Mom Hacks, San Diego, Travel

Mama On A Budget: 12 Ways To Save Money In The City

happy girl holding younger child by palm trees

So you’re living in the city or visiting? Awesome. Cities are the best places for fun, adventure, and activities—especially with kids in tow. As a previous Chicagoan-turned-West-Coast-babe, I personally think cities are the best. If you’re looking to get the max out of your time while being conservative with your wallet, here are 12 tips to help you save money in the city.

1. Check for all the kid-friendly freebies.

Most major cities offer perks for kids. For example, San Diego has the Fair that runs during the summer months and offers free admission for kids on Fridays! They also have a readers program, where kids (up to age 12) can get in free on any day of the week if they bring in a book form showing they read ten books during the year (signed by the teacher).

Local museums usually have discount days or cheaper prices for admission, too.

[Ps: SoCal friends—kids are free with a paid adult for the San Diego Zoo (ages 10 and under), LegoLand (ages 12 and under), and other fun places! Just Google it!]

LegoLand Ticket

2. Say ‘no’ to what’s outside of your means.

It might be tempting to keep up with the latest and greatest things other families are doing, but if it’s not for you, you don’t have to stress. There are millions of things you can do with your kids that doesn’t require spending hundreds of dollars (especially if you have a big family!)

Even making simple swaps—like a local day camp over the YMCA camp, for example—can ensure your kid(s) are having just as much fun while staying within your means.

3. Coordinate and align with other parents.

There is infinite power in playdates. The quicker you network with other parents, the quicker you can develop a support network. Find a few friends/families that your kid(s) get along with. Then set up playdates and rotate between which house the kids are at or who’s entertaining.

This is a great way to help you get work done (on your *off-days*) while giving another parent some time off, too. Doing this also has great social benefits, too! Exposing your kid(s) to different people and situations can only help them grow and build essential interpersonal skills.

4. Lower the babysitting costs whenever possible.

Babysitting/nannying can get pricey—I know because I am one and have been for almost ten years. I started as a Mother’s Helper when I was ten or eleven at $5/hour. Now, because of my location, experience, and credentials, I charge a minimum of $18/hour for one child.

If you’re on a tight budget but still want to enjoy time with your friends/spouse/partner, you can do a few things:

a) Nanny share: This is finding another family to get ‘co-care’ with. The nanny will watch both families’ kids simultaneously and lower the cost per family down by a few dollars.

b) Use friends: Like #3, if you coordinate with other parents and rotate care responsibilities, you can give people nights off! And your kids will reap the benefits, too—more sleepovers!

c) Create a sort of ‘partnership’: If you own a business or have something you can offer a person as *compensation* consider asking that person to watch your kids, and in turn, you’ll offer them a discount/freebie, etc. I have a guy friend who watches my boyfriend’s son for my boyfriend and I. His compensation is a free meal every time he’s here and free editing services from my company.

5. Be open to renting and a more ‘impermanent’ lifestyle.

If you’re looking to save money in the city, consider renting. To be honest, there’s nothing wrong with renting, especially if it’s a temporary living arrangement. Also find ways to rent, borrow, or find furniture that you don’t have to purchase (until you’re more settled down).

Although it can be tempting to want to purchase a home, buy home décor, and create a space that’s *yours,* if it’s simply not in your means right now, don’t overstress yourself trying to make ends meet. Instead, rent and take your time building yourself until the budget and the opportunity is right.

6. Do everything that you can outside!

As the weather warms up, tap into all the outside (and free!) activities. From heading to the beach, to a friend’s pool on a guest pass, to having a picnic in a local park or field, there are ways to get active and have fun with your kids without breaking the bank.

Also, look for exercise groups that allow you to bring kids (especially if yours are young!). This can be a great way to spend time with them and bond while getting a workout in. Opting for outside workouts overpaying gym/studio memberships can save you hundreds each month, too!

[PS: San Diego friends—check out Kate Sessions Park, Dog Beach in OB, or the Mission Bay beaches for more peaceful *ocean* water. For more fun parks in San Diego, click here. If you’re local to OB, there are also donation-based Sunset Cliffs yoga classes which you can learn about right here.]

6. Make your own coffee + breakfast.

Dear busy mama, I know you’re running from one thing to the next, but if I can offer you one piece of money-saving advice: Try to make your own coffee and breakfast as much as you can.

This is so simple, but really makes a difference in your schedule. That $3-5/day can add up, even in a short time. And it will also contribute to stress if you’re rushing to grab a latte between getting your kids to where they need to be, or if you’re ordering something that’s high in caffeine and sugar!

7. Make a long-term budget and timeline for major changes/events.

Budgeting is a no-brainer, but beyond a monthly budget, consider making a timeline for future expenses and decisions you might need to make in the future. For example, if you know you’re looking to take a trip in a few months, make a timeline of how much money you need to save beforehand, etc.

8. Tap into public transport (and bring wet wipes along!).

Public transport with kids?! Truthfully it’s not that bad when you’re prepared. From pre-purchased tickets to wet wipes in your back pocket, you can handle public transport with ease. Plus, bigger cities also offer discounts for long-term memberships (and some kids may even be able to ride free!)

9. When in doubt, pack a lunch.

Regardless of your day plans, it’s beneficial to pack a lunch (or at least snacks) whenever you leave the house. I swear, as soon as school gets out, kids eat non-stop. Not only is always having a full supply in your bag a mom #lifehack, but in terms of saving money whenever you’re out—it’s a no-brainer.

Splurging on meals out is great once in a while, but do yourself a favor and stock up before you head out to save yourself the time, energy, hassle, and dollars.


10. Get your groceries/necessities in bulk.

Bulk groceries will, hands down, be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make with kiddos. Whether your family is small or big (trust me, I bought in bulk even when I was single!) you can reap the benefits of buying bulk. Anything you don’t eat can more often than not be frozen! And when you have lunches to make and snacks to pack, having the essentials on hand is a game-changer.

11. Try toy recycling and selling ones your kiddos have outgrown.

See if there’s a local group on Facebook/Nextdoor that has toy recycling (ie. getting rid of the toys your kids don’t use and swapping for ones they might be interested in.) People are often giving away old toys, too, which can be an easy way to get things your youngsters will love without hurting your wallet.

Another option to save money in the city is to sell things your children have outgrown. From clothing and shoes to books and toys, you can make a little money here and there on selling old things and in time this really adds up!

12. And of course, have fun.

Living in, or visiting a city is one of the greatest things in the world! As a former Chicago suburbs native, I’ve always been closely intertwined with the city life and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Although you do have to be smart about what you’re spending, it’s important to have fun, too especially when you have little ones in tow.

For more money-saving ideas, click here.

This entry was posted in: Mom Hacks, San Diego, Travel


Marisa Donnelly, M.Ed., is a writer/editor, credentialed teacher, proud bonus mama, and CEO of Be A Light Collective, a coaching and content creation business and digital marketplace. She is the Director of Donnelly’s Daily Apple, a flexible learning/tutoring and educational resource platform, and the lead voice for Momish Moments and Step by Step Parents, verticals dedicated to sharing and advocating for non-traditional parenting journeys. Marisa currently resides in San Diego, California, with her fiancé, kiddo, and their two rambunctious Pitbulls. ❤️