NEW YORK - Children may be a blessing, but they can also leave you broke.
Middle-income families will spend $204,060 on feeding, housing and schooling a baby born in 2007 until his or her 18th birthday, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture - a number that doesn't include designer clothes and the latest gizmos.
In these tough economic times, many parents are looking to cut the cost of child-rearing. But how do you save money without shortchanging the kids?
Here are some tips for being frugal but totally cool parents.
? Set up a regular, rotating car pool.
The more parents, the more gas savings, said Bonnie Harris, author of "Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids: 8 Principles for Raising Kids You'll Love to Live With." She suggests involving at least one other parent for pick-up and drop-off at day-care and school, as well as for extracurricular activities.
? Buy used.
Take your kids to Goodwill, Salvation Army or a consignment shop. On everyday clothes like T-shirts, shirts, athletic shorts, sweatpants and jeans, you can shave 90 percent off your clothes bill, said Harris.
? Be creative.
Moms Randi Zuckerwise Madrid and Danielle Klein of New York City created their own music class for babies. Participants pay $20 for 8 classes to cover the cost of tambourines, bells and shakers. Klein and Madrid download music to an iPod. Music classes in the area can run about $300 for a session of 8 to 12 classes.
? Share. As in baby sitters.
A tip from Sheila Lirio Marcelo, CEO of Care.com: Team up with neighboring parents and share a sitter. Most providers prorate their fees according to the number of children they are watching.
? Do the buzz.
If you have boys, purchase electric hair clippers and cut their hair yourself, said Harris. Make sure the haircut kit comes with good scissors, clippers, a comb, oil, and length and blending guides. The savings is $120 an year.
n Say goodbye to Gerber's.
Kate Ward, online director for TheBump.com, mashes blueberries, avocados and sweet potatoes for her 8-month-old. "It's good too because you can adjust the texture," she said. "It's also healthier and definitely cheaper." Madrid uses the remaining apple-y water after steaming and pureeing apples for juice. It's cheap and has less sugar than regular juice.
? Try cloth diapers.
It's a time investment (all that laundering) and an initial monetary investment (you have to purchase the cloth diapers), but it can save you money in the long run, said Ward.
? Hand it down.
Hand me downs are coming back into fashion, said Ward. "Babies stop using things so quickly, there's really no reason not to pass things around," she said. Use the Freecycle Network (freecycle.org) to give and get clothes and baby furniture for free.
? Talk to the kids.
Have an honest conversation with your children about "wants" versus "needs," said Amy Tiemann, author of "Mojo Mom." Make it a point of pride rather than embarrassment to spend only what you can afford, she said.
? Call mom.
Enlist the help of a relative to help with child care duties, said Marcelo. "Parents should still plan to pay a fee, but it can be much less when a family member is willing and able to help out," she said.
? Trade services.
Amber Lesovoy, a mother of two in Kernersville, N.C., gives horseback riding lessons for child-care. A neighbor trades child-care services for chicken and eggs from a local family.
? Save the good stuff for night.
Madrid uses high quality diapers at night, and a lesser quality diaper during the day when she's changing her daughter every couple of hours.
? Go to the library.
You can check out books, magazines and DVDs for free. Libraries also have programs to keep children entertained, such as story time and puppet shows.
? Recycle clothes.
Lisa Knight, author of "The Frugal Momma" blog, said she recycles old adult clothes for her children: jeans into jumpers, skirts or totes, T-shirts or polos into shorts for play or sleeping. She said they require minimal skill (straight line sewing) and extra materials, such as elastic for waist bands and buttons for jumper straps.
n Share tunes.
Have your kids swap iPods with a friend for a day or two rather than download new music from iTunes, said Julie Edelman, lifestyle expert and author of "The Ultimate Accidental Housewife: Your Guide to a Clean-Enough House."
n Give up something.
Have each family member give up something that costs money for a week, said Edelman, such as shopping, texting or purchasing magazines. Make sure you do it, too.
n Hold a family garage sale.
Save half the money and do something with the rest, said Edelman. Make the kids part of the process to teach them money management.
n Package food yourself.
Instead of buying prepackaged snack items for kids, but their favorite snacks in bulk and package them in sandwich bags, said Mary Hickey, senior articles editor at Parents magazine.
n Make it a day date.
Go out during the day rather than at night, said Hickey. You can hire a younger more inexpensive baby sitter because you won't have to worry about the sitter being at your home at night and putting the kids in the bath and to bed, she said.