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:
- 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.
- Shop Smart. You don’t have to be a hardcore couponed 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. Try 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!”
- 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 tank-less 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. 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.