Cutting costs at home is a cinch with this advice from readers and experts
Dress for Less
Size her up.
"When my favorite brand is on sale, I buy my daughter's current size and the next one," says Maryse Cassamajor of North Lauderdale, Florida
Say hello to hand-me-downs.
Round up a couple of other moms with kids the same gender as yours but different ages, and host a twice-a-year clothes swap.
Shop "the big three."
Old Navy, Gap Kids and The Children's Place rotate merchandise often—ask when they do their markdowns so you can grab the deals (it's typically midweek). Also, if you see an item you boughtin the past 14 days on sale, you can get the difference refunded—you don't need the clothing, just the receipt.
Score at Consignment shops.
Don't confuse these with thrift stores. Consignment shops have high standards for what they'll accept, whereas thrift stores will sell virtually anything that's donated to them. "I can buy a season's worth of near-new clothes for my two children for $45 at a consignment shop," reports Liz Lollar of Keizer, Oregon. Visit stores in upscale areas and you can shop like Jessica Alba—minus the star-salary price tag.
You can find top-quality duds on the cheap, but also think about selling your child's outgrown brand-name outfits. "I often get half of the retail price, it's easier to use than eBay and the transactions are local, which makes me feel more at ease," says Cassandra Lurate of San Antonio, Texas. (Enter your location, then click on "Baby and Kids.")
Check impulse buys.
"Shopping with a list saves us $40 a week," says Marissa Beaston of Lakewood, Colorado. This Sunday, choose your next seven dinners (okay, six—pizza night is nonnegotiable). Jot down the ingredients, add basics for breakfast, lunch and snacks and stick to the list once you get to the supermarket.
Lose brand loyalty.
You can save 40 percent with generic over-the-counter drugs. Active ingredients are usually the same (check to be sure).
Fill a reusable bottle with tap water. "Money doesn't grow on trees, but water does fall from the sky for free," says Gregory Karp, author of Living Rich by Spending Smart. We like the filter on the LivPure bottle (Fit-fresh.com).
Become a joiner.
Notice you're shelling out more for, well, almost everything? To get something in return, check stores for "Baby Rewards"-type programs. Giant Eagle and Waldbaum's offer such deals, which pay back a percentage of baby-related buys as store credit.
Read the fine print.
To lower monthly bills, home in on cell and cable charges. Scrutinize both bills for services you don't use and cancel 'em.
Water it down.
Don't let the water run while scrubbing pots or brushing your teeth and save two gallons a minute.
Use compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs: They last years longer and use 70 percent less electricity than traditional bulbs. (Note: If broken, CFL bulbs can release mercury—a health hazard for babies. Visit epa.gov for cleanup info.)
Flip the switch.
One of the biggest drains of electricity is a computer that's left on 24/7.
Most of the energy used in washing clothes goes toward heating the water. One Babytalk staffer has done all her laundry with cold water for years and has never noticed a difference—and that's minus the cold-water detergents that recently hit shelves.
Gear and Gifts
Troll for discounts.
"Shop for gear in the fall, when retailers tend to clear stock to get ready for the new lines that arrive in December," advises Alan Fields, coauthor of Baby Bargains.
One of our favorite websites for deals on gear is babycatalog.com, which sells nearly every brand-name baby product out there. A one-year membership ($25) gets you an extra 10 percent off; plus, you can select three friends as associate members, who get the discount, too. Membership is free for those in the military.
Gas for less.
Warehouse clubs like Costco are a given for rock-bottom prices on staples, but many stores also have gas pumps where members can fill up for about 10 cents less per gallon than at a local station. No price club in your area? Just click on gasbuddy.com to find the cheapest pumps near you.
Avoid the runaround.
Group errands to save gas. Take it a step further and plot a clockwise route: Making right-hand turns will avoid the idling (and gas wasting) that comes with waiting to make lefts.
Driving 55 miles per hour instead of 65 miles per hour boosts fuel economy by 15 percent. And check your tire pressure, says Karp. Underinflated tires up gas usage by 3 percent.
Ditch the extras.
According to Consumer Reports, car buyers shouldn't fall for unnecessary add-ons like VIN etching, in which the vehicle identification number is etched onto windows to deter thieves—you can buy a do-it-yourself kit for $25, instead of the $200 that some dealerships charge. You can also forgo rustproofing (it's not a problem in modern cars), paint sealing and fabric protection. Instead, safeguard paint and fabric with products found at auto-supply stores. SHOP smart. If you can, wait until January to get a new car. Dealers are motivated to sell the old year's models, offering rebates and price cuts. "We paid nearly $20,000 less than sticker on our Suburban," says Charlotte Thomas of Fayetteville, Georgia.
Just for Fun
Check it out.
Take tots to the library to borrow books instead of buying them. (While you're there, ask about any free toddler programs.) Or check websites like Amazon .com or Strandbooks.com for new books at a discount.
"Instead of paying a sitter, trade childcare with neighbors and friends," suggests Nicky Nedd of Brooklyn. You can even spend some of the cash you've saved (with these tips!) on a romantic dinner out.