Frugal Parenting

July 22, 2011 at 9:57 pm 1 comment

I bet she was frugal

In our trying economic times, it’s sometimes helpful to take a look back in history.  The good ole’ days were sometimes the bad ole’ days, and people had to be frugal. They learned to re-use, re-purpose, make-do, and do-without. Nowadays, many of those skills have been lost by most people. Unlike poodle skirts and hypercolor shirts, frugality has never totally gone out of style, but it’s up to us to re-learn how to live frugal lives.

Why be frugal?
1) You’ve run out of money: maybe you lost your job or bought a house you couldn’t quite afford. Maybe your credit has run out or the unpaid bills have piled up. Frugality can help you start to dig out of this trouble.

2) You have goals: you want to take a trip around the world or buy your first home. Maybe you’re hoping to be a stay-at-home parent. Frugality can help you save up for those dreams.

3) The future is uncertain: Saving for an emergency fund is a good idea, but even better is developing frugality skills that will help you survive life’s hurdles. Skills like feeding your family for less, learning to repair your belongings instead of replacing them, and enjoying no-cost hobbies.

4) Frugality is good for the soul: Being frugal requires thinking ahead, avoiding temptation, and constantly reassessing your values. It encourages you to use things wisely and will encourage you to think of the impact of your decisions on your family, your future, and the environment. It can be the antidote to our over-commercialized culture.

Frugal Resources
Be careful when looking at frugal blogs and websites. Most of them are very consumer-driven and full of “deals” that don’t actually save you money. For true frugal inspiration, there is no better resource than The Complete Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn. Some of her tips are really dated, like the suggestion to get together with your neighbors to send in your utility bills in one envelope to save stamps. (Thank you, online bill pay!) But more than just a list of tips, Dacyczyn’s book is an exploration of what it really means to be frugal. The following tips are from me, but I’m sure The Tightwad Gazette includes most of them and has lodged the ideas in my subconscious.

Frugal Tips for the Stages of Parenting

Pregnancy: Learn to shop frugally for groceries. Try a discount store, like Aldi or Bottom Dollar Food. You might not love all of the items they stock, but you can at least buy some cheap pantry staples, and then round out your shopping at your usual store. Try to fill your pantry and freezer with prepared meals and snacks so after the baby arrives, you won’t be constantly running to get take-out.

Newborn: Don’t buy any new clothes. Before you even have the baby, little tiny clothes will start filling your house, coming from your baby shower or hand-me-downs from friends and strangers (We keep our New England roots alive by clothing the litle guy in Red Sox clothes from my parents’ neighbor back in NH.) You can barely get your little munchkin into an outfit before it is outgrown or covered in spit-up. If you don’t have a baby shower and don’t know anyone with babies, you can still get bags of free clothes on freecycle or boxes of cheap clothes on ebay.

Infant: Don’t buy new toys. Like clothes, toys will magically start appearing long before your baby makes his or her entrance. But the cool thing about babies is they come with two little toys attached to the end of their arms. (They’re called hands. If you didn’t know that, you need to re-read the manual.) Hands don’t require batteries or make noise. Trust me, you want as many silent toys around as possible, to cleanse your ears of the sound of a plastic bug singing “Sort, sort, sort my shapes” or a frog playing “What Child is This?”

Toddler: Avoid baby foods, especially the convenience “step up” meals. Here’s the big secret about baby food–you can skip it. Babies do not need to eat rice cereal or purees. They don’t need to start solids at 4 months, especially if you are nursing. When they are developmentally ready (maybe 6-8 months) they can eat “adult” foods like oatmeal, sweet potato fries, spinach pie, pasta bolognese, and pretty much anything besides whole nuts (because of choking) and honey (botulism.) Check out resources on Baby-led weaning if this sounds interesting. But even if you go the traditional puree route, there’s nothing magical about little glass jars. You can buy full-sized jars of unsweetened applesauce and cans of pumpkin, or you can puree up some squash for a tasty homemade soup. (And yes, babies can eat more than one flavor at a time.) Instead of the overpriced “puffs” you can give your child puffed grains, like kamut, which come in big, cheap bags. Give your child the same dinner you’re having, and don’t waste the time or money on processed baby foods.

Pre-School: Start composting. Composting might not save you money (unless you garden) but it’s a great way to start becoming more aware of all the food your family wastes. A huge part of most people’s food budget is just thrown away. By composting your scraps, you can start to track your waste and cut it down. Maybe those celery leaves could go into a vegetable stock. Maybe you need to freeze your bread before it goes stale.

Elementary: Learn to cook from scratch. Sometimes cooking can actually cost you more money than restaurant food, like the time I tried to make Pad Thai in college and used too much fish sauce and had to throw the whole thing out after spending about $20 on ingredients. But frugal cooking can save you lots of money, and can be a fun activity to share with your children. Recently, I have been making my own bread and pizza dough, I’ve perfected making my own yogurt, and I have experimented with reducing meat in recipes. I always thought I hated beans and lentils, but now I’ve learned that I actually prefer lentil loaf to meatloaf!

Some of these tips might seem doable to you while others might not fit your lifestyle. Frugality does not have to be an all-or-nothing game. You can pick and choose the changes you would like to make, but be sure to track how much you’re saving (or not!) so you can tweak your new-found frugal skills and make them work for you.

Image from The Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection,
Library of Congress, American Folklife Center


Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Susan  |  July 22, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    One more reason to be frugal (& my favorite): so you can have more kids!! 🙂


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