Here’s How to Lower Some of the Costs of Raising School-Aged Kids

A police officer ties a little girl's shoe.
St. Petersburg Police Officer Michael Yarbrough ties the shoe of 6-year-old Teagan Reese, right, at the Police Athletic League of St. Petersburg on October 21, 2019. Also pictured is Daniel Nicholas, 5, and Janiya Johnson, 6. The cost for PAL is based on household income and can range between $25 to $52 per week. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

The first few years of parenthood can be a sleep-deprived, money-sucking blur. You’re constantly counting down to the next stage of child-rearing when you anticipate expenses to ease up.

Like when you’re done with formula and diapers, and you don’t have to buy a new set of clothes every three months. Or when your kid’s in school and you can finally stop paying for full-time child care.

But as you reach what you think is the light at the end of the tunnel, you come to realize that raising a school-aged kid doesn’t exactly come cheap either.

These 13 money-saving strategies can provide some financial relief when it comes to your children’s expenses.

1. Don’t Overspend During Back-to-School Season

According to the National Retail Federation, shopping for school expenses is the second-highest annual consumer event (only falling behind winter holiday spending). Save money by comparing prices, shopping at discount stores, buying in bulk and taking advantage of back-to-school sales tax holidays. 

It’s also imperative to budget for back-to-school expenses ahead of time. Take inventory of what you have, make a list of the essentials and price items to establish a spending limit. 

2. Buy Zero-Waste Alternatives for Disposable Goods You Frequently Purchase

If you’re buying hundreds of plastic sandwich bags and juice boxes that your kids just throw away at the end of lunch, try going zero-waste. You’ll save money in the long run purchasing reusable products — like a couple of washable containers and a Thermos — once and using them all year.

3. Throw Affordable Birthday Parties

Celebrate your child’s birthday on a budget by sending out free electronic invites, choosing a cheap venue like a park and making your own cake and goodies. Streamlining your guest list will also help reduce costs.

4. Save Money on Extracurricular Activities

Dantaisha Bellamy, 13, left, plays basketball with Officer Michael Yarbrough at the Police Athletic League of St. Petersburg. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Your kid might want to sign up for piano lessons, gymnastics and basketball, but the cost of after-school activities can take a chunk out of a parent’s budget. 

Nail down your child’s interests to one or two activities and see if any local government or nonprofit agencies — like your school system or the Police Athletic League — offer programs at a lower rate than private organizations. See if you can get discounts for enrolling more than one child or referring your neighbors to enroll their kids. Cut travel costs by carpooling and equipment expenses by buying secondhand. 

5. Get Swim Lessons for Less

Over 1,000 YMCA locations across the nation offer a program called Safety Around Water, which teaches kids about water safety and basic swimming instruction. Many branches have been able to offer these YMCA swim lessons program for free or reduced cost due to funding from the national organization or community fundraising efforts. Contact your local YMCA branch for more information.

6. DIY Your Kid’s Summer Camp Experience

Paying weekly summer camp costs can be brutal. An alternate option? Form your own summer camp co-op

Gather a bunch of parents together who can take turns playing camp counselor and watching the kids each week. Brainstorm low-cost activities to fill up the day, and collectively chip in for snacks and lunches.

7. Save Money on Your Next Trip to Disney

For many parents, Disney is the big vacation mecca, but visiting Mickey and Minnie isn’t cheap. To save money at Disney World or visit Disneyland on a budget, find accommodations not associated with the park, make your own food and arrive at the park at least 30 minutes before gates open to avoid long lines and make the most of your day.

8. Don’t Blow Through Cash Entertaining the Kids

The refrain of “I’m bored” grows old fast. This list of 100 free things to do — most of which are family friendly — is clutch when you need to fill time with something fun but don’t want to spend a bunch of money. 

Host a game night or put on a talent show. Attend a local festival or pitch a tent at a free campsite.

9. Find Inexpensive Tutoring

Two teachers help a student code
Marianne Shafer, left, and Patricia Wing, middle, help Jacob Witt, 12, during coding club at John Hopkins Middle School, while Bralen Kaleda, 11, works on his coding exercise. The club meets once a week and is part of the school’s extended learning program. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

No one wants their child struggling in school, but tutors that charge upwards of $80 an hour can be tough for families to shoulder financially. Get low-cost or free tutoring online through sites like Khan Academy or by watching educational YouTube channels.

Other ways to cut costs are asking your child’s teacher for help, seeing if there’s a peer tutoring program at school, checking for tutoring programs at your library or tapping into your social network for subject matter experts.

10. Eliminate Post-Holiday Gift-Giving Remorse

Heed the four-gift rule. It conveniently rhymes so you’ll remember: Get one thing they want, one thing they need, one thing they’ll wear and something to read. Other tips to save money on Christmas shopping are shopping online, using money-saving apps like Stash or Acorns and snagging deals year round.

11. Learn How to Take Professional-Quality Photos

Go the DIY approach to avoid paying for pricy photo packages. Some professional photo tips one photographer (and mom of two) shared with us are to take advantage of the best natural light, find a good outdoor location and get multiple shots. 

12. Be Frugal About Buying Clothes

Host clothing swaps with other families in your neighborhood, repurpose old clothes as pajamas, shop at consignment stores and borrow one-time-use outfits. You can also ask family and friends to give clothes rather than toys as birthday gifts to save money on kids’ clothing.

13. Just Say No to Your Kids

Sometimes you’ve got to lay down the hammer. Maybe after denying their requests a couple dozen times, they’ll stop bugging you to buy candy and toys at the register. According to psychologists, saying no to your kids can actually benefit your children by helping them grow to be better money managers.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.