We all want our children to be able to manage their money well and make good decisions with it.
But when we should teach them about money isn’t exactly clear.
If most adults struggle to manage their money, is it too complicated for a child to understand?
Even if we knew when to start, how would we begin?
Money has gone from something concrete that we hold in our hands to an abstract concept.
Most children never see their parents use cash so it is easy for them to think that there is an endless amount of money on that plastic rectangle that their parents use to buy everything with.
This last Christmas, when our oldest was exactly four-and-a-half, we knew it was time to be more intentional about the conversations we had with her about money.
We were sitting at the dinner table one evening and she began explaining to us that when you run out of money, you just get more… Whoops!
That’s not how any of this works!
Ross and I looked at each other and had one of those conversations that parents have with their eyes, and started trying to explain how money works and the responsibility that money requires.
After the kids were in bed, we continued to talk about how she was at the age where we needed to start teaching her good money habits.
About a week later, one of her grandparents texted and said that they wanted to give the girls money for Christmas. They wanted to know if we just wanted it as an Amazon gift card, or if we wanted cash.
My first instinct was the gift card to Amazon, because, where else do you buy things?
But I quickly remembered that this would be a great opportunity to begin her monetary education! I changed my answer and received the money via a cash app.
In this post, I’m going to share with you exactly how we started teaching our daughters the value of money.
How to Teach Your Kids About Budgeting
1) Let Them Choose 3 Jars
The first thing you need to do when teaching your children about money is to get three containers.
Since children are extremely literal and visual in how they understand and learn, I like to use mason jars. That way they can see the money even when the lid is closed.
It helps make the process more concrete since they can see that their money is still in the container even when they aren’t touching it. This will come in handy once the money is transferred to a bank later!
You don’t have to use mason jars though. I used three small boxes for my younger daughter’s money because she is still a little young to care and the exercise with her money was more for my older daughter’s benefit than hers.
Since most of my mason jars are in use, I took the girls to Goodwill and let her pick out three fun jars for her money.
We couldn’t pass up this awesome “Girls Just Wanna Have Funds” jar that we found there!
2) Determine How to Divide the Money
When I was determining how I wanted to teach my girls how to divide their money, I decided that I wanted to use the same basic structure for their budgeting system that Ross and I use for ourbudget.
I suggest dividing the money among three categories for young kids and older kids who are new to budgeting. Dividing the money into too many categories can make it complicated if they aren’t ready for it.
The categories we use for our girls are:
Now choose a percentage of the total that will go into each category. I suggest working smarter here, not harder.
While kids could afford to save a higher percentage of their money than adults can, they will have a harder time sticking with the amounts if they feel like it takes too long to build up their spending money.
Teaching your kids to save 50% of their income is great, but it isn’t sustainable once they have to pay for rent, groceries, and their vehicle when they are living on their own.
Teaching them to save 20-30% of their income is much more sustainable throughout life… and it will be more motivating for them to keep saving instead of wanting to dive into their savings account all the time.
Habits we start in our childhood are incredibly powerful in shaping our lives, so start your kids with successful and realistic money habits now.
So what percentages should you use?
I highly recommend keeping the spending money to 70% or less of the total.
Why do we use 70 percent?
You can read all about my 70/20/10 rule that we use for our budget in this post if you want more details. But for now, just know that it is a good goal to live off 70% of your net income for your entire life. Teaching kids to only use 70% of their income sets them up for financial success later.
What percentages you decide to use is completely up to you, though. Just make the percentages realistic. If you only teach them to spend 10% of their income, they will get tired of trying to budget!
There are two basic ways to divide up the money that will be sustainable throughout the teen years and adulthood. I recommend choosing one of these options for your children:
Option 1: Easy Math Option:
The first way is to keep things super simple. This option will be easy for even young children to wrap their heads around.
You can read more about this method and how why it works well for budgeting here.
Option 2: Teaching Net Income
The second option is a little bit more complicated to do the math, but it teaches kids an important lesson about Net Income vs. Gross Income (or Salary vs. Take-home pay).
(You can see more detailed information about Gross Income and Net Income in this post.)
This is the way we are teaching our girls to allocate their funds.
For a couple of reasons:
1. In our family, we have chosen to base our giving off of our gross income (the total salary before taxes).
We decided to teach our girls to do the same thing we do.
*I’m not saying that every family needs to do this, it’s just how we have decided to give in our family*
2. I want them to start to understand that we don’t get to keep every bit of money that we earn in life (even if they are mainly earning it by having birthdays at this point!)
This gives you a tangible way to teach them about gross and net income before they have to deal with taxes later on. And that’s an important concept to understand in my book.
Here’s How It Works:
First, give based on the Gross Income: Take 10% of the Gross Income.
Net Income (=) Gross Income (-) Giving
Put 30% of the Net Income in the Savings Jar.
Then set aside 70% of the Net Income for spending money.
Here’s an Example:
3) Do The Math
Next, figure out the dollar amount that is going into each category.
If it’s been a little while since 5th grade and you aren’t super comfortable with percentages anymore, here’s how it works:
Whatever percentage you want to use, just move the decimal over two places to the left, then multiply that new number by the total.
(Also if math isn’t your thing, stick with the Easy Math Option at first.)
10.% = .10
70.% = .70
10% of $25 = .10 x 25 = $2.50
20% of $25 = .20 x 25 = $5.00
70% of $25 = .70 x 25 = $17.50
Depending on the age of your child, you can do this step by yourself or have them help you.
When we did this the first time, my oldest daughter, at four and a half, was too young to understand percentages so I just did the math by myself.
4) Get Small Bills and Exact Change
Once you know exactly how much money you will be putting into each jar, figure out exactly how many dollar bills and quarters, dimes, nickels, and/or pennies you need.
Since my oldest was too young to understand that a $5 bill is equal to 5 $1 bills, I wanted to get the money in $1 bills to help her learn the concept.
If your child is older, they may like having larger bills. Just be awarethat counting out 15 $1 bills and putting them all in your spending jar can be more motivating than putting one $10 bill and one $5 bill into the jar.
When the girls each received $25 for Christmas, I went to the bank and got 46 one-dollar bills and $4 in quarters. Yeah, it was a little weird to ask for, and no, it didn’t neatly fit into my wallet; but it worked well for teaching!
The teller didn’t seem phased about getting such a strange request, she just asked if I was doing a fundraiser and needed to have change on hand.
I know that my younger daughter is way to young to understand the concept, but I separated out her money, too.
This way my oldest daughter could have extra practice with counting and she could see that this is what we do with money for everyone in the family.
5) Explain As You Go
When you are counting out the money to put it in the proper jars (or containers), have them do everything with you.
As we went down the list, I had her count out the correct number of bills and quarters for each amount.
Then I had her do the same thing with her sister’s money.
It was good counting and budgeting practice to have her do everything twice!
The most important concept to explain is the right order of budgeting.
Each time we go through the process I ask, “What jar do we fill first? Which jar do we fill next? What jar do we fill last?”
When Ross got home she asked him, “Do you know when to fill each jar?” and she was so excited to tell him the answer!
6) Give First: 10%
We are teaching our daughters to put their giving money aside first.
Because people are generally selfish and if we wait until we have leftovers to share with others, then there won’t be anything left.
Putting the money into the giving jar helps us think of others before ourselves.
(If giving doesn’t line up with your personal values, just bump savings up to be your top priority!)
I go into more detail about the order for allocating your money in my Budget Percentage post.
7) Save Second- 20-30%
After giving, savings should be the top priority.
Talk to your children about how they need to prioritize their savings.
People are naturally impulsive and have unlimited wants, so if we wait until we are done spending to save, there won’t be anything left!
Which Percentage Should I Use for Savings?
In our Budget, Ross and I save 20% of our Net Income, but for the girls, I am teaching them to save 30% of their “Net Income” using the Teaching Net Income Option I showed listed above.
Why? Well, kids don’t have any necessary expenses. At least mine don’t at this point.
They don’t pay rent, they don’t buy food, and we pay for their clothing and swimming lessons.
Everything in their spending jar is just for fun.
Even if they are saving for something practical like the watch like my oldest just purchased for herself, I still felt that it was a better experience for her to not have every bit of money at her disposal to buy it.
It’s a great opportunity to get into the habit of spending less and saving more.
I think it’s a good habit, even from a young age, to live on 70% or less of your net income as I explain in this post.
Later if they find that they can only afford to save 20% once they are on their own, it will be an easy adjustment to make.
It won’t hurt anything that they saved a larger percentage when they were younger, and they will probably be glad that they did.
How do I know that? Well…
As I’ve mentioned before, I was kind of a miser as a little kid. I loved making and saving every bit of money I could get my hands on.
One day my dad called me and told me he had just found a mason jar in his closet that I had asked him to keep safe for me when I was about twelve years old.
It had over $700 in it, which was very helpful to a newly married couple living on a small income!
That wasn’t all the money I had saved as a child, I had some healthy bank accounts as well from birthdays and jobs anyone would give me… this was my *extra savings*.
I was glad that I had chosen to save more than 20% of my income as a kid when I didn’t have expenses.
I highly, highly, highly recommend teaching children to keep their spending to less than or equal to 70% of their income. It’s a good idea for them to get in the habit of keeping their wants and needs in control.
You can read more about the 70/20/10 rule that we use when budgeting here if you’re interested.
This jar is for anything and everything that their little hearts desire. (Within reason, of course, Mom and Dad have veto power in our house.)
Anytime that our oldest decides she wants something, we tell her “You’re welcome to earn some money to buy that!” or “You can use the money you have in your spending jar if you’d like.”
Then she has a choice to make about how she wants to spend her money.
Often she decides she really didn’t need it in the first place, and other times she starts finding ways to make money.
7 Ways to Teach Children the Value of Money
Now that you know the process for teaching kids how to allocate money when they have it, here are Seven Additional Ways to teach them about the value of money.
1) Give Them Ways To Earn Money
In our house, chores are compulsory.
They aren’t optional, debatable, or up for discussion.
They are a way that we can all participate in making the house run smoothly.
However, once their daily chores are completed, they can earn money by doing extra, more involved chores.
When my oldest daughter told me that “her kids” (her dolls) needed Christmas presents this last year, I told her she would have to earn some money if she wanted to buy them presents.
(I explained that I already had bought Christmas presents for my kids and I hadn’t planned on spending any money on hers.)
I was deep cleaning my kitchen at the time and told her I would pay her for helping me.
Pro Tip: Don’t overpay your children just because you love them and are proud of them for trying. Use this as an opportunity to teach them that they have to work hard for money and pay them for their skill level. If you overpay them, they will expect making money to be easy when they get a job and not be prepared to put in much effort.
Since she was only four and needed a lot of assistance, I paid for the effort and the principle of working for money more than actually paying for the help I received.
After she had her money, we went to the dollar store and she found her kids (doll and stuffed animals) some cars and stickers.😂
She was so proud of the presents and wrapped them up and helped Little Jane (her favorite doll) open them on Christmas.
I don’t think she would have been as excited to give them the gifts if she hadn’t worked hard for the money herself.
2) Let Them Buy Things
Later she wanted a watch because most of her little friends had received them as gifts.
We told her how much money she had in her jar and let her do some shopping. (She ended up shopping with our help on Amazon because that seems to be the only place to find things that don’t have branding all over them…)
She picked one that she liked and was within her budget and waited anxiously for it to come!
The day that it came, we let her open the package, then told her to get her money. Ross had her count out the exact amount of money that she needed to pay for the watch.
After she counted out 14 dollars she said “But that’s all my money!”
We reminded her that we had told her that this would take all of her spending money as she was watch shopping. We told her if she wanted the watch, she had to trade the money for it.
After weighing for a minute if it was worth it or not, she decided that she wanted the money
That’s exactly what we want to happen! We want our children to realize that everything that we buy has a cost.
3) Set Boundaries with Gifts
Setting boundaries with birthdays and Christmas and any other holiday presents is an important step in teaching children the value of money.
If every holiday they receive anything and everything on their wish list, they won’t see any need to be careful with their own money.
They also won’t learn how to weigh out different options and make a decision about which item they would like more. This is a valuable tool that many children are missing out on because of so many generous people in their lives.
If a child wants a bike and a scooter for his birthday and ends up with both because each set of grandparents got him one, he didn’t have to learn to save his money and decide which one he really wanted.
Sometimes it can feel uncomfortable to have a conversation about keeping gifts to a minimum.
While you certainly don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, we have had great success with having honest conversations with all the grandparents in our girls’ lives.
More often than not, family members will understand and appreciate the values you are trying to instill in their grandchildren.
We still get our girls’ birthday presents, and sometimes large ones, but we usually have all the grandparents go in on one gift if it is a large item instead of having every one of them get several individual smaller gifts.
It works out well for us and it allows them to have the opportunity to learn to save her money for things when she wants them. (Plus this helps keep the clutter under control!)
4) Talk About Money
Money is something that we talk about in daily life.
When the girls ask to go out to eat, we explain to them that it costs a lot more money to go out than it does to eat at home.
When they ask for something new, we explain how many dollars it would cost them and ask if they would like to do some work for it.
When they ask why Daddy is at work all day, we talk about how everything in life costs money and he is making money so we can afford our house, food, and clothing.
As they get older, the conversations will change and get more specific. But I don’t think children are ever too young to start learning that money is something that has to be worked for.
5) Get More Jars
As soon as they are old enough to want some larger items like a bike or scooter, show them how they can separate out some of their spendings to save for a larger goal.
Grab an extra jar, label it with whatever their goal is and help them decide how much of their spending money they want to save for the big item. A good start is 50% toward the goal, 50% in their regular spending jar for smaller items along the way.
Let them have a say in how they want to save for it though, if they want to put everything toward their bike, they will get there faster!
The older children get, the more items they will want. Let them use several jars to keep track of how much they have saved for each specific item.
It will be more motivating for them to be able to see the separate amounts and know where they are in relation to each goal than it would be to throw it all into one pot and guess how much they have.
6) Help Them Set Goals
Sometimes children get stuck on buying trinkets and have a hard time realizing how much more fun they could have if they used their money for larger items.
Try suggesting some larger items that you know they would enjoy spending their money on.
Depending on their age, have them consider a watch, a fun dress, a new bike, getting a pedicure…the sky’s the limit!
7) Get Bank Accounts
Once the Savings and/or Spending jar is full, help them set up bank accounts.
Especially for savings, having a bank account will keep them from wanting to dip into their saved money and use it for spending.
It can also be a good idea, as they get older, to get them a checking account for their spending money, but I wouldn’t do this until they are old enough to understand more abstract concepts.
They need to be able to understand that the money is in their account at the bank and that they are still exchanging dollars for goods even though they are only using a card.
If they have a large amount of money and you want to keep it safe, but don’t think they will understand that concept yet, you could always open a checking account for them. Then before they are ready to buy, take them to the bank to get cash. This will help them see the money in action.
This time it’s going to be different. You’re going to create a budget… and stick with it!
Only, it’s never different. Time after time you’ve tried to get your finances under control, and time after time you’ve failed.
But what if I told you that there were two tricks that you could use to change that?
By making these two small shifts, you’ll be able to stick with your budget and meet your financial goals.
Not only are these tricks super easy, but they will work for any budget.
“Will these tricks work for low-income families?” Yep!
“What about if I just want to save more of my money instead of blowing it?” Yes!
“But we are a single-income family, can it really work for us too?” Definitely!
We’ve been using these tricks since we got married and were living on one very low income. We used it when we were both working outside the home. And we continue to use it today as a single-income family with two kids.
So I would bet you money that it will work for you. 😉
It all comes down to a mental shift
Most budgeting problems can be solved by two tiny little mental shifts.
“Really, Kassy? That’s all it takes? Changing how I think?! That seems too simple.”
I wouldn’t have believed me either, if I hadn’t tried it! But stick with me and you’ll see how this works:
The Two Important Paradigm Shifts for Success
1) Think of your budget in terms of percentages instead of dollar amounts.
When most people start budgeting, they go straight to the numbers. They don’t bother looking at what percentage of their money they are spending, saving, or giving.
They think that the numbers in their budget are fixed and unchangeable. So they let the numbers control them.
Here’s where the shift takes place: If you decide the total amount of money that you can spend on expenses before you begin your budget breakdown, you are in the driver seat.
Not only does using percentages put you in charge, it will allow your budget to work on any income.
2) Reverse the way you allocate your money.
Most often, when people are looking at their numbers, they look at their expenses first.
What’s left after all of the expenses have been met is saved.
And if there is anything left over after that, then they give.
If you have an unlimited pool of money for any and every expense you want, your expenses will grow until they drain the pool.
There will never be anything left for savings, and there will never ever be anything left to give.
If saving, paying off debt, and giving are important to you, you must allocate your money in reverse!
So how do you change these habits?
With a little bit of math.
First Things First
If you are new to budgeting, I need to quickly go over a small detail: Gross Income vs. Net Income.
This little distinction will save you so much frustration!
Never, under any circumstances, base your budget off of your total salary or hourly pay.
If you do this, you will be frustrated every month because you will never have enough money to cover your expenses.
It just won’t work.
(If this is boring or obvious to you, go ahead and skip down to How to Use Percentages, I won’t be offended.) 🙂
Your gross income is your total salary or paycheck before taxes.
This is what your employer tells you that you make. But let’s be real, you don’t actually see that amount of money.
If you base your budget off of your gross income, you are making a huge mistake and setting yourself up for lots of frustration and probably failure.
The only time you should worry about this number is when you are job hunting.
Net Income is commonly referred to as take-home pay, or what you make after taxes.
When you are building your budget, you can obviously use any percentages that you want… It’s your money after all!
But I’m going to show you the percentages that we have used (and still use) on a variety of income sizes in our almost 10 years of marriage.
These percentages will work if you are just starting out, paying off debt, or have plenty of money coming in!
The 70/20/10 Rule
The 70/20/10 rule is going to give you the most basic structure for your budget.
You’ll decide the total amount for every single item on your budget once we get this structure set up, but be careful not to needlessly increase your expenses as your income grows.
For example, you don’t need to increase your food budget just because you make a little bit more money.
Giving yourself a broader outline allows for you to make adjustments and add things into your budget as needed, without needlessly growing the amount of money you spend on transportation or housing, for instance.
Here’s how it works:
Expenses (Everything it costs you to live): 70% of your income (Take-Home Pay)
Savings/Debt Payment: 20%
Let’s get into the details:
When you use the 70/20/10 Rule, your expenses should be less than or equal to 70% of your net income. Never More.
Expenses (<) or (=) 70% of Net Income (Salary-Taxes)
How do you know what 70% of your Net Income is?
Take your Net Income and multiply it by .7. The answer is 70% of your net income.
Example: For easy math’s sake, let’s say your Take Home Pay is $2000 per month.
$2000 (x) .7 (=) $1,400
In this example, $1,400 would be the maximum amount of money you can spend on expenses.
Debt Payment and/or Savings: 20%
The next 20% is allocated to Debt Payment and/or Savings.
Debt Payment/Savings (=) 20% of your Net Income (Salary-Taxes)
So if our take home pay is $2,000 a month. Our Debt Payment/Savings amount would be:
$2,000 (x) .2 (=) $400
If you don’t have any pressing debt, this money goes directly into savings.
If you are just starting out, begin by building up an emergency savings account (check out this post for how many savings accounts you should have to easily manage your money).
How to Handle Debt:
If you have any debt, your first order of business is to get rid of it! Preferably as quickly as possible.
Use this 20% of your income as additional payments on your debt until the debt is gone. Then go back to putting this money in savings.
Notice that I said additional payments. Your car payment(s), your student loan payment(s), and your mortgage should all come out of your expenses. This 20% of your income is for extra payments!
I’ve found that everyone has different logic as far as good debt/bad debt qualifications. You have to decide for your family what is important for you to pay off.
But here’s the thing, any debt that you can pay off is more money that you will have at your disposal each and every month from now until eternity.
Yep, it’s true.
Think about it:
Every car payment you make could actually be going into a savings account for that amazing family vacation you’ve always wanted to go on.
Every credit card payment could be saving for a kitchen remodel.
Every student loan payment could be allowing you to stay home with your kids.
Here’s How We Handle Debt:
Like I said above, you have to choose what debt is worth it to you to pay down.
In our family, these are the types of debt we would pay off quickly: (And when I say quickly, I mean we throw every bit of money we can find at it until it disappears.)
Debt We Paid/Pay Off Quickly:
A lot of people consider student loan debt to be good debt. We didn’t.
We did the math and realized how much extra we would be paying on our loans if we made the minimum payment every month for years on end.
We paid off our loans as quickly as we could and saved ourselves thousands of dollars in interest.
That’s a lot of mulah that we now get to keep in our pockets!
Paying off our student loans is one of the main reasons I am able to stay at home with my girls without having to worry about making a full-time income.
A lot of people think that having a car loan is a fact of life. Again, we don’t.
We only purchase cars that we know we can afford to pay off within a year. Worst case scenario, we know we can do it in two. Then we drive that car until someone else totals our vehicle… It’s happened twice now.
Not having a car payment is another reason that I am able to stay home with my girls. So it’s worth it to us to pay our cars off quickly. Then to drive them until they die.
Credit Card Debt:
Credit Card Debt Payments would belong in this category as well.
If you tend to get into debt using credit cards, pay the debt off quickly… after you cut the cards up and throw them away.
Don’t get any credit cards again until you have all your debt paid off and have a handle on your spending.
We make money off of our credit cards because we only use them when we know we can pay off the balance at the end of the month… then we take the rewards to the bank!
The reason we chose to pay off any debt quickly was that we had a goal of becoming a single-income family when we had kids. Not having debt gave us the freedom to do that.
Pro Tip: If you can pay extra money, make sure every penny is going against your principal amount only and not toward the interest on the loan. You will pay it down a lot faster that way!
Don’t just make double loan payments when you’re paying off debt!
Debt we don’t pay off quickly:
The reason that we aren’t paying off our mortgage quickly is that we were transitioning to a single-income household when we purchased our home.
While we were careful to purchase a house that we could afford on one income, it would be a big stretch for us to make additional payments on our income.
Even if we were able to make extra loan payments, it would still take us a very long time to pay off our house.
For us, it was more important to spend the money that we would have been using to pay off our mortgage on swimming lessons, music lessons, and a family vacation here and there.
But if you can afford to pay off your home and it is a priority for you, go for it!
You need to evaluate your debt for yourself and your family. Pay off what you can, and make your regular payments on the rest.
In our family, we tithe 10% of our income to our church.
If you don’t belong to a church, or you don’t want to give to your church, there are other things that you can do with this 10%.
Give to a charity, find a cause, or help someone pay for college… Get creative and give back.
No one ever regrets giving to charity and making the world a better place.
Obviously, you aren’t required to give any of your money away, it’s your money.
But I highly encourage you to do something with the money that is bigger than yourself, even if it is just putting the money into a college savings account for your own children.
For our $2000 net income example, we have been using, the charity amount looks like this:
$2,000 (x) .1 (=) $200
Gross Income vs. Net Income Giving
Now, remember when I told you that you could give off of your gross income (your total salary) instead of your net income (your take-home pay) if you wanted to?
Some people, ourselves included, choose to give this way.
(Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to convince you to do this. You should do whatever seems right to you.)
But I wanted to walk you through the process in case you wanted to give this way as well.
Your numbers won’t work out beautifully if you do this. You can’t give 10% of your gross and still expect to spend70% of your income on expenses and 20% of your income on savings.
Something else will have to give.
If you choose to give 10% of your gross income, I suggest you take the extra giving out of your expenses instead of your savings.
Here’s How You Do The Math:
Calculate your Giving:
10% of your Gross Income in this scenario
Calculate your Savings:
20% of your Net Income
Use the Remainder for Expenses:
For us, this works out to be about 67% of our net income for expenses.
If you prefer to use the nice round numbers of the 70/20/10 rule, you will have to do everything based off your net income.
Now Think in Reverse
Each month when you allocate your money into each category, I want you to do it backward!
1) Give First
Take your 10% of each paycheck and make a payment to your church, charity, cause of choice, or college fund.
Do this before you do anything else!
Why do we give first?
If we wait until the end of the month and give last, there won’t be anything left to give. Everyone is naturally selfish and if we don’t set aside the money that we want to donate, then there won’t be anything left at the end of the month.
Money has a way of sneaking away undetected if we aren’t intentional with it.
2) Pay off Debt and Save Second
The same logic applies here. If you don’t pay yourself next, you won’t get around to it!
Twenty percent of your income won’t be magically sitting around at the end of the month waiting to be saved.
Have your money auto-draft to your savings account or have an automatic loan payment set to go out the day you get your paycheck (or the day after you get paid, just to be safe, you don’t want to overdraw.)
Pretend that the money never existed!
3) Use the Remaining 70% or less for your Expenses
Now that the important stuff is out of the way, use your remaining 70% to live on.
Nothing else in our cleaning schedule works this way!
But these never-ending jobs keep building up even when we have just completed them.
Before I had a system down for laundry, it could easily be an all morning task just to fold the week’s laundry.
It felt like such a waste of time!
The Reason Laundry is Difficult
The reason that laundry is so difficult to figure out is that it isn’t a simple task. Simple tasks are easy to complete because you generally stick with the job until it is done.
Cleaning the bathroom would be a simple task. You don’t clean the mirror then wait an hour before you can clean the sink. Everything gets done sequentially.
Laundry is a task with several steps and pauses in the routine. Those breaks (the time it takes for the machine to wash or dry the clothes) make our life easier in some ways, but more difficult in others.
While we no longer have to bend over a washboard and scrub for hours (thank you, James King!), we now have to remember to go back to switch the laundry and fold it.
Our modern conveniences also give us a false sense of accomplishment. After we rotate a load into the dryer wethink, “Wow, look at the progress I’m making, one load washed already, I’ll just pop in another.”
Before long we find ourselves standing over a mountain of clean clothes picking out the one thing we were looking for and leaving the rest to wrinkle for the week.
In this post I’m going to show you The Most Important Step for Never Getting Behind on Laundry Again, My Minimalist Laundry Routine, 12 Tips to Save Time and Energy Doing Laundry, and 5 tips for Saving Money with Laundry.
And if you prefer to watch instead of read, check out this video:
The Key to Never Getting Behind Again
Do ONE Load Every Day, but Only One
I used to try to do all of my laundry on one day. When I did this, I found that I would put off having a laundry day as long as possible because I knew it would be a huge task.
Once I finally convinced myself that we were running out of clothing and if I didn’t act fast we would have nothing to wear, I would tell myself that this time would be different. This time I was going to fold ALL THE LAUNDRY!
By the time the laundry was all sitting there in a pile of clean clothes, it felt too overwhelming to fold and I usually ended up leaving it there.
We would end up going into the laundry room through the week, picking out whatever we needed or wanted to wear, then leaving the rest there to wrinkle.
When I switched to doing the laundry on multiple days, it was a much more manageable amount of clothing to fold and put away at the end of each cycle.
You’ll want to decide on the number of times each week that you need to do laundry.
If you have a small family, you might be able to get away with only doing one or two loads a week. If you have a large family, you might need to do an extra load on the weekends.
I have found that we do about one load per person per week once everyone is potty trained.
(If you are doing cloth diapers like we did, you might need to do an extra load or two of diapers per week. I never folded the cloth diapers, I just laid them in a pile on top of each other so it didn’t add much to my laundry routine. And with the second child, I didn’t bother washing them separately from clothing so I didn’t end up doing any extra loads.)
The most important thing to remember with doing one load of laundry per day, is to do it from start to finish!
And by finish, I don’t mean stuck in the dryer until the next load needs to go into the dryer. And by finish, I don’t mean in a pile on the floor. By finish, I mean folded and put away.
Since our laundry machine is upstairs, I start the laundry before we go downstairs for breakfast.
After we get home from swimming lessons or the park in the morning, I switch the laundry to the dryer. Then, depending on what we are doing that afternoon, I will either fold the laundry after my younger daughter wakes up from her nap, or I will fold in the evening as my husband gets the girls ready for bed.
Completing one load of laundry every day has been a huge cure for the laundry problem I was facing.
If you work outside the home, try starting the laundry as soon as you walk in the door at the end of the day, then switch it over before you sit down to dinner. Then you can either fold it while your spouse puts the kids to bed, or you can have him fold it while you do the snuggles.
12 Tricks for Never Getting Behind on Laundry Again!
1) Do One Load of Laundry Every Day
As I mentioned above, this is the number one key to keeping your laundry under control.
Do one load of laundry (and only one!) start to finish every day.
And the big key here is to finish the process: wash, dry, fold, and put away.
If this is the only tip you start using, you will immediately stop feeling overwhelmed by laundry.
If you currently feel like you are drowning in laundry, don’t try to catch up before implementing this system.
Doing one load a day will automatically catch you up as long as your washer and dryer hold more that a day’s worth of clothing.
Just start today doing one load, and only one, start to finish and see how long it takes before you are back in control of your laundry routine.
If all of your laundry for one day doesn’t fit into your machine, you may want to invest in high-capacity machines, or you may need to do two loads of laundry per day. But if that is the case for you, you likely have a lot of people in your family and you should have one of the children help you with this task… more on that later!
2) Don’t Wash Clean Clothes
This was something I learned after discovering more about minimalism and low waste living. I grew up wearing something once then throwing it in the laundry.
While I still think this practice is great for undergarments, it doesn’t necessarily apply to other articles of clothing.
Most everyday clothing for adults can be worn 2-3 times before it is in need of a wash. I will often wear one pair of jeans or shorts 3-5 days in a row before I wash it.
It cuts down on laundry which saves me time folding and putting things away.
It cuts down on water usage because I can set the water level for smaller loads and that saves me money.
And it makes my clothes last longer because they aren’t getting washed as often, which also saves me money.
The girls’ clothing typically needs to be washed every day at this point, but I can usually get 2-3 nights out of a pair of pajamas.
Even if I couldn’t use any of their clothes more than once, just reducing my laundry cuts down on the size of the load I’m washing and folding.
3) Don’t Own Too Many Clothes
If you own more clothes then you can wear in a week or two, it is tempting to let your laundry hamper become a mountain before the clothes go into the wash.
Before I minimized my clothing and my girls’ clothing, this may or may not have happened all the time.
Once I downsized the amount of clothes we owned, I was much more motivated to keep the laundry rotation in order… otherwise, I might run out of things to wear!
I keep our wardrobes to approximately a week-and-a-half’s worth of everyday clothing per season.
*Full Disclosure: I didn’t get rid of their clothing that didn’t make the cut. I simply put it in bins in the garage. Until I’m sure I’m done having babies, I’m not going to get rid of any clothes because that stuff is expensive!*
A slightly ironic aspect of our minimalist wardrobe is that we own very little white clothing. (It almost feels wrong to say it’s a minimalist wardrobe with very little black or white.)
Not only is this because white isn’t the most flattering color on me, but I’m also about as graceful as a rhinoceros in a china shop. If there is something to spill, I make it happen. And it seems that my girls have inherited this adorable little habit.
In addition to not wanting all of my clothes stained with a variety of colors, I also found it challenging to keep my whites… well, white.
I do have a couple of white towels because I wanted to be able to bleach them periodically. I’ve done all the things and tried all the tricks, but somehow they still end up looking dingy.
Ross has requested that we don’t buy anything white again after these towels wear out and I think that’s a great plan.
No matter what I do, I find myself washing clothes or towels more when they are white to try to maintain the brightness.
I have found it saves me a lot of time doing laundry to buy any other color and not worry about it!
5) Don’t Sort Your Laundry
On a related note, not owning white clothing enables me to throw all my light clothing and dark clothing into one load.
So far, I’ve never had anything bleed.
You know the Friends episode where Rachel dyes all of her white clothes with one rogue red sock? Well, it’s a lie, you guys!
If one of the girls has a new shirt that is especially bright and looks like the color might bleed, I will wash it by itself first, but after that, I never worry about sorting the laundry.
The only exception to this rule is that I do wash my towels and sheets separately from the other clothes, for the most part.
That’s mainly because they are bulky and they can fill up the machine by themselves.
It’s also because I wanted to wash my white towels alone to keep them white…but we already know how that worked out for me.
6) Work Laundry into Your Daily Schedule
After I get my younger daughter up in the morning, I send the girls to get the hamper. They load the clothes into the washer and we start the washing machine before we go down to breakfast.
After we eat breakfast, we transfer the clothes from the washer to the dryer.
Then, depending on the day, my oldest daughter and I will fold the clothes after lunch, or if we are crunched for time, we will fold them after the girls wake up from their naps.
If you work outside the home, try starting the laundry as soon as you get home each evening. Rotate everything to the washer before you sit down to dinner, then have one person fold while the other puts the kids to bed.
If you are a single parent, fold while you watch your favorite show in the evening!
If you want more information about how to set up your daily schedule, check out this post!
7) Set a Timer
If you have a hard time remembering to switch the laundry to the dryer or remembering when it’s time to fold, set a reminder on your phone.
If your schedule is usually the same day after day, have a recurring alarm on your phone for loading the washing machine, transferring to the dryer, and folding clothes.
8) Don’t Leave the Laundry Room to Fold
I used to take all of the laundry downstairs in the evening to hang out with my husband while I folded. But it took FOREVER.
First, I had to move it all downstairs (usually more than I could carry in one load). Then I had to fold it, before hauling it all back upstairs. I find if I just do it in the laundry room it takes much less time.
The only exception to this rule is if you work outside the home and you fold laundry in the evenings as you are relaxing and watching a show.
Folding while you watch is better than not folding at all, even if it takes you a little longer.
9) Stand Up to Fold
I find if I sit down with the laundry piled around me it feels overwhelming and takes longer.
If I stand while I fold, I get it done quickly.
There is something about standing that encourages your body to move faster.
It is also more efficient to fold standing up because I can easily see where all the larger items are in the pile and get those done before I move on to the smaller items.
10) Fold As You Empty the Dryer
Before I began using this laundry system, I would take the clothes out of the dryer to find one thing or another.
Then I would leave the laundry room with the best intentions of coming back later and folding the rest.
I soon discovered that “later” never came. The next day I would find myself pulling the laundry out of the dryer onto the pile of laundry from the day before.
Now, I force myself to get everything folded immediately.
11) Put Everything Away, Right Away
Once you’re done folding, don’t delay in getting everything into the proper drawers.
This is a great task for small children to help with. If I want to, I can keep my girls busy the whole time I’m folding by having them run one item at a time from the laundry room to the proper drawer.
It’s a great way for them to burn off energy and it gives me one less step that I need to complete.
If you fold after your kids are in bed, take the piles and place them outside their doors. Then in the morning, have them put their own clothes away.
12) Don’t Do it By Yourself
If you have multiple people in your house, there is no reason that mom should do everyone’s laundry. Ok, maybe there are some reasons like if your children can’t walk yet… but other than that, no reason!
If both you and your significant other work, divide up the laundry chore. You can do this a number of ways, one way is to give each person in the family a hamper and have them be responsible for their own laundry.
It may take a couple of weeks if your spouse isn’t used to doing their own laundry, but once they run out of clothes once or twice, they will start remembering.
When we both worked outside the home, laundry was my husband’s job. He would spend Sundays watching football and getting all the laundry done. Maybe your husband would enjoy this chore as well if he could do something similar. You’ll never know unless you ask!
When my oldest daughter was about 18 months old, I started teaching her how to fold washcloths. Every time I folded laundry, I would separate out all of the washcloths. She would fold them as I would fold everything else. It took a lot more time at first as I would need to help her and remind her to stay focused, but it paid off in the long run.
As she became proficient at the washcloths, she started asking what else she could fold. Between the ages of three and three and a half, she was able to fold every piece of clothing. Now, at the age of four, she folds all her clothes and all her sister’s clothes while I am folding Ross’s and mine.
When my younger daughter was just over one, she started helping me put the clean clothes into the dryer and pulling them out of the dryer when they were done. No, this doesn’t make my life any easier at that moment, but I want her to know she is an important part of doing chores in our house.
When your children are seven or eight years old and older, they can start doing their own laundry. My goal for my girls is that when they are seven, they will be doing their own laundry.
Especially if you have teenagers, this is a great responsibility for them to have. It is teaching them an important life skill that they will need when they move out, all while making your life easier at the same time.
Here’s are the 12 tips you can use today to get your laundry under control for good!
Do One Load Every Day. And only one!
Don’t Wash Clean Clothes. Re-wear your clothes to save time and money!
Don’t Own Too Many Clothes. Decluttering will save you time.
Avoid White Clothing
Don’t Sort Your Laundry
Work Laundry Into Your Daily Schedule. Then you won’t forget a load.
Before we had kids, Ross and I were superfans of hiking. We are the crazy people who think hiking through the Grand Canyon in a day sounds like fun.
Ross’s main criteria for finding a state to become our permanent home was that we had to be able to go on adventures every weekend.
When we had kids, we had no intention of stopping our weekend excursions. But we also didn’t want hiking to be a “because we said so” kind of experience for the kids.
We wanted our kids to love hiking as much as we do…which is a pretty tall order!
When our oldest daughter was born, we knew our goal with hiking, but we weren’t entirely sure how we would go from having a baby who had to be carried the entire way, to a 4-year-old who could handle longer, more technical hikes almost independently.
Last August we were hiking at Mount Rainier.
As I was helping my younger daughter through the same walking and riding routine that her sister had done when she was a toddler and watching my oldest daughter hike all but the steepest 10% of the hike by herself, I realized that that we had figured it out!
We had transitioned our baby from spending her hikes riding (and sleeping) in a carrier, into a little hiking machine that could take on a steep incline with a pack on her back and determination in her step.
This post is going to go through the steps we took to teach our toddler to hike, how to make the process enjoyable for everyone, and the gear that is essential for hiking with a toddler.
How to Hike With a Toddler
1) Get a Good Carrier
Since I was a nanny up until I had my oldest, I took advantage of trying the different carrier styles that the family I worked for had on hand.
It helped me determine that I wanted a soft-body carrier with multiple carrying positions for the first couple of years.
I did a bunch of research and decided that the Lillebaby would be my hiking companion for the foreseeable future.
When you are looking for a soft carrier to hike with, here are a few things to consider:
1. Get a carrier that works for infants. If you are planning on hiking when your baby is small, choose a carrier that will work from birth through the toddler years.
A selling point for me was that the Lillebaby worked from 7lbs to 45lbs. (I can still fit my four-and-a-half-year-old in it if I really want to!)
2. Get a carrier with multiple carrying positions. I can’t tell you how many times our hike has been saved just by changing a fussy baby’s or toddler’s carrying position.
Our carrier has six different carrying positions. But the most important positions to me were the front-carry, the back-carry, and the front-carry-facing-out.
A baby or toddler can only look so long at their mom without needing a change of scenery, and the front-carry-facing-out position makes that happen.
3. Get an ergonomically correct carrier. It isn’t much fun for a baby or toddler to ride in a carrier when their hips are in an uncomfortable position or their legs are falling asleep.
Make sure any carrier you consider is ergonomically correct for both the inward-facing positions and the outward-facing positions like the Lillebaby is.
The Lillebaby was the only carrier we used until our oldest was almost two years old.
Then we decided to upgrade her to a hiking child carrier. This was so that Ross could carry her when she needed to ride, and he could also continue to carry part of the gear since I would be carrying her little sister before long in the Lillebaby.
When our younger daughter was born, we redistributed the hiking gear load. I would carry the water and snacks in my Osprey with the baby in the front-carry position, and Ross would carry the extra clothing layers for all of us in the large storage area of the child carrier.
Not only was it quite comfortable for him to carry, but the frame could be adjusted to fit me if I needed to use it.
Our daughter loves riding in it! A friend of ours affectionately calls it her palanquin.
Pro Tip: If you are making the investment of getting a child carrier, take an afternoon and go to an outdoor store. Most of them will let you try on the carriers, help you adjust the fit, and even let you put your kid in the carrier and walk up and down the stairs a few times to see which one will work best for you!
The child carrier makes it easier to carry a larger child longer distances, plus it has a storage compartment for clothing, snacks, and a water bladder compartment.
Pro Tip: If you are new to carrying a child when you hike, don’t decide to climb straight up a mountain on your first go. Take a few flat, short hikes to get used to everything and gradually work up to longer, more challenging hikes. Your legs will thank you…
Ross’s first hike carrying the new pack was a little 7.8 mile hike that went straight up and down a mountain. Why not since we were used to hiking with a kid, right?
Let’s just say he was hurting for the next few days.
We heart Osprey so much because they make quality products that are built for adventures. Plus they have an amazing lifetime warrantyon any and all of their products. (Even if they no longer make that product!)
My previous day-pack frame got bent and I sent it in for repairs. Since they no longer made that product, they let me pick from any of their other day packs! Talk about customer service.
In addition to Osprey being fantastic, the Poco AG Plus is built with the parents and kids in mind. It has several roomy pockets for storing gear, complete adjustability for going from one parent to the other, stirrups for the kid’s feet so their legs don’t go numb from dangling, and even a sunshade!
2) Start Hiking When They’re Little
If you don’t start hiking with your children as babies, don’t worry, they can still learn to hike. But I like starting them early for several reasons:
1. Babies and toddlers love nature. Even our younger daughter who was by far the fussier of our two children, would calm down and start taking in the scenery on a hike.
2. Some babies will learn to nap in the carrier. Our oldest daughter would take crazy long marathon naps on hikes even though we usually hike with friends and have lively conversations the whole way.
Her sister on the other hand, never, ever, EVER! slept on a hike. (Even when she was tiny!)
It didn’t keep us from hiking, but she was exhausted when we would get back in the car after a long hike.
Most of the babies and toddlers I know will take some form of a nap in the carrier on a long hike… Apparently, we got the exception to the rule.
3. They will get used to not being entertained. Aside from their special sleeping toy and/or blanket, I have never brought anything specifically to entertain the girls on a hike.
They look around and take in the scenery for their entertainment.
The reason I bring the sleeping aid is just for that, to help them get to sleep even with the noise and bright light all around them.
4. The transition to hiking will be gradual and pleasant. One day your toddler will want to walk for a few feet on your hike. The next time they will walk a little farther. Until eventually, your child will be doing the whole thing on their own.
I think it’s easier to start early instead of waiting until they are old enough to hike. If you start later, they may be physically capable of walking that far, but they will have no idea what hiking looks like or that they can do it.
3) Hike With Their Schedule, If You Can
If you are taking a shorter hike, plan it around naps and mealtimes if you can.
If your child likes to sleep while hiking, plan to hit the trail well before they should be falling asleep. That way they won’t take their nap in the car instead.
If you can’t plan around their nap times and mealtimes, don’t panic. Just give them plenty of time at home to catch up on sleep the following day.
4) Have a Plan
Try to figure out the carrying situation that will make everyone happiest during the hike before you hit the trail.
Our plan for hiking with one child was that I would carry the child and Ross would carry all the gear, water, and snacks. I liked having the snuggle time, especially when they were really little.
After our second daughter was born, we decided Ross would carry our first daughter (when she needed it), extra layers, diapers, and a little bit of water in case we got separated. I would carry the baby, the food, and most of the water.
Pro Tip: Water can be very heavy, especially if you are going on a full-day hike. But you can have each adult and older child carry a smaller amount instead of one person carrying water for everyone.
There are many different ways to distribute the weight, but I recommend thinking about it before you start the hike and sticking with it until the end of the hike.
Worrying about who has the largest load and trying to move things around when you are tired and your feet hurt won’t do any good.
5) Go on Hikes and Walks Often
Most toddlers thrive on repetition, especially when they are learning a new skill.
When our girls were between one and two years old, I started taking them on walks throughout the week. After breakfast, I would take them on a little mile-long loop around a sports complex near our house.
While we were on the trail, I would encourage them to walk as much as possible.
Before long, they could do the whole loop by themselves.
As their legs got used to walking more, they would hike longer each time we were on a trail.
Plus seeing adults that they love and care about hiking and walking over and over makes them more inclined to try it.
Our experience has been that a child can hike the same number of miles as their age, as long as their legs are used to walking.
6) Let Them Walk Whenever They Want To
If you want your toddler to learn to hike, this is the most important tip to remember:
Let your toddler get down and hike any time they want to.
Even when they are slow.
Even when they are tiny.
Even when you know they will only walk for 30 seconds.
Even when they get distracted by every stick and rock along the way.
Let them walk!
From the time our girls could toddle, we would put them down any time the trail was safe.
If they asked to walk on a steeper section, we would let them as long as they held one of our hands and would stay on the inside of the trail.
Be cautious about falling, though. Up until about age 4, if the trail dropped off on one side, we would grab their hands and have them walk holding our hand on the inside of the trail.
Our rule was as long as they were making forward progress, we would let them hike as long as they wanted.
Did it take forever? Yes. Was it sometimes annoying? For sure.
But it was an important part of teaching them how to hike on their own two feet.
Don’t give up. They will get tired before too long.
My only exception to the rule is if they are wanting down just so that they can ask to be picked up again.
I’m sure we’ve all had a toddler who likes to play that little game. Our rule is if they try that more than twice, then they just have to ride for a while.
When we were at this point with either of our girls, we would do a few things to make sure we were not on the trail too late:
1. We took a lot of shorter hikes. We are usually the type of people who love a long hike. And while we continued to do longer hikes with the girls riding most of the way, we also added in a lot of short hikes into our routine to condition the girls to walk on uneven ground and/or steep terrain.
2. We conditioned their legs by taking other walks during the week. Like I mentioned in the previous tip, lots of little walks eventually turn into longer walks.
3. We would go on flatter hikes. We love a good challenge and usually, our favorite hikes have a lot of elevation change.
When the girls were starting out though, we would pick more hikes that were walking along creeks.
4. We would start WAY early. If we were going with a group of friends on a long hike, we would get there an hour or two before the determined start time to give ourselves plenty of time to get the girls layered up and let them walk as much as they wanted.
Our friends always caught up with us before the turnaround point.
7) Let Them Run
As long as you are on a safe spot on the trail, let them run up ahead a little bit. Even if it means that you have to jog to keep up with them.
Kids love running and if they discover that this is another place that they can run, it will be a hit.
Here are some safety reminders if they are running ahead:
1. Keep Them In Sight. Teach them to stop and turn around periodically to make sure they can see you, too. (Once the kids get bigger and I can trust that they will be safe on the trail, they can start running ahead and playing with friends as long as they are in front of the adults.)
2. Be sure they understand basic commands. Only let your child run ahead if they listen when you ask them to stop running, to come back to you, and if they understand and listen to the word “no”.
There are a lot of unexpected things on hikes and they need to be able to listen if they want to run ahead.
3. They should understand how to stay to the inside of a trial. If you are constantly having to pull them back from the edge even when they are holding your hand, then they aren’t ready to run ahead yet.
Sometimes trails can drop off quickly or lead to water. So they should have a basic understanding of what danger would look like and how to handle it before they run ahead.
8) Let Them Stop
Even the best little hikers need breaks more frequently than adults.
Let them stop to admire a rock or a tree stump. If they get tired, suggest taking a break instead of being carried.
Try splashing in puddles or climbing on a fallen tree for a few minutes!
Sometimes that is all they need to get excited about going forward again.
9) Play Games
If you haven’t noticed, toddlers and kids love to play games!
One of the best games to play when you’re hiking to keep them moving forward is chase. We would have them chase us for a while, then we would switch and chase them.
Just remember to do this on safe, flat areas. We aren’t playing chase on the side of a cliff or anything!
Our friends were awesome with this! When our oldest would get bored with playing chase with us, we would suggest we catch up with the closest friend we could see. (Our friends had usually passed us by this point.)
Sometimes we would pick her up and walk quickly to catch up, but then we would put her down to let her chase them. I remember one hike when one of our friends played chase with her the whole way back!
Another favorite game is hide-and-seek. One adult runs ahead with the kids and finds a good hiding spot for them just off the trail. When the rest of the adults catch up, the kids jump out and scare them.
It can be a good time, especially when the adults forget that someone was planning to scare them!
10) Go With Friends
Adult friends and kid friends alike work well for motivating a toddler or young child to hike.
Sometimes toddlers will just need to mix things up in order to keep going. Especially if your child is more extroverted, see if they can walk with one of your friends for a few minutes.
We often hike in a tribe of 10-12 people and most of them are adults. My girls’ rule is that they must be with an adult from the group.
That can give them a lot of variety! On many of the longer hikes, our oldest daughter has taken turns walking with just about everyone.
Sometimes conversations with friends are more exciting than conversations with mommy and daddy!
And Mom and Dad will enjoy the break, too.
If you can find some friends with kids who like to hike, that is always a great motivator as well. Before long, your little one will be trying to keep up with the other kids.
And, of course, the more people you hike with, the more people there are to play games with (see tip #9).
11) Bring Plenty of Water
Thirsty toddlers are grumpy toddlers!
Don’t leave for a hike without plenty of water. Even in the winter, they will need a lot of water with all the moving around that will *hopefully* be going on.
I like to use my Osprey Water Bladder for hikes because I don’t have to worry about carrying water bottles in my hands and the water pouch gets very light as the water is used.
I usually take 1 liter for a 2-hour hike with just me and the girls, and 2-3 liters for a full day hike for all of us, depending on the intensity of the hike.
We also bring our Lollacup for our younger daughter because she has a hard time with the bite-suck action that is required for the bladder. She is starting to get it though and enjoys trying to drink like the rest of us while she is riding (another great source of entertainment!).
12) Bring Plenty of Snacks
Our girls eat at the same four times every day. But when we are on a hike, this rule goes out the window. (This may or may not be a favorite part of hiking for them…)
We keep a stash of healthy snacks for hiking at home to choose from.
We always have a snack or lunch at the halfway point. But if the hike is especially long and they are starting to get cranky, we will let them snack on something as we walk.
Since this feels like such a special treat for them, it is usually all the motivation they need to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Your toddler is going to get dirty on a hike. There is just no way around that.
There will be falling.
There will be playing in the dirt.
And if there is water within a 12-mile radius of the hike, there will be splashing in puddles.
There seems to be a magnetic attraction between kids and dirt and water.
To minimize the damage to your car on the ride home, and keep the cranky factor under control, bring several changes of clothing.
One or two to take in your pack on the hike, and one or two that you can leave in the car and can change them into when you get back.
Here are some tips to help you keep your toddler warm and dry:
In cold weather, layer, layer, LAYER!
If it’s chilly outside they should be wearing:
1. A base layer. This layer insulates the skin and keeps the heat next to your child. Think long underwear or warm tights.
We love these 32 Degrees Base Layer sets. They don’t have them for tiny kids, but we just get the smallest size and roll them up for our toddler.
2. A mid-layer. You can do regular clothing if it is just a little cold, or your mid-layer can be fleece if it is really cold or wet. The fleece will help insulate and wick away moisture if it is raining.
3. An outer layer. If the weather is slightly chilly, we will use our fleece pants and jackets as our outer layer.
If it’s really cold and wet, your outer layer can be either waterproof rain pants and raincoats or heavy coats.
If your kids are attracted to water the way ours are, you may also want to get a rain suit. We like Hapiu Rain Suits since they are completely waterproof and have small sizes.
This baby will keep them completely dry and clean on the inside no matter how wet and filthy they are on the outside. And all you have to do when you get back to the car is take it off.
4. Shoes and Socks. This may seem obvious, but warm socks and shoes can make a world of difference for a hiking toddler.
You can read here about the time when we didn’t have waterproof shoes for our toddler and regretted our decision.
I recommend getting waterproof hiking shoes or boots for hiking any time of the year. They will keep your kids dry while splashing in puddles and keep them warm and happy after the splashing is over.
If it is cold, you should also try to find them some wool or synthetic wool socks.
I did a little research as I was putting together this post and found these MERIWOOL Merino Kids Hiking Socks. I was so excited that their XS size fits our youngest.
They fit her perfectly at almost two years old and they fit her two-and-a-half-year-old hiking buddy (and can even fit our five-year-old in a pinch!)
In the past, we haven’t been able to find the tiny sizes for wool socks, but we just get the smallest size we can find and have the socks double as leg warmers.
5. Hats and Gloves. It’s always a good idea to have hats and gloves in your pack just in case! Especially on a cold day, you’ll be happy you have them, but I’ve used ours in the summer more times than I can count.
If It’s Warm Outside
If it is summertime, you don’t need as many layers, but I would still bring a couple of extra pairs of socks and clothing just in case there is water to be played in or dirt to be rolled in… don’t ask me how I know.
Pro Tip: It is easier to cool down than it is to warm up on a cool day. Dress them warmly and they can always remove clothing if necessary. If you wait to layer them up until they are cold, they will probably be pretty cranky for a while until they feel warm again.
14) Teach Them to Pee Outside
Depending on what age you decide to potty train, learning to pee outside will probably be necessary for little hikers.
With little boys, it’s super easy and they probably have been doing it since they could stand.
With little girls, just hold them in a squat position with your hands behind their knees and their back against you. That way you can move their feet out of the way easily if necessary.
It may take them a couple of tries to get used to it, but before long, you will have a system down!
15) Think of a Small Reward
On especially long hikes, having a small reward to look forward to can make a big difference.
Think of a goal before you start.
Do you want them to hike farther than they did last time? Do you want them to not whine the whole time? Do you want them to do the whole hike on their own two feet?
Once you have a goal, think of a reward. A snack, a treat, a piece of gum (if they are old enough to chew it).
Let the child know at the beginning of the hike what the goal is, and what the reward will be.
We used this method when we did the Skyline Trail last year, and our oldest daughter did 90% of the hike on her own two feet without complaining… all to get a piece of gum when we got back to the car.
I would suggest using this idea sparingly. You don’t want them to think they will get a treat anytime they stretch their legs a little bit!
The Ultimate Gear List for Hiking with Toddlers
Even if your toddler is a great little walker, they still may need to be carried for part of the hike.
Walking on uneven ground is different than walking in a house.
The type of carrier that you may want is a completely personal preference. I prefer to wear the soft carrier with a day pack on my back, while Ross prefers the hiking pack.
We have had a challenging time finding hiking socks that are small enough for a toddler’s toes.
To combat this problem, we get the smallest size we can find and use them as additional leg warmers!
Don’t be afraid to get creative. Once, when we forgot our daughter’s socks on a hike when she was two. We borrowed a pair of our friend’s socks (not a child!) and they went the whole way up her leg. She was nice and warm and thought it was pretty cool to be wearing “adult socks”!
When I was doing some research for this post, I found hiking socks in our toddler’s size!
I ordered them and they fit her and her little friend! The girls and eighteen-months-old and two-and-a-half years old.
Recommendation: Get wool or synthetic wool to keep moisture away from their little feet.
If you are like Ross and prefer to have your day pack and kid carrier all in one, this doesn’t apply to you.
But if you are like me and prefer the soft carrier in the front with a day pack on the back, then you will need to choose something to put your essentials in.
Recommendations: Get something that can fit all your necessities for a day without going overboard. You will most likely fill up whatever size of backpack you get, so get the smallest size that will work for your family.
This is definitely not a necessity if you feel like your kiddo won’t carry it more than a couple of feet and you will end up doing double duty.
But for our kids, getting to carry their own backpack was pretty much the best thing ever.
Our oldest daughter loves to carry the snacks for everyone… then she likes to take the first pick of the treats when we get to the halfway point.
Pro Tip: We started having them wear backpacks around the house or on short walks before we took them to the trail.
Hiking Backpack for Kids: We use the REI Tarn 12 for our girls, or this one has similar features.
If you are looking for a good day pack for your kids, here are some features it should have:
Chest and waist straps:Your child may be a little unsure of all the buckles at first, but once they start having weight in the backpack, the straps will make it more comfortable and easier on their bodies.
Plenty of Pockets:You’ll save time on the trail if you can easily find what you are looking for instead of needing to dump out the contents to find something that fell to the bottom of the pack.
This will help them learn to organize their own pack as they grow.
Bladder pouch: Although a three-year-old isn’t ready to carry a full pouch of water (don’t forget how heavy water can be!) a seven-year-old is absolutely ready. A bladder pocket will give them more room for gear and snacks once they are doing longer hikes and they are ready and able to carry more water.
Whistle:In the unlikely event that they get separated or need to call for help, I want my girls to have easy access to a whistle. Some hiking packs for children have a whistle attached to the chest strap so if the child were stuck and unable to get into their backpack, they can still whistle for help.
The whistle is a lot of fun to use for the children, but teach them not to use it constantly so people will know if someone truly needs help.
Choose one that will work for several ages:I have seen 12 liter packs on kids as young as one and as old as ten. Just be mindful of the weight and the age of the child when you are deciding how much they should carry.
This backpack is fully adjustable for different heights and weights, which is handy with growing kids.
I hope you are excited to start hiking with your toddler!
Here is a quick re-cap of the things to keep in mind on your hikes with toddlers:
But why is there even so much hubbub about meal planning in the first place?
I mean, is there even a payoff for the time and energy that meal planning requires?
In this post, I am going to take a closer look at the pros and cons of meal planning and see if the benefits of meal planning truly outweigh the effort that it takes.
So here is a super honest look at meal planning, from someone who meal plans. A lot.
Meal Planning Pros
1) Meal Planning Saves Money
Purchasing food can be the sneakiest way for money to leave your bank account without you even knowing it.
It’s like your grocery money became a teenager and decided to go out to eat, even though you told it to stay home instead.
Between last minute trips to the grocery store to buy “one quick item,” and loading the family into the car to go out to eat for the third time this week because you don’t feel like cooking, your grocery budget can get out of control.
Meal Planning, and using your meal plan to prepare a grocery list (see number 2 below!) can save you so much money in the long run.
How much money will you save? That will depend on if you have been going out to eat for the majority of your meals instead of eating at home, or if you’ve been buying more food than you can eat at the grocery store.
We can feed our family of four people with massive appetites on a plant-based diet for between $100-$125 a week. When we go out to eat occasionally, we can easily spend $40-$50 per meal (I told you our kids are crazy big eaters, even our 18-month old needs her own plate now.)
That means, for the same amount of money, we could purchase 2-3 meals going out to eat, or 21 meals that we could eat at home!!
Since we only purchase what we will eat in a week, it saves us money because we actually eat what we purchase.
Plus it prevents food from expiring in the pantry, from going bad in the fridge, or from getting lost at the bottom of the freezer.
The only exception is that we pick and freeze a lot of fresh fruit in the summer. But my rule is that the freezer to be completely empty by the time strawberry season rolls around so that I can fill it back up.
2) It Makes Grocery Shopping is Easier
I don’t know about you, but grocery shopping is my least favorite chore. (When I made My Simple Weekly Cleaning Schedule, I wrote grocery shopping down as one of the chores that I need to accomplish each week… because that’s exactly how I feel about it!)
If you are like my husband, who enjoys going up and down the isles looking for fun new things to try, this point may not seem like much for you. I, on the other hand, would meal plan for this reason alone: grocery shopping becomes infinitely more simple when you go with a plan in place.
The only catch to this one, is that you have to make the list using your meal plan, take the list with you when you leave the house, and use it at the grocery store.
Doing that tiny little bit of work ahead of time will save you time, money, and stress at the grocery store.
You won’t be wandering up and down every isle seeing if there is anything you forgot to write down; you won’t be buying something that you never end up using because you decide to go out to eat again; and you won’t be wondering if you need 3 loaves of bread or 2.
3) Meal Planning Saves You Time
Can I tell you a secret?
I don’t enjoy meal planning.
Phew, thanks for letting me get that off my chest.
But here’s the thing, if I don’t enjoy meal planning, why would I want to spend my precious time every single day deciding what to make before I can cook?
If you don’t plan your meals in advance, you are looking at spending 5-10 minutes before breakfast and lunch deciding what to make. Then you will probably spend another 10-20 minutes figuring out what to cook for dinner. That’s up to 40 minutes a day figuring out what food to eat.
FORTY MINUTES A DAY!!
I don’t know about you, but I can think of at least 12 other things that I would rather do with forty minutes a day.
4) It Can Help You Eat Healthier
Since meal planning will encourage you to eat at home more often, you will most likely be eating healthier.
I don’t think I need to convince you that eating out isn’t generally the healthiest choice. Obviously, this depends on what you eat when you go out, but as a general rule, the healthiest meals are made at home.
If you plan your meals ahead of time, you are setting yourself up for success if you are looking to eat a healthier diet.
5) Meal Planning Reduces Your Stress
If you struggle to choose a balanced meal to cook for your family every evening, it is probably stressful.
You may try to outsource that stress to your spouse, your best friend, the love of your life, by asking a simple question: “What would you like for dinner?”
To which they helpfully answer: “I don’t know.”
You respond with: “I don’t know how to make that,” and the search continues.
As it gets closer to dinner time you feel the pressure mounting. You have to get something together for your tiny humans to eat so that you can send them to bed and have a little downtime. If you don’t start soon, it will be a late supper which will consist of cranky kids and a tired you.
At this point, your significant other tries to be helpful and offers a suggestion: “You know what sounds good? Lasagna ”
Thanks, Sweetheart, that was helpful. I would have needed to start that hours ago.
This was my reality almost every night before I started meal planning. It stressed me out and made me frustrated.
Once, I said “Hello” to meal planning, I said “Goodbye” to a lot of stress.
6) It Can Help You Eat Your Leftovers
Throwing food away is not only frustrating, it wastes our time, money, and resources…yikes!
I think I’d rather hang on to all of those things.
When you meal plan, you willcan waste so much less food.
In our meal plan, we eat leftovers for lunch every day of the week, unless we don’t have any leftovers, then lunch is something simple, like a sandwich. In addition to eating leftovers for lunch every day, we also have leftovers every Thursday night.
And if our fridge is bursting at the seams with leftovers, then we also eat them on Tuesday night.
How do we have so many leftovers at our house? Simple, I double everything! It takes so little extra time and money to double a recipe and it gives your family so much more food!
I think the reason we struggle so much with the question “what’s for dinner?”, is that we have so many decisions to make every single day.
Do we need to get some toilet paper? Awesome, there are 24 varieties to choose from.
Do you like to use toothpaste? Great, another 87 choices for you to whittle down.
You’d like a healthy option for your family for dinner? Well, with the help of the internet, there are only 467,987,872 things that you can make!
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. (Which reminds me, we also have too many choices for lettuce!)
Meal planning gives you three less decisions each day because you made them for yourself in advance.
That’s a good enough reason for me to keep menu planning right there!
8) Your Family Will Love It
We are foodies at our house. We generally plan our camping weekends around our meals and will take entire days to make fresh pasta even though we are well aware that you can purchase it at the store for almost nothing.
Often during breakfast, my oldest daughter will ask me what we are having for dinner. When Ross is on his lunch break or driving home from work he calls me and asks what we are having for dinner. And though my younger daughter is still a little young to ask, she shouts suggestions for everyone to hear as soon as she starts getting hungry (“Sloppy Joes,” “Lentil Soup,” “Cake,” etc.,)
The wonderful part about meal planning is that I already know the answer to the questions.
Maybe your family isn’t as into food as mine is, and maybe they won’t be as thrilled when you reveal the menu for the evening, but you can still use this to your advantage.
If anyone complains about what you have planned, just let them know that you’re sorry but it’s already written on the menu and you aren’t at liberty to change it.
9) Having Company Just Got Easier
I used to worry about what to make when company was coming over. I would try to find the perfect thing that my guests would love. And inevitably someone still wouldn’t like it.
Now I just stick with my meal plan. If I have someone coming over on a leftover day, I will just switch the menu with the night before or after.
That was easy!
Cons of Meal Planning:
1) Meal Planning Takes Time
There’s really no way around it. Unless you hire someone else to do this for you, Meal Planning is going to take some time.
I have found that the more meals I plan in one sitting, the less time it takes to decide on each meal.
I think there are a few reasons for this:
1. I don’t have to figure out which food I am in the mood for right now.
If I am deciding between making Burritos, Tacos, Nachos, Quesadillas, Enchiladas, or Fajitas for dinner tonight, I have to decide which one of these things sounds best to me right now.
But If I am planning my weekly dinner menu, I can have Burritos on Monday, Tacos on Tuesday, Nachos on Wednesday, Leftovers on Thursday, Quesadillas on Friday, Enchiladas on Saturday, and Fajitas on Sunday.
I went from deciding on one meal to getting to eat all of the six meals that sound good to me over the course of the week.
(Is anyone else wanting Mexican food right now!?)
2. It is easier for me to decide something for my future self.
I used to have a Pinterest board full of delicious-looking recipes that I hoped to try one day. The only problem was that “one day” never comes.
When I started meal planning, I decided that every Wednesday night was going to be “new recipe night” at our house.
I went through my boards and cookbooks and found everything that I wanted to try *someday* and wrote one down on every Wednesday in my calendar.
When that week would come, I would get the recipe out, write down the ingredients on my shopping list, and make the new recipe on Wednesday.
If I had waited until that day to decide what to make, I probably would have gone for the easiest recipe that featured ingredients that I already had on hand. But since I had made the decision in the past, it was easier for me to follow through on it.
2) Meal Planning Takes Energy
It takes mental energy to sit down and make decisions. And Meal Planning is all about making decisions.
I know, I know, who has time for more decisions?
Here’s the thing: just like buying in bulk can save you money, making decisions in bulk can save energy.
Once you are already in the decision-making mode, it is easier to keep making similar decisions.
So the question is how much energy would you like to use and how often? If you would like to use a little bit of energy for menu planning every day, that’s totally cool if it works for you and you are happy with it.
Or you can use slightly more energy once a week, or month, or 6 weeks…or year if you like to take things to the extreme as I do!
Then you can sit back and kick your feet up instead of scrambling around trying to decide what to make… unless of course, you’re a mom. Then you probably need to go take someone potty or help your children clean up their toys before dinner. But that still sounds way more fun to me than having to decide what to make for dinner!
When I’m making a decision I like to list out the pros and cons together to get a better idea of which list is greater, so here’s a quick recap for you: