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Here are 7 smart ways for families to save money:
For most families, the food bill is usually the highest bill that you can actually do something about. You still want your children to have proper tasty and healthy nutrition though. To get started, take a look at:
- This list of practical ways to save money on groceries by Moneycrashers.
- The book "Cheap. Fast. Good!" by Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross. This is more than just a recipe book; it's a clear and helpful guide especially for families explaining exactly how to bring down your grocery bill, how to make a meal plan, and more. I own a copy of this book and love it. And the recipes besides being cheap, fast and good, are actually healthy too.
2. Cut the cable cord
If you have Cable TV, it's another big expense for many families, and it has the downside of exposing your kids to ads that might not even be age-appropriate. Instead replace your movies and shows with Netflix (or other preferred streaming service). "But... the sports!" I hear you thinking. For that, we use Sling. You'll need the sports add-on package, and you'll need to check if your favorite sports channels are covered first before signing up. Bonus clever way to save even more money: you can actually suspend your Sling service temporarily (turn it off and back on) which you should do on the off-season for your sports. For example, no-one in my family watches baseball, so my husband suspends Sling during the summer. He turns it back on just before football season.
You will need to do the math for your situation: We still save money by replacing cable with Netflix and Sling, but whether you save will depend on the cost of your internet-only plan. We're saving a small chunk every month, and over the year it really adds up. Plus, it's awesome to watch TV without ads.
3. Gift-giving: plan gift buying during the year
This is a method I started so I didn't forget anyone's gift at Christmas or birthdays, but it had the wonderful side-effect of saving a lot of money. Here's what you do: open up your memo app on your phone and write down the name of each person to whom you normally give a gift during the course of the year. Then leave a gap under each name. There are two steps to this:
- Any time you think of an idea of something they like, for example you're reading a library book and you think "my mother-in-law would love that book!", write down the item in the gap below their name. Ideas can come from anywhere and at any time.
- Next time you're shopping - whether online or in person - and you see a deal related to your gift idea for any of the people on your list, buy it!
You'll save money by clever planning and ensuring you have the right gift for the right person. Also, you'll wind up spreading out your gift purchases over the year. You're also less likely to wind up making costly impulse purchases at the last minute. I find that of all the methods I've listed here, this one has a much bigger effect than you would as an idea for managing money in the family.
Another option, for reciprocal gift exchanges with family you feel close to, is to initiate a gift tradition with them. In this agreement, you could suggest a particular budget, or alternatively suggest occasions where you do or don't exchange gifts (for example, exchange gifts at Christmas but not at birthdays). We have a couple of family members who we've made arrangements with to give gifts from the adults to each other's kids, but not between adults themselves since the adults already have most things they truly need. This avoids needing to get a gift just to get the person something.
Finally, a gift of home-made cookies or other home-made craft can often go over a lot better than a gift that you don't know if the person will like. Home-made items are a wonderful way to show the recipient that you spend time and love on them - not just money.
4. Family entertainment
Entertainment and activities can be expensive. But they don't have to be! And you don't need to be cooped up at home all day either. Find things to do that are free: hike some local trails, play football in the park or backyard. Go to the library. Play board games. I've put together a list of 23 free or cheap summer activities to do with kids.
For further inspiration, try the family entertainment ideas in this article at SheKnows or the ideas in this article at Parenting Magazine.
5. School supplies, electronics, and home items
You may be wondering how to save money on all of these at once. It's simple: declutter. The next time you have 15 minutes, start on decluttering one room. Just start! We decluttered for another reason: painting our house. But we found again that a wonderful side-effect was saving money. We uncovered all kinds of things - extra school supplies like a new package of pencils, plastic folders that could be re-used, and more. We also found earbuds that I would have otherwise had to shell out for, and other things. The way you save money is by finding stuff you didn't think you had, which saves you from having to buy more. Don't wait until you desperately need something to declutter and hope you find it - that's too late! Start now and do little bits at a time.
If this seems overwhelming, don't worry! I've written a separate article on how to successfully declutter with a busy family life and the method I followed (spoiler: it was not the Kondo method).
Your aim when decluttering is to find things you don't want and donate it to charity. Or if anything is in near-new condition, you could sell it on eBay or have a yard sale. This approach could even make you a bit of extra money. But during this process, you'll come across lots of stuff that you will actually truly need, and that you didn't know you had.
The other bonus is that you actually feel richer when your home is less cluttered. It just looks better. So it's well worth doing this for the positive feelings you and your family will experience.
Even after decluttering, you may still need to buy some school supplies - but don't worry, I have a separate article on the best places to order school supplies online without breaking the bank.
I've also done the calculations for how much you save if you make your own laundry detergent - you can decide whether or not it's worth it to do it.
6. Buy seasonal items ahead, in the after-season sales
For example, purchase the next year's Valentine's cards for your children's class immediately after this Valentine's Day. Same for Halloween decorations and other seasonal items. If you buy right after an event is over, the item is marked down a lot. The only downside is that you may not have as much choice of what's available. It's still worthwhile doing this anyway, because you can always supplement during the main buying season later if there's an item you really need. At least this way you'll have some items at rock-bottom prices.
It's also worth thinking about how many seasonal decorations you really need, given that you're storing them and typically only bringing them out once a year. Don't feel tempted to buy more than you need.
Clothing for you and for the kids need not be expensive.
- For everyday clothing for kids (pants, tops, shirts, etc), I find that I can often get cheaper online deals at budget-friendly children's clothing stores like The Children's Place than at Walmart or Target. As a bonus, you'll find much trendier styles at The Children's Place too. I also recommend Carter's. If you want more ideas, take a look at my article on the 6 best budget-friendly children's clothing stores.
- For yourself, try the designer markdown stores, like TJ Maxx, Ross Dress for Less, SteinMart, and Marshalls. You can get brand names at rock-bottom prices there.
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Bonus: All-in-one resource
If you're looking for a go-to place for saving money on the family household, I recommend the website Living Well Spending Less by Ruth Soukup. It's a fantastic resource of ways for families to save money on everything related to the household, and how to be financially smart.
Above I've covered 7 different areas where a family can save money in their household budget. You don't need to spend a lot to have fun.