Saving money is difficult enough when you're only responsible for yourself. Heck, it's hard to save money even when your mother is doing your laundry and your dad is mowing your lawn, making you just barely responsible for yourself.
Adding a family into the mix makes pinching pennies even trickier. From grocery shopping to finding a pair of pants that will fit your youngsters for more than three weeks, it would be fair to assume that your wallet seems to be leaking.
But for every one thing you have to spend money on, there are at least two tricks for making your purchase cheaper -- or free. Read on to find out how your own home can start saving you money.
Respect the Sale
Think about the person you know who always gets the good deal. You know, the friend or family member who always seems to get all three of their kids winter coats for the price of one, or a month's supply of their favorite cereal at half the price. What magic dust do they sprinkle on store clerks and cashiers to get their deal?
The truth is, they probably just know the value of a good sale. It seems so obvious, but sales -- yes, those in-store promotions that have caused people's heart to race with glee at cheap t-shirts since the beginning of time -- are a must-do for families.
Consider clothing shopping. Retailers like Macy's and JCPenney offer fairly regular sales that span clothing for men, women, and kids, along with home store items. Sales are awesome enough, but get on the mailing lists for promotional coupons from these stores and you could be adding discounts on top of discounts, as you apply the coupons to sale items.
Remember that days like Black Friday (the day following Thanksgiving) loom large in shopper's minds for a reason; the early-bird specials truly are great deals. Not so into getting up at 4 A.M for those prices? Consider a little trick that has been known to work at some stores that offer price matches: buy the item a few days before the big sale, then return it on the sale day, to get the price adjustment. Some stores won't honor the sales price, but you'd be surprised to know how many do.
If that makes you feel guilty about being a bad person, read on for ways to save money as a family while being a "preferred" customer.
Become a Preferred Customer
We're all used to being asked at the register if we have some sort of special card that makes us an "insider" at the store, and probably equally practiced in politely saying "thanks, but no thanks." But think again, because joining the club, becoming a preferred customer, or getting your ticket to store rewards might be a terrific way to save your family some money -- or even get cash back.
Consider chain grocery stores like Safeway or CVS pharmacies, which will actually give you a cheaper price on items if you have a (free) club card. Even better? Some grocery stores have deals with gas stations that allow you to get cents off your tank fill up if you belong to their preferred customer group. Other stores, like Fred Meyer, offer you "points" for every dollar you spend, that you can essentially redeem as a gift certificate. Spend at least $500 within 13 weeks, and you're probably on your way to a free shopping trip. What's more, being a member of a "club" can allow you easier returns, as the store can look up your purchase by reward card instead of needing a receipt.
We'll talk more about grocery shopping later, but read on for a few hints to finding coupons and online deals for the family for food, entertainment, and whole lot more.
It comes as no surprise that online shopping has made life a lot more convenient for families. Not only does it save some valuable time (and gas and headaches) when it comes to shuttling the little ones to stores, but it's also a terrific way to find great deals for a lot of your family's needs.
First off, the coupon sites online are nearly endless. From your favorite grocery stores to your favorite brands, you can find coupons that will save you loads of money on your grocery bills. Couponmom.com, Smartsource.com, and even specific grocery stores offer online coupons that you can print out (or load directly onto the a store's preferred customer card). Online coupons can be a good way to find deals that actually match the brands and items you like, as opposed to buying random deals from a grocery store circular just because you have get fifty cents off.
Beyond food, there are some awesome sites that will find you ways to save money on just about anything. Consider sites like Swap.com, where you can find swaps in your area to trade clothes, furniture, or even books and DVDs. Too much personal contact? You can also simply join the site online, where you list the things you have to swap and the things you want in exchange. Much like eBay, you simply pay the price of shipping and receiving items. Sites like paperbackswap.com allow you to send and receive used paperbacks in the mail, only paying the postage cost of those you send.
Going online to save money is not only easy, but can be more fun than simply cutting coupons. While paying bills isn't usually a blast, read on to find out how writing checks to the electric company actually saves you money in the long-term.
Pay your Bills!
You know what's a great way to save money? Not paying your electricity and cable bills every month, and cheerfully ignoring your credit card statement! Oh, wait. That's a great way to pile up insurmountable debt and simply forestall inevitable bankruptcy.
True, monthly expenses can be daunting. But paying off debt and staying on top of bills will prevent a host of problems in the future. Of course, keeping your lights on, your water running, your car in the driveway, and a place to live are a really good excuse for paying your bills. Keep in mind that one missed rent check could legally have your landlord drawing up papers to evict you within days, and mortgage and auto lenders are also pretty stuffy about that whole paying-on-time thing--meaning you could be suffering serious consequences pretty soon after a missed payment [source: Weston].
So how do you keep that credit rating high? Try using a software program--or simply a spreadsheet -- to keep track of bills, and to keep a careful eye on expenditures. Instead of scattering your mail in a trail from your front door, immediately file bills in one place.
Self-sufficiency paying your bills is one thing; a do-it-yourself attitude around the house is a little more daunting. Read on to find out more about do-it-yourself projects and repairs that'll save you money without intimidation!
Do It Yourself
So the faucet is leaking, the toilet runs, and the bathroom tiles seem to be covered with a pink film that didn't seem to be there when you moved in. Sounds like an expensive plumbing bill is an inevitable part of the future.
But before you pick up the phone and take out the checkbook, consider cracking open a book first, or turning on your computer. Do-it-yourself repairs have gotten to be downright doable now that demonstrations and example videos are easily accessible online. How Stuff Works has a DIY home guide site, and places likedoityourself.com, diynetwork.com, and even YouTube also provide instructions and ideas for home repairs.
Keep in mind that you don't have to limit yourself to repairs; easy, affordable home improvement projects can also be done without a professional. So feel free to surf the internet for a way to put up that crown molding you've also wanted in the living room.
Another do it yourself to save money is mixing up your own household cleaners and beauty products. Mixing water with vinegar or baking soda can go a long way to a clean kitchen, without the harsh chemicals--and prices--that go with fancy branded sprays.
Remember that you don't have to spend loads on beauty products either. Add a shot of vodka (truly!) to a deep conditioner for shine instead of a fancy serum. For that matter, use mayonnaise or eggs as the deep conditioner, or to help control your kids' dry scalp. Make your own lip balm with aloe vera and some oil, and moisturize with the same olive oil you find in your kitchen.
But that's not the only way to save on health products. Read on for ways to save on healthcare costs.
Be healthcare savvy
Economists estimate that each American pays roughly $8,300 in health care costs a year [source: Reinhardt]. That's a nice chunk of change for each member of your family, and without much end in sight to rising insurance premiums. Luckily, there are a few options for you to save a bit of family cash when it comes to health care.
First of all, be savvy about shopping for a program. If you are buying insurance (or your employer offers different options), don't just assume the cheapest monthly program will save you the most money. Take the time to assess what healthcare visits and prescription drugs you'll reasonably be able to predict within the next year, and then -- taking your children's interest in climbing trees into account -- add an emergency or two into the mix. You might find that a plan with a higher monthly premium but lower co-pays for office visits and prescriptions might be best.
Also remember that many drugstores offer free or reduced medical care for the whole family. The never-ending school vaccinations for the kids might actually be something you can get at a much cheaper overall price at a pharmacists office than by visiting your doctor and paying your deductible. And don't think that those free or discounted flu shots are just for the kids: remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially when your pound of cure involves co-pays, expensive drugs, and a whole lotta sick time from work.
Remember that an apple a day will also keep the doctor away, so how about growing your own? Read on for more money-saving tips that also improve your family's diet.
Grow or make what you eat
So in an ideal world, we'd all live off our own land, raising chickens and eating spinach we cultivated all summer. But this is the real world, and not every family can spend time tending to their turnips. If you can grow a garden, do it. The cost of produce is nothing to sneeze at, and when you consider the savings you get from storing and freezing your haul, you're saving money year-round.
Just because you live in an apartment or aren't gifted with plants doesn't mean you're doomed to spending money on frozen burritos for the rest of your life. Anyone can have a small box or window garden, for one, with herbs (and even vegetables) that are harder to kill than to grow. Consider growing your own supply of basil, mint, sage, onions -- even tomato plants can thrive in small inside spaces. Or how about sharing a community supported agriculture (CSA) delivery with another family? Splitting the cost will allow you to save on fresh, local produce without even having to get your thumb green.
Growing food isn't just encouraged because it makes you sound like a friend of the earth; it really is an effective way to avoid buying convenience food. Remember that an average fast food meal for a family of four is roughly $28, compared to a homemade roasted chicken, vegetables, salad and milk for about $14 [source: Bittman]. Remember that you can save a real bundle by making your own meals, and freezing them. Your frozen lasagna will taste a lot better when you know that you made it, but that it also saved you money.
We're not done with food choices yet. Read on to figure out how to get the most bang for your buck out of your grocery bill.
Do Your Grocery Trip Right.
Does it seem that a quick trip to the grocery store for milk somehow inevitably turns into an hour of jamming unnecessary items like Vienna sausages and those new granola bars into your basket, ending in a shameful bill at the register? Not to mention that you forgot to get the milk?
The bottom line is, the less you go to the grocery store, the less money you'll spend. But how do you cut down on grocery store trips with a family that seem to require a quart of milk every three hours and enough cereal to keep America's grain farmers in business? One strategy is to simply plan ahead. At the beginning of each week, do the thing you always say you're going to do -- brainstorm dinners for each night, do a check of all the items in your pantry that need to be replaced, and make sure you have input from each family member about anything they'll need during the week from the grocery store. Make one gigantic shopping trip that will help guarantee that no pseudo-quick trips will be needed for the rest of the week.
And let's not forget coupons. Although the mania of extreme couponing leaves most of us exhausted (and maybe a little envious), simple, everyday coupons are a great way to get good deals. Another trick? Each week, take note of the coupons you get in your weekly circular or newspaper . . . and put them in a drawer for a few weeks. Remember that stores commonly "stock up" on coupon items, and after the initial rush is over, they're usually left with overstock. So what do they do? Put them on sale, of course. Those coupons might actually save you double if you wait a month to use them.
It might appear so far that a money-saving life consists of monitoring your thermostat, avoiding the grocery store, and fixing your own dishwasher. Read on for more tips about how to get out and about without watching your wallet run away from you.
A guaranteed way to break your budget is to tell yourself that you can't leave the house, have fun or enjoy life while trying to save money. At some point, you'll find yourself face down in a gutter, wallet empty from the amusement park-shopping spree-expensive French restaurant whirlwind you tried so hard to deny yourself. Let yourself relax, and you'll find your budget a lot easier to manage.
But don't think that means you get to buy a Rolex and an all-inclusive vacation. There's lots of easy, cheap ways to keep your family entertained. Keeping in mind that a family trip to the movie theatre can run up to $12 a ticket (and that's not including the $7 sodas and $10 popcorn buckets), check out second-run theatres in your area. They offer steeply discounted tickets (literally, a buck or two) and offer cheaper deals on the food the kids insist on.
Many museums offer days for children to attend at a discount or for free; also check out some of the free workshops and activities the museums offer to kids. Don't forget to simply stroll down to the park, either. From picnics to Frisbee, bird-watching to messy crafts, changing your scene to an outside area gets some much-needed kid energy released out of the house.
Here's something you actually pay for, but may never use: the library. Not only do they have terrific events for families, they also have readings, classes, and resources for adults. Need to save money on your cable or Netflix account? Use the library! Many have a plethora of new release DVDs, and all the magazines you could ask for. You might even find a book or two to pick up!
Read on for one more way to save the family money without denying yourself the things you need -- or just want.
It's not really a revolutionary concept, but more and more people are beginning to see both the financial and environmental impact of sharing, reusing, or buying secondhand. As the economic strain tightens, people are finding that cheap, terrific products (and even services) can be easily obtained through a friend, or a friendly stranger.
Although many of us use sites like Craigslist to find jobs or a new place to live, keep in mind that there's a thriving community on it that is happy to barter for what you need. Sites like swap.com (mentioned before) are also terrific ventures for sharing.
Not crazy about the idea of exchanging information or products with a stranger? Make your own community swap. If you're desperate for a night out, arrange with another parent to share a babysitter to get more bang for your childcare buck. Better yet, swap babysitting duties with another family so each of you can have a night out fee-free. Organize groups of friends for clothes swaps, but don't stop there. Your living room is crowded with furniture, but you're in desperate need of a kitchen table. Your neighbor has been pining for a new easy chair but isn't crazy about the big oak behemoth that takes up the dining room space. Instead of buying expensive new (or even used) furniture, just swap it.
If you're looking for more ways to stretch your family's dollar, look no further than the next page, which provides lots more information about how to live frugally without sacrifice.
Dollar stores — where most items cost just a buck — always seem to make money. HowStuffWorks finds out how they do it.
- Bittman, Mark. "Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?" September 24, 2011. (October 16, 2011) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/25/opinion/sunday/is-junk-food-really-cheaper.html?_r=1
- Fred Meyer. "Rewards Program Details." 2011. (October 16, 2011) http://www.fredmeyer.com/MYFREDMEYER/Pages/rewards_program_details.aspx
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- Huddleston, Cameron. "Save Money On Groceries Without Coupons." Nasdaq. October 10, 2011. (October 16, 2011) http://community.nasdaq.com/News/2011-10/save-money-on-groceries-without-coupons.aspx?storyid=97637
- NJToday.net. "Tips for Saving Money on Health Care." September 28, 2011. (October 16, 2011) http://njtoday.net/2011/09/28/tips-for-saving-money-on-health-care/
- The Oprah Winfrey Show. "Money-Saving Tips for Thrifty Families." October 8, 2008. (October 16, 2011) http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Money-Saving-Tips-for-Thrifty-Families
- Weston, Liz. "How not to pay your bills." MSN Money. October 12, 2011. (October 16, 2011) http://money.msn.com/debt-management/how-not-to-pay-your-bills-weston.aspx
- Wuorio, Jeff. "10 Ways to Save on Health Care." Good Housekeeping. 2011. (October 16, 2011) http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/family/budget/healthcare-costs