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What's it cost to raise your family?

By Elizabeth Schatz Passarella,
The Lyon family never thought they would spend so much money on sports and food.
The Lyon family never thought they would spend so much money on sports and food.
  • Real Simple took a financial snapshot of three families to offer strategies for saving
  • Fill up on gas on midweek for less traffic and lower prices
  • Lessen the strain on holiday cash flow by using credit-card points to shop

( -- How does $369,360 per child sound?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that's the average for the essentials through age 17.

To find out where that money goes, here's a financial snapshot of three families to offer a candid look at some of their biggest expenses and best strategies for saving. Save money all year long

The Lyon family

Monthly kid-related expenses: food, $1,050... gas, $500... travel (for sports), $225... medical, $200... clothing, $140... sports, $125... entertainment and toys, $85... school fees, $28.

Who we are: Kate, 33; Greg, 36; Luke, 9; and John Patrick, 7.

Where we live: Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

What we do: Greg is an account executive at a paper and supplies company; Kate is a stay-at-home mom who's working on starting her own business.

Biggest recent change in our finances: Kate was laid off from her COO position in sports marketing last year. "So we're living on one income. We switched our boys from private to public school, which saves on tuition, and we no longer have to pay for after-school care."

We never thought we'd spend so much on... "Sports and food. The boys play baseball, football, soccer -- you name it. And the gear is expensive. And of course, they're always hungry. It is amazing how much two growing boys eat in a week." Organizing your sports equipment

For example, we just bought... A 40-pack of Capri Sun for $6.83 and four gallons of milk for $12.32. "Those will last a week, maybe. Sometimes we have to run out for more milk."

Small ways we save

• Kate hits Sam's Club every Monday morning. "We sometimes clip coupons. But the bulk stores aren't always cheapest. The local grocery often has better deals on soda."

• The boys constantly need new shoes. "They wear them out. We've found the pricier name brands -- we like New Balance -- last longer, so we save in the long run."

More ways they can save

Trade in clothes. The KidVantage Club program at Sears, which includes clothes from Lands' End, allows you to exchange items that wear out before they're outgrown, so the Lyons could get spanking-new pants as needed. Sign up at any Sears register.

Get Twitter coupons. puts deals and discounts from Twitter in one place. For example, Kate could search "baseball" and find tweets about websites and stores having sporting-goods sales. 10 ways to spend smarter

Fuel up midweek. Kate spends a couple of hours daily driving between school and practices." She should fill up on gas on Wednesdays or Thursdays. There's less traffic, so stations lower prices to attract business," says financial expert Farnoosh Torabi, author of "Psych Yourself Rich". Other gas-saving tips: Turn the engine off instead of idling, and clean out the trunk. Extra weight burns fuel.

The Welch family

Monthly kid-related expenses: food, $1,300... insurance, $1,000... activities, $800... travel, $500... savings, $400... gas, $300... entertainment and toys, $200... clothing, $40... tooth fairy, $5.

Who we are: Grace, 43; Marty, 46; Patrick, 10; Emma, 8; Jack, 5; and Lucie, 2.

Where we live: Providence, Rhode Island.

What we do: We own Patemm Inc., which makes and sells baby-changing pads.

Biggest recent change in our finances: "This year we moved the family from San Francisco to Providence to save money. We downsized from a house to an apartment, the kids go to public school, and we work from home -- less overhead!" When Does It Make Sense to Rent, Not Buy?

We never thought we'd spend so much on... "Holidays. The Christmas frenzy gets us every year, even when we try to stick to a budget. And activities for four kids add up fast. Patrick is a junior golfer, so he and Marty travel for tournaments."

For example, we just bought... A golf glove for Patrick ($12) and swimming lessons for Emma ($100 for the month).

Small ways we save

• Drive-in movies. "It costs so much less than buying tickets for everyone in the family, and we can eat our own food." (Go to to find a theater in your area.)

• "When we eat at restaurants, which isn't often, Jack and Lucie almost always share a meal."

• "We love the library. We hit it for books, audiobooks, and movies, and we almost never buy or rent."

More ways they can save

Travel in herds. With four kids, vacations (not including golf tournaments) are hard for the Welches. Torabi suggests adding to the clan -- invite family and friends -- and then negotiating a group hotel rate. "You can get up to 30 percent off," she says. Or sign up for, a new site that offers hotel discounts. 5 ways to save time in the morning

Put Santa on a budget. Or lessen the strain on holiday cash flow by using credit-card points to shop. "You may not have enough for two plane tickets, but you have plenty to buy toys," says Torabi. An Xbox Live subscription is only 6,908 American Express Membership Rewards points; a Lego watch is 4,100.

Let someone else do the work. Grace comparison-shops and uses coupons, but time is, well, money. The website is a great resource for deals (printable coupons for McDonald's and Barnes & Noble) and tips.

The Simmons family

Monthly kid-related expenses: day care, $1,770... diapers and wipes, $75... food, $60... babysitting, $50... baby equipment, $50... clothing, $40... medical, $25... entertainment and toys, $25... savings, $25... activities, $5.

Who we are: Shannon, 29; Matt, 29; and Lorelai, 10 months.

Where we live: Bethesda, Maryland.

What we do: Matt is in public relations; Shannon works in operations for Teach for America.

Biggest recent change in our finances: Besides having a baby? "We just bought a condo, so now we have a mortgage. But it's our only debt besides some small remaining student loans, so we feel secure about that. And we do a rigorous budget every month, putting money into short- and long-term savings, retirement, and a college fund for Lorelai." On-the-go baby toys

We never thought we'd spend so much on... "Day care. We were shocked by the cost -- it's a substantial chunk of our income. Also, the baby moves into new stages so quickly, and it seems like we have to buy her all new stuff every month."

For example, we just bought... Baby-food storage containers (since Lorelai is eating solids now) and a rain cover for the stroller. Total cost: $40.

Small ways we save

• "We cut our newspaper subscription and movie channels. We don't have time for them anyway."

• Hosting dinner parties. "They're fun and less expensive than going out and paying for a sitter."

• "We make Lorelai's food instead of buying it packaged. Often it's out of our own leftovers, so she gets good food, and we don't waste anything."

More ways they can save

Don't stress about college. Matt and Shannon struggle with prioritizing their savings. Focus on contributions to an emergency fund or to the 529 college savings plan for Lorelai? "Definitely an emergency fund," says Torabi. "You need liquid assets available for unexpected costs, especially with a child. Have six to eight months of savings before you even think about college." Waiting until the baby is in school isn't the end of the world, either. "You can adjust the risk level of your investments depending on how many years until college," says Torabi. How to save $5,000 this year

Stop the impulse buys. Shannon has a weakness for cute girls' clothes (see adorable baby, above). But nonessentials add up. To keep from browsing, she should try buying basics online ( sells detergent, too). And in stores use cash instead of a credit card. "She'll be far less likely to load up," says Torabi.

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