Kids cost plenty. Fortunately, they make pretty good tax deductions as well. Making sure you make the most of tax benefits available from birth through college graduation can dramatically decrease the amount it takes to raise your children. Here are four of my favorite ways to make the tax code work for me. The trick with all these is planning. Take advantage of what you can for 2009, and make plans for 2010 now, while you still can.

1. Get a Job

Sometimes it seems that it’s more expensive for both parents to work than for one to stay home and take care of the kids. And in many situations, it is. However, the Childcare Tax Credit eases the burden of childcare costs, especially if you work only part time. The Childcare Tax Credit is exactly that — a credit. This makes it incredibly valuable as it directly reduces your tax bill. This credit is calculated based on childcare expenses for children up to age 13 (older if they are physically or mentally incapable of caring for themselves), that amounts to 20-35 percent of qualifying expenses depending on your Adjusted Gross Income. Maximum qualifying expenses are $3,000 for one qualifying dependent and $6,000 for two or more.

2. Save For College (or just buy school uniforms)

The tax code definitely favors saving for your child’s college education. A couple of good tools are Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) and Qualified Tuition Programs (529 Plans). Earnings or gains in both of these type of investments grow tax-free. Withdrawals also are tax-free when they are used to pay for qualified educational expenses. Qualified expenses for ESA withdrawals include tuition, fees, books, supplies and equipment. Got kids still in K-12? ESAs aren’t just for college. They can be used for K-12 as well. You can even use the money for uniforms, extended day programs, and room and board. Maximum contributions to ESAs are $2,000 per year.

Like ESAs, 529 Plans grow tax-deferred and the withdrawals are not taxed if used for qualified expenses. These plans are state-sponsored programs and annual contribution limits are set by the sponsoring state or educational institution. They typically have much higher contribution limits than ESAs and all or a portion of large contributions may be deductible from federal, state, and gift taxes.

3. Buy Savings Bonds

It may sound old-fashioned, but buying savings bonds is still a great way to finance higher education. Interest on proceeds of qualified savings bonds (specifically, Series I bonds or qualified Series EE bonds issued after 1989) is still tax free when it is used to pay education expenses for joint filers with less than $104,900 in Adjusted Gross Income. If you make between $104,900-$134,900, the interest will be only partially taxed. The limits for single filers are $69,950-$84,950.

4. Give Away Kids' Stuff

All the toys, clothes, and educational aids you’ve bought over the years are worth a lot more on your tax return than they are cluttering up your home. Use one of the many software programs (like Turbo Tax’s It’s Deductible) to calculate the “thrift store value” of your trash in order to turn them into tax treasure. The key here is to keep track of what is in all those big trash bags you drop off at the the local collection site or church rummage sale. You will be surprised at how fast those onesies and Tonka toys add up to a fat deductible.

Raising kids is expensive. Minimizing your tax bill eases the pain. In addition to the above tips, seeing a professional tax advisor can go a long way toward making the IRS code work to your benefit.