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By Gail Vaz-Oxlade

Parents sacrifice a lot for their children, but making the right choices early can help keep everyone happy.

Kids are expensive. Never mind what some people are prepared to spend to get them here — getting them “independent” can cost a small fortune.

You may need a bigger car. You may need a bigger home. And then there are all the costs of keeping your mini-me fed and clothed, dental bills, school supplies, hockey, ballet, soccer, karate — the list can seem endless.

The first year of a child’s life is often pretty expensive. Not surprising, when you think of all the gear we have to get to bring baby home. And the cost of diapers!

The sooner you start saving, the easier it is to grow your nest egg
It also comes as no surprise that costs go up when kids hit their teenage years.

So how do you get your kids to self-sufficiency without going broke? You make a budget.

Although many of the hard costs (food, the roof over their heads, transportation) fall naturally into your budget, there are costs that are uniquely associated with the kids.
One kid is happy to live in jeans and T-shirts, while another won’t wear anything but American Eagle. If Junior is a sports maniac, there are league fees, equipment costs and transportation costs. Never mind all the eating out on the road.

The trick to not letting kids’ expenses get way out of hand is to allocate a specific amount to each child’s activities and needs, and stick with the plan.

Start by listing all the things your children do. Their needs won’t be the same, and spending equally on them won’t be more fair. Giving them what they need, when they need it, is the goal. Over time, as their needs shift, so should the way you allocate the money. And, over time, it should all come out even.

Some parents struggle with meeting their kids’ needs while staying afloat financially. If you’re a single parent or your family is living on one income, make sure you’re claiming the eligible dependent amount on your tax return.

There are lots of other expenses that may be claimed on your tax return to mitigate your costs. Paying for a babysitter? Sending your kid to camp? Claim child-care expenses on the lower net income to get the biggest benefit. Get and keep your receipts to make your claim stick if it’s challenged.

And don’t forget about the child fitness amount of up to $500 per year per child 16 and under, for everything from soccer to gymnastics.

Your kids’ budget should include a regular amount set aside for educational savings. If you start early, you don’t have to set aside a lot, and each dollar you put into an RESP can help your child earn up to $500 a year in free grant money.

When shopping for an RESP, make sure you stick with an individual or family plan offered by most financial institutions. Steer clear of the group plans or “scholarship trusts,” which have come under fire for being both expensive and inflexible.

Kids cost money, no question. We sacrificed fancy furniture and vacations in the early years. And my entertainment was sitting and watching my kids as they learned about the world. Those were some of my happiest years. We had a ball.

I shopped garage sales and second-hand stores, shared what I had with friends, and chose one activity at a time for my kids so they weren’t overwhelmed and I didn’t go broke.

It’s all about the choices we make and about figuring out what’s most important so we can prioritize those choices.

Kids don’t arrive in designer labels, and they don’t much care about stuff until someone teaches them to be concerned about what other people think.

Dodge that bullet and you can save yourself a fortune.

Want to be smarter about your money? Go to and follow the roadmap to success.

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