Last year, CNN reported that the cost of raising a child has skyrocketed nearly 40% in the last 10 years. Parents can now expect to shell out about $227,000 on each child between birth and the age of 18. That’s a huge amount of money – but when you consider the clothing, food, shelter, education, and other aspects of raising a child, it’s easy to see how your bank account is often dry at the end of the month.
Here’s the problem: Lots of money-saving advice requires a complete lifestyle overhaul for you to see a return. Whether it’s switching to a more sustainable lifestyle, or skipping out on family vacations, you simply might not be willing to make the huge sacrifices that frugal living sometimes requires.
This is understandable. I have two children, and I pride myself on providing them with the best I can manage. It would be hard for me to completely overhaul our way of life to save a little cash. That’s why, when my budget became tight recently, I looked for baby steps to savings.
Some of the smallest changes in your lifestyle can reap the biggest benefits when it comes to a floundering budget. When you understand that saving money with your family doesn’t have to be all about extreme couponing or deprivation of quality time, you might be more inclined to make tiny changes and save more – I know I was. If you make saving money a family affair, it can lift some of the burden off your shoulders, and it teaches your kids important lessons about spending and saving.
Money-Saving Tips for Families
The most frugal families know that lavish trips and the latest clothes do not necessarily make a happy family. Reducing bank account strain, however, can help relieve family stress. There are many simple things you can do to ease your monthly finances:
1. Plan Your Meals
One of the greatest downfalls of even the most frugal family is an impromptu trip to McDonald’s in lieu of dinner. Instead of serving up a healthy meal for under $2 a serving, you end up splurging – on calories and money – to feed your family, making it an automatic budget buster.
By taking the time to plan your family’s meals, you remove the excuse of not knowing what’s for dinner. Though you can plan any way you want, I find that it’s easiest to plan a week at a time. When I already know that I’m serving up chicken on Tuesdays, I can get started on supper without staring at the fridge for 20 minutes or resorting to a fast food meal. To help plan your meals, use a free online meal planner, such as Food on the Table.
2. Shop Smart
You don’t have to be a hardcore couponer to save money on groceries. Instead, smart strategies can relieve pressure at the store so you don’t overspend.
It’s imperative that you only shop once and get everything you need in one trip. Heading to the store for a forgotten gallon of milk or an extra loaf of bread can cause you to repeatedly overspend all week long, and plus, it wastes gas. I also like to shop without the kids. When my little ones are with me, it’s harder to stay focused and resist spontaneous purchases – especially when they’re clamoring for them.
3. Arrange for a Staycation
Instead of blowing your budget on a trip to Disneyland, see what fun stuff you can do nearby instead. If you can take a few days off work and school, a “staycation” feels like a vacation even if you’re sleeping in your own bed.
Many nearby towns and cities have tons of stuff to do, whether it’s historical sites, campgrounds and hiking trails, free museums, or cheap daytime admission to the movie theater. When times are tight, it’s fine to nix the yearly vacation for something new. As long as you make it fun for your kids, they’ll hardly miss the trip. Vacations are about spending time and making memories together. Do you really have to go out-of-state for that?
4. Invest in Reusable Items
Disposable goods are usually cheap and super-convenient, but not when you have to buy the same items repeatedly. Your family probably uses a ton of paper products, but why keep spending your cash on them when you can purchase reusable goods instead?
Paper towels can cost around $1 a roll – instead, buy a pack of $1 washable cloths and you’ll save money in the long run. Rather than buying plastic water bottles by the case, purchase a filter and aluminum water bottles for each family member to get your water for cheap. Before you grab a disposable item off store shelves, ask yourself if there’s a reusable solution instead.
5. Buy Secondhand
Buying previously used items can definitely take some getting used to, especially if you’re used to brand new gear. But tons of stuff can be bought used without any difference as to how and when you use it.
For instance, I refuse to buy books from the big box bookstore when I can frequent local used book shops for way cheaper. I can fill my kids’ bookshelves and support local small businesses at the same time. Toys are another item you can save money on by buying used. Outdoor bikes and scooters are big-ticket items, but they’re significantly more affordable when bought from garage sales or thrift stores. You might be surprised at what you can get for a small amount of money without sacrificing your kids’ fun.
6. Shop Around
A couple of years ago, I had the sneaking suspicion that I was paying too much for satellite television. Being the reality TV junkie that I am, I wasn’t willing to get rid of our service (or the Disney Channel) altogether, so I started shopping around. Once I collected various package prices from a couple of other service providers, I contacted my own to negotiate a better rate. After only five minutes on the phone, I had credits for a couple months’ worth of service, a lower price for my package, and six months of premium channels for free.
Shopping around for cell phone plans, insurance, cable or satellite TV, or just about anything else you pay for regularly can net you better deals without drastically changing your lifestyle.
7. Entertain at Home
If the kids are driving you crazy, it can be tempting to head out to the movie theater or bowling alley just to get out of the house. But your day trips can spell disaster for your budget.
Instead of nixing family time altogether, find ways to keep the kids entertained at home. A stash of board games, a run through the sprinkler, or a home movie night complete with popcorn can keep your kids occupied for pennies. If you need to get out of the house, try being park critics: Head out to parks in your area and rate them according to a bunch of different characteristics. It’s fun, and let’s you know which places to come back to later.
8. Head to the Library
One of the best ways that I entertain my kids on the cheap is a trip to the public library. It’s a perfect outing, and allows us to bring home free movies, audiobooks, and books to enjoy throughout the week. It saves a ton of money on rental fees, and is the perfect way to answer the age-old whine, “I’m bored!”
Rental movies cost about a dollar a day, and can be a major problem if not returned on time. As long as you live within your city’s limits, library cards are free and late fees are minimal. You can save more money if you make sure to always get your items back on time.
9. Be Energy Smart
You’ve probably heard it a million times: Save energy and you save money. Of course, not every family has the means or the know-how to install a new low-flow toilet or a tankless water heater. Still, you can make saving simple by conserving energy the old-fashioned way: Turning off lights, timing showers, or taking baths can all help to lower utility bills, while teaching your kids an important lesson about energy conservation. While you might find yourself nagging from time to time, conserving energy eventually becomes habitual for everyone.
Saving money with your family doesn’t have to require drastic steps. Instead, small, simple methods can make a big difference for your bottom line. It might take some getting used to, but getting your family on board with your money-saving efforts makes it easier to gain a little wiggle room in your budget or to add more padding to your savings account. The reduced stress is worth the extra effort.
What other money-saving tips do you have for families?