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Budgeting 101 for Parents

Katya Bowd

Posted on November 24 2017

The best things in life are free, right?

It’s been said that money isn’t everything. Unless you don’t have any, it’s hard to think about much else. So if the end of the month comes and the wallet’s looking a little roomy, you may need to implement some money saving hacks to help you stretch your money between paychecks.

In the beginning, a lot of us enter parenthood feeling like we have a pretty good handle on our finances. But then the first couple of years of parenting whoosh by and you suddenly feel like you’re personally financing diaper manufacturers. After adding kids to the equation, many parents find they can’t look at money quite the same way anymore.

It helps to have an idea about how much the budget will change before the family starts growing. If you had a budget on paper before you had kids – congratulations! You’re smarter than many of us. If you didn’t, don’t stress – you’re not alone. It’s hard enough figuring out how to combine finances when you go from single to married, let alone plan ahead for the expense of raising children.  It CAN be difficult, but it helps to get ahead and build a strategy for avoiding some of the pitfalls of family finance.

#1 – Start thinking “generic/store-brand.”

Brand names are so comforting. There are so many psychological cues that marketers use in their advertisements to get us on board with claims of superior quality. But, in reality, the money they spend on their advertising is always added to the cost of the product. We all know this intellectually, but somehow that knowledge doesn’t always translate to our buying habits.

Baby products, household items, groceries, and clothing can all be potential budget-busters if buying name-brand or by designer remains a priority. Sure, there may be a few products in which the difference in quality is significant. But do your homework – being a discerning consumer has its benefits. There are products that really don’t offer a particular advantage when buying name-brand versus generic.

#2 – Revamp your family traditions.

Learn how to budget money and save by keeping holidays simple and being creative about giving gifts. It can be difficult to break a regular habit of eating out regularly or splurging on less-than-frugal gifts for birthdays or holidays. We sometimes reflect the habits of the previous generation in our own attitude toward money. Sometimes we simply don’t adjust our habits when transitioning from “adulthood” to “parenting.” When it’s just you, or even in the married-but-no-kids phase of life, being thrifty isn’t always essential. But, it’s usually not sustainable to hold on to extravagant traditions as parents.

As you look forward to having children or if you’ve already begun growing as a family, make it a point to plan and develop traditions that are sensible for your situation. One family may have the means to go out for special occasions – another may want to become skilled at hosting get-togethers (the kind in which everyone contributes to the meal by bringing something). You may need to become a deal-hunter, or even make it your policy that gifts are DIY projects. Don’t let a misplaced sense of obligation to extended-family traditions put your family in the poor house.

#3 – Upcycle and recycle as much as possible.

Toys! Clothes! Household items! They can all be used and reused, generally. Hand-me-downs are the ultimate money saving hack because they go two ways. Not only can you save money by giving new life to someone else’s unneeded items, you can pass on the savings with your own goods once they are no longer needed by your family.

Want to keep some sentimental items, but don’t want to store them? Skip the toy aisle this Christmas! Baby clothes can become doll clothes with a little creativity. Make a set out of old housekeeping-related items like spatulas, plastic dishes, and worn-out tea towels and pot holders and let your little ones “play house.” Kids love to be like grownups and use “real” items for their play!

Remember those DIY gift projects? Old jeans can become quilts, and jean pockets can inspire hundreds of amazing craft ideas! The possibilities are endless once we break away from retailer-inspired gift-giving. Make a place where you can keep the scraps until you’re ready to create something so you don’t lose track of anything or create clutter in catch-all places.

#4 – Systemise your shopping experience.

So you downsize your eating-out budget and start creating thrifty gifts to reduce spending on expensive presents. What about the regular shopping for everyday essentials? Mums can’t avoid buying groceries and other necessities, but it is still possible to reduce their strain on the family budget by streamlining the buying process.

Start by picking the right day for weekly shopping – and try to keep to one trip a week (or less!). The more time spent in a store, the more we feel prompted to buy. Each time we walk through the doors of grocery stores and retail establishments, we feel the effects of their in-store marketing. Make your life easier – pick the right day, when you’ve had time to map out your spending goal, make a menu, and create a proper grocery list. The right time of day is important, too, as you don’t want to be too tired to make smart decisions (and do the math for staying on budget). Eat before you go, and take a calculator!

Taking little ones with you? For heaven’s sake, take snacks with you to the store. It cuts down on the time you spend in the store by significantly reducing tantrums from boredom or hunger.

#5 – Play “shop the pantry.”

Speaking of limiting shopping trips, one tip for saving money is to make a weekly game out of shopping your pantry. We’ve all done it… you buy extra canned goods or additional rice and beans when they’re on sale and then you forget about them. They somehow find their way to the very back of a shelf or cabinet where it’s impossible to see them. Somehow, they never make their way into the weekly menu.

Never lose your staple ingredients again! Before you make your grocery list – in fact, before you even start making a menu for the week, see how many items can be located in your pantry and refrigerator. Be thorough! When you find all the little odds and ends in your pantry, see how many menu items can be made with just what you have. It’s easier than it sounds! But, so often, mums don’t stop to do this because they open the fridge first and only notice what they are out of, and that’s how they start their shopping lists.

Get creative, and put some of those sales finds from previous shopping trips to use. You may just find that you save yourself money twice – fewer things purchased AND fewer things thrown away in the future.

#6 – Budget in thrifty treats.

It’s not all about the everyday essentials, though, is it? Often there can be leaks in the budget from impulsive outings that weren’t well thought out and, therefore, overly expensive. Whether it’s an unplanned stop to buy goodies for the kids, or an impromptu outing because you haven’t had a date night in two months. A good portion of the family funds might be unintentionally “splurged.”

Let’s face it. It’s not healthy to never do anything fun. And, if you try it long enough, you’ll either have an open rebellion on your hands OR you’ll burn out and end up splurging more than you would have otherwise. So just plan to treat yourself and your family on occasion! Make it a game. Brainstorm budget ideas to save money on treats and family outings, and look for as many free activities as you can.

Even finding free extras for a planned expenditure can count! One couple occasionally goes out to a fancy restaurant that offers free gourmet cheeses and crackers, and they have coffee-and-dessert dates. They eat at home first and then bring on a babysitter. Then, they go enjoy the fancy environment, spend a small amount on coffee and dessert, take advantage of the free bit, and choose to leave a nice tip since they don’t overspend on an expensive dinner.

There are so many advantages to building an attitude of thrift and a respect for resources as a family. Not only would YOU avoid unnecessary spending and enjoy greater financial security, but your children also have the example set for how to be in a better position financially when they are the parents. Win, win!

What other strategies have made a positive impact on your family’s spending habits? Share with us in the comments!