Any stage in a child's life can be the expensive one, depending upon one's choices:
Infant: buy every designer label latest and greatest gizmo/clothing item or shop second hand, and limit your purchases based upon how often you can launder. Expensive canned liquid formula vs breast feeding. Processed baby food in jars vs home made.
Early Childhood: enroll in the most expensive age 2-5 preK program vs joining a Mom and Me community based free group that meets at the park, sign up for free story time hour at the public libray.. Have a live out Nanny (even if you don't work outside the home) vs joining a babysitting co-op if you do work outside the home, work opposite shifts from DH, split the cost of a nanny with a neighbor.
Tweens: closet adn drawers stuffed with the latest designer shoes/clothing labels vs older siblings hand me downs or items purchased at the second hand market, limiting one or 2 "key" pieces (bought on sale, or combining holiday gift cards for) and keeping the bulk of the wardrobe as more generic basics. Limit the wardrobe during these fast growing years to mix/match outfits, layered looks to get more mileage. Alter clothing as well (too short pants with blown out knees make great Summer shorts) Consign/sell what you can no longer use and put this cash towards future purchases. Learn to sew.
Teens: Buy whatever they want, whenever they want at the most exclussive, expensive shops and cram it all into overflowing closets vs putting the kid on a clothing allotment. You get $X for your clothes. Go over that, and you need to come up with the cash (start thinking about a part-time job). Base needs as you did for tween kid.
Othodonture/dental/medical care: that's an on-going expense. Plan for it, use Flex accounts, take advantage of no interest payment plans at the dentist and orthodontist. We cover one set of braces. If orthodontic aftercare (retainers) are complied with, and teeth get crooked again-they are on their own.
Food-take them out to eat three times a day vs cooking at home, brown bagging for work/school. Teach them how to cook simple things. Steaks vs sale priced chicken, imported produce vs seasonal, local fruits/vegetables. Individual snacks and drinks vs bulk boxes and home brewed pitchers of drinks.
College-we have a set amount of $ towards each semester's tuition (contingent upon successful completion/grades), and encourage the kids to attend local community and state schools to take advantage of the in state discounted tuition for at least 2 years and live at home. Books and msc-they are on their own.
Cell phones-We put the kids on a family plan, at a cost of $10 per kid. Unlimited texting, unlimited within our plan calls. Generous family plan minutes. We buy ONE, basic phone. You want bells and whistles? You pay the difference between the $35 phone and your dream phone.
Computers: we provide a basic, family computer. You want a bells and whistles lap top? you are on your own.
Extra-curriuclars: over subscribe kids into every possible after school and weekend activity, plan on spending your afternoons and weekends driving kids here and there vs. limiting extra curriculars to one-two activities, and selecting more affordable ones (think Horsebacj riding vs Scouts). Get uniforms second hand, sell or trade up to bigger sizes as needed. Scouts cost us $25/year for registration fees, we must supply the uniform (see previous note), monthly camp outs cost $10. Have kids earn this thru chores at home.
Room decor-redecorate every 3-5 years vs stick to new paint once they hit a new stage and do it your self. Basic beige/white curtains can be reused. Buy the $800 designer complete bedding ensemble with matching drapes vs a quilt at discount store (Marshalls, Big lots, TJMaxx)and re-use the basic sheets hidden under the "updated" quilt. Use a duvet cover. Buy $$ Pottery Barn furniture and get rid of it when they are 5 and update the kid to a designer bed suite vs using second hand furniture. DD has dear aunt and uncle's Broyhill bed suite, DS's have my and my brother's Ethan Allen maple beds,dressers, night table. Ebay'd and got them a desk.
Car: pay for driving school, the permit and license, the spike in your auto insurance, the additonal umbrella insurance policy vs. make the kid do the aforementioned. Buy them a brand new 2011 car, pay for the gas and maintenance repairs/tires vs making them do it.
Senior year HS expenses: Pay for everything, even if they don't want it vs talking to your kid and finding out their interests. Class ring? If you won't wear it (and will stop wearing it once you hit college)-why bother? Class trip, picnic, banquet-all choices. Graduation rentals are a fixed amount in the fee-plan for it. Ours was $50. Take your own photos, plan for parties at home, etc.
Interesting topic. It clearly shows that one's mindset effects the choices made. I am raising my kids to be independant, to value $, to understand priorities and choices. One can't do everything and that's OK. If a kid has everything until the ripe age of 22, what happens to them when reality sets in? or do you expect to pay for everything forever?