Kids: do they need to use up all your pocket money?
WHETHER they're gorgeous newborns, toddlers in the terrible twos or awkward teenagers, they all have something in common - raising them is mighty expensive.
The latest report from AMP and the National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling estimates the average Australian middle-income family now spends $812,000 and the average low-income family $474,000 raising two children from birth to the age of 21 - which is almost double what it cost in 2002.
The report lists food, transport, recreation, childcare, clothing and education as being among the biggest costs for families raising children.
Jody Allen, creator of the hugely popular Stay At Home Mum website and Facebook page, is determined to make frugal living cool and recently published a book, Live Well on Less.
Mrs Allen, a mother of two boys who created her business after having to live on a $50 weekly grocery budget and blogging about her experiences, agreed food was one of the biggest costs when it came to raising kids.
Two of her biggest tips are to buy in bulk where possible and to plan your menu so there is little wastage.
"Sunday afternoons are sacred in our household - I do my shopping on Sundays just for lunches and then make everything for the week ahead and freeze it," she said.
"You can freeze just about everything except lettuce and tomato, and if you buy your bread fresh, it freezes and thaws beautifully."
Mrs Allen said bulk buying of specials was a good long-term saver, as long as you had (or could create) space to store the items and ensured you would use the product before its use-by date.
She also recommended asking for bulk-buying deals and not just waiting for them to be advertised, although this was more likely to happen with smaller operators such as local butchers and grocers than big supermarkets.
Mrs Allen said spending too much on children's clothes and toys was an easy trap. Again, she suggested thinking ahead - especially when sales were on - and not getting sucked into buying more than they needed.
"Buy clothes the next size up in the off season and put them away," she said.
"A few years ago I bought 17 pairs of kids' shorts, in sizes from 2-6, when they were on sale for $2 each - and my boys are still wearing those shorts."
Mrs Allen acknowledged the twice-annual toy sales at most big department stores were handy to stock up on small items for kids' parties and presents for friends' children, but in general she said she tried to avoid them.
"A lot of the toys these days are junk you just end up throwing out or giving away," she said.
"I like to concentrate on something that will keep them active, like bikes or trampolines."
THE CHALLENGE: To get the best toy value out of $20 at an op shop.
THE PROCESS: My son, who is nearly two, accompanied me to the local Lifeline op shop to help me choose cheap methods of entertaining him.
I didn't go with anything in particular in mind but, even if I had, I'm not sure it would have made much difference.
There were plenty of things we could have bought, but there were two he couldn't tear himself away from - a tri-scooter ($5) and an old bingo ball cage and dispenser ($14.50).
What would he do with a bingo ball dispenser, I hear you ask? Turn it around and around, practise pulling balls out and returning them, learn numbers … and, of course, spill balls all over the floor for his mum to pick up.
THE RESULT: Hours of fun for $19.50, with items that could cost up to a total of about $80 to buy new.
Some tips to keep you on track
KEEPING your kids clothed and entertained ain't cheap, but it doesn't have to cost the Earth either.
Here are some suggestions on keeping costs low and buying smart. And remember, if you look after things, they will last longer and cost you less in the long run.
- Don't be snobby about hand-me-downs. Welcome them from friends and family, and pass down from your own children to the next if you can.
- Good second-hand clothes can be bought cheaply in op shops, garage sales and online. Most will be clean, but it's always a good idea to give them another wash or soak before wearing.
- School uniforms: depending on the school, see if you can buy cheaper uniform versions from stores such as Big W, Target or Kmart. If this isn't possible, investigate whether the school has second-hand options for buying uniforms.
- Buy second-hand toys from op shops or through websites such as Gumtree.
- If you want to buy new, consider lay-by - especially at toy sale time, when you can lay-by in time for Christmas presents later that year.
- Get creative with what you have around the house. Make a cubby house from beds, chairs and sheets; amuse younger children with household items such as kitchen utensils, pots and pans, laundry baskets, empty cardboard boxes and toilet rolls; or let them play dress-ups with your shoes, scarves, clothes/wigs from past costume parties, and anything else easy to put on and take off.