How Parents Are Coping With Inflation

With inflation hammering household budgets, parents are looking to save money

A father and young daughter reviewing finances. In the background, there is a chart illustrating rising prices for gasoline and milk.

Alice Morgan / The Balance

Inflation is hurting everyone these days, but it’s especially hitting parents, who have more kids to feed (and keep clothed, and drive around, and entertain.) 

It has never been cheap to raise kids, but the recent spate of inflation has ratcheted up the cost of necessities and made it a much more expensive prospect. According to the government’s Consumer Price Index, groceries are up 21% since February 2020, gasoline and natural gas for heating both up 60%, and electricity up 22%.

All that’s driven the average cost of raising a child born in 2015 to the age of 17 to $310,605, up from $284,594 when the figure was calculated in 2020, according to an estimate published recently by the Brookings think tank. 

“It seems like everything's just a little bit higher,” said J.J. Wenrich, a financial advisor and father of four in San Clemente, California. “The nickels and dimes certainly add up.”

And since the U.S. offers less support for parents than other countries with advanced economies, many are facing tough tradeoffs such as having fewer children, moving to a less expensive area, or working longer hours, Brookings researchers wrote in a report. However, there are strategies to reduce some of those costs, experts and parents say. 

Key Takeaways

  • Recent price increases for the necessities of life have rapidly inflated the costs of raising children.
  • Some parents have changed shopping and driving patterns in an effort to keep costs down.
  • Talking to children about why it makes sense to choose low-cost options for entertainment helps them learn financial skills.

Cutting Food Costs

One tactic for dealing with higher food prices, counterintuitively, may be to reduce trips to bulk warehouse stores. 

Jenifer Kropf has cut out the trips to Costco and Sam’s club, and has been shopping at Target, Walmart, or discount grocery chain Aldi instead. Kropf, a mother of three kids aged 3 through 10 near Kansas City, Kansas, said her shopping trip bills have risen $200-$300, or about 50%, over the past few years.

“All those places are touted as cheap stores,” she said. “You know, that’s where you go when you want to save money.”

Kropf, a blogger, said she realized that buying in bulk had, rather than saving money, led to wasting food and just plain eating too much. Buying in smaller quantities has saved her $100 to $200 a month, she said. 

Financial experts also say most families can save money by cutting down on food waste and buying less meat. “Meatless Mondays” can help trim grocery bills, said Jaime Peters, assistant dean and assistant professor of finance at Maryville University.

“The United States is a very wasteful society,” Peters said. “People throw food out because they make more than they need and they don't eat the leftovers.”

Reducing Gas Expenses

Despite a drop-off in prices between June and August, gas prices still have been well above pre-pandemic levels, which especially hurts car-dependent households.

Wenrich, the financial advisor, said the cost of fuel was such a concern that he traded in one of the family’s two SUVs for a compact hybrid sedan that gets much better mileage.

“We pile into a tiny little car, all five of us, to make the drive to my brother's an hour away rather than than ride in the SUV,” he said. “That's been the biggest thing—making three teenagers squeeze into the back of a little hybrid car.”

Gas prices have also hit the budgets of teenagers who are old enough themselves to drive, according to data from Greenlight, a banking app for kids and teens. Average monthly spending by teens age 16-19 rose 13.9% from July 2021 to July 2022 to $198.20, Greenlight data shows. That’s more than the 8.3% increase among all youths age 5-19, and “likely influenced by gas prices for teens that are now driving and generally spending more time outside of the house than younger kids,” Greenlight co-founder and CEO Tim Sheehan wrote in an email.

Lowering Energy Bills

Some expenses may be harder to control, like heating and cooling bills. Classic tactics may work here—turn down the heat and break out the sweaters. But that can only take you so far, Peters said. And with electricity and natural gas prices soaring, that’s becoming a major issue.

“There is no alternative but to heat your home,” Peters said. “This is where families are really feeling the pinch and are probably going to continue to feel the pinch.”

For example, Madison Sharick, a certified financial advisor and financial blogger who lives in Pittsburgh, said she and her husband have had to turn the heat on earlier than they normally would because their 15-month-old child wouldn’t tolerate cold nights.

“We've been feeling that in our bills,” Sharick said.

All the Rest

With only so much fat that can be trimmed on necessities, potential savings can be found in things like entertainment. 

“Kids are budget monsters when it comes to entertainment,” Peters said.

As a slight silver lining, trimming back on nonessentials offers a way to teach kids about making good decisions with money.

Family money counselor Gregg Murset, a certified financial planner and CEO of BusyKid, an allowance app, said transparency is the best policy. For example, you could lay out the costs of going to a movie versus renting one at home, and explain that a family trip to the movies could cost $100 or more versus $20 for a rental.

“I think what most families find is the kids are pretty cool with that,” Murset said. “They're like, ‘Okay, yeah, that makes sense’ … You be more transparent and you give everybody some choices and options, and they'll probably take the smarter choice.”

Expensive clubs and classes can be traded in for cheaper sports and activities offered through municipal recreation programs or free events at parks, Peters, of Maryville University, said. 

“We need to start thinking a lot more like our grandparents, our great grandparents, who lived through the Depression, on ways to have fun without money,” she said.

A Financial Opportunity

There’s one item that Sharick, the financial blogger, has been happy to allocate her funds to: investing. She and her husband have been buying stock index funds, seeing the recent downturn in the market as a chance to get in. With the S&P 500 losing about a quarter of its value since the beginning of the year, stocks are relatively more affordable and could provide a way to achieve longer-term financial goals. 

“I do try to reframe it and think of it as a buying opportunity,” Sharick said. “In a way,  the stock market is probably one of the only things that are actually on sale today, whereas other things are more expensive.”

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. St. Louis Fed. “Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers: Food at Home in U.S. City Average.”

  2. St. Louis Fed. “Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers: Gasoline (All Types) in U.S. City Average.”

  3. St. Louis Fed. “Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers: Utility (Piped) Gas Service in U.S. City Average.”

  4. St. Louis Fed. “Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers: Electricity in U.S. City Average.”

  5. Brookings. “Future Estimated Annual Expenditures of Raising a Child, Assuming a Higher Inflation Rate of 4 Percent After 2020.”

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