How to Save Money During the Toddler and Preschool Years

by Tracy · 7 comments

The recent post about how to have a baby on a budget gave me a small chuckle. Don’t get me wrong, new babies are expensive and it’s great to give new parents advice on how to keep costs manageable, but as a mom of five, I’m afraid I have to tell you the expense only goes up as they get older. The good news is that you can give your child a rich, happy childhood without breaking the bank. All it takes is some creativity and legwork on your part.

Kindergarten is a lot different these days than it was when I was five thirty years ago. In most school systems today, children are more or less expected to arrive already knowing the alphabet and how to write all of their letters.  Parents can and should be teaching these skills at home, but it sometimes helps to have a little outside assistance.

If your child is in daycare, chances are good that these skills are part of the everyday curriculum. If you are a stay at home parent and want to send your child to a preschool or nursery school to get experience socializing with other children and early education opportunities, there are affordable options.

Preschool prices vary widely and some can offer financial aid. Call around and visit many schools and don’t be shy to ask about prices and the availability of tuition assistance. You don’t have to send your child to the most prestigious or expensive preschool to get them a good start on their educational careers. The preschool my children attend is well known for being the best bargain in town and many of the children go on from there to some of the best elementary schools in our system.

Another option is a good Mother’s Day Out program. These don’t always offer formal instruction but it is a relatively inexpensive way to get your child used to the classroom environment and dealing with a larger group of children.

Visit the websites of your local zoo, museums, botanic gardens and other cultural institutions. Many offer free or low cost enrichment classes for young children. Your local library is also a good resource for finding materials to help you teach your child at home and most offer story times that also include songs, crafts and games.

Toddlers and preschoolers are naturally curious and can have a ball just going for a walk. Many malls open their doors early to allow people to walk; this can be a great option on days when the weather is inclement.

Reading books is a great way to bond with your child. Of course, you can use your library to get books for free but also check to see if your county participates in the Imagination Library program. This non-profit program sends a free, age-appropriate book to children once a month up to age five. In our area, there are no income restrictions and we’ve enjoyed the wide variety of books that they’ve sent for our children.

Young children enjoy arts and crafts but supplies can be expensive. Get creative about recycling old materials to use for projects. Again, your librarian can point you to wonderful books with arts and crafts ideas and you can easily do an internet search for recipes to make your own play dough, poster paints and other fun crafts at home for pennies.

Keep your eye open for free activities offered by your city or other institutions. A free outdoor concert or parade can be a wonderful, inexpensive way to spend quality family time.

Clothes and Toys
It can be more difficult to find second hand every day clothes in good condition for this age group, but it’s still possible if you look around.  You can often find annual consignment sales run by churches and other charities. If you are selling or volunteer to help out, you will sometimes even be allowed to shop early so that you have first pick.

Keep your eyes out for good deals on larger toys and bikes on Craigslist and yard sales. A magic eraser can work wonders on toys that have been left outdoors and you can save 50-75% off the retail price. You can also often get great deals on second hand jogging strollers (that can fit children up to kindergarten age) and double strollers if you’re adding to your family. Of course, be sure to make sure they’ve been well maintained and search online for any recalls.

Other Little Savings Tips

  • Small children can be wildly inconsistent about how much they eat at meals. One day, they could be out-eating you and the next three days they can seem to be living on air. To cut down on waste, dish out small portions of food, milk and juice and give them more only if they ask for it.
  • Always carry water bottles and snacks. Not only will you save money, you’ll be able to offer your child more healthful choices and avoid meltdowns.
  • Classes such as gymnastics and music and sports activities are nice, but remember that you don’t have to do it all to have a well rounded child. Not only does it get expensive, it can also be stressful for small children to have too many activities.
  • Now is the time to start teaching children to be frugal. Even if you’re financially well-off, there are good reasons to teach children not to waste resources. Start instilling good habits such as turning off lights, recycling, avoiding wasteful packaging and other frugal and environmentally friendly actions.
  • Limit television! Not only is it not necessary or good for them, it plants the seeds of materialism in young minds with all those commercials trying to get them to ask mommy and daddy to buy.
  • Don’t worry though if your child goes through a stage of the “gimmes”. That doesn’t mean you’ve done a bad job, it just means you’ve got a 2-4 year old. I’ve raised all 5 of mine approximately the same way and they’ve varied on how persistent they are about asking for things, so I imagine some of it is personality based. If you’ve got a persistent ask-er on your hands, be firm but take comfort in the fact that channeled properly, not being afraid to ask for what you want can be a great trait later in life.

Raising children is expensive, but don’t be fooled into thinking that you have to give your child the best of everything for them to grow up happy and successful. The best that you can give your child is your love and attention. Teach them early to spend thoughtfully on things that really matter and you’ll be giving them an excellent head start.

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Rob G says:

    When it comes to education, early years is when the stuff happens and you want to surround your child with the best education possible, but not just academics… values, faith, encouragement, and fun.

  • Jason says:

    I can only imagine how much money has been wasted in my household on food that goes down the drain. Small portions at meals is definitely a big way saving money in the long run.

  • Steve Jobs says:

    Very nice suggestion, raising kids is expensive but that is nothing compared when they grow older. As they grow, the cost of raising them grows as well. Thus it’s better to save some money while they are still small, invest on educational plan as early as possible.

  • Jenna says:

    Play dates are a great way to get free daycare. Plan on using play date time to run errands alone to save money and avoid the gimmies at the grocery store. Don’t forget to return the favor though.

  • Nick D. says:

    i’ve heard of lots of people growing their baby food, maybe this is more applicable to younger children, but still if you’re growing the peas, squash, carrots, etc. in your garden you save boat loads of money

  • vered says:

    Great tips. It’s so true about how small kids eat – we’ve learned fairly quickly to start with small amounts of food, then give more if they ask for it.

  • Sandra Kingston says:

    Another way to save money during these special years is to barter for, for example clothes or toys. Children grow so fast that it gets to expensive to buy everything brand new all the time. On sites like many parents offer their children’s “old” clothes. I use to barter there. It’s fun and it saves a lot of money.

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