The 30-Minute Money Plan for Moms

How to Maximize Your Family Budget in Minimal Time


By Catey Hill

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Financial expert Catey Hill shows moms how to spend less and save big in this savvy guide where each step is designed to take 30 minutes max.

Let’s face it, kids are expensive — in 24 states, daycare actually costs more than in-state college tuition! And the older kids get, the more you will spend. Every mom could use more money. But who has hours to search for coupons just to save a few dollars? And sure, you know you should learn how to get the most of your 401k, but when will you possibly find the time?

Luckily, financial expert Catey Hill has created smart, simple strategies to help you maximize your money in minimal time (yes, even your 401k). Drawing on extensive research and exclusive studies on the actual cost of raising a child at each age, she’ll show you how to save in each area of your life, including practical tips on:

  • Shopping second-hand vs. what to buy new and where
  • Lowering your grocery bill (without coupons!)
  • Building up a college fund
  • Dealing with high interest credit card debt
  • Saving on insurance

Best of all, these tips are designed to be done in less than half an hour, and the few things that might take a little longer are broken down in 30-minute segments. Catey will even guide you through a one-time five-step process that will allow you to manage all your bills, keep an eye on the family budget, and build savings for that dream family vacation in just 30 minutes a week, so you can stress less and enjoy your life more!”A handy resource for any parent trying to figure out how to balance a family budget.” — Soledad O’Brien, anchor of Matter of Fact with Soledad O’Brien

“An indispensable guide for parents who want to gain control of their finances.” — Elizabeth Willard Thames, author of Meet the Frugalwoods



Fellow mamas, if you’re anything like me, motherhood thus far has been a series of surprises—most of them incredible and life-changing, but some of them (ahem, the cost!) not so much. Like your bod, which hasn’t exactly bounced back, despite gulping down a revolting series of overpriced green juices for three straight days and completing (well, okay, “trying”) a series of $20-a-pop spin classes. Seriously, if you wanted someone to yell at you, you’d just call your mom, who’d gladly do it for free. Or the fact that you haven’t looked at your Visa bill in weeks, thanks to a late-night Zulily shopping spree. Admittedly, that wasn’t the best idea while on unpaid maternity leave. And then there was that ill-advised go at organic cloth diapers (oh the places poop goes—especially when it isn’t tightly contained by Pampers) that ended up breaking your washing machine. Your new perfume—a pungent mix of baby vomit, mashed carrots, and tops you didn’t have time to take to the dry cleaners—means you’re not exactly getting free coffee from that cute barista anytime soon. Oh, and the best part: Most of the time, you’re too exhausted, and busy, to do anything about your ill-advised spending, let alone figure out the best way to save for college.

Or maybe your kids are a little older, and you’re totally over those overpriced green juices. Your new “cleanse” involves sucking down the dredges of your kid’s juice box so it doesn’t leak all over the car. Zulily shopping sprees are a distant memory now that one trip to Target sets you back $200. Yes, all those baby expenses have just been replaced with new ones. You’re dealing with summer camp, tutors, a constant stream of new clothes and toys, doctor’s visits, and on, and on, and on… Sure, you knew kids were expensive, but the babysitting cost alone is enough to make you beg your doctor for a Xanax (just kidding—sort of!), especially now that yoga is out of the question. No amount of coffee can make a 6:30 a.m. yoga class on four hours of sleep anything other than risky for the people around you, and by 6:30 p.m., the only child’s pose that’ll make you happy involves your son posing in his bed fast asleep. And if someone brags about how she’s already maxing out retirement savings or has Junior’s college all paid for, the first image that runs through your head is her falling face-first into her homemade pie at the next bake sale.

Ladies, I get it. When I gave birth, I was bowled over and super stressed by how expensive it all was. And I write about money as my job! Who knew it would cost $500+ a year just to keep the child in diapers, and then hundreds more for the “educational” toys I feel like a bad mom if I don’t buy. Then there’s daycare and babysitting—how can watching a few babies sleep, cry, and poop command nearly as much as my first salary? And since when do teenage babysitters get well over minimum wage—even when I know they’re just milking my Netflix subscription and Snapchatting their friends? There are doctor visits my insurance company somehow doesn’t deem their problem to fully pay for. And, of course, there’s wine, because seriously, who doesn’t—between the projectile vomit, 3 a.m. feedings, and poop-smeared walls (yes, walls—this happens to almost every parent at least once!)—need a glass (or three) of Sauvignon Blanc?

It’s not like you have time to deal with your not-so-amazing financial situation, right? You’re lucky if you can pee by yourself and maybe get one hour with your spouse after the kids go to bed—during which time you inevitably fall asleep ten minutes into that HBO show your childless friends have been telling you that you “must!!” watch.

You’ve seen the budgeting books that tell you to “track every purchase you make for the next couple months” and you think, Come on! I can barely keep track of where my kids are within my own house, how in the heck am I going to do that? Or how about those obviously childless “experts” who advise you to earn extra cash with a second job, or to put in a zillion extra hours for overtime or a big promotion. You’re barely skating by on minimal sleep as it is! Plus, your kids are more important and you love spending time with them (well, except for that ten minutes a day that you spend crying in the bathroom from exhaustion and then the thirty minutes each night post-witching-hour that you spend wondering if they’re secretly trying to ruin your life). You may need or want to work, but you don’t want it to eat into family time too much. While that might not put you on the CEO track, you’re okay with that. Or maybe you would like to walk outta that office door permanently, leaving the burned coffee, mind-numbing meetings, and reams of PowerPoint presentations squarely where they belong (the trash, thank you very much)—so you can devote yourself to your kids full time. But, you wonder, can you afford it? And what will that mean if you decide to go back to work down the road?

Kids are totally worth it (well, most of the time) but crazy expensive. So what’s a busy mom—who doesn’t have hours of time to track her spending or learn the ins and outs of college savings plans—to do? I dug into a ton of books to get some answers—and found that many of the books a mom seeking financial advice might pick up fall into just two categories.

The first type are the “super-couponer, mommy on budget” books about how to save money with advice that many of us either already know (use coupons, make one-dish meals), simply won’t do (relinquishing your morning Starbucks is so not happening), or that don’t save you enough money for all the effort it takes. Seriously, who has two hours a week to cut coupons only to save $4 at the grocery store?

The second type are often boring, overly complicated financial management books. Most of these are written for Americans in general, so they miss a lot of mom-specific issues. Plus, let’s face it, you know you’ll never actually slog through all those chapters. There’s just something about the words “choosing investments for a 401(k) plan” that suddenly make you realize how much you need to color code your kids’ sock drawers. Yes, their advice is great—build up an emergency fund, put away money for college for your kids, invest for your retirement, and on and on—but it’s also often complicated, too time-consuming for most moms, and sometimes presented in a deadly boring way. It’s also sure to leave you wondering: Where is all this money coming from? Because you know it’s not from your current pray-there’s-cash-in-there bank account?

I wanted a book that did both well. I wanted doable, meaningful ways to save significant money that I hadn’t heard a million times already, or that didn’t take up hours of time; and that showed me (in a non-deadly boring or overly complicated way) how to put those savings toward the things that would give my kids a better life. So I set out to write my own book. The 30-Minute Money Plan is designed to give busy moms the tools they need to budget smartly and save money so they can give their kids the best, be it an Ivy League education or a big yard to play in—while also making sure mama is taken care of herself (hello regular babysitters and getting to retire before you’re ancient!).

I’ll answer the questions no one else does, such as:

What it really costs to raise a child each year, so you can budget accordingly. Because those online calculators, while fun to play with, spit out numbers that won’t even be close to right for many of us; nor is the government estimate of $245,000 to raise a child through age eighteen always accurate.

How to deal with “mom guilt” (that thing that happens when your kid begs for a new Razor scooter and you start feeling like that might not be a bad idea thanks to that recent business trip you were forced to take) and “stroller envy” (when other moms are giving their kids the stuff you wish you could buy yours) so they don’t destroy your budget.

Some of the best new (and less pricey) ways to get professional help with all those not-always-riveting investment and savings issues so you don’t have to think too much about making it all happen.

And much more…

Okay, I know you are probably still feeling like this is way too big of a task to undertake. After all, it’s not like you have hours of free time between getting the kids ready for school, shuttling them around to playdates and activities, doctors’ visits, alone time with each kid, making dinner, cleaning up (even if that doesn’t always happen), and of course, the dreaded mom butt–targeted workouts so you can finally squeeze into your prebaby jeans without having to slap on the Spanx, lie down, and pray!

Believe me, I hear you. But I also know this (because I’ve now done it): Managing your money smartly is totally doable even on a mom schedule. In fact, this book is specifically written for busy moms. Each chapter is broken into manageable chunks with easy-to-follow advice you can tackle in short periods of time. And whenever you can outsource something easily, I’ll show you how. I swear, it won’t bore you to death or totally freak you out. You’ll get great, fast advice on how to save big on all those child-raising costs. And all the calculators and resources you need, as well as all the charts I highlight in this book and relevant updates, are easily downloadable on my website at, so you won’t have to go hunting for them. I’ll also help you develop a doable plan—that you can take care of in just thirty minutes a week—to set your family on the path to financial security.

Part I

How to Save Money without Losing Your Mind

Chapter 1

What It Costs to Raise Your Kids Each Year

You knew what to expect during practically every second of your pregnancy thanks to the deluge of books and (mostly unsolicited) “advice” that your mom and all her friends lorded upon you. Seriously, how many home remedies does one person need for stretch marks—especially considering none of them really work? You’ve practically memorized every childhood developmental milestone due to those stacks of “informational” pamphlets your overzealous pediatrician dumps on you. Frankly, they do more to send your anxiety levels through the roof—if she hasn’t taken her first step at fourteen months and one day, will she be okay?!—than actually help you parent. Plus, thanks to all that practice you’ve been getting, you’re now a total pro at looking like the picture of Zen, even as your child throws an Oscar-worthy, waterworks-filled tantrum in the grocery store. You know what I’m talking about: flinging herself on the dirty floor, fists flying, legs kicking, screaming she hates you because you won’t buy her Fruity Pebbles. We’ve all been there!

But here’s something you probably don’t know, but should: what it will really cost you to raise that child (flying fists and all) through high school. Do you know what you will spend on food, clothing, childcare, education, and other essentials when he’s a newborn versus an elementary school kid or older? What about the costs of all those extras you want for him, be it extracurriculars like music classes or his own bedroom in a home in a great school district? You may think you’ll just wing it. After all, if you can get through college that way, can’t you do the same with parenting? But I’ve seen many a mom accrue a pile of debt—and a bunch of gray hair!—while others have to work 24/7, just to pay for all the stuff they need. Because here’s the thing: If you don’t have a clue what these things will cost you (and they change a lot as your child gets older), there’s almost no chance you can make a solid budget and start saving enough so you can afford to give your little munchkin the best life you can. Before you go there, the credit card is not a good answer. Getting an insane Visa bill in the mail when you’re just barely skating by on eight hours of sleep—that’s total, in the past two days!—is more than enough to send you sobbing into your pillow, again. Without a budget and a pile of savings, you risk going into debt and having to work well into your eighties (gulp!) or forgoing things you want (hello, finally seeing Bora Bora!) to pay it all off. If you think I’m exaggerating that you’ll need to budget and save for your child’s expenses, consider this: The average mom spends over $12,000 more per year—and this can ratchet up as the kids get older—once she has a child.

Before you start feeling like the worst mother in the world for not knowing and budgeting for these costs, you need to know: It’s not your fault. There isn’t a single source—not a media article, not an online calculator, not a book—that gives you accurate estimates of what it will cost to raise a child in each year of his life. Seriously, the best estimates out there come from the government, but thanks, in part, to the fact that their costs for childcare and education are way off for some of us, those numbers aren’t even that helpful.

No one is giving moms an accurate answer to one of the biggest financial questions of their lives: How much will it cost me, each year, to raise a child? So I did a ton of research, calculations, and interviews to finally answer that question. I’m going to show you the kinds of costs that arise when you have a child and what the average mom spends on each. This will help you figure out what you should budget for each and whether your current spending is too high.

The Budget Breakdown: The Extra Money You’ll Shell Out When You Have a Child

My friend came to me the other day with a dilemma. She and her husband had profited six figures when they sold the apartment her husband owned before they were married. They had hoped to keep this money in savings for a down payment on a house, but each month, they found themselves spending it—and she wasn’t entirely sure why. “I’m not buying anything crazy,” she said to me, which, as it turns out, was true. Their one-year-old son wasn’t wearing designer clothes, except for a few fab (but free) hand-me-downs from her stylish friend in L.A.; he wasn’t in some fancy-pants daycare. She was staying home with him for a year, which they’d budgeted for, and she barely used babysitters.

After a lengthy conversation about her spending, I learned that now that they had a child, they simply had significantly higher costs of living. They’d upgraded from their one-bedroom apartment rental to a two-bedroom (an extra $1,000+ a month), and between that, and the diapers (more than $500 over the course of her son’s first year), food (more than $1,000 for the year even though she was breastfeeding him, too), and other extras, they were spending roughly $17,000 more than they were before the birth of their son.

If that $17,000 figure seems crazy to you, you’d better sit down for this part (and take a large gulp of wine while you’re at it!). Moms who have a baby in daycare might spend an additional $19,000 or more per year (roughly $1,600 per month) on all the costs associated with raising a child, which include food and clothes for the kids, family-related transportation, an extra bedroom, childcare, education, health care, and miscellaneous stuff moms buy like goodies at the drugstore for the kiddies. Meanwhile, stay-at-home moms might spend an average of about $10,000 extra per year ($800 per month). Yes, that crazy discrepancy in cost between moms relying on daycare and stay-at-home moms is because daycare is ridiculously expensive with an average price tag of roughly $9,500, and it can go way higher. No joke, daycare now costs more than in-state college tuition in twenty-four states in the U.S., which means you’ll pay someone more to watch your child sleep, poop, and scream than you will to shape their minds for a career!

The good news: Post-daycare, you’ll get some relief. Once your child goes to school, expect to spend about $12,000 extra per year ($1,000 per month) per child when she’s in elementary school, more than $13,000 a year (nearly $1,100 per month) extra in middle school and nearly $14,000 (nearly $1,200 a month) in high school. Does that help explain why your savings account is looking, um, pathetic these days? These numbers assume you have/will have two kids and are married. Parents with only children tend to spend a little more (roughly 25 percent more) and parents with three or more kids tend to spend a little less (roughly 25 percent less) per child. Single parents tend to spend a little less than married parents, as well.

While those numbers may be interesting to moms, some of the items that are included in those all-in tallies may not apply to your situation. For example, you may have gotten enough clothes for free from friends to last your little one through his first year, in which case the figures above wouldn’t be that helpful to you, since they include the cost of clothing. That’s why in this section I’m breaking out each of the eight costs associated with raising a child and tallying what you’ll likely spend on each (based on what the average mom spends). We’ll also look at how this changes as your child gets older. This can help you figure out what you might spend so you can start to budget accordingly. It’s also a good guideline to see if there’s an area where you’ve been spending too much. We’ll also look at how costs differ between cities, since where you live is also a big factor.

Additional Cost #1: Food for the Kids

Assuming you don’t habitually lose control in Whole Foods (seriously, how did that $9 hemp-and-flaxseed trail mix end up in your cart?) or treat GrubHub like your personal chef, you can expect to spend about $1,600 to $1,700 per year for food per kid for kids under about age four. These figures are what the average mom living in the U.S. spends, so they’re a good gauge of whether your spending is too high and can help you make a clear budget going forward. For kids in elementary school, expect to spend about $2,300 to $2,700, for middle schoolers and high schoolers $2,800 per year, or more. This means that while you have young kids, you might only be shelling out $30 or so a week on food, but as they get older, these weekly expenditures can easily top $50.

Additional Cost #2: An Extra Bedroom

For many moms the additional cost of an extra bedroom is a nonnegotiable expense. You love your child, but need plenty of separation from him post-7:30 p.m.! But it’s going to cost you. The bulk—roughly 30 percent—of what it costs to raise a child is usually in the housing. What’s more, according to ATTOM Data Solutions, the average cost for a home in a good school district is more than 70 percent higher (at around $343,000 across the nation; and way higher in pricey cities) than the average home for the U.S. overall, and that doesn’t include potentially sky-high property taxes. For moms, this means that, in some cases, it can be more affordable to send your child to a private school than a public school (we’ll talk more about this in Chapter 7).

The costs for an additional bedroom—either to rent or to buy a place with one—vary widely depending on where you live, and can range from just a few hundred extra bucks per month to $2,000 extra or more per month (I’m looking at you New York City and San Fran!).

What will it cost you personally? Because housing differs so much from city to city, you’ll need to do your own calculations for your budget. If you plan to move to a good school district, first, look on sites like and to find school districts that get good ratings. Then search on or for properties with the space you need in those districts to get an idea of prices. Compare the monthly cost you currently pay for your home to prices for the other homes you’re thinking about buying. has a great mortgage calculator that can tell you what you’ll pay each month for homes at different price points. Don’t forget to consider things like property taxes, which can be extremely high in a good school district.

Additional Cost #3: Clothes and Shoes for the Kids

On average, moms in America spend between $600 to $900 per year per child on clothes and shoes. Included in these figures for those with younger kids are diapers, which make up the bulk of your clothing costs in the early years at roughly $550 annually. If you’re hooked on Zulily or Little Rue, you might spend way more, and less if you’ve got a huge network of friends donating clothes and shoes to you (which is super nice, but does tend to make you seriously question some people’s taste…). The figures rise as your kids get older because clothing gets more expensive in larger sizes and your kids want and need more of it, including uniforms for sports and extracurriculars—and heaven help you if you have a teenage girl!

Additional Cost #4: Childcare

The last time I babysat for someone else’s child (which admittedly, was about twenty years ago), I made about $4 an hour and the only real perk of my job was that I could raid the family’s pantry and watch hours of TV once the kids went to sleep. Oh how times have changed! The going rate for a babysitter these days is now about $10 an hour and in many places a lot more. Experts say it’s because parents expect more of their sitters these days. Gone are the days of the pantry raid, here to stay are babysitters with CPR training.

Daycare has its own heart-stopping cost: In some states, the average cost is around $8,000 per year for full-time daycare for an infant, in others it’s more than $18,000. Because daycare and babysitting costs vary a lot depending on where you live, Chapter 5 has detailed estimates on what you might spend.

Additional Cost #5: Transportation for the Kids

I know you may hope that a sleek new Mercedes SUV is your future mom mobile, but I’m telling you: Just say no! I’m saying this not only because it’s pricey, but also because, well… kids! Seriously, I don’t know how they do it, but they can—and will—manage to get food wedged into every crevice, draw on the seats, spill chocolate ice cream and other unidentifiable substances on the carpet, and otherwise destroy a perfectly lovely automobile one messy day at a time. Plus, you’ll be schlepping them everywhere—dance, tennis, soccer, art, you name it!—and that SUV will be guzzling gas (and thus your hard-earned cash) as you go. Because transportation costs for the average mom make up about 15 percent of the cost of raising a child—an additional $1,800 to $2,300 extra per year—you’re going to want to save money in every way you can.1

Additional Cost #6: Education

When I was a kid, my mom just hustled me off to school with some pencils and a hot-pink-and-black Trapper Keeper (have I dated myself yet?) and called it a day. But teachers today send home huge lists of supplies that moms feel obligated to buy. Add in the costs of technology, and we’re spending way more than our parents ever did. All told, this means that parents with kids in public school should budget a minimum of roughly $500 per year for younger children for education-related expenses, $700 for middle schoolers, and $900 or more for high school students; these figures could go much higher depending on your child’s needs. These figures don’t include extracurriculars, which we talk about below, or the new clothes your kids will be begging for as soon as they see what the cool kids are wearing on the first day of school (so much for all those clothes you bought them in July!). If you’re thinking about private school, check out Chapter 7.

Additional Cost #7: Health Care for the Kids

Expect to spend a minimum of around $1,100 to $1,300 per year on health care costs for your child that aren’t covered by insurance—things like prescription drugs and premiums that your employer doesn’t pay. When you have a teenager, these costs go up: You can blame braces or other orthodontia for that. Data from American Express found that parents of middle-school kids spend an average of roughly $1,000 a year on braces. Of course, this can vary widely, depending on your child, of course, but also on your insurance plan, so call your HR department or insurance company to discuss your plan options, deductibles, and premium costs.

Additional Cost #8: Miscellaneous Items for the Kids

Moms should budget around $850 to $1,100 or more per year for random stuff—everything from toothbrushes to sports equipment—and in general, you can expect to spend less on this kind of stuff when the kids are little and more as they get older. One big factor that can drive up the costs in this category is what extracurriculars your kids participate in. On average, parents will spend roughly $450 per year on extracurriculars—and far more (as in, you can add an extra zero to that number) if your child participates in pricey sports. You’ll find more details on this in Chapter 7. Another thing that can make this way more expensive is if you take the kids on a fun trip; I’ll discuss travel savings in Chapter 9.

Meet the Mom Who Spends Less Than $20 a Week Raising Her Child

I’ve been following finance blogger Liz Frugalwoods for a couple years now, and I must admit that when I heard she’d had a baby in late 2015, I thought to myself: Her frugality is going to change. She’s going to see that baby’s face and start buying adorable clothes, educational books, organic everything. And no longer are she and her hubs going to retire in their thirties, as they’d planned.

Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Frugalwoods has found a way to spend only about $75 per month on her daughter Estelle, so of course, I got her on the phone all the way from Vermont so she could share her secrets with you!

The first secret is that she gets almost everything—clothes, books, toys, crib, car seat, high chair, you name it—for free. “It’s all hand-me-downs,” she says. I know you’re thinking to yourself, well, of course, hand-me-downs are the way to go to save money. But Frugalwoods takes it to a new level. She says that most people, once they are done having kids, want all the stuff out of their house. She takes the whole lot of it. “We take anything that is offered—and if we don’t need it, we pass it along,” she says. So she’d take a pile of stuff from family or a friend’s house, sift through it, and either take it for her daughter or donate it. Yes, this takes some time, but because it can save you hundreds of dollars, this approach can be worth it. She also gets stuff from the “Buy Nothing Project” (, where people give and receive items to one another for free, which has chapters across the country. And she checks out books from her local library rather than buying them.


  • This book is a handy resource for any parent trying to figure out how to balance a family budget. Whether it's a trip to Disneyland or choosing health insurance, this guide gives you great tips on how to save wisely and spend responsibly.—Soledad O'Brien, award-winning journalist, speaker, author; anchor of Matter of Fact with Soledad O'Brien
  • Raising a family can be incredibly financially challenging, but luckily for us, journalist Catey Hill is here to guide moms through making smart money choices every day. She covers everything from spending less on food to investing and paying off debt -- the full gamut of what moms need to know about money. The best part is that she tells you how to do it in under 30 minutes a week, which is exactly the kind of advice busy moms need.—Kimberly Palmer, author of Smart Mom, Rich Mom
  • This book is what the market has been screaming for: a practical, relatable money guide for actual, human moms living in the present. This book focuses on actual steps for saving real money (not stupid couponing), in a way that maximizes your time, income, and sanity.—Emma Johnson, bestselling author of The Kickass Single Mom
  • An indispensable guide for parents who want to gain control of their finances. Hill draws on her experience as a mom and a personal finance expert to deliver no-nonsense, down to earth advice on how to manage your money, trim your budget, and organize your financial life. Approachable, practical, and funny, you will walk away with a plan for your money and the confidence to execute it.—Elizabeth Willard Thames, author of Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living

On Sale
Apr 24, 2018
Page Count
288 pages
Center Street

Catey Hill

About the Author

Catey Hill is the deputy editor for Dow Jones’ Moneyish and has written for the Wall Street Journal, MarketWatch, Forbes, SmartMoney, and more. She has appeared as a personal finance and consumer expert on the Today Show, CBS This Morning, FOX & Friends, and CNN. She has also been featured in numerous magazines, including People, the New York Times, Woman’s Day, and Cosmopolitan. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, daughter and their cat, Mouse.

Learn more about this author