I was chatting with a childless friend over dinner about how I'd been feeding our family of five on $80-$100 a week. The friend was flabbergasted. "My shampoo alone would take up most of that budget!" she said. (I hope she was exaggerating.)
The fact is, all of us are as frugal as we have to be to get by, except for those of us who fail to stay out of debt. But having kids actually makes us more frugal because we have to save more of our income to pay for their present and future needs. But there are other important ways that being a mother of three drives me to spend less on all aspects of life.
8 Ways Having Kids Makes You More Frugal
8 Ways Having Kids Makes You More Frugal
I used to brunch with toddlers. We'd hold our kids tight while we waited in line, lest we lose them in the sea of waiting adults. We'd ply them with Cheerios while we waited for our food, try to prevent their eggs from hitting the floor, but inevitably, one of us would have to dart out to the sidewalk to avoid disturbing other patrons when a kid started crying.
Add onto all this stress the fact that many fellow restaurant patrons don't want to see us there, no matter how hard we work to keep our kids from disturbing them. And the huge tip we'd feel obligated to leave to compensate for the mess we left.
Finally one Sunday morning, it hit me that this was not easier than making eggs at home. Nope, it was just more stressful and expensive. If I wasn't enjoying a relaxing treat, why pay to dine out? Now we dine out with our kids only rarely, and when we do, it's likely to be at the least expensive restaurants (because those are the most kid-friendly ones). And we're not alone: Non-parents are more than twice as likely as parents to eat in upscale restaurants, according to a recent survey.
Hitting a bar or two with coworkers after work was a weekly ritual when my husband and I were childless professionals. I recently read a San Francisco bar review that noted the cocktails were "only" $10, and I realized that this habit, while fun, was probably one of the reasons my husband and I never had much left in the bank at the end of each pay period.
Nowadays, getting a sitter is too much work, no one wants to see our babies at bars, and we can't stay up until the clubs open -- so we enjoy our wine or cocktails at home, where we never have to tip the server.
When we were a childless couple, we once seriously underestimated how much tax to withhold from our paychecks, and when tax time came, we owed thousands. It was a momentary freak out, but it wasn't hard to pick up a few hours of overtime at work, and cut back on going out until it was paid.
With three kids to provide for, we know that we don't have the budget flexibility for an "oh, well" moment. We can't easily put in more work time because we are busy with the kids, and we have less fat in our budget to trim in an emergency. So we were forced to be frugal enough to build an emergency fund.
Ever hear about deeply indebted consumers who shop compulsively every day? That certainly wouldn't be me, even if I actually liked to shop. Between running Girl Scout meetings, cooking meals, school pick-ups and ice skating lessons, I'm lucky if I can get to the grocery store, much less a clothing store.
If it's true for my wardrobe, it's even more true for our house, which is full of outdated and scratched-up furniture -- not just because we don't have the extra money for a Pottery Barn splurge, but because we would never have the time to select new furniture anyway. Besides, this way we don't feel bad when one of the kids scrapes the coffee table with a pair of scissors or bleeds all over the old rug.
Like many mothers, I cut way back on my work time when my children were born. This, above all things, is why I got into frugality: I was on the lookout for ways to not have to leave the kids in order to earn more money. And I'm not alone in this desire: A Pew study found that fully a third of American parents feel they're not spending enough time with their children.
When having a baby (probably more than any other time in life), we suddenly need to acquire a lot of stuff we never owned before -- and that we will use for only a short time. All the clothes, shoes, tricycles and such are usually only good for a year or so.
I might have stopped by a thrift store now and then before having kids, but that sudden need for baby stuff is what got me into visiting consignment events, cruising Craigslist, joining Freecycle and actively seeking hand-me-downs from other families. Once you've tapped into the secondhand and sharing markets for kids' gear, it's only a short step to using the same resources to acquire things for yourself. My current bike -- my main means of transportation since we don't own a car -- came to me via Freecycle.
It's not just the cost of feeding, clothing, and housing children, or the worry about how we're not saving enough for college. It's sports. It's back-to-school shopping. It's pressure to throw the best birthday party. And the child care -- oh God, the child care.
Even if we try not to go crazy spending on all the above categories, raising kids is more expensive now than ever, and it forces us to be frugal in every other area of our lives.
In a recent survey, parents were 29 percent more likely than the childless to report getting fewer than six hours of sleep a night. This might explain why after work, childless friends might be out riding their new road bikes or taking cooking classes, but if I have a free two hours, my activity of choice is sleep. Sweet, free sleep.