by Gary Dek
Children are expensive, and the amount that parents spend on raising them is much more than it used to be. In fact, the Department of Agriculture recently announced a study estimating the costs of raising a child to be approximately $235,000. If your family wasn’t already on a budget before you had kids, changing your spending habits to start saving money now may seem daunting and difficult.
While money won’t ultimately buy you happiness, reducing your debt and saving money can bring you peace of mind, security, and the financial freedom to pursue the things in life that make you happy. Here are a few helpful money saving tips for families looking to build up their emergency fund, save for retirement, and build wealth.
How to Plan Family Meals
When you have a family where both parents work and the kids are all in extra-curricular activities, the last thing anyone wants to do when they get home is make dinner for everyone. Unfortunately, this is when most families end up getting fast food. Instead of enjoying a healthy, inexpensive home-cooked meal, they end up eating out and creating poor eating habits for their children.
Rather than wasting money while growing your waistline, create a meal planner by using a calendar. Decide what meals will be eaten on which days and stick to it. Get a slow cooker so that meals can be prepared in the morning and will be ready by the time everyone gets home. When you know what’s already on the menu, there is no need to waste time worrying about what you’re going to make. You can even make some meals on the weekend, freeze them, and reheat when it’s time to serve.
Save Money When Shopping
After mortgage payments or rent, most people spend more money on food than anything else. The way you shop for your food, or any product or service, is key when trying to save money. By applying the below tips to your general shopping needs, you can expand your savings into all categories in your budget.
- Leave the kids at home. When you take your children shopping they can be distracting and tend to influence you into making purchases you wouldn’t normally make if you were shopping alone.
- Make a list and stick to it. If you have a list, not only will you not forget anything, but if you stick to it, you won’t be tempted to make unnecessary, impulsive purchases.
- Use coupons if you have them and keep yourself aware of sales and special offers. Take advantage of savings opportunities whenever you can.
- Don’t shop on an empty stomach. When you’re hungry, you are more likely to crave foods you might not eat on a regular basis. Do your grocery shopping after a meal or have a snack before heading to the store.
- Save money with Cash Back websites, (FatWallet!)
Planning Your Summer Vacation
Have you really explored the city or town you live in? What about nearby areas? If you take the time to do some research on travel deals, you’ll find that most places are full of fun things to do, like free or inexpensive museums, plays, camping, hiking, sightseeing, etc. Spending quality time as a family doesn’t have to be costly. As long as you’re saving money and the kids are happy, you’re on the right track!
Shop Around for the Best Deals
Some people are used to making all their purchases from one place, but if you’re willing to take the time to shop around, you will find that you can save a lot of money. This is especially true when it comes to mandatory living expenses, such as life insurance, car insurance, childcare for working parents, and internet/telecom services.
While buying car insurance may be a sunk cost, an hour of your time to save just $100 off your annual policy coverage can be worth your time. Researching the best car insurance companies and learning how to compare policies to get affordable coverage may save you thousands of dollars in the long-run.
On the other hand, life insurance is critical to maintaining your family’s financial stability. It’s not an enjoyable purchase and your kids may prefer to go to Disneyland, but should there ever be a tragedy in the family, they’ll always thank you for thinking ahead. Fortunately for American households, the internet has made it incredibly convenient to shop around for these types of major purchases. Reputable websites offer free, instant life insurance quotes to compare policies and costs before dealing with agents, brokers, or representatives.
Have a “Family Night” and Save
Instead of escaping the kids and wasting money on a night out, think of ways to entertain your whole family at home. Board games, movie nights (with popcorn), and charades are all awesome ways to have fun and keep your kids occupied. If you really must get out, go to the park, take the dogs for a walk, or visit the beach. There are always options to have a good time and not spend any money, and if you can get in a little exercise, even better.
Explore Fun, Free Educational Hobbies
Developing a budget that also intellectually stimulates your children can be a great way to save money, both now and later when they may receive college scholarships.
- Take advantage of the library. While used bookstores are a great resource for inexpensive paperbacks, the library provides a wealth of other entertainment opportunities. You can pick up movies, audio books and books for free, and some of them can even be educational in nature. You just have to remember to bring them back on time or else you’ll be charged late fees. Additionally, there are usually activities available for families, like classes and readings – check your local library’s calendar for upcoming events.
- Teach your child valuable life skills. A majority of recent tech millionaires state that they started coding and tinkering online at an early age. Maybe you want to build your child’s computer science or entrepreneurial skills? Teach your child to code online for free or consider starting a blog and asking your child to help you run it. Ask him/her about the subjects they are passionate about and the beautiful designs and websites you can build together. If you don’t have any technical skills either, try out this how-to on starting a blog.
- Check out free museum events and tours. Every city has a natural history, art or science museum that offers free events, tours, or even discounted rates. Help your child explore and find their passion early on by attending free fine arts programs in your city.
Reuse and Recycle
Not only are disposable items like paper plates and plastic cups bad for the environment, they are a waste to your bank account, too. Instead of purchasing a pack of paper towels for $6, dry your hands and dishes in the kitchen with a pack of reusable dishtowels for the same amount. You’ll prevent additional environmental waste and save almost $300 a year to boot.
Additionally, did you know that if you save your plastic and glass bottles and cans, you can recycle them for money? Some supermarkets have recycling booths, but if you check around, you’ll probably find a recycling lot in pretty much any neighborhood. Saving up a month’s worth of recyclables can bring you up to $30 a month, which can then either be saved or used to splurge on takeout during movie night!
Learn to Save Energy
You don’t have to get fancy and install solar panels or low-flow toilets, but you are perfectly capable of turning off your lights when they aren’t needed, using the sleep timer on the television and keeping showers and bath times short. Using major appliances after peak hours is also a good way to save on your energy bill.
Money Saving Tips
If you’re used to eating out all the time, buying new name-brand clothing, and vacationing at all the hip spots, it may be challenging at first to make the changes needed to start saving money and keeping your family on a budget. Try to cut spending in one category of your budget, such as your cellphone, DSL, and cable bill, and then slowly change the rest of your spending habits. Realizing that it is easy to save money and still enjoy life will provide the positive reinforcement needed to continue the process. All it takes are baby steps, but you’ll find that the stress reduction that results from having more money will make these saving tips worth it.
Gary runs Gajizmo.com, educating and helping young adults to make better decisions for success in their personal and professional lives.