Ami Spencer Youngs - The Penny Hoarder

If you’re anything like my husband and me, who have two boys under 3, you don’t have nearly enough time alone together. Yet we all know that quality time is essential for a  successful relationship.

While you might not have the funds for a sitter and a fancy date night, a tight budget doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed! Here are some cheap or free date night ideas for married couples that will help you enjoy quality time with your significant other without breaking the bank.

Finding a Sitter

The first challenge to enjoying alone time is often finding a babysitter. Here are a few inexpensive ways you can make sure the kids are cared for while you take some time to care for your relationship.

Drop the Kids at Grandma and Grandpa’s House

We don’t have family in our area, but if you do, by all means use them! Whether it’s just for a few hours or for an overnight visit, let the kids have a little quality time with their grandparents so you can have a night out.

Ask Your Friends to Babysit

Offer food, wine or even a little cash, but they might even offer to do it for free. And you never know, you might find a friend who enjoys hanging out with your kids so much it becomes a regular side gig.

Schedule a Playdate

Ask the parents of your children’s friends if they’d be willing to trade playdates. One night, you host all the kids; another night, it’s another parent’s turn to host yours. You’ll all get some quality time with your spouses or significant others, and the kids will have fun hanging out at someone else’s house for a change.

Put the Kids to Bed Early

No one ever said you had to leave the house to have a date. Some of the suggestions below are easy to try at home after the kids are all tucked in.

Date Ideas That Won’t Break the Bank

Now that you have childcare covered, let’s plan your date. Here are a few of my favorite options.

1. Enjoy a Romantic Dinner at Home

Shop deals at the grocery store and work with what's on sale. Cook up something special (bonus points if you cook together) and don’t forget to set the mood. Light some candles, set the table with the good china and turn on some soft music. Then enjoy some quiet conversation and savor a delicious meal in the comfort of your own home -- without any interruptions from the kids.

2. Make It a Movie Night

Redbox rents movies for less than $2 and sends out text coupons for free flicks regularly. Netflix has plenty of free movies to choose from, as does Amazon Prime.

Pick a movie, grab a couple of your favorite snacks at the dollar store and pop some popcorn once the kids are in bed. Curl up on the couch together and have a good laugh or get sucked into an action flick.

3. Get Competitive

If you’re not in the mood for a movie, try a game night. Pull out the playing cards for some poker and play for chips, change or something a little more “adult.” If cards aren’t your thing, try Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit or any other game you and your partner enjoy playing together.

4. Have a Picnic

Pack up a lunch and head to the park to enjoy some sun and fresh air together. Bring a frisbee or soccer ball to get some exercise while you’re at it, or just lie on the blanket, relax and talk for a while about anything but the kids.

5. Check Out a Museum

Take advantage of free days or special admission rates and experience some art or history. You’ll find new topics to talk about and share something new together: Two things that are sure to add a little spark to your relationship.

6. See a Concert

Most towns and cities have a free concert series or live outdoor music during the summer months. Pack your outdoor chairs, a bottle of wine or your favorite drink and some snacks to take with you. Just make sure to check the venue’s policy on outside food, drinks and alcohol before you head out.

7. Enjoy the Great Outdoors Together

Find a preserve, arboretum or nature trail and take a walk or hike. Smell the flowers, take some deep breaths and get your hearts pumping while spending some time communing with nature and each other.

8. Check Out Local Universities or Colleges for Free Events

You never know what speakers or events might strike your interests. You may even find an educational program so you can learn something new together.

9. Explore a New Neighborhood

Take a drive to a nearby town or a neighborhood you don’t spend much time in and check out the local sights. Browse in the local shops, have lunch at a new restaurant, look for historic landmarks or just take in the local vibe.

10. Catch a Movie

If you’d rather get out of the house for a film, go to a drive-in theater where you can usually see two or three movies for the price of two tickets at the local cineplex. Bring some already-popped popcorn and sodas so you don’t need to hit the concession stand, and enjoy a night outdoors.

No drive-ins near you? No problem. Some towns offer free outdoor films throughout the summer, and if that’s not an option either, you can always get to the theater early for a matinee showing of that latest flick. Just skip the popcorn to save a few more bucks.

11. Gaze at the Stars

Head to the backyard or a grassy hill near home, lay out a blanket and snuggle under the stars. Look for constellations, count shooting stars, or time your date for a super moon, comet or aurora sighting.

If none of these ideas get you excited for date night, check out Groupon, LivingSocial or your favorite discount site to find deals on local activities that will get you and your spouse out of the house and enjoying some quality time.

Disclosure: We have a serious Taco Bell addiction around here. The affiliate links in this post help us order off the dollar menu. Thanks for your support!

Ami Spencer Youngs is a freelance writer and yoga teacher, raising her career alongside two boys under three. Learn more about her life and her writing at writingherlife.com or on Twitter at @writingherlife.

The kids are out of school, the weather is beautiful and you want to have some summer adventures with your family.

But with vacations, meals out and special activities, sticking to a budget during the summer months can be tough. It isn’t impossible, though!

Our family loves to spend time outdoors, and there are plenty of options for having fun in the sun without spending a fortune.

Our toddler’s current favorite place to hang out is the zoo, and while admission can be expensive for a family of four, we asked the grandparents to buy us a membership for Christmas so we can go whenever we want without paying a dime!

10 Fun Outdoor Activities for Kids That Don’t Cost a Fortune

While we prefer to be outside, if it’s rainy or too hot for outdoor fun, we take advantage of discounts for places like local museums and science centers. That way we can still get out of the house, but our budget doesn’t suffer.

Here are 10 ways you can have summer fun with the kids without breaking the bank.

1. Frequent Local Parks

Take advantage of nearby parks and have a picnic, fly a kite, throw a frisbee or kick a soccer ball. If it’s too hot for fitness fun, spread out a blanket in the shade of a big tree and play board games, read books or just chat with one another.

2. Visit Public Beaches

You may have to pay a small fee to enter the beach area, but if you pack a lunch, water and plenty of snacks, you can have a full day of fun in the water for very little money. Just make sure to bring the sunscreen!

3. Head to a Community Pool

If there isn’t a beach nearby or your family prefers the pool, find a community pool in your area. They’re usually free or have a minimal fee to get in, and you can spend the whole day splashing around and cooling down.

Make sure to ask about food and drink policies before you go, though. If there’s no food allowed by the pool, leave a cooler in your vehicle and have a lunchtime parking-lot tailgate rather than a poolside picnic.

4. Watch Outdoor Concerts and Movies

Most neighborhoods have some type of outdoor concert or movie series during the summer. If you’re lucky enough to live in or near a larger city, you can probably find a number of options to choose from.

If not, you can always set up your own outdoor movie theater in your backyard.

5. Volunteer

It may not seem like your typical family fun activity, but there are plenty of outdoor volunteer options that you can enjoy together.

Join in on a community clean up, help start a community garden or even get involved in a Habitat for Humanity build.

Whatever you choose, you’re getting outside, having some fun and teaching your children a valuable lesson in giving.

6. Explore the Night Sky

Who says all the fun has to happen when the sun is up? On those really hot days when you can’t bring yourself to be anywhere but in the air conditioning, you can take advantage of cooler nights.

A blanket, a telescope (if you have one) and a star chart can provide plenty of excitement. Add some snacks and you’ve got a stargazing party!

7. Plan a Scavenger Hunt

Scope out a local park or tourist area (or even your own backyard) and come up with a list of things the family can search for. On hunt day, give each family member (or team if you have little ones) a list and set them loose.

Need some ideas for your hunt? Parents.com has some suggestions for you. Make sure to set a meeting time and place, and then celebrate the winner with an ice cream cone or Italian ice when everyone is back.

8. Go Geocaching

Don’t feel like creating your own scavenger hunt but want a little adventure? Try geocaching, a fun family activity that doesn’t cost a thing.

Grab your smartphone or GPS, load the family in the van (or set out on foot if there’s a geocache close enough to you) and find some treasure!

9. Look for Ideas on Deal Sites

Groupon and LivingSocial frequently offer up discounts for local family-friendly activities. Make sure you sign up and regularly check out their deals on admission to museums, zoos, amusement parks, festivals and special events.

Certifikid, a kid-specific deal site, offers discounts on activities and events, camps, classes and even parties, so don’t forget to sign up for their deal emails, too.

10. Check Attraction Websites for Specials

Your local aquarium, zoo and children's museums may offer specials on admissions. Some have half-price days, theme months where admission is discounted, or significantly reduced admissions if you arrive later in the day.

If you plan to visit a location frequently, you might also want to look into memberships, which may be costly up front, but generally save you money over the course of the year if you visit more than a couple of times with your family.

While they’re not necessarily outdoor activities, these can be great options for rainy and hot days!

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a blast as a family. Get outside, get moving and enjoy what your town or city has to offer. You may not even need to spend a dime!

Your Turn: What’s your favorite low-cost way to have fun with your family in the summer?

Ami Spencer Youngs is a freelance writer and yoga teacher, raising her career alongside two boys under three. Learn more about her life and her writing at writingherlife.com or on Twitter at @writingherlife.

When my local Walmart Supercenter opened, I had to check it out. Getting everything from groceries to electronics under one roof for the lowest prices seemed like a pipe dream.

The store is known for its low prices and savings guarantees, and it didn’t take long to realize Walmart beat the prices of most items I purchased regularly, from health and beauty supplies to bananas and bread.

Once I started shopping regularly at Walmart, I stopped taking for granted that their prices were the lowest. Instead, I found ways to capitalize on their low-price guarantee and discovered other savings strategies that help lower my grocery bill.

Here are eight ways I save money when I shop at Walmart.

1. Use a Cash-Back App

One of the simplest ways to save money at Walmart (and a ton of other retailers) is to use a cash-back app like Ibotta.

The free app gives you money back on your purchases for uploading a photo of a receipt showing that you bought certain items.

Before your next Walmart shopping trip, download the Ibotta app and check out the available offers.

For example, right now you can score 25 cents back just for uploading your receipt. Other offers include $1.50 back on Hefty trash bags, $2 back on Scott paper towels, $2 back on Clorox laundry detergent and 25 cents back on any bacon purchase.

When you get home, just scan your receipt and the money will appear in your account within 48 hours, which you can cash out for gift cards or a PayPal deposit.

Sign up through this link and you'll get a $10 welcome bonus.

2. Make the Most of Walmart Price Match

Update: Walmart has changed its price-match policy in some stores, but not all, of its stores. We have details in this post.

Walmart will price match any current published sale. All you need to do is bring in the ad and show it to the cashier.

If you make your shopping list ahead of time, you can check local ads to find any better deals. Instead of driving to multiple stores, save yourself travel time and gas money by simply bringing the ads with you to Walmart and getting what you need there.

Don’t stop there, though. Walmart will also match online prices at specified online retailers, including Walmart.com. Simply mention the advertised online price and the site where you saw it, and the cashier should make the adjustment for you.

Don’t forget to compare prices on things you might not normally think to price match, like groceries, deli and bakery items, and health and beauty supplies.

3. Shop Online and Use In-Store Pickup

If you’ve been comparing prices in your local Walmart store to those online at other retailers and find another store sells the item for less, Walmart will match the price. But sometimes even Walmart’s own online prices are cheaper than their in-store prices.

If you don’t want to do an in-store price match, order the items online and choose to pick them up. Most Walmart items sold on Walmart.com are available for pickup within 24 hours (and often on the same day). Simply put the item in your online shopping cart, select Free Pickup and choose your store location.

4. Download the Walmart App and Use the Savings Catcher

Walmart’s app allows you to make a shopping list, check in-store and online prices and availability, look at the weekly ad and more, saving you time and money in the process.

One of the best and easiest ways to save money with this app is the Savings Catcher. Simply scan your receipt using the app, or log into your account online and enter the receipt number, and Walmart will do all the work for you.

They’ll compare prices at local retailers, including current advertised sale prices, and if they find a lower price, they’ll credit you the difference on a gift card. Even better, you’ll get double the Savings Catcher Reward Dollars when you redeem them to your Bluebird Card.

5. Check End Caps for Clearance Items

Walmart changes its prices and marks down items throughout the week, according to a recent consumer data report covered by Lifehacker, making it difficult to pinpoint the best day to snag clearance and sale items. On the bright side, that means you can get good deals any day of the week if you know where to look.

When you’re not in a hurry, spend some time browsing your local store and become familiar with the areas where each department displays its clearance stock. Sale items are often placed in the back of a department or on end caps to force you past the full-priced merchandise in that section of the store. Sometimes they’re displayed with large “clearance” signs, but other times the sale items are a bit less conspicuous, and their locations can vary by store.

Don’t forget to look in the grocery, household cleaners, and health and beauty departments. You’ll usually find clearance sections with discontinued items or older models marked down significantly.

6. Use Coupons

Just because you expect Walmart to have the lowest prices doesn’t mean you can’t save even more by using coupons.

Check couponing websites, the inserts in your Sunday paper and even Walmart.com for coupons that can save you big bucks on items you’re planning to purchase. If that sounds overwhelming, here’s a system to keep your coupons organized.

While Walmart doesn’t double coupons or allow coupon stacking, they will give you cash back if the coupon is for more than the item you’re purchasing. For example, if you have a coupon for $2 off your favorite shampoo, but the item is on sale for $1.50, the cashier will apply the remaining $0.50 to another item in your order. If you're not buying any other items, he should give you back the $0.50 in cash.

7. Shop Early

If you’re looking for the best deals on meat and other perishables, try setting your alarm clock a little earlier than usual. In my experience, stores usually mark down meat and produce close to their "sell by" dates in the morning. The exact time can vary by store, so check with the managers of your store’s meat and produce departments to know when you should be shopping.

By getting to the store an hour earlier than usual, you’ll increase your chances of finding a great deal on meat or packaged fruits and veggies. (Then you’ll have to make sure you’ll use them or freeze them quickly.)

8. Buy Yesterday's Baked Goods

Another department to check early in the day is the bakery, where yesterday’s baked goods will usually be marked down for a quick sale. There’s nothing wrong with yesterday’s bread or muffins, and if you’re not going to use them right away you can always freeze them.

If you do find that a loaf of bread is a little stale, you can always revive it in the microwave or oven, or with a little celery.

While Walmart’s prices are already quite low, I’ve used these strategies to lower my grocery bill even further. If there are other techniques you use to save more money on your Walmart bill, I’d love to hear them!

Ami Spencer Youngs is a freelance writer and yoga teacher, raising her career alongside two boys under three. Learn more about her life and her writing at writingherlife.com or on Twitter at @writingherlife.

We all know the slogan: “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.”

But what you might not realize is that the three R's can help you save money -- and in some cases, even earn a little extra cash.

In addition, reducing your consumption, reusing items that might have outlived their original purposes and recycling what’s left will help keep unnecessary waste out of our landfills. Sounds like a win-win situation, doesn’t it?

To help celebrate Earth Day, here are some ways to save money and save the planet while you’re at it.

Reduce

The easiest way to save money while minimizing your impact on the planet is to reduce what you buy. By buying less stuff, you’ll spend less money and use fewer resources.

It takes practice and can require tough decisions, but the savings can be well worth it.

Try these strategies to reduce your purchases:

1. Buy Only the Food You Need and Use What You Buy

Americans waste 40% of the food they buy, according to Harvestright.com. That’s nearly $200 a month for a family of four!

And wasting food doesn’t just waste your money. It also wastes all the energy and water used to produce that food.

Reducing your food waste isn’t too difficult, with a few simple strategies.

Make a list before you head to the grocery store, and stick to it.

Use your warehouse club memberships wisely.

Only buy in bulk when you know you’ll use all of an item -- especially when it comes to perishable foods.

Learn how to properly store food to make it last longer, and get creative with your leftovers. You’ll use more of your food and toss less of it, saving you money and reducing waste.

2. Before You Buy It, Make Sure You Need It

When you see something in the store that you just have to have, take a moment to decide if you really need it.

Before you buy anything, ask yourself three questions:

Do I really need it?

Needs and wants are very different.

If you find yourself coming up with far-fetched reasons to make the purchase or you can’t think of a specific use for the item, it’s probably not something you truly need and you can leave it on the rack.

If you decide it is something you need, ask yourself…

Do I have room for it?

Before you put the item in your cart, decide where exactly you will place or store it, or else leave it in the store.

If you know where you’ll keep it, ask yourself…

Will I use it or wear it?

Plenty of things we buy with the best of intentions end up sitting on a shelf or cluttering a drawer because we don’t ever use them.

Make sure any item you bring home has a specific use and fills a need for you.

3. Choose Items With Less Packaging

Product packaging makes up more than 30% of the waste stream in the developed world, according to the EPA.

To address this issue, companies like Unilever and Nestle have committed to reduce the packaging of their products. If you shop smart, you can help to reduce packaging waste, too.

Buy things like cereal and nuts in bulk to cut down on cardboard, plastic and glass consumption.

And when you’re buying products you can’t find in bulk packages, look for ones with minimal or recyclable packaging.

Reuse

If you’re anything like me, you’ve got a bunch of stuff hanging around that you’re no longer using because it’s worn out, broken or has lost its luster.

You don’t want to send it all to the landfill, but you have no idea what else to do with it, so it just keeps cluttering up your house or garage.

Here are some ways to upcycle common items I’ve found accumulating around my family’s house.

For even more ideas, check out some of the recommendations from these DIY blogs.

4. Repurpose Old Furniture and Appliances

Furniture can last a long time, but if it’s damaged or has outlived its original purpose, you don’t have to get rid of it. There’s still plenty of life in it if you’re willing to get creative and do a little manual labor.

Turn an old coffee table into a storage ottoman or use an end table to make one of these fun LEGO tables for the playroom.

Mounting your TV on the wall but don’t know what to do with that bulky old entertainment center? Make a play kitchen for the kids or turn it into a console.

If you’re renovating, repurposing projects can help you save your budget and create a unique living space. An old dresser can become a centerpiece in your bathroom. Reclaimed shutters make a lovely cottage-style headboard.

Don’t know what to do with your old appliances? Refabdiaries.com has several makeover and upcycle ideas to get you thinking outside the refrigerator... er, box.

5. Give Old Clothes a New Life

If you don’t wear certain items in their current state, a little refashioning can help bring them back into your wardrobe rotation.

If your T-shirt collection is getting a little out hand or your favorites are starting to look a little worse for the wear, you don’t need to donate them or throw them away.

Get creative and you could have some new skirts, a reusable grocery tote, or a nice warm quilt.

Need more ideas? Here are 39 additional ways to upcycle your T-shirts, including several no-sew options for those of us who are sewing-challenged.

Sweaters with holes or stains or too many nubbies for your taste can be reused, too. Craftsy.com has some projects for them, including totes, fingerless gloves and slippers.

If those craft ideas don’t suit you, put your empty glass jars to use and make sweater vases (a double upcycle!).

You could even start your own business, like Charlotte Reid Besaw, who makes and sells cozy mittens made from thrift-store sweaters.

6. Put Cardboard Tubes to Work

These pesky little tubes from toilet paper and paper towel seem to multiply around our house. We’re constantly collecting and recycling them, so I wondered what else we could do with them to give them a little more life before heading to the recycling bin.

With a little research, I found dozens of ways to put them to work around our house.

Store extension cords and other cables that tend to get tangled and take over the junk drawer.

If you have a fireplace or backyard pit, create kindling logs to get your fires going quickly. Gardeners can start seedlings in them.

Need to entertain the kiddos? Today’s Parent has some great craft ideas.

You can also spend a rainy afternoon making a birdfeeder, have a performance with cute owl finger puppets or create a masterpiece.

7. Revive Glass Jars and Bottles

A lot of the food and drinks we buy come in glass jars and bottles.

I’ve been hoarding pasta sauce jars for years with the intention of eventually reusing them around our home. And I always feel bad tossing wine bottles because I know they’d make lovely chandeliers.

If you’re looking for creative ways to reuse glass containers, there is plenty of inspiration out there.

Love displaying fresh flowers around the house? Make some wine bottle or hanging window vases.

Wine bottles also make lovely lights or lamps. Or if you prefer candles to light your room, these glass jar votive holders will come in handy.

Instead of buying new decorative items for your kitchen or bathroom, use some empty glass jars to make soap dispensers, candy jars or flour and sugar containers.

Don’t have time to get crafty? Sell your wine bottles to other crafters or winemakers.

8. Do More Than Read Those Books

If you’re like me and have bins and shelves full of books that you’re probably never going to read (or read again), why not let someone else reuse them?

Sell them on Amazon or at your local used bookstore and make a little cash. If you’d rather get a tax deduction, donate books to a literacy organization, local school or library.

If your book aren’t worth much or if you’re not interested in selling them, use them to cover your Kindle, make wall shelves, a purse or a phone docking station.

Want more ideas? Here are 10 more ways to repurpose your book collection.

Recycle

Besides tossing recyclable items into your recycling bin, there are several other ways you can recycle stuff around your house you can't use or reuse.

9. Get Paid for Your Metal

If you have a collection of aluminum cans, copper tubing from a household renovation or any other metal objects, you could cash in by taking them to a recycling center or scrap metal dealer.

10. Do Good with Your Shoes

I have a closet full of worn-out but still somewhat wearable athletic shoes. I didn’t want to throw them away, but I wasn’t quite sure what else to do with them.

It turns out Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program will grind up old athletic shoes and use them to create new surfaces for playgrounds, athletic fields and sports courts.

Your gently-used but rarely worn dress shoes, pumps and heels won’t make a good running track, but you can donate them to organizations like Soles4Souls or the Cinderella Project to give your shoes some extra miles and help those who are less fortunate.

11. Sell Stuff to Someone Who Will Use It

Anything you have that’s gently used and gathering dust could make you money and get a new life in another home.

This is a double-whammy: You’re recycling an item you don’t use to someone else, who is reducing his consumption by buying used instead of new!

Sell clothes, toys and childrens’ items, small appliances, furniture and more on Craigslist or local garage sale groups.

Your Turn: Have you tried any other strategies to save money while living a little bit greener? Share your tips in the comments!

Ami Spencer Youngs is a freelance writer and yoga teacher, raising her career alongside two boys under three. Learn more about her life and her writing at Writing Her Life or on Twitter at @writingherlife. 

One of the biggest ways to save money when you have a new baby is to nurse.

But if you’re lucky enough to skip the formula and breastfeed, you may be surprised how much you can spend on nursing clothes.

When my first baby was born, I quickly realized a simple nursing shirt can cost over $50, so I knew a brand-new nursing wardrobe wasn’t in the cards.

Instead, I got creative.

Here are six ways to save on nursing clothes -- and still reap nursing’s financial benefits.

1. Know What You Need

If you’re planning to be a stay-at-home or work-at-home mom, your clothing needs will be different from someone who’ll be returning to work, where nursing clothes will make it easier to pump.

As a work-at-home mom, I managed with two or three nursing bras.

I also had five or six nursing tanks in neutral colors I could mix and match with shirts and sweaters I already had (see #2).

Your needs might be similar if you’re planning to stay at home -- or if you work for a company with a casual dress code.

If you’ll be working outside the home for a company with a strict dress code, you may need to buy some additional work-worthy nursing tops to supplement your wardrobe.

Once you have a good idea of what you’ll need, use the rest of these tips to come up with a wardrobe that works -- without breaking the bank.

2. Use What You Have

Before you go shopping, shop your own closet and get creative.

You may be able to use what you already have to create a nursing wardrobe just as good as anything you might buy.

Turn a few regular tanks or camisoles into nursing tanks with this easy DIY tutorial. These are especially nice for larger-chested gals like myself because they attach to nursing bras.

Once you have DIY tanks or have purchased nursing tanks, you can layer up with deep V-neck T-shirts, button-downs, roomy tunics or cardigans you already own.

3. Buy Secondhand

Once you know what you need, it’s time to go shopping.

Your first stop should always be secondhand shops and local thrift stores.

Also check neighborhood email lists and Facebook yard sale groups specifically for moms in your area. You’re likely to find gently used nursing wear at reasonable prices.

If you don’t see any nursing clothes listed, don’t be afraid to post an “In Search Of” request, as long as they’re allowed under the rules of the group. Sometimes people forget what they have in their closets until someone reminds them!

For trendy, brand-name or work-worthy items you haven’t been able to find elsewhere, check out Thred Up. This site offers like-new, brand-name maternity and nursing clothes at big discounts.

4. Shop the Sales

If you’re ready to invest in a few new nursing tops or tanks, avoid paying full price by scouting sales.

Common brands such as Motherhood Maternity and Pea in the Pod offer regular sales and deals on clearance items.

By shopping these sales, I managed to score a couple of nice shirts to wear when I needed something a bit more professional than a tank and cardigan -- for less than $40.

5. Make the Clothes You Buy Last Longer

To get your money’s worth, make sure everything you buy will do double duty.

Invest in pieces you can layer, and make sure nursing tops you buy can be worn beyond nursing, or throughout pregnancy and nursing.

6. Save on Formal Wear

If you find yourself in need of something formal but want it to be nursing-friendly, there are some common styles that work well and won’t require you to buy a nursing-specific outfit.

Rent the Runway is a great option for renting formal wear at a fraction of the cost of a new outfit.

While shopping, look for wrap, V-neck or drape-front tops or dresses that’ll give you nursing access while still looking stylish.

Or if you’d rather get something made specifically with nursing in mind, rent maternity and nursing formal wear from Mine for 9.

Don’t forget to check your local thrift stores, Facebook groups and email lists, as well.

With a little time and creativity, you can formulate a nursing wardrobe that works for you without eating into your budget.

Your Turn: How have you built a nursing wardrobe without spending a fortune? Share your tips in the comments!

Ami Spencer Youngs is a freelance writer and yoga teacher, raising her career alongside two boys under four. Learn more about her life and her writing at writingherlife.com or on Twitter at @writingherlife.

When I found out I was going to be a mom, I was quickly overwhelmed by the amount of stuff I realized I would need for a new baby.

On our tight budget, there was no way we’d be able to afford everything on our growing list of needs and wants.

Thankfully, with a little a research and some help from generous friends and family who’d already had babies, I was able to save a lot of cash and still get all the necessities for our new bundle of joy.

Here are some tips on how you can do the same!

Save On Clothing and Gear

Babies go through clothing, safety and other items quickly in the first year, so don’t waste money on new stuff. Instead, use these tips to save big.

1. Complete Baby Registries

Whether or not you plan to have a baby shower, create registries at Babies R Us, Amazon and Target.

After your shower or due date, each store gives you a coupon to buy anything left on your list. Get up to 15% off from Amazon, 10% off from Babies R Us and 15% off from Target!

Babies R Us and Amazon require you to use the discount in one trip, but Target allows you, your friends and family to use the discount code.

Babies R Us also gives you 10% cash back for purchases off your registry, so it’s worth putting everything you can think of on there. As an added bonus, this longer registry can serve as a running list of things you need!

Bonus: Create a registry with Target and get a gift bag full of over $60 in coupons and other freebies! It’s totally worth adding a few items, even if you don’t plan to get the bulk of your baby gear there.

2. Have a Baby Shower

If you’re having a baby, chances are someone will want to throw you a shower (or two!). Let them!

Every gift is something you won’t have to buy, and if you’ve filled your registries with all the things you need and want, there will be plenty for friends and family to get you.

3. Return Gifts You Don’t Need

Even with a registry, you’re likely to get duplicates (and triplicates) of things, along with stuff you don’t really need or want.

Return it!

If those gifts came with gift receipts, returning them will be easy. If not, take them back for store credit you can spend on things you really will use -- can you say diapers?

(Tip: If you're not sure where the gift came from, Google the brand name to find retailers that sell those items.)

4. Use Your Insurance

Under the Affordable Care Act, women are now able to get a free breastpump through insurance companies. The Medela Pump In Style or Ameda Purely Yours are typically covered.

Some insurance companies let you get the pump ahead of time, while others require you to pick it up after the baby is born. You may have to pay out-of-pocket and request reimbursement, or the insurance company may pay for it directly -- but require it be ordered from a medical supply company.

The process varies, so contact your insurance company, or check out the websites for Medela and Ameda for more information on getting your free breast pump. This’ll save you about $150.

5. Connect With Local Moms

Sign up for local listservs, Facebook groups or Freecycle. You’ll often find parents cleaning out their homes who are willing to part with nice clothing and gently used baby gear -- for a low cost.

Check with other moms in your neighborhood to find these groups, or Google or search Facebook for your city plus “swap.” Most areas have at least one local swap group.

6. Use Your Network

Friends and family with young kids may have gear, toys and clothes stored away in the attic or basement they haven’t been able to part with yet.

Ask around to see who has items you need. Offer to return the items when your baby is done with them, or even to pay a bit for them.

You’re likely to get them free-and-clear from kindhearted relatives and friends who know the price of raising little ones. Just do a quick check to make sure the items haven’t been recalled.

7. Take Advantage of Freebies

Expectant moms are a marketer’s dream -- and freebies abound if you know where to look.

Check out this list of free gifts -- including detergent, diapers, coupons and more!

If you’re having multiples, there are even more freebies and discounts available. Score free diapers, food and more just by mailing a few copies of your babies’ birth certificates!

8. Shop the Sales

If you have favorite retailers, sign up for their email coupons and pay attention to their sales cycles.

Carter’s, babyGap, The Children’s Place and other retailers regularly mark down clothes 40% or more before sending them to clearance.

And they rarely wait until a season’s end before starting major markdowns. Never pay full price!

9. Scout Local Consignment Shops

Most baby gear is gently used because it isn’t used for long before the baby grows out of it.

Check out kids’ consignment shops for things like high chairs, strollers, walkers and other big-ticket items. You’ll find them for as little as 50% of the original cost -- just do a quick check on your phone to make sure the items haven’t been recalled.

When you’re done with your items, re-consign or sell them back to the shop for store credit. Use the credit to get clothes, shoes and other items as you need them.

10. Hit Thrift Stores

Thrift stores are perfect for finding secondhand clothing at low prices.

You won’t always see the same clothing quality at thrift stores as you do at consignment shops. But I’ve found some gems at Goodwill and other thrift stores for a fraction of the price.

Remember, the best stuff can be found in stores near higher-income areas. Be choosy about which shops you frequent.

It really doesn’t matter if your local thrift store isn’t high-end. Keep in mind your baby will be staining and outgrowing clothes every couple of months. Paying pennies for jumpers and body suits makes economic sense if they’re only going to be worn a few times.

11. Become a Yard Sale Rock Star

You may be able to find everything you need for your new addition right in your neighborhood. If you have the time and energy to put in the legwork, you can scout out local yard sales.

You’re likely to find everything from clothes to toys to bigger-ticket items like strollers at even lower prices than you’ll find at consignment shops.

Save on Car Seats

This big ticket item is a must-have and can cost you hundreds of dollars, but it doesn’t have to.

12. Buy Used

Buying a used car seat can save you money, but be careful with what and how you buy. If you want to buy used, buy from someone you know.

Car seats that have been in accidents are unsafe. Avoid buying from strangers who might not be honest about the history of the car seat.

Also, check the expiration date of any used car seats -- make sure there’s time left for your child to use it.

13. Trade Up

Babies R Us has annual trade-in events offering 25% discounts on a new car seat when you trade in a used one.

14. Use Your Registry

If you’re buying a new car seat, put your favorite models on your registry. Car seats are common group gifts for new parents.

Even if you don’t get one, you’ll be able to use those completion discounts I mentioned to get the best deal.

Save on Services

If you’re planning to breastfeed, lactation consultant services are an excellent resource. You may be able to save big with the right info.

15. Lactation Consultants

Insurance companies are also required to provide “comprehensive lactation support and counseling from trained providers”.

Keep in mind: Individual plans determine which lactation services are covered. Contact your provider to find out what’s covered before your baby’s born.

If in-home lactation services are covered, find a consultant through the United States Lactation Consultant Association or contact your local La Leche League for recommendations. You could save $75 an hour or more, depending on your location.

If your plan doesn’t cover in-home services, contact the lactation department at the hospital you’ll be delivering at to discuss available services during your stay and after you go home.

Many hospitals offer breastfeeding support groups and free visits with the hospital lactation consultants even after you’re discharged.

Save on Diapers and Wipes

Diapers and wipes can be the most expensive things you purchase throughout your newborn’s first two years.

Save on Cloth Diapers

If you really want to save on diapers and wipes, cloth is the way to go!

16. Buy Used

If you’re looking to save money by using cloth diapers, save from the start -- buy used.

Do your research and choose the type of diaper that will work best for your family. Prefolds, all-in-ones, pocket diapers and one-size styles all have pros and cons you’ll want to consider.

In general, prefolds are cheaper per piece -- but you’ll need to size up as your baby grows.

Pocket diapers, all-in-ones and one-size brands are more expensive to begin to with, but you’ll be able to use the same diapers as baby gets bigger.

17. Compare Before You Buy

Those unfamiliar with the different styles may want to compare a few types. Try different diaper brands before investing in a full set.

Look for used diapers on your local Facebook garage sale groups or at consignment shops.

18. Wash Them Well

Another thing that can help make cloth diapering more economical is a good cleaning routine.

Prep new diapers or bleach used diapers before use.

Make sure you’re using the right detergent, wash temperature and between wash storage.

These strategies extend the life of your diapers and ensure they absorb as much as possible.

Save on Disposable Diapers and Wipes

If you’re not up for the work of cloth, you can still save big on disposable diapers and wipes -- if you shop smart!

19. Get Them for Free

The cheapest diapers are free!

Before you spend hundreds of dollars on disposables, check out these nine ways to get free diapers.

20. Join Loyalty Programs

Most major diaper brands have loyalty programs that help you earn gift cards, free diapers, wipes and other free gifts, just for entering codes into a website or app.

You’ll probably also get access to coupons and other special offers that can save you additional money.

21. Subscribe and Save

Amazon Mom, Diapers.com and even Target offer discounts when you set up regular subscriptions for items like diapers, wipes, formula and more.

22. Make Your Own Wipes

Depending on the brand of wipes you use and how good you are about using coupons and other savings strategies, you could spend upwards of $300 a year on wipes.

Save more than $200 a year by making your own wipes using paper towels and a few other easy-to-find ingredients.

23. Use Cloth Wipes

Save even more by cutting up old T-shirts or hand towels to make reusable wipes.

Spray some homemade cleansing solution on a wipe, rinse and toss in a wet bag before washing.

Save on Formula and Other Baby Care Items

Here are some strategies for saving money on formula and baby necessities.

24. Breastfeed

Nursing your newborn will take time and money for necessary supplies like nursing bras and a pump. But it’ll save you money compared to purchasing formula.

25. Ask Your Doctor for Samples

Baby care items, food and formula are expensive. Don’t waste money if you’re not sure which products best meet your needs.

Ask your pediatrician which brands and products he or she recommends. Doctors often receive samples they can share with you. It beats buying several full-sized packages before figuring out what works best for you.

26. Sign Up for Coupons

Joining Enfamil Family Beginnings gets you free samples of formula and large-value coupons toward formula purchases.

Similac Strong Moms also provides free formula samples and large-value coupons.

Both provide partner offers like discounts on birth announcements, photo books and other baby-centered items, too.

27. Take Advantage of Sales

Baby food and care items often go on sale at discount stores.

You can usually find coupons for major brands in your local newspaper or through Coupons.com.

28. Use Discount Apps

Use apps like Target’s Cartwheel (as well as their RedCard for an additional 5% off purchases), Ibotta and Walmart’s Savings Catcher to save or get money back when you buy featured items.

29. Make Your Own Baby Food

Baby food doesn’t have to come in jars. Stocking up on bland purees costs more than you’d think, especially if you’re trying to stick to organic options.

Making your own organic purees can save you more than $20 a month, and it doesn’t take much time.

30. Skip the Baby Food Altogether

Consider baby-led weaning. It ditches the purees and lets your baby explore small pieces of food as soon as they begin to show interest, usually around six months.

31. Take Your Tax Deductions

If your breast pump or lactation consultant services aren’t covered by your insurance (some plans may fall under grandfather clauses), these expenses may be tax deductible.

New parents are eligible for other credits and exemptions, too.

So you may want to consult with an accountant or check online before filing your taxes.

Your Turn: How have you saved money on baby stuff? What are your favorite tips on saving for new parents?

Ami Spencer Youngs is a freelance writer and yoga teacher, raising her career alongside two boys under three. Learn more about her life and her writing at writingherlife.com or on Twitter at @writingherlife.

When I found out I was pregnant with my first child, one of my friends who already had kids almost immediately suggested I check out Scary Mommy.

“It’s hilarious,” she said. “And the confessions make you feel good about even your worst days as a mom. Trust me.”

She was right on so many levels. As an older first-time mom, I was looking for friends who could relate to the phase I was in at that moment.

While I found my tribe pretty easily, as acquaintances from my Yoga Teacher Training started becoming mommies, too, Scary Mommy became a resource I turned to time and again.

Here are a few reasons why I love this blog and online community for parents:

1. It’s Good for a Laugh

Sometimes parents just need a good laugh. As a parent of a toddler who’s testing ALL the limits, those days when I need some help cracking a smile are becoming more frequent.

Many of the posts at Scary Mommy -- like this one on taking care of yourself first -- bring to light the dark side of parenting. The irreverent humor is perfect for those days when you need to lighten up a bit. Who wouldn’t crack up when reading about ways your toddler is like a dog?

2. You’ll Find Support for Working Moms

Every working mom is different. Among my group of mommy friends who work outside the home, some are grateful for their time at the office, while others wish they had the option to be at home full time with their kids.

But when we’re completely honest, we each fall into both those groups depending on the day.

Whether you’re feeling certain of your decision to work outside of the home or find yourself questioning that choice every other week, you’ll find posts on Scary Mommy that help you see the positive side of your choice.

And the best part is, you’ll never be judged for whatever you decide!

3. You’ll Also Find Support for Stay-at-Home Moms

A number of factors influenced my decision to stay at home with my boys, not the least of which were the cost of childcare and my desire to work for myself.

No matter what your reason for staying at home with your kids, you won’t feel judged by the community at Scary Mommy. Instead, you’ll feel supported on those hard days and discover humor to make them easier.

If and when you’re ready to go back to work, this community is great for that, too. Just one example: I found value in this post on how to improve your resume so you can minimize the “motherhood penalty.”

4. Every Parent Can Relate in Some Way

There are so many posts on Scary Mommy that you’re sure to find some ideas, questions or approaches you relate to. With topics ranging from body image to food allergies to single parenting and more, parents can find support and encouragement -- not to mention brutal honesty -- about just about any topic.

My favorite posts are the ones that help me take my job as a mom a little less seriously. I think we can all use that reminder from time to time!

5. Unorthodox Tips for Saving Money are Always Helpful

While Scary Mommy doesn’t focus specifically on finance, you’ll glean plenty of tips for saving money on the site. In fact, the community has an entire category aimed at helping soon-to-be parents decide which items are worth spending your money on and which items you’ll never miss.

It might be tongue-in-cheek, but you’ll also find advice on allowances, saving for college, and paying for your children’s teeth. And we all know having children can be expensive, but there’s even a piece about the ways having kids can save you money. Who would’ve thought?

Scary Mommy will help you laugh, make you cry, give you support and teach you a thing or two. If you’re looking for straight-up advice, look somewhere else. But if you need some giggles and enjoy taking an irreverent look at the parenting life, Scary Mommy is for you.

Your Turn: What’s your favorite site for parenting advice?

Ami Spencer Youngs is a freelance writer and yoga teacher, raising her career alongside two boys under three. Learn more about her life and her writing at writingherlife.com or on Twitter at @writingherlife.

My boys are still young enough -- they’ll be one and three years old this fall -- that birthdays don’t have to be a big deal. In an age where parents often spend hundreds of dollars (or more!) on birthday parties and elaborate, Pinterest-inspired themes, though, I feel pressured to put on a big to-do for the little guys.

Unfortunately, our budget doesn’t allow for extravagant cakes or expensive locations. Instead, I have to get creative. Here are seven ways I’ve found I can save money and still throw awesome birthday parties for my boys.

1. DIY Your Invitations

You don’t need to be a creative genius to make your own adorable invitations. Etsy shops offer a number of printable birthday invitations for just a few dollars that fit just about any theme.

Want to save even more? Use a site like Evite to send electronic invitations for free.

2. Find an Affordable Location

We have a tiny house and the idea of entertaining a dozen or more people in our limited space makes me want to cry. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a great party!

Community spaces, like firehouses, local farms and petting zoos, community centers, the library, and even pools and parks, offer affordable options for parties. Make some phone calls, ask around and find a location that fits your budget.

3. Cut Your List

It’s normal to want your entire family to be there when you celebrate your baby’s first birthday. And your social five-year-old may think she needs her whole kindergarten class at her party. But one of the easiest ways to reduce birthday party costs is to keep your guest list short.

Celebrate with your immediate family and make it a special, intimate party. Or let your child choose five to 10 friends to celebrate with. If you decide to splurge on an older child’s special event party like go-cart racing or bowling, limit the number of guests based on your budget. Tell the child to choose his two or three closest friends to share his special day.

4. Make Your Own Cake

Whether you make it from scratch or from a box, making your own cake can save you a lot of money. Those of us who aren’t professional bakers can find a lot of simple decorating ideas on Pinterest.

If a cake seems too hard, cupcakes are perfect solution! They’re just the right serving size for little ones, and they’re easy to decorate in most themes just by changing the frosting color and adding some decorations from the dollar store.

5. Skip the Goody Bags

These birthday party staples usually end up cluttering the guests’ houses with cheap plastic toys. Instead, give each child a small gift (bonus points for linking it to your theme) that you can find (or make) for a couple of dollars per guest. Some ideas: coloring books and crayons, matchbox cars, play dough or homemade cake pops.

6. Time It Right

Time the party between meals so you're not obligated to provide lunch or dinner. Instead, offer a few fun finger foods as snacks.

If you’re the creative type, you can make snacks that follow your party theme. If not, cheese and crackers, a fruit plate and some veggies and dip will make most kids just as happy as a fancy spread.

7. Make It Quick

The longer the party, the more you’re going to need to spend on food, activities and entertainment. So keep things short and sweet to save yourself money -- and headaches. Younger kids get overstimulated and overtired quickly. Keep their parties to a maximum of two or three hours. For older kids, four or five hours is a good limit.

This year, I’m putting these tips into action for our birthday celebrations. We’re planning a joint party for our boys, since their birthdays are only a month apart. We’ll have a few family members over for cake and ice cream after lunch. There will be balloons to bounce around, maybe a few streamers and some gifts from the guests for the boys to open. Then it will be time for everyone to head home.

It will be a short and sweet, but it’s still a celebration for the kiddos to enjoy! And as a bonus, I won’t be worried that we’ve busted our budget by splurging on unnecessary decorations or food for a huge list of guests.

If you keep these tips in mind when planning your next birthday party, you’ll be able to stick to your budget, too. Which means you’ll also be able to relax and enjoy the celebration instead of stressing about how much you’ve spent!

Your Turn: What tricks do you use to save money while still throwing awesome birthday parties for the kids?

Ami Spencer Youngs is a freelance writer and yoga teacher, raising her career alongside two boys under three. Learn more about her life and her writing at writingherlife.com or on Twitter at @writingherlife.