rising cost of raising kids

If it feels like the cost of raising your kids is getting more expensive all the time, it’s not your imagination. A new study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that a child born in 2013 will cost a middle-income American family an average of $245,340 until he or she turns 18.

That figure was up about 2% over 2012 levels, and it doesn’t even include one major family expense: college. The costs do include such items as childcare, youth education, healthcare, food and housing. Even items such as cell phones and transportation were tallied.

If it seems staggering that many U.S. families will fork over about a quarter million dollars to raise a child, it’s important to know that the numbers also range greatly based on where families live and overall household income. For instance, high-income families located in the Northeast could spend almost $455,000 to raise their child. But low-income rural families will fork over far less money, about $145,500, according to the report.

If you’re struggling to raise your children—no matter where you live or your income—here are three ways to save money on parenting costs.

1. Teach Your Kids the Difference Between Needs and Wants

We live in a society driven by the concept of fulfilling all wants and desires. Unfortunately, many people overlook what they actually need in favor of getting what they want.

Teach kids to take the time to distinguish the difference between their needs and wants so they can make sensible financial decisions later in life. Creating a budget for all needs (basic expenses) and a wish list for all wants (luxury expenses) won’t just help control your current parenting costs. It can also make it easier for many kids to handle money better later in life, and stay out of debt.

2. Lower Your Food Budget

Going to bed hungry is the last thing a parent wants for their child, but it’s the sad reality for many families across America.

What do you do if you can’t afford to feed your children? Here are some ways to ensure everyone in the household has enough to eat each and every day.

Head to the food banks. Find out where the local food banks are and ask them whether you would be eligible to receive some food for free. Many churches donate food to area families, and local food banks are open during certain hours of the day for food pickups. Food banks can be a great resource for picking up staples and non-perishable items—especially if you don’t qualify for a food assistance program.

A lot of parents opt for private school, but if you really can’t afford it, there are options.

Be smart when you shop. Even though you might have a very, very small grocery budget, you need to make some wise decisions when grocery shopping. Avoid brand name foods and pre-boxed items altogether so you can stock up on fresh, wholesome foods found in the aisles of the grocery store instead. Take advantage of coupons and in-store promotions. Don’t be afraid to shop multiple grocery stores to take advantage of special offers and discounts. Spending your available food dollars wisely will help you free up money for staples you need week in, week out.

Avoiding spending money at fast-food restaurants. Even though your kids may ask for food from McDonald’s, Burger King or other fast-food places, resist the temptation to use your cash there. It’s simply not an economical way to stretch your dollars when you’ve got little mouths to feed.

Apply for food assistance programs. Your income will determine whether you are eligible for a food assistance program and requirements vary from state to state. In most states, you need to be at or below the 2014 national poverty line of $30,624 for a family of four to qualify for SNAP (food stamps) or any type of food assistance programs.

3. Skip Private School

I know a lot of parents feel like they want to give their kids a great educational start, so they opt for private school in elementary, middle school or high school. But if you really can’t afford it, there are options.

Move into the cheapest home or rental in a town with a great public school system.

Move into an average school district and become a hyper-involved parent. To have a good school, you certainly need good teachers. But many educators say school districts also thrive or fall based on the willingness of parents to take an active role.

Make private school an early childhood option only. In other words, don’t plan on sending your kids to private school from kindergarten through high school. If your budget allows it, tough out private school only in the first few years, to build your kids’ foundation until a certain grade, then switch to public school.

Seek out alternative options, such as Catholic, Magnet, or Charter schools.

Find out if you can pay to send your child to a different public school district. This may be appealing if you consider you own school district a poor educational option. Chances are, paying to send your kids to a good public school will be cheaper than a private school.

Before you write off a public school, visit the school yourself; maybe most of what you’ve heard is rumor. Talk to other parents in the school. Check out a school’s test scores, and ask teachers, administrators and current students for their input too.

Prepare to supplement a public school’s deficiencies by investing (if possible) in tutors, extra curricular activities, enhanced learning options and other outside educational avenues for your child.

Any of all of these strategies can help you lower the cost of raising a child.