Budgeting for a Bunch: Tips from a Mom of Four

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 Sara Gelsheimer By: Sara Gelsheimer

What comes to mind when you think of the word “kids”? Unconditional love? Constant activity? Center of your life? How about, “really expensive”?

As someone who has not yet experienced the joy of having children, that is certainly one thing that comes to my mind! This is really no surprise, considering a large part of my job is helping clients plan for the expenses that kids entail (camps, braces, private school, college, weddings, etc.). With the average child costing around $245,000 to raise, there’s no doubt kids are a large financial investment. It’s a good thing the joys greatly outweigh the costs (or so I hear!).

Below are some tips from Merilee Mulvaney, an executive assistant at Plancorp. She is a hard-working mother of four who knows firsthand just how costly children can be—and how to budget for them.

1. It pays to be frugal.

Especially in today’s “more is better” society, it’s easy to get caught up in constant spending. Use a budgeting worksheet (download here) or online resource like Mint.com to track exactly where your money is going each month. You may be surprised in which categories you’re over-spending.

Pinching pennies isn’t always fun, but small savings do add up. Check out local “swap” sites and Facebook groups that allow you to trade items (clothes the kids have outgrown, bikes they never use, etc.). Coupons, whether paper or digital, are another great way to save; in fact, Meril plans her weekly meals around them. If ground beef is on sale, hamburgers and tacos might be on the menu for the week. Check your weekly newspaper or download coupon smart phone apps, such as Coupon Sherpa, RetailMeNot and Cartwheel, to see how much they can save you.

Meril also recommends participating in store rewards programs, such as those at CVS and Walgreens. If it is free to participate, there’s no harm in getting points to use for future shopping. You might also consider a credit card that offers points or cash back—just be sure to pay off the entire balance each month, or you may face up to 15 percent interest charges. If paying off the full balance isn’t possible, ask yourself if your purchases are truly necessary.

2. Be smart about spending.

Saving money is great, but don’t get so caught up in saving that you don’t spend any money. Recently, Meril’s mother encouraged her to purchase a new washer and dryer set to replace her old (but still functional) one. Meril did so reluctantly, but she is now happy with her purchase.

“If I’d waited until they broke down, I would have been out of a washer and dryer until I could rush to find a new one—likely not on sale,” she said. “Anyone with kids knows how much laundry can accumulate in just a few days!”

Another worthwhile expense for Meril and her family is vacation. It might seem “unnecessary,” but she feels the time with her kids is invaluable. Plus, it’s certainly possible to plan vacations on a budget. Tools such as BeFrugal’s fly or drive calculator can help you calculate the cheapest transportation for your trip. Extra time in the car can be a great bonding experience for the kids (assuming they don’t kill each other!).

If a vacation is out of your means, plan a “staycation” in your city. St. Louis, for instance, is filled with wonderful free events/places including the zoo, Science Center, Muny “free seats”, parks and more.

3. Instill an early work ethic.

Meril worked many jobs as a child and was sure to instill the value of work in her children. From a young age, they’ve been raking neighbors’ leaves, babysitting and refereeing. Meril has encouraged them to use their money in three ways: save, spend and give.  Ron Leiber, author of The Opposite of Spoiled, also recommends this approach, suggesting money can be used to develop financial discipline in children as young as preschool age.

Saving, spending, and giving are all vitally important concepts, and it’s never too early to teach them to your children. When they see you working, shopping in the sale section, clipping coupons and forgoing unnecessary purchases, it instills a greater appreciation for money and what it can buy.

Children may come with a hefty price tag, but the bottom line is that they are an invaluable gift. While budgets are unique to every family, Meril’s tips can be helpful for most—especially for those budgeting for a bunch.


This post was written by a member of the Plancorp Women’s Initiative, which strives to advocate for clients and women in the community by addressing topics specific to their financial lives. For more information about the Women’s Initiative and how you can get involved, email sara@plancorp.com or visit the Plancorp Women’s Initiative page.


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Sara came to Plancorp in 2013 with a strong financial background and an even stronger commitment to financial education—particularly for women. A Wealth Manager and Founder of InspireHer (Plancorp's Women's Initiative), Sara is also a new mom. More »