When people warn you that having kids is expensive, it’s no joke. From diapers to food, braces to sports activities the costs add up quick. For a middle-income family in the U.S. raising a child up until age 18, costs an estimated average of $245,340 (or $304,480, adjusted for projected inflation), according to the 2013 “Cost of Raising a Child” report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Of course, this number fluctuates dependent on where you live and your living habits. Saving money as a family may be more complex than budgeting as a single adult, but it can be done successfully and save you loads for retirement, saving accounts, long vacations, and mean more readily available investment capital.
Yet, saving money doesn’t have to mean drastic reductions, rather small, targeted steps as an entire family can mean substantial savings. No matter the size of your family, use these tips to increase your family’s frugality and reduce the constant feeling of financial squeeze:
First and foremost, hold family budgeting meetings. Like any good business that needs a stable budget to be profitable, your family will thrive with a clearly defined and agreed upon budget. Include your spouse and older children (kids feel great about contributing to “adult” decisions), at a regular decided upon time—for example, the first Sunday of the month after dinner. (This helps to establish it as a habit.) Use an organizing tool like a spreadsheet, app, or budgeting binder that can be easily edited. And, you want to focus in on four main topics:
- Review past spending and compare this to the set budget. (There are some great budgeting apps like Wally, Mint, and GoodBudget that can help you easily visualize the breakdown of what categories you spend the most on.)
- Establish spending for the coming budget period and define in what categories.
- Identify any current problems and potential issues with the budget and brainstorm solutions.
- Define any goals and track progress on current goals like paying off your eldest son’s braces or putting away a certain amount toward college.
Take a staycation. When every one of your kids’ friends are bragging about their upcoming spring break trips to Disneyland, the beach in Florida, or skiing in the Rocky Mountains, it’s hard to tell your kids that they’re staying home for their week off. But, that’s precisely what you should do. There is plenty to be explored in your own community and nearby metro areas. Take some days off of work and between free museum days, outdoor activities like hiking or bike riding, and movie theater matinees, a staycation will still be filled with memories and quality time together.
Embrace energy efficiency. We all know turning off the lights after you leave the room, using energy-smart appliances, and taking shorter baths/showers is good for the environment. But, it’s also good for your monthly bills. Even if you don’t have the resources right now to install new, appliances that use less water and energy, the entire family can still conserve energy and thus, money. Make it a game to turn off the TV when done watching, unplug electronics, and turn the faucet off when brushing teeth. Start with a couple energy-saving techniques and then add a new one to focus on every couple weeks.
Meal plan like a boss. After a long day at work for you and school for the kids, the easiest diner option—a pizza, fast food, Chinese takeout—can feel like the perfect, simple solution. But, it’s going to end up costing you more in the long run in both money and nutrition. Meal planning may feel time consuming at first, but after a few weeks you’ll have it down to a science. Over the weekend—Sunday perhaps—plan out what your family’s going to eat for the week. Make meals ahead and stick them in the freezer or do some shopping to get ingredients for the week, or at least the first few meals of the week in advance. Buy in bulk whenever possible. Luckily there are some apps to help with this process like Plan to Eat, Cook Smarts, and even Pinterest could be used to your advantage.
It’s okay to say ‘no.’ Anyone with children will tell you a trip to any store—grocery, drug store, mall—is incomplete without multiple asks of “Can I get this?” followed by a temper tantrum. Or, things like sugared cereal and toys are just placed in the cart when your back is turned. All of these little extra add-ons can add up over the course of the month with little to show except a kid sometimes amped up on candy with another stuffed animal in the toy box. Once your kids are old enough to understand, have them help you make a list of what you’re going to buy and then check it off while shopping. If they fuss about something explain it’s not on the list and so it’s not the time purchase it…unless they can and want to do so with their allowance.
Find the free. Check your community’s calendars of free things to do. Often times you’ll find free story times, music, and outdoor activities—especially for the kids. Oh, and don’t forget the kids eat free or half priced nights at different restaurants. Throw one of these events together with some time at the park and you have yourself a fun-filled, free, child-friendly day!
Plan your purchases. It may seem like commonsense, but most things from winter coats and cable knit sweaters to outdoor grills and inflatable pools are sold seasonally. That means you can usually find the best discounted price on many items right after the season for the use has passed. Buy Halloween costumes for the next year right after Halloween this year. Same goes for holiday décor and swimsuits.
Do date night on the down low. You need time away from the kid(s) to reconnect with just your partner. But, that doesn’t always have to mean dinner at a restaurant and a movie, concert or theater performance. While those things are fun, see if family or trusted friends will take the kids for a bit while you and your love have a cozy night in making a nice meal and watching a new movie on the Netflix queue.