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Visitors at Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Bay Lake, Fla. on Nov. 7, 2023.TODD ANDERSON/The New York Times News Service

When you are knee-deep in parenting, it’s easy to get caught up in the cycle of spending on everything from toys and electronics to sports activities and clothing. After all, kids have never been more expensive, and some parents will cut plenty of other things before they compromise spending on their children.

But is all of this spending necessary? We spend time on RRSPs and taxes so maybe it’s time for parents to step back and think about whether they’re spending their kid dollars in meaningful and impactful ways. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Keep birthday parties simple. Holding birthday parties at venues has become popular over the years. Laser tag, trampolining and Playdium parties can cost hundreds of dollars. Do the kids have fun? Sure, but the most memorable parties in our house include the dodgeball game on the local tennis court, throwing water balloons and playing soccer in the laneway. Food, hot dogs, pizza and cake will keep the kids happy and the costs down.

2. Delay the vacations. It’s natural to want to share the joy and excitement of a vacation with your child. You may also see the benefit of exposing them to different cultures and giving them real-life education by exploring the world. To maximize the value you get from the money you spend on a vacation, wait until your kids are old enough to absorb it and remember it. Why go to Europe if what your child really wants to do is swim in the hotel pool? Even a trip to Disney will be more enjoyable and memorable with older kids. Nine was the age when my children could appreciate the experience and they don’t seem to recall many of the trips we took before that.

3. Limit the number of toys and books you buy. A room full of toys can be overwhelming for young children. Studies have shown that children with fewer toys engage in more focused and creative play because the child plays with fewer toys in more ways. My boys played with the same handful of toys and it kept them absorbed. Books also don’t need to be plentiful. Like with the toys, my toddlers chose the same books over and over again without getting bored. For older kids, skip the purchase – instead, order books from the library, do a book swap with friends and peruse the secondhand bookstore.

4. It’s okay to save some things for when the kids are older. We want to give our children the best opportunities in life and the pressure to expose our kids to activities at a young age is immense. However, ask yourself what specific benefit your child will get from a given activity. At very young ages – say under five – kids might not fully participate in the activity or they might not be ready for it. This can show up in the toddler picking dandelions on the soccer field or the child who can’t sit still during a piano lesson. It might make sense to save the money and instead take them to the public pool, go for ice cream and/or gather with a few friends to kick a ball around.

5. Don’t get sucked into buying fancy kids clothing. Having a baby provides a canvas for creating fashion adorableness. The tiny lumberjack shirts, eensie-weensie Adidas running shoes and mini sundresses are so hard to resist. Before buying, ask yourself: “How many times will my child wear this?” As babies, the answer is probably something like three times. Babies do best in comfortable, simple clothes that are easy to get on and off during all those diaper changes. Toddlers like stretchy, comfy outfits they can get dirty, and school-aged kids – well, they’ll let you know what they want to wear. But the reality is, they will grow out of these clothes or change styles quickly, so keep the outfits to a minimum. Make the clothes easy to mix and match. Buy secondhand. Do clothing swaps with friends.

Save on the things that matter less to you and your kids and spend on the things that matter more. Now that’s family-friendly budgeting.

Anita Bruinsma is a Toronto-based financial coach and a parent of two teenage boys. You can find her at Clarity Personal Finance.

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