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9 things I wish I’d saved on as a mom on a military budget

Retrospect brings a lot of wisdom. I spent nearly 10 years as a spouse of …


Retrospect brings a lot of wisdom. I spent nearly 10 years as a spouse of an active-duty service member, and six of those were also as a mom. Sometimes I cringe thinking of all the things I spent money on, instead of saving it. Here are my biggest regrets:  

Swimming Lessons

No number of lessons will coax your child into liking the water before they are ready. I started swim lessons with my daughter when she was just six months old, thinking I would “get her used to” the water. That led to repeated enrollments throughout the years, costing thousands of dollars, and she never got past level one. She only learned to swim when she was seven, by playing around in the pool with her friends.

Baby Toys

I have a list on my phone that I created when my first daughter was born, of all the products I liked when she was a baby. That list was filtered down to about 40 things from the hundreds that we bought or received as gifts. Looking at it now, I would probably only recommend about 10 of them. The reality is, you just don’t need a lot of toys for your baby. Babies love something to put in their mouth and something to hold, and most love a baby swing to get them to sleep, but you can wait until they’re at least two before you purchase the bulk of their childhood toys.

Related: These are the only toys your kids really need

Dance classes

I love watching ballet, and when I had two girls just a year apart, I dreamed of seeing them dance in pink tutus. The reality was, neither of them wanted to dance. I enrolled them anyway, and painfully watched one daughter spend the class running in circles and the other crying for me to come get her. Lesson learned. Do a free trial class, and if they’re not begging to continue, don’t spend the money.

Expectation did not meet reality in this case (Photo by Adam Walker on Unsplash)

Anything electronic

An electronic keyboard. Light-up toys. Remote-controlled toys. Electronic STEM toys. These all either broke or stopped being used. The only exception is that my kids love the USB-chargeable story player that they listen to before bed – it helps them fall asleep.

Christmas presents

I love Christmas, so I tend to go overboard, collecting items one by one for Christmas gifts starting in the summer. What this means is that by December I’ll usually have way more Christmas gifts for my kids than I originally intended. The reality is that young kids are just as happy with a cheap toy as an expensive one, and they’re just as happy with five gifts as they are with 50. I have to recognize now that a lot of my purchases are really made so that I can see the excitement at having a lot of presents under the tree, not really because they’re going to use all of them.

Needing a tree big enough to fit all those presents brought new meaning to “We aren’t Rockefellers!” (Photo by Alex Haney on Unsplash)

Related: 10 toys for your kids that stand the test of time

Early Reading Systems

We’ve all seen the ads and infomercials for the systems that promise they can help your baby or toddler learn to read. I got suckered into buying two of them. It wasn’t so much that they didn’t work (they might have), as that I just didn’t have the 30 minutes to dedicate every day to reading lessons for my children when they’d much rather be playing outside.

Impulse Purchases at TJ Maxx

Most moms in military families will, at some point (or always) have to take their kids to the store with them when they shop, since they are often a one-parent household. I never quite cracked the code on how to say no to my kids asking for “just one little toy” at the store. These impulse purchases have added up to thousands of dollars over the years. I wish I had implemented a different system years ago, like a non-toy reward or “points” for being good at the store, instead of bribing them with gifts.

Related: Why I throw out my kids toys (and I’m not sorry)


This is a surprising one, right? As a writer and avid reader, I should be recommending that you buy your kids lots of books. But I’ve discovered over the years that kids get bored with most books after they read them once. My kids only return to a select few books. I recommend getting all your kids’ books out of the library for the first read, and then buy them if your child loves them enough for a second time around. Plan a weekly library trip to ensure you keep switching them out.

military mom budget
I love books as much as the next person, but no one needs a “Beauty and the Beast” library at home (Photo by Valdemaras D. on Unsplash)

Cashmere Kids’ Clothes

Okay, I didn’t purchase this myself, but I was once shocked to receive a beautiful cashmere outfit for my daughter. I wish it had come in my size, because it would have been money much better spent. Never purchase dry-clean-only clothes for kids!

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Feature image: Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

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