When my son was around eight months old, I remember glancing at our bank statement and wondering where all our money had gone. I then reviewed my receipts and credit card charges from the previous couple of months and saw a number of repeat offenders: diapers, wipes, infant vitamin supplements, and feeding supplies. When I complained to my husband about how much we were spending, he reassured me that soon enough, our son would graduate from the infant stage and become a toddler, and with that would come a world of savings.
Now, even though our days of diapering are far behind us, we’ve learned that the toddler years aren’t exactly inexpensive. In fact, we’re actually spending more in some categories than we did when he was a baby. Between preschool, pee-wee soccer, and the seemingly never-ending stream of birthday parties we’re asked to attend, our credit card bills aren’t getting any lower.
While it’s true that infants can be a huge drain on your financial resources, there are sure to be specific costs you’ll encounter once your child reaches the toddler years. Knowing what to expect can help you budget accordingly and avoid being caught off-guard.
1. Toddler Gear
Infants require a ton of gear, from strollers to high chairs to everything in between. But once your child graduates to the toddler stage, you need to update your collection accordingly.
Expect to spend money on the following toddler items:
- Car Seat. Once your child gets too big for his or her infant car seats, you need to purchase a convertible car seat suitable for toddlers. A convertible seat is one that converts from a rear-facing seat when your children are smaller and younger to a forward-facing seat when they get a bit bigger and older. Car seat laws vary by state, but in New Jersey, where I live, children need to be in a rear-facing seat until they’re two years old, at which point they can start facing forward. Most convertible car seats cost between $150 and $350, but keep in mind that it’s possible for a less expensive seat to be just as safe as a higher-end model. Your best bet is to consult a reliable source like Consumer Reports to find convertible car seats with the highest safety ratings, and then choose the most cost-effective model among them.
- Toddler Bed. Once your children start outgrowing or climbing out of their cribs, it’s time to consider a bed. Rather than jump to a regular bed, some parents like to make the transition via a toddler bed. You can find a toddler bed for as little as $50, though some cost $200 or more. Certain cribs actually convert to toddler beds, in which case you may just need to purchase a conversion kit, the cost of which depends on the model you have. In some cases, the cost of a conversion kit can match or exceed that of a standalone toddler bed, so it pays to do some comparison shopping before making a decision. Thankfully, crib mattresses and bedding are usually compatible with toddler beds, so your out-of-pocket expense may be limited to the cost of the bed alone.
- Dresser. Once your children get a bit older, it’s time to trade in that changing table for an actual dresser. Though you can get away with buying a smaller dresser for your toddler as opposed to a full-sized one, you may wind up having to swap it for a larger one in just a few years. You can find a full-sized dresser for as little as $60, though some dressers retail for $1,000 or more.
- Bookcase. As your little ones get older, they are more likely to amass a large collection of books, so you may need a bookcase for storage. Retailers like Target and Walmart sell relatively inexpensive bookcases for as little as $40 to $50, but you’re almost certainly going to need to put it together yourself. You can also find bookcases that cost $300 or more at higher-end retailers.
One good way to offset the cost of all that toddler gear is to sell the infant items you no longer need – unless you’re saving them for a subsequent child. List your unwanted gear on eBay or Craigslist, or hold a garage sale and use the proceeds to help pay for new items you need.
Another way to save money is to buy some of your toddler gear used. While purchasing a secondhand car seat is not safe, there’s no reason not to get used furniture for your toddler provided it’s in good enough condition.
2. Bathroom Supplies
Having a potty-trained child is a major milestone for many parents because it means not only saving money on diapers, but being spared the often-daunting task of having to change all those diapers. However, potty training does come with a cost, as there are certain things you need to buy:
- Potty. Though toddlers grow bigger by the second, they may not be big enough to sit on a regular toilet seat. For this reason, you need to either purchase a standalone potty or a cushioned toilet seat cover and stool – both cost about $10 to $40. If you opt for a standalone potty, you may need to purchase a stool separately to allow your toddler to reach the sink for hand-washing purposes. You can find a stool for $10 to $15.
- Training Underwear or Pull-Ups. When your toddler first begins potty training, you may choose to use training underpants or pull-ups to avoid having to constantly do laundry when accidents inevitably happen. Pull-ups are just like regular underwear in that they can be pulled up and down (or on and off), only they’re disposable like diapers and offer a comparable degree of thickness to absorb leaks. Pull-ups typically cost $0.28 to $0.35 apiece, though you can save money by buying in bulk or signing up for a subscription program through retailers like Amazon.com. We went through three to four pull-ups a day during the first few days of potty training, though every child is different.
- Regular Underwear. Once you’re ready to move on from training underwear or pull-ups, you’ll need to buy your toddler some real underwear. Though toddler-sized underwear is relatively inexpensive, costing just $2 to $4 per pair on average, keep in mind that you’re going to go through a lot of it during the early stages of potty training. Your best bet is to have at least two to three pairs on hand per day during those first few weeks.
3. Feeding Supplies and Food
Navigating mealtime can be one of the most challenging aspects of raising a toddler. Not only are toddlers notoriously picky, but they also tend to be sloppy eaters. To top it off, they tend to require their own separate set of feeding supplies.
You may wish to have on hand the following:
- Booster Seat. Once your toddler graduates from his or her high chair, it’s time to purchase a booster seat. You can find one for as little as $15 or as much as $50.
- Plates, Cups, and Utensils. Your child may no longer be using bottles, but that doesn’t mean that he or she is ready for adult tableware. You need to purchase plastic tableware to ensure a safe, relatively nondestructive dining experience. You can find a toddler dining set that includes a plate, cup, fork, and spoon for $10 to $30, and you’re probably going to need two to three sets. Keep in mind that much of the toddler tableware out there is flimsy and therefore not dishwasher-safe, but scrubbing gunk off a toddler’s plate is not a task for the faint of heart. If you manage to find a set that can go in the dishwasher, it’s probably worth the extra money.
- Food. Toddlers are known to be picky, so don’t be surprised if your food costs go up due to money wasted on uneaten food. Items like chicken nuggets, fish sticks, and macaroni and cheese are generally popular among toddlers, though they’re not the healthiest. You can make meals more nutritious with toddler-friendly veggies like peas, carrots, squash, and sweet potatoes.
Even if you’re a stay-at-home parent, there will come a point where your child needs to start socializing and interacting with other children outside the home, and without a parent at their side. That’s where preschool comes in. According to BabyCenter, the average cost of preschool in the U.S. is $4,460 to $13,158 per year, or $372 to $1,100 per month. However, costs can vary significantly based on where you live and the type of program you choose.
Those who live in or near major cities are more likely to face higher preschool tuition rates than families living in smaller towns or suburbs. Similarly, those who choose longer, more specialized programs are likely to pay more. You may be able to save money on your preschool tuition by paying for a full year in advance – perhaps 10% or more. Additionally, some preschools offer financial incentives for referring new families – a $50 tuition credit per referral in my case.
5. Activities for Your Child
As your children get a bit older, you may want to enroll them in a number of recreational activities or lessons. Common toddler activities include the following:
- Pee-wee sports such as soccer, baseball, and basketball
- Swimming lessons
- Martial arts
The cost of these lessons varies depending on location and the specific type of program in question. For example, swimming lessons can cost as little as $15 per session in my area for group lessons and as much as $65 per session for private lessons. Our son is also enrolled in pee-wee soccer, for which we pay $60 per month for a weekly 45-minute session.
Don’t forget that some of these activities require special clothing and gear, which can also add up. For example, we spent $30 on soccer shoes and $30 on a uniform, but will soon need to purchase another uniform to keep up with our son’s growth. We’ve also had to update his field shoes three times over the course of his soccer career to accommodate growing feet.
If paying for your toddler’s various activities is a stretch for you, consider asking family members and friends for money to put toward your child’s lessons in lieu of toys for birthday and holiday gifts. While some people prefer to hand young children a physical gift as opposed to just writing a check, if you make it clear where that money is going, your loved ones may be more inclined to oblige.
6. Social Events
Once your children get a little older and start making friends, which typically happens through preschool or organized activities, you can expect your social calendar to start filling up. Before you know it, you may find yourself with an invitation to at least one birthday party, barbecue, or pool party per month.
The cost of attending such events can vary. For example, if you’re invited to a pool party and feel compelled to bring something along, you may spend just $5 to whip up a batch of homemade cookies. On the other hand, if you’re invited to a birthday party, you can expect to spend $15 to $30 on a gift.
Then, there’s the cost of your own child’s birthday party to consider. Babies usually don’t require blow-out birthday bashes, but once your toddlers start attending more and more friends’ parties, they may start wanting something similar. A toddler birthday party can cost as little as $100 if you host one at home and make it a no-frills affair, but you could easily spend $500 or more by renting an outside space and going all-out on food, party bags, and entertainment.
7. Kids’ Entertainment
Infants are fairly easy to entertain. With only a few toys in their playpen, they may be content and engaged for hours. Toddlers, on the other hand, tend to need much more hands-on entertainment.
Fortunately, some toddlers do a great job of keeping busy as long as they have the right toys. Consider purchasing the following:
- Blocks. Toddlers love to use their hands, so a set of larger, easy-to-use blocks can go a long way. A decent set of interlocking blocks costs anywhere from $10 to $50 or more depending on the number of pieces.
- Puzzles. Puzzles are great for your toddler’s development, and at just $10 to $15 apiece, they’re a relatively inexpensive way to keep your little one occupied.
- Interactive Storybooks. A great way to encourage independence and a love of reading is to buy some interactive storybooks. These usually include features such as sounds, textures, or accompanying music or activities. Interactive storybooks often cost a bit more than regular books, ranging from $15 to $30 on average, but can be worth the higher price tag.
- Learning Laptops. Learning laptops are becoming popular in toddler households because they provide education and entertainment at the same time. Most learning laptops feature early spelling and counting games, and some include songs and stories. Learning laptops for toddlers usually cost $15 to $50. The higher the price point, the more activities the laptop is likely to contain.
You can save money on all of your toddler-friendly toys by buying them used or using a toy lending library. Another option is to let other people purchase your toddler’s toys as birthday and holiday gifts. If there are specific items out there that you want your toddler to have, you can create a wish list and circulate it to the people most likely to buy gifts for your child. Some retailers, such as Toys “R” Us and Amazon.com, let you create and manage wish lists online.
Toddler entertainment by no means needs to be limited to your house. Toddlers often enjoy outings to local fairs, carnivals, museums, and zoos. However, the downside is that these activities cost money. Entry fees vary depending on location and the facility or attraction in question.
For example, a local zoo in my area charges just $13 for adults, $10 for children ages 3 to 18, and $1 for children under 3. However, the Bronx Zoo charges $30.55 for adults and $21.55 for children ages 3 to 12, though children under 3 aren’t charged to enter.
You can save money on zoos and museums by purchasing a membership or season pass. For example, the Bronx Zoo charges $195 for a family membership that includes year-round entry for two adults, all children in the same family under the age of 18, and an additional guest. If there’s a specific place you expect to frequent with your toddler, it might pay to invest in a membership plan or season pass.
Also, some zoos and museums offer free admission days. Venues may also offer discounted group tickets, so if you have a bunch of friends in the area with children the same age, it might pay to arrange a group outing. You can try asking family and friends for membership plans, season passes, or even single-day tickets to your favorite spots in lieu of other birthday or holiday gifts.
While certain toddler-friendly activities do cost money, if you look around, there’s a good chance you can find plenty of free options in your area. For example, parks and beaches are often free of charge. Or, you can go for a toddler-friendly hike instead of paying to go to a carnival with rides.
8. Clothing and Shoes
Just as infants need a fair amount of clothing to accommodate their ever-changing sizes, toddlers require frequent wardrobe updates as well. The extent to which you need to buy clothing depends on where you live and how quickly your children grow, but generally speaking, you should expect to update their wardrobes for each new season as follows.
Clothes for Each Season
- Coat. Your little one will need a coat to keep warm outdoors. Toddler coats typically cost $30 to $60, though designer brands often retail for much more.
- Winter Accessories. In addition to a coat, your toddler needs a hat and a pair of gloves. Hats usually cost $5 to $15, while gloves tend to fall in the $10 to $15 range.
- Pajamas. You probably need a couple of one-pieces, as these tend to be cozier than separate pajamas. One-piece pajamas cost $10 to $15.
- Outfits. Matching tops and bottoms typically cost $10 to $15 per set, and you’re going to want five to seven, if not more.
- Light Jacket or Rain Jacket. Toddlers don’t need those heavy winter coats once the weather gets milder, but you still need to keep them warm and dry while playing outdoors. Lightweight jackets for toddlers usually cost $15 to $35.
- Outfits. You need at least five to seven matching sets at $10 to $15 a pop.
- Long-Sleeved and Long Pants Pajamas. While your children probably won’t need those super-warm one-pieces come spring, you need to invest in updated sleepwear that’s appropriate for the season. Pajama sets tend to cost more than one-pieces, ranging from $15 to $25 or more.
- Bathing Suits. If you want your toddler to enjoy the beach or learn to swim, you need at least one bathing suit. In addition, you should invest in a swim top or rash guard if you expect your toddler to be swimming outdoors. Bathing suit sets, which include a swimsuit and rash guard, typically cost $15 to $25.
- Short-Sleeved and Shorts Pajamas. Your toddlers may not need quite as much coverage in bed once summer arrives. You can find short-sleeved and shorts pajama sets for $15 to $20.
- Outfits. You need five to seven pairs of shorts and tops, which you can buy as separate pieces or matching sets. Sets tend to be cheaper, averaging $10 to $15 each, whereas if you buy your pieces individually, you’re likely to pay $5 to $15 for a pair of shorts and $5 to $8 for a t-shirt.
Once fall arrives, you may find that you don’t need to purchase too many new things, as much of your toddler’s wardrobe from the previous three seasons can be mixed, matched, and recycled to last until winter. However, if toddlers have growth spurts and their winter and spring clothing no longer fits, parents may need to invest in new outdoor jackets and several new outfits, in which case you’re looking at similar prices to winter, spring, and summer clothing.
Many toddlers outgrow their shoes every three months. Quality toddler shoes cost $30 to $50 on average, though you might find a pair for more or less.
In addition to regular shoes for everyday wear, expect to purchase the following:
- Snow Boots. A truly waterproof pair usually costs $30 to $60.
- Water Shoes. Most camp or swim programs require that participants wear water shoes with closed toes. You can find these for $15 to $25.
It’s usually not a good idea to purchase shoes secondhand. Even if you’re certain of your child’s size, when shoes are worn, they can mold to a certain foot shape, which is why you’re better off buying your toddler’s shoes directly from a store. Used shoes might also fail to offer the support toddlers need as their feet develop.
Remember that toddlers are just as likely to stain their clothing as infants, so you may wish to err on the side of buying a few extra pieces just in case. You can save money on toddler clothing by buying it used. Sites such as eBay and Craigslist are great resources, though you may be better off buying used clothing at garage sales. This way, you can examine the items you’re thinking of purchasing and determine whether they’re in decent enough condition to buy.
Another good way to save money on toddler clothing is to buy it off-season. Generally speaking, clothing for a particular season tends to go on sale or clearance right after that season ends, so if you plan in advance, you can purchase new clothing for a fraction of its original retail cost.
Though the toddler phase can be quite costly, it can also be one of the most enjoyable periods for you as a parent. Remember the excitement you experienced when your baby started crawling or took those first steps? Toddlers accomplish just as many incredible milestones, from learning to spell and count to mastering other fine motor skills. And while it might take a bit more money to keep your little ones engaged, consider it an investment in their development and happiness.
How much money are you spending on your toddler? Is it more or less than what you spent during the infant phase?