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The Basics

Your 5-minute guide to raising kids

Are the expenses of parenting taking up a big chunk of your budget? Here are two dozen tips for keeping costs under control.

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By MSN Money staff

It's not just finances. It's philosophy. Do you need the big house? The minivan? Children grew up quite nicely before either of these caught on.

Other things -- food, clothing, child care -- are plain old necessities. Still, there are ways to cut costs without rinsing and reusing baggies. Here are the basics and how you can control their costs.

They never stop eating

Kids eat and eat -- to the tune of $225 to $350 a month. Each.

To save money, consider these tips:

  • Brown-bag lunches, and don't succumb to fast-food temptations. If your kids know Happy Meals are an option, you'll get no peace.
  • Do the grocery shopping alone and after eating. With hands free and stomach full, you'll have more time and energy to do comparison shopping, and you'll make fewer impulse buys. (See "Be a bargain-shopping champ.")
  • Shop for a week's worth of groceries at a time.
  • Buy snacks in bulk, then repackage them in plastic bags.
  • Grow some of your own food, even if you grow it in containers. You'll save a bit, and a garden gives children an interest in what they eat.

And kids never stop growing

As children grow, their clothes get more expensive, averaging $50 to $75 a month by the time they are 18.

  • When they're young, shop at discount stores, thrift shops and resale or consignment stores. Then sell the outgrown clothes at the resale shop and use that money toward the next size up.
  • Buy a season ahead. Most stores mark down prices to make room for the next season, and many resale stores put seasonal clothes on the half-price or dollar racks.
  • For teens and preteens, labels are important. Buy the basics at discount stores. Then teach your children to shop around and buy on sale. If they insist on $120 jeans, offer to pay a portion and let them use their allowance for the rest. (See "Should your kid get an allowance?")
  • Shop online so it's easier to make comparisons.

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Allowances that really work
Answer to the big questions: When to start, how much to pay and whether the money should be tied to chores.

How to make child care affordable

Probably the biggest immediate expense you'll incur is for child care, which is especially expensive for infants. Depending on where you live, care can cost from $300 to $1,250 a month. Home day care is generally cheaper than a day-care center or preschool, but it's typically less structured and more of a baby-sitting environment.

  • Use the child- and dependent-care credit, which provides a tax credit of 20% to 35% for care for dependents 12 or younger (that's a dollar-for-dollar reduction of a large portion of your expense). You must have earned income, and the care provided must enable you to work or look for work.
  • Save on taxes by paying child-care costs with pretax dollars through an employer-provided flexible-spending account.
  • Telecommute, job-share or work flexible hours to reduce time away from home. Arrange your schedule so that you or a relative can be with your child.
  • If your school district offers a free half-day prekindergarten program for 4-year-olds or a free full-day kindergarten, enroll your child. It can reduce child-care costs to after-school or half-day rates.

Continued: What about college?

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