1. Reduce your grocery bill. Do not grocery shop when you or your children are hungry—pack snacks for the kids if they accompany you—to avoid hunger tantrums and impulse snack buying. Plan your menus ahead of time and make a list so you’re less tempted to buy more than you need or will use during the week.
2. Avoid take-out temptation. When making meals, cook a double batch and freeze half to use another time when you are too tired to cook and apt to spend unnecessarily on take-out.
3. Organize a clothes swap. Plan a mom’s night out or in and make it a clothes, toy, or book swap with your friends. We all have clothes that our children have outgrown, toys they’ve lost interest in, or books they no longer read. One child’s neglected puzzle or train set is another child’s new treasure so let the swapping begin. Make the evening fun and economical by having a potluck with contributed snacks and drinks. Decide the swap parameters ahead of time: should it be a free-for-all with anything people have to offer or should it have a single focus like clothes or toys only?
Related: Plan a Craft Exchange and A Touch of Pink but Mostly Green: A Baby Shower of a Different Color
4. Borrow from the library. Cut down on how much you spend on renting movies or DVDs from Blockbuster or on your monthly Netflix fee by using your library card to borrow books, DVDs, and passes for local venues such as museums and zoos.
Related: Fast, Free DVDs: the Ocean State Library Network
5. Trade for childcare. Organize a babysitter swap with your friends – either as a direct trade or as a babysitting coop.
Related: Form your own camps and clubs
6. Turn everyday places into mini field trips for your children. Visit pet shops to see the fish, visit music stores (like Borders) to sample music with the giant headphones, or visit a new library that has a children’s room.
Related: Book a Rhode Trip
7. Shop secondhand, consignment, or thrift shops. Find clothes, toys, books, and baby gear—slightly worn but sometimes still in its original package—at a fraction of their retail price. There are a number of fabulous shops to pick from—some cleaner and more organized than others—check our list here.
Related: Learn how to consign clothes for store credit.
8. Limit or ban birthday gifts. Kids under the age of four often get more excited about having a birthday than about the number of presents or who they’re from; in fact, after opening one or two gifts, they tend to get distracted and overwhelmed. Make a pact with friends to opt out of swapping gifts for each other’s kids (harder to do as kids get older), limit gift spending to $5 to $10, pool resources with friends to purchase one meaningful gift, or get creative by giving coupons for a playdate, a trip for ice cream, etc.
9. Buy group teacher gift. By pooling money with other parents, you often spend less than buying something on your own—collectively you can purchase a more substantial gift such as a dinner or spa gift-certificate or gift card(s) to their favorite place such as the mall, bookstore, or Target. Parents and kids can personalize the gift by making their own cards and adding a photo and note of appreciation for their teacher.
10. Have at-home “adult” dinner parties. Remember those days? Save money on babysitters by staying home or rotating houses with friends—make it fun by having a few friends over for a potluck dinner—with or without kids. If you include kids, decide before if you will feed them ahead of time or set up a kid’s table at the house. Plan drinks/appetizers while the kids play and/or eat. Settle the kids into a game or movie while the adults sit down for a peaceful, grownup dinner. Depending on the age and mood of the children, some nights will be more successful than others, but it’s worth the effort to squeeze in adult conversation.
Mores ideas on the blog under Free/ Cheap