I confess that when I married my husband, I was not very frugal. I had a well-paying job, so did he, and if I wanted something, I bought it. It didn’t matter if it was a shirt I’d probably only wear once. I paid full price for all our groceries, and I didn’t comparison shop. I figured that as long as we were still putting money away for retirement, my time was more valuable than the money I might save.
Now I know that I was throwing money away and that you don’t have to be poor to use a budget and coupons–just smart! Couponing doesn’t take that long once you get the hang of it, and if 2 hours of prep yields $75 in savings, it has more than paid for my time. We are a single-income family now, and I coupon and bargain shop like crazy, especially when it comes to purchases for the children. My rule of thumb is to spend no more than $3 on any single item of kid clothing (shirt, pants, yes, even coats). I will spend more on shoes, but I try not to go over $10. Kids grow so fast; it just seems insane to me that people will spend $20 for a toddler T-shirt. Actually, it’s quite easy to stay within my budget–shirts, pants, socks, pajamas–they all go on clearance, they’re all available at consignment shops, thrift stores and yard sales, and they all can be purchased for less than $3 apiece. For toys, I try to only pay 25% of retail. Like clothes, toys are quite easy to clean. Clothes go in the washing machine. Secondhand toys get sprayed down with disinfectant or go in the bathtub with some water and bleach. Oh, and don’t forget the Internet–I’ve scored some great deals on Craigslist and I have a friend that has basically outfitted her daughter from birth buying clothing lots on eBay.
I know everyone has their “amazing finds”–the things you’ve found by the side of the road, at yard sales and in thrift stores. A friend recently got a dining room table and bench seating for 10 on the side of the road, free. I haven’t scored anything quite that dramatic, but I’ve had great luck at Goodwill stores. My most recent score was an Imaginarium train table, with all the accessories, for $19.99. That seems to be the most impressive one to people, but it’s not my favorite. My favorite is a collection of 23 wooden puzzles that I got for $2.99 total. These are the classic 80s character puzzles that I played with as a kid, and they go for about $6 apiece on eBay. I was insanely excited when I picked those up at the local Goodwill store. I got a Little Tikes slide on Craigslist for $10 and a Step 2 push car for $4.99.
I’ve also had great luck with finding clothes at the local Once Upon A Child store, which buys and sells used kids’ stuff. I basically outfitted my kids there when they had a $1 clothing sale–all clearance clothing was $1.
Deals are everywhere. There are a lot of kids, and a lot of parents trying to get rid of kid stuff. There’s a constant changing of hands when it comes to gear, clothes and toys. By the time my baby wears some of her clothes, she’ll be the fifth person to do so–my sister’s best friend’s daughter, my sister’s oldest daughter, my sister’s youngest daughter, my oldest daughter, my baby. There is no reason to pay full price for most children’s items. Of course there are exceptions–like when safety equipment and hygiene items are in question–but for the vast majority of bouncers, activity tables, swings, clothes, etc., your best bet is heading to the nearest secondhand store, stopping by a yard sale, or perusing the Internet. It saves you money and it saves these items from a landfill.