Most people like to ask me how I get by with my ever expanding family, with no help from the government and only one of us bringing in a full wage! Well, the answer is really simple - we live within our means and only buy what we can afford! It really couldn't be simpler than that! This is not a rant about government assistance as I believe it helps a lot of people and I have utilized it in the past when I was a single parent and my son was a toddler, so this has nothing to do with that at all, this is just a look at how you could enable a saving in your wallet no matter who you are, what you do or where you're headed in your life! It is a guide to help your wallet, and in many cases, your sanity! Enjoy!
Get rid of the credit card and pay off your debt!
I try to remind people that credit cards are a luxury and not a must-have item! Trust me when I say that they are nothing but trouble in your pocket and a temptation for just about everything you'll ever see that (perhaps) you would never buy if you didn't have that fund there readily available in the form of plastic! What is wrong with waiting until you have the cash instead of spending it now and forever paying it off in the future?! You really don't have to live like that if you play the right way and have a little patience in this "must-have-it-all-now" world that we're all so used to living in! We do not have credit cards and most of our debt has been patiently paid off over the last few years. By the end of 2013 we will owe nothing across the board except for our monthly utilities.
Live within your means!
My husband and I live simply! We don't live in a tent in the middle of the desert living off bugs and dreams, but that would be a pretty fun way to go through life outside of the rat-race if we were stocked up on supplies and had a convenient little oasis just around the corner! But alas, we live in PA, just about as far from the desert as we can get right now and smack bang in he middle of the city, which, as it goes, while not the best of places to live if you like your quiet and space, is actually one of the biggest helpers in saving some cash!
Find the up-side to where you live and utilize it!
If you live in the city, the city has everything you could possibly need! Shops are right there for your convenience and the bus service, while not fabulous by any means WILL get you to where you need to go and so eliminates the need for more than one car - or any car if you work in the city, too, which we don't, but if an opportunity should have arisen in the past we sure would have hopped on it and saved a fortune in gas for the morning commute!
The city has access to medical, dental and pharmaceutical applications within walking distance so if you need help you know you're going to be able to get it in minutes and when you need groceries the stores are right around the corner to pick up supplies - and i'm not talking about corner stores, I'm talking actual grocery stores, which often have produce at a better rate than big name stores and which often supply a better cultural mix of dinner time goodness to fill up your plate! I love it!
Get organized in the kitchen and plan some meals!
Eating on a budget is something you can do to save some of those pennies - be prepared and make meals in advance and utilize your freezer! Grab yourself a crock pot and make up some stews, soups, gumbos and chillis and feed the whole family that night and, again, freeze the rest down! Get creative with pies, pasties, sausage rolls, all home made! Home made bread and cakes, cookies and biscuits (of the America and English variety!). Don't be afraid to cook for yourself - you'll know exactly what goes into your food, be able to control the fat and salt content AND you will no doubt notice a difference in your wallet - sure, it looks expensive to buy fruit and veg, but it actually isn't, not if you're doing it right!
Get yourself down to the farmers market, but go late in the day when they're about to close and it becomes a smorgasbord of goodies at a ridiculously cut down price, just waiting to be scooped up by your good self and put to use at home in all of those lovely recipes you're going to freeze down anyway - cook it all up and put it all away!
Vacations and day trips CAN happen on a budget!
you really don't need to go on a cruise every year or visit Disney BUT you can buy a tent and go camping, which is always a ton of fun for the whole family! Pack them all up in the car and off you go! The great thing about this is you can travel as near or far as you like AND in many places you can also take your pets, which eliminates the cost of a pet sitter!!
If camping isn't your thing, lodges and cabins are also not that much more expensive and fit a generous sized family AND, again, some allow you to take your pets, so do a Google for pet friendly facilities near you and away you go!
Day trips to zoos or reptile huts and even bowling can be easily sewn into your budget throughout the year! Look into buying yearly passes to the places you love the most and think about getting a friend or family member in on the action - for instance, the Philly Zoo has a deal that, for the cost it would take for ONE day trip or so, you can take a family of 5 and 2 family friends all year around to the Zoo on a yearly pass! If you go to some attractions later in the season, you can get discounts and tickets that fold over to the next season! You just have to do your research!
Bowling is fun the whole family can enjoy, too, and close to home! Every year we sign up the kids for free bowling via the Kids Bowl Free website and pay an extra $25 or so to add 4 extra guests! This buys all the kids and guests 2 free games of bowling ALL SUMMER, which is perfect for those days when it is just oo hot to be outside - hop into the air conditioned lanes and bowl instead!!
Check out your local library and listings in the paper for events in your immediate area - many events are free or next to nothing and state fares always bring a smile to kids faces! you just have to look around!
Shop with coupons and deals!
You don't have to be a crazy coupon lady to shop with coupons or hoard a ton of depends or useless junk in your basement, but shopping with coupons on deals you know you're going to use is something more people really should consider! You should also consider the kind of food you really need as apposed to the meat, potato and veggies many of us are raised to endure!
People make the mistake of thinking they need to cook up a bunch of meats to go with the veggies and meat can get extremely expensive! Look around your markets, grocery stores and/or find a butcher if you're lucky enough to have one where you live and think before you buy! Get the 5 for $20 deals or bigger chickens to roast and make into 3 different meals - it doesn't have to be expensive to use meat anymore!
If you need a meat substitute you can buy egg plant/aubergine, mushrooms and such for a great meat replacement texture wise and you can utilize tofu, beans and all sorts to get you the daily balance of nutrition you need! Swap out your chili con carne for a 5 bean and lentil chili with flax seeds and veggies and tell me you don't love it!? Cheap as chips to make and so terribly satisfying!
Leave the snacks in the store!
Speaking of chips - don't buy them! Do you really need 100s of treats in the house with bottles and bottles of sodas or drinks filled with food dyes and things that are going to send your kids loopy before bed time? Absolutely not! Keep the numbers down and leave it for treats! Buy a gallon of milk exclusively for drinking and leave the sodas on the shelf - when the kids have soda they'll find it a treat and not a daily staple! My kids will choose water over soda most days anyway and they know what is good for them, but be sure if there is a lot of soda in the house, they're not going to leave it bottled up and untouched - neither am I for that matter, so eliminate the temptation and buy it once in a while! Maybe even when its part of a deal!
Another thing you don't HAVE to do is eat out! Many people continue to eat out when they become a family, but guess what? For the cost of a meal at a diner you could feed your family at home for an entire week and I am not even slightly kidding! I can't take my family to a diner without feeling incredibly guilty that I could be in the grocery store stocking up on tons of goodies to keep them going through the week! Diners ARE great but make them a once in a while treat, not a once a week treat or even an every day "cause I don't want to cook" ritual - save it for the occasions!
Take out too, its O.K., but once in a while! You don't need "Take-out Tuesday" or "Pizza Friday" at those prices and I'm not saying you shouldn't have them at all, but instead, try buying up some ingredients and making a massive pizza yourselves or put together a healthy stir fry or even make your own egg rolls! The price difference is amazing and, again, you can see what you're putting into your food! I'm not saying don't ever buy take out, but do it a little less and watch those pennies stack up over time!
If you HAVE to smoke...
I don't smoke, but my husband does, and so for us this is a big one! IF you absolutely HAVE to do it, DON'T buy cigarettes! The average smoker will spend at least $5 a day on one pack, some maybe even more, which is $35 a week and $140 a month! This is INSANE! Do yourself a favor and find yourself a tobacconist and buy your tobacco and papers in there! For just $7 a WEEK you can make at LEAST 200 Cigarettes and save yourself a whopping $112 a month! That is $1344 a year! Heck, if you just continue to put that money away in a fund you can probably take the kids to Disney!
Do you REALLY need a car payment!?
The answer to this is NO! If you want a Lamborghini and you can't afford it, don't get it, simple as that! Look around for something you can afford with the money you have and buy a car outright! This is what we do and we never have a monthly car payment! O.K. so our cars are never brand new or as nice as some people think a car needs to be but we shop wisely and buy the right car that works for us at a price we can afford! Our current car is a Chevy Celebrity and not only is is fabulous, it seats 7 and can be utilized for carrying home larger items on the roof rack or in the back with all the seats down! Our family of 5, soon to be 6, has plenty of space in the car on day trips and there is, believe it or not, even space for our dog should we want to take her to the lake or for a run! We used a portion of our tax money the one year to buy the car outright and timed it so that the inspection is due around tax time every year to cover any repairs - no monthly outgoings for the car except the insurance and even then, it is cheaper if you pay in a 6 month block at a time! Buy a cheap run around and work your butt off to save some cash - buy that car you really want with your savings at a later date and avoid the car payments all together! You'll be glad that you did even if you're not hot rodding it around in some unnecessarily suped up car in the mean time, it'll pay off in the future!
Buy second hand!
Don't be afraid to shop the thrift stores and buy on ebay and craigslist! There really is no stigma attached to getting a bargain and breaking for yard sales is bigger than ever! You don't need to pay $50 for the latest toy or $20 for a new dress when you might find something just as adorable at either of these places for a FRACTION of the cost! Just yesterday I purchased over $200 worth of Pixel Chix toys and over $135 worth of littlest pet shop toys for just $5 in Goodwill! They were all bagged together and I wasn't even 100% sure what was in there but I saw a littlest pet shop sign inside and my daughter just ADORES them so for $5 I had to have it! I was delighted with my find and if she didn't love them all so much I'd have made myself a HUGE profit - something you can also think about - pick up things you might not necessarily need and sell them on to buy something you do! This works best if you know the value of the items you're buying so try not to make it a guessing game, but do go with your gut where you can! You just never know!
Don't be afraid to shop in advance either! At one point when my daughter was just a few weeks old I had already lined up several pairs of shoes for her right up to size 5 and clothes from 3-6 months right up to 2T! I shop all of the clearance sections every season swap out and get prepared for the next year and not just for the children, for myself as well! My winter coat that I love and adore is a $200 Lane Bryant coat that I got in their sale last year for just $9.99! I in fact, got 2 of them and sold the other one on ebay and it went for a LOT more than I paid and covered the cost of some new jeans and boots, too! You can't get much better than that! Just think outside of the box!
Also, think before you buy a new TV, entertainment system, baby items, furniture or a couch! You can find these all 2 a penny on craigslist, ebay and at thrift stores, just make sure you check out the goods before you hand over any cash! Some items like mattresses, car seats and make-up are best purchased new though for safety and hygiene reasons! For almost everything else you need, it can almost always be found at a cost affective price - even new, in the sales or with a good deal, so think before you jump in and buy the first thing you see!
Daycare, babysitters and going out!
This last one is a bit of a tricky one - I am not one to judge the reasons why you work, why your kids are in daycare, or why you feel the need to go out every weekend for drinks at the local bar with your guys or girlfriends, but, it is worth thinking about whether it is cost affective in the short run if you do so!
My husband and I decided a long time ago that it was a lot more beneficial for us personally to have me stay home and him go to work. The idea is that even on 1 full income, we still get around about the same money as we'd have if I worked and spent money on daycare so this way I get to stay home, work on my own projects, and keep house while enjoying the time with my kids - I am well aware that this isn't the scenario that interests some people though, and that is fine too, you have to do what works for your family or else you'll not be happy in the long run, but daycare costs are definitely something to think about and staying at home and perhaps even working from home can be beneficial all around!
As tricky as the decision to go to work and utilizing daycare is, going out on a night out is not such a toughy! If you can't afford to go out, pay a babysitter or spend the night partying then DON'T! When you have kids this is a luxury, not a necessity! Bills come first and I'll never understand people who choose to go out and party over paying the utilities! If you can comfortably afford it, then go for it, but if you need to save a little money, then cut back to one date night a month or something and really enjoy that one night instead of making it a habit every week! You have all the time for that when the kids have grown!
Lastly - you could have a get together at home! Remember that your home isn't just for your immediate family, you could invite the friends and family over for a night of fun indoors, which doesn't have to be liquor filled in front of the kids - have a wine and cheese night for sure, but with limited quantities, get the kids some sparkling juice and let them try out the cheeses or eliminate your alcohol all together and have a mocktail night with the girls and a sappy movie or board game - maybe not monopoly or you're likely to be there for days or until someone tries to throttle the other and it turns into a disaster - unless you like those kind of games and passionate competition!
At the end of the day, we're all different and we ultimately like what we like and do what we do because it makes us happy - saving money and living on what we have makes us happy in our home, without the worry of too many payments on week to week check. BUT! That being said, perhaps having the nice car makes you happy in yours! IF you're really struggling though and need to make some changes to your wallet, these are all something you might like to consider - even for the short run! Saving now will definitely put your in good stead for the future and really, you don't need those new pair of shoes anyways, the ones you have are perfectly fine - you're going to be OK! ;)