or am I buying this because I want (myself or others) to think I’m a good mom? (this is sometimes a painful one to answer!)
- Do I need this right now or can I wait a little bit?
2) Explore Alternatives
- Can I go about this a different way?
- Can I use something I already have?
- Instead of buying this, can I borrow it or get it for free?
- Can this thing be replaced with an experience?
That’s it! Before adding anything to my cart (a literal cart or virtual one), all I did was take a moment to think about what I was buying and if there were any alternatives. I very easily cut way back on the stuff I was buying, and I started to feel much better because I was:
- Getting less stuff. There was less stuff to process and I had fewer items in my home. All that stuff I hated went away because I cut back on buying stuff.
- Saving more money. If you buy less stuff then you have more money 🙂
- Feeling less out of control. The only word I can really use to describe that time when I was spending a lot of money is “frantic”… I felt like something would come up and I would just throw money at it. A couple of examples: Clara developed a love for “Moana” and so I wanted to buy everything Moana… then, as kids do, she moved on to “Coco” and I’m stuck with “Moana” crap she doesn’t use. Or, I’d read about an educational toy and, before I knew it, it would show up at my house (and on my credit card bill) and I never really considered if Clara would even like it – but in that moment, that “I want to be a good mom” moment, I would just frantically buy it.
- Creating experiences. Sometimes I was able to replace a thing with an experience… instead of buying playdough, I made some with Clara and she loved it! When it was “tie-dye” day at school, I stressed over finding a tie-dye shirt that would fit my tiny two-year-old. Instead, I decided to use a shirt we already had and we tie-dyed it together!
- Sharing. For Clara’s second birthday, two of her older friends gifted her something adorable: their favorite books from when they were two years old. I thought it was all-around brilliant on behalf of the parents: they get rid of a few books, they save money on a birthday gift, they provide a lesson to their kids on sharing and they give a super thoughtful gift that my daughter loves. Every time we read those books, Clara remembers the child who gave them to her – it’s so sweet. I’m happy now to do the same… sometimes there are such short windows that a baby or child will use and appreciate a gift, it doesn’t make sense to buy it.
- Greener. I learned about my local Buy Nothing group from a neighbor. Buy Nothing is a hyperlocal Facebook group where neighbors gift items they no longer need. You can also “wish” for items from neighbors. Buy Nothing has two benefits: 1) I’ve been able to gift items I don’t need to get them out of my house and 2) I’ve been gifted items I do need so I haven’t had to buy them new (so it’s a little better for the planet).
- Connecting with my VILLAGE. This is probably my favorite thing to come out of this. As a part of exploring alternatives, I began to reach out to my friends and family in ways I never did before. Before, when I had a problem (example: sick kid) or something I was unsure about (example: traveling with a toddler), I would Google it and buy whatever the internet told me to buy! Now, I reach out to my mom friends and ask them questions. When Clara was struggling with a bad diaper rash, I was prepared to buy all the diaper rash creams to fix it! I asked some mom friends and was overwhelmingly recommended a single specific type. When I was considering buying a toddler travel bed, I asked around and learned that there were better (free!) workarounds. More importantly, I connected with friends and I loved that! I used to think “what did parents do before Google??” and now I realize they talked with other parents – and it’s wonderful!
So, that’s how I’ve cut back on spending so much on kids stuff and started to feel better about the stuff I was getting for my daughter. As Clara has gotten more into reading books with us, I’m getting excited to take her to the library regularly to find new books to borrow – I think it will be more fun than simply buying books on Amazon! Do you have any tips for how you’ve stopped the insanity of buying a bunch of kids stuff? Or do you find that you struggle with something different when it comes to spending or saving money on kids? Let us know in the comments below! If you know a parent who wants guidance on how to save money with kids, have then contact us.