Updated October 15, 2019

23 Ways Parents Are Blowing Their Money

Read more about New Moms

Many products and services targeting parents can be a huge money vacuum compared to the benefits they provide. Here we unravel the top 23 ways families are blowing their money, either because they're opting for convenience over cost savings or they're just too busy to get what they need out of the item.

© Rocky Lubbers (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

1. Family memberships to the museum you visit once a year

From children's museums to science museums, you may be tempted to buy a family membership that could save you money over the long term. However, at about $150 a year, moms with one child need to frequent the museum at least 10 times to make up the membership cost — that's about once a month. Another way moms get tripped up with this cost: It's hard to let go of a favorite museum when the children have moved on to other things. Reevaluate your memberships as your children age: Is your child still stimulated by the exhibits, or is she beginning to get bored?

Tip: Cheap Family Activities

2. That pile of parenting magazines on your nightstand

Perhaps you signed up for every parenting magazine while pregnant with your first child, or maybe you simply renewed after receiving a subscription as a gift. But are you actually reading these magazines, or do they end up in the recycling bin before you've even flipped through them? Be aware of automatic renewal dates, and be skeptical over whether you have the time to read as many publications as you've signed up for.

3. Jumbo-size boxes of crackers that expired a year ago

Most moms love a good deal, but there can be too much of a good thing. Even if you get a slew of items for 50% off, there's no real savings if you didn't really need those things in the first place. Hooray for coupon-cutting moms who can stock up their pantry…unless their family can't possibly eat all that cereal before it goes bad.

4. Your languishing gym membership

A lot of people love the gym, and if you're one of those, then great. But for many of us, gym memberships turn into a monthly two-fold guilt trip: one for not working out, and one for wasting money. Spare yourself the agony and cancel your membership if you don't go to the gym more than a few times a month. Your wallet may be better off if you sign up for a weekly exercise class through your local recreational department or if you start a walking club in your neighborhood.

Related: Gym Membership or Home Gym

5. Bad books you'll never read

The Kindle and other e-readers make it so tempting to buy really cheap books. Usually, though, those books are cheap for a reason — they're just not very good.

6. Subscription boxes that just take up critical closet space

The idea is alluring: adorable, age-appropriate kids' crafts and activities delivered to your door each month, for a mere $25 or so. But are you really getting your money's worth? With just a quick perusal on Pinterest and a trip to the craft store, you can easily replicate a subscription box for your child. An added bonus: you can specifically tailor the activity to your kid's interests. The blogosphere has no shortage of dinosaur or Frozen-inspired crafts.

7. Fancy kid clothes your children outgrew

Retailers know you'll be tempted to buy that so-cute three-piece suit for your toddler, or that taffeta dress for your little girl. That's why they prominently display those outfits right where you enter the kids section of the store. But here's what it won't tell you on the tag: Your kid may not ever get a chance to wear those clothes if you buy them on a whim. If you don't have an actual occasion for your child to wear those fancy outfits in the near future, then keep walking.

8. Daily Starbucks trips

We've all heard the numbers: buying a $5 latte at Starbucks just three times a week adds up to $780 a year. As a busy mom, it's nice to treat yourself from time to time, but keeping the coffee shop trips to a minimum can save some serious dough (maybe enough for an even more expensive treat). Crunched for time while hauling around the kids in the morning? Ask your husband to fill up the coffee pot at night so you can just push the button when you wake up each day.

Related: Coffee Consumption Statistics

9. Dumb smartphone apps

In 2013, consumers spent $10 billion on Apple apps alone, making it a huge cash crop for businesses. But are moms really gaining anything with these purchases? From tip calculators helping you round up the dollars to baby timers telling you when to change your child's diaper, many of these apps are almost insulting to the modern day mother. Let's all agree to set down the smartphone and let our noses tell us when we need to change that diaper.

10. Snacks on the go when you can make your own with Ziploc

Everyone loves a quick snack, which is no surprise considering global snack sales grew 2% over the last year, according to Nielsen. As a mom, it's easy to drop $10 or $15 on snacks and drinks while you're out running errands with cranky kids. Instead, keep those bills in your wallet by storing an extra box of granola bars in the car, or add an extra bunch of bananas to your grocery list to grab on your way out the door.

11. Impulse buys you make just to keep your kids quiet

A 2013 study revealed that the average consumer spends $114,293 on impulse buys throughout his or her lifetime — that could easily cover college tuition expenses. While you may not think that number applies to you, curb your own impulse spending by planning your grocery list in advance, and firmly saying "no" to your kids' wishes for cartoon-laden junk food. Over time, they'll learn important budgeting skills from your example.

Tip: Kids and Money

12. The food fungus that's growing in your fridge right now

By planning ahead and sticking to your grocery list, moms can also help eliminate unnecessary food waste. This is important because we Americans throw out 40% of the food we buy each year. Imagine all the money, energy and landfill space saved if families saved even just a fraction of that amount.

13. Baby "necessities" (did you ever use that wipes warmer?)

When you're a first-time mom, it can be hard to distinguish what you will actually need when the baby arrives. Avoid spending hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on unnecessary items that will clutter up your house. Start off with the bare necessities - a crib, car seat and stroller or carrier - then see if you actually want to use some of the less essential items, like a changing table.

Related: New Moms Statistics

14. Movies theater trips before age 10

Wise Geek estimates that the average family of four spends $80 on each trip to the movies. If your kids are little, they may not even make it through the whole show without falling asleep. Save the trip to the big screen for when your kids are older and can appreciate the splurge.

15. Redbox fees

We've all been there: it's a Tuesday night, there's no line at the Redbox kiosk and you've just been dying to see the latest blockbuster. But is it likely that you're going to end up watching that movie before the weekend? The average Redbox rental was $2.46 in 2012, but the daily rate is only $1.20; those extra fees can really add up over the course of a year. Instead of impulse renting, plan a family movie night in advance so you can quickly return your DVD and avoid any late charges.

16. Groupon/Living Social deals that you never redeem

According to a 2011 study by Rice University, 22% of deal coupons from sites like Groupon and Living Social go unused each year. The car detailing service across town or barre class in the city may seem like a good deal, but before you click "buy," think realistically about your schedule and ability to make use of those coupons. You could save yourself a bundle by passing every now and then.

17. Brand loyalty

Some purchases may legitimately offer better quality under a brand name, but there are plenty of products that are actually the same whether you're buying the name brand or off-brand. Milk, baking ingredients, bleach and many over-the-counter medicines are just a few examples of items that offer the same quality no matter the name on the box.

18. Humiliation when your kid pitched a fit at the pizzeria

The average American spends $232 each month eating out. Multiply that for a family of four and that's a whopping $928. Is that amount worth your time, begging and pleading with your kids to "please sit down!" and "be quiet!" at the restaurant? Be realistic about whether such nights are actually fun for you or not. Would a "make your own pizza" night at home make everyone happier?

Tip: Foods Worth Making at Home from Scratch

19. Trying too hard around the holidays

Birthdays, Christmas and other celebrations can really take a toll on the family budget. In fact, in a 2011 Parenting.com poll, responding moms admitted to spending an average of $271 per child for Christmas that year. Parents should be the ones to set expectations, not kids, so if you're looking to cut back on spending, tell your kids to offer Santa options on their wish list, rather than a list of demands.

Moms frequently struggle to find balance, not just around the holidays. Check out Idea Girl Media's blog for tips on how moms can find work-life balance throughout the year.

20. Losing out on discounts and paying unnecessary fees

Once you're a mom, life spins at warp speed. Things have changed, and they changed quickly. Very likely, your spending and saving habits have changed too. Are you still holding onto a high-interest retail credit card to a store you rarely ever frequent any more? Are you missing out on loyalty discounts you could get by liking a favorite retailer on Facebook? Have you signed up for so many automatic bill payments that you're frequently getting pinged for overdraft fees? Take a mommy time-out to look over your accounts and see if you're missing out on savings that could benefit the life you're living now — not the pre-children version of you.

21. Hosting Ladies' Night Out, with a pricey catch

Lots of moms earn supplemental income by selling products they use, like makeup or essential oils through in-home parties and demonstrations for friends and family. It's great to support your friends' entrepreneurial efforts but not when it's negatively impacting your own family's income. Never buy anything out of pure obligation and don't be embarrassed to decline making a purchase.

22. Trying to have as many toys and fun as the neighbors

By now you may have realized that comparing the development of your child to another's is never a good idea. You'll either feel bad that your child is so far ahead of your friend's kid or you'll wonder what is wrong with yours. Likewise, no good feelings come out of trying to one-up all the moms around you by always giving Junior the latest and greats toys and gadgets and enrolling him in trendy classes. Keep the focus on what your children want and need (and what you can afford), and let other mommies brag all they want.

23. Character pictures on bubble bath, cups, sneakers, ...

Does your kid really need the yogurt with Dora's picture on it? Or the bubblebath with Spider-Man's mask? You're paying extra for those character licenses, and for many products, the picture on the box or container shouldn't matter.

Lauren Ward is a research analyst at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and reviews website. Write to Lauren Ward at lauren@creditdonkey.com

Note: This website is made possible through financial relationships with some of the products and services mentioned on this site. We may receive compensation if you shop through links in our content. You do not have to use our links, but you help support CreditDonkey if you do.

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