A mother walks her three children, ranging in age from 2 to 7 years old, to school in Gorham. The cost of raising a child to the age of 18 has grown from an inflation-adjusted $207,859 in 1990 to nearly $250,000 today.

Children are treasures — but they are expensive ones. The latest USDA report on the costs of raising children puts the price at slightly over $300,000 apiece accounting for inflation.

Consider your total family income over that same period of time and how you can use that income most efficiently.

Housing — Housing is the largest contributor to the costs of raising a child, and therefore is the place where you can make the most impact.

You may think that you immediately have to upgrade your home when your family grows, but that is not necessarily the case. Upgrading just so your children can all have their own bedrooms, or just because you think that you should upgrade, is not a suitable reason.

With an existing mortgage, focus on saving for future expenses and building your equity. If you are renting and planning to buy, wait until you have saved up a sufficient down payment and find an excellent deal on a home that fits your needs.

Look for a rent-to-own arrangement if you want to buy a home ultimately but simply cannot afford it at the moment.

In short, do not buy a house bigger than you need just because you want one. Your children’s needs take precedence, and the money you save on housing can be applied to future expenses such as higher education.

Child care — Child care and education costs are tied for the second–largest cost component of child-raising. If you cannot afford traditional daycare and do not have a willing and able relative nearby, consider creative yet safe options.

Examples include babysitting co-ops where the load is shared (or similar nanny-sharing concepts), and flexible work schedules that allow one parent to be home at all times. Do not assume that you do not qualify for assistance programs. Check with Benefits.gov, as well as your state and local Department of Children’s/Social Services, to see what programs are available.

Education — Start saving for higher education early by putting away any small amount you can in a 529 savings program. The earlier you start, the more time your funds have to accumulate and relieve the pressure for scholarships or student loans to cover education costs.

Food — Any parents of teenage boys are painfully aware of food costs. During their growth spurts, they are bottomless pits. However, you can encourage healthy eating habits and still keep food costs down even during that stage.

Buying in bulk is an excellent method of keeping costs in check. Stores like Sam’s and Costco supply large quantities of necessities at a discount, and you are likely to have little waste at this point.

Coupons can also save significant money on grocery bills. If you do not have time to clip and save, consider the newer coupon apps that allow you to search and download specific coupons to your smartphone (or computer printer, if you prefer). Check out our Coupons 101 article for more tips and details on the coupon apps available.

If you have the space, growing your own food can be a great cost-saver, as well as providing chores for your children and helping to establish a work ethic. Besides, food just tastes better when you grow it yourself.

Clothing — Your kids do not have to have the most stylish and trendy clothing, despite what they may tell you. Make sure your kids have adequate clothing, but there is no need to go overboard with designer clothes and overpriced athlete-endorsed sneakers. A funky used clothing store may satisfy your teenager’s tastes and your budget.

Do not let child-raising costs frighten you. Children are worth every penny in the end, and then some… although there will be many days when you question that concept.

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