Parents: How to Save $3,000 a Year

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Last Updated Jan 3, 2011 11:04 AM EST

My esteemed blogger colleagues are brilliant at coming up with strategies for investing, say, $3,000, and watching that money multiply. Where can you find a few grand? Saving. Especially when it's on the 7-and-under set. Join me in making a resolution for 2011 to spend less on the kids.

First, let's review this little secret: The kids are never going to remember. All parents, in their sane moments, know this. But then guilt takes over, and we think we can solve everything by spending more on the tykes.

Do this quick exercise: What's your earliest memory? Make a list of things you remember from before you turned 4. I remember exactly two moments: watching my older brother get off the bus from kindergarten one day, and a close call with a sled and a retaining wall.

All together now, repeat after me: I will not spend a lot of money on something that my kids are too young to remember. Let's go to the resolutions.

  • I Will Tone Down the Birthdays: If you want to have a birthday party for your one-year-old to celebrate her first year of life, great. But be honest about what it is: It's an adult party to thank your family and friends for helping you get through the year. Don't even think about hiring a clown. After that, stick to the age-old rule: number of guests should equal the age of the child. A 2-year-old gets two guests, a 3-year-old gets three and so on. Remember, no matter how much money you throw around, they will not remember the birthday party they had when they turned 3. You can still make your child feel special. Invite a favorite aunt or uncle over for ice cream and cake. Sing. Call it a day. Savings: $100.

  • I Will Pause Before Filling Goody Bags With Junk: Tread veerrry carefully. These birthday party goody bags elicit strong reactions, as evidenced by readers' comments. I say, skip 'em. Savings over the years: $300.

  • I Will Rethink the Elaborate Vacation: Unless you really, truly love Disney yourself, there's no sense in bringing kids younger than 4 to Disney World. Let me repeat: They will never remember it. I would like to take our kids at some point, but it won't be for a few more years, when coping skills — theirs and mine — improve. We'll leave the dad, who can't bear the thought, at a tennis camp and meet up with him later. Savings: I have no idea what airfare and a few days at Disney cost, and I don't think I want to know. $1,500?

  • I Will Not Participate in Build-A-Better-Kid Hysteria: Your child does not need Spanish lessons yet. You should not enroll your child in gymnastics before he can walk. You don't need a fancy sound system to pipe Mozart in over your baby's playroom. (I always thought Baby Einstein videos made a huge mistake marketing themselves as a boost to infants' brain development. Not only because those claims were false, but because the original value proposition is good enough: They're a foolproof way for a sleep-deprived parent to get 10 minutes in the shower.) Savings: $250 per year.

  • When In Doubt, I Will Wait a Year. A friend recently told me of six-year-olds on swim teams in California who can do flawless butterfly for 50 meters. They're so burned out by age 8, they end up quitting, and then there aren't enough swimmers to fill teams. What's the rush? If you ever hear yourself saying your kid is "burned out," ask yourself how that happened. Savings, when you figure in gas, your time, your sanity, and your child's sanity: $500 per year.

  • I Will Take Junior to the Town Library: What your child needs is some time with you. Trying signing out some books together. Want your 6-year-old to get a real thrill? Have her sign up for her own library card. She'll have stars in her eyes. Cost: $0.
  • I Will Return My Library Books On Time: The Butler family has a little problem with books and couch cushions. Savings: $23.75.

  • I Will Find Someone to Swap Clothing With: Praise to my three sisters-in-law who have been exceedingly generous with the hand-me-downs. And friends, you know who you are, please don't buy any new clothing without checking with me first. If you don't have a hand-me-down resource, check sites like Make a clothing budget for underwear, socks, PJs and bathing suits, and stick to it. (P.S. um, anyone have a tux, size 5, for a ring bearer?) Savings: $150 per year per kid.

  • I Will Encourage My Child to Use the Potty: Here's one area where it's fine to be a little pushy. Forget Freud; you're not going to damage your kid's psyche. In 1950, 95% of kids were trained by 18 months. Today, age 3 is the norm. Every month in Huggies is a cost to your wallet and landfills. Savings: $45 per month, $540 per year.

Total Savings: Depending how you slice and dice it, about $3,000 per year. Take that to our investment gurus. Or contribute to a 529 plan. In 20 years, when your kid is graduating from college with less debt, she'll be very thankful.

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