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September 11, 2015

6 Ways to Be a More Frugal Parent

The thing about kids is they want tons of stuff. The other thing about kids is that they’re super into peer pressure. I would like to extend my most enthusiastic thanks to that heroic teen, many, many years ago, who made thrifting cool. Thank you to that teen, who made gently used goods the pinnacle of hip, and to the parents who raised such a fine, influential young woman or man.

My son looks forward to a trip to Goodwill, knowing he’s much more likely to convince me to buy something he wants, because it won’t kill my grocery budget. Also? He’ll be spared the lectures about the harm mass-produced garbage does to the environment and my very soul. 

Parenting comes with a lot of baggage (much of which you’ll have to take on every road trip, for a very long time, at least 18 years), mostly in the form of conspicuous consumption.

May I offer a few tips to cut down on the waste?

1.  Use cloth diapers.

I know. It sounds gross. But all diapers are gross, and you’re going to have to get over it. We used the same cloth diapers for all three of our children, and saved thousands of dollars. The laundry is not that big of a deal, once you get used to it, and you can always use a few disposables for daycare, the gym, road trips, or any other time when using cloth diapers would be just too overwhelming.

2.  Start paying it forward.

Pass on your hand-me-downs to another grateful parent, and those clothes will come back to you, even if they return in the form of a bag of clothes from a different parent. Just put those gently used clothes out into the universe.

3.  Don’t be afraid to ask for loaners.

Last year, we loaded our crew into the car and trekked up to West Virginia for a ski trip. We had never skied before, and we may never do it again. A single Facebook post and a few texts yielded plenty of borrowed ski clothes. Bonus: We don’t have to find a place to store them.

4.  Just say no.

Your kids don’t need every single thing they want. That much is obvious, but it can be hard to stay no in the moment, when you just want them to quit bugging you. The sooner you say no, the sooner they get used to it.

5.  More than one kid?

Label your hand me downs by size and season, so you don’t end up buying something you already have. That’s the worst!

6.  Don’t buy all the stuff before you know if your kid’s really into it.

That last one is what brought me to Goodwill the other day. Our middle son is on the bowling team at school. Bowling is a lot of fun, and his team is a good one. By the way, I think all kids should participate in sports. I also believe they should all participate in the arts. If musical theater isn’t a team sport, I don’t know what is. Of course, I don’t play any sports, so maybe I don’t know what a team sport is. But I digress.


My son likes to bowl, and he’s been angling for a ball for a while now. Lo and behold, we found one, right there at Goodwill, an Ebonite Maxim ($50 to $80 new, according to my research). The ball just happens to be in his school colors, and he says it’s the perfect size.


Because it’s well-loved, he looks like a pro, not some neophyte with a brand new ball his mommy bought. And the best part? Four dollars, y’all. Now we just need to find the shoes. “Used shoes?” you ask. Yes. After all, the ones he’s borrowing at the bowling alley have been on far more feet than a pair from Goodwill. We’ll keep looking.

How do you handle the constant need your kids have for stuff? And how long do you make them stick with an activity before you buy the gear?