10 Ways Big Families Can Save Money

Regardless of whether your big family consists of parents and a gaggle of children, or it also includes grandkids, a couple of aunts and a cousin twice removed, saving money is possible.
Regardless of whether your big family consists of parents and a gaggle of children, or it also includes grandkids, a couple of aunts and a cousin twice removed, saving money is possible.
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Brandon Pipkin doesn't have a choice whether or not to be frugal. As a father of five, Pipkin, who is also author of "21 Questions for 21 Millionaires: How Ordinary People Create Extraordinary Success," has adopted a credo that guides his and his family's attitude toward money and material things. "I try to live by the motto 'fix it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without,'" he says.

Even Pipkin concedes that it's impossible to always live up to that aspiration, but he and his family come pretty close. For starters, instead of subscribing to cable or Netflix, the family watches movies they get for free from the local library. Pipkin and his wife penny pinch by skipping dinners on their "date" nights and opt just for dessert out instead. And the author, who insists he has no mechanical aptitude, also now repairs the family's cars. "I've learned from friends and the Internet how to change the oil, fix clutches, brakes, a drive shaft, alternators, troubleshoot issues and replace various parts," he says. "It's not easy, but it sure is effective."

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These days, with the economy continuing to struggle, more and more large families (and small ones, too) have to find ways to make their incomes go further. In fact, the very idea of what makes a typical large family is changing. It's no longer just the nuclear family with lots of kids. "We need to broaden our idea of what makes a big family," says Karen Carlson, director of education at InCharge Debt Solutions, a Florida-based non-profit credit counseling organization. "In this economy, we are seeing more multi-generational families forming, where you have one wage earner, a grandparent or two, and adult kids."

Regardless of whether your big family consists of parents and a gaggle of children, or it also includes grandkids, a couple of aunts and a cousin twice removed, saving money is possible and doesn't have to be tedious. Read ahead for 10 ways your big family can save.

10

Make it a Game

It's easy to imagine what will happen if you suggest ideas to your family about saving money using words like "sacrifice" and "cut back." Think your kids will light up with pleasure and embrace the challenge? Um, probably not. Nobody is thrilled with the idea of scrimping and giving up things they enjoy. But if you make the effort to save cash a challenge that requires teamwork and creativity, then the attitudes of family members -- not to mention results -- will likely be much better [source: Carlson].

According to Carlson of InCharge Debt Solutions, setting a goal to cut the electricity bill by 20 percent is a way to unleash your family's enthusiasm and competitiveness. "It's a way to get everyone on board," she says. "With that as a challenge, the kids will be running out to the meter [to count the kilowatt hours]." A reward, no matter how modest, for achieving specific and obtainable goals will also help keep everyone focused and enthusiastic.

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Click to the next page to learn how to avoid those hunger pangs while keeping more dollars in your pocket.

9

Be Smart About Food Shopping

If you're smart about it, buying in bulk can save you a ton of cash.
If you're smart about it, buying in bulk can save you a ton of cash.
©iStockphoto.com/Lu Linsheng

If there's one truism about large families it is this: They eat a lot and grocery bills can be a daunting expense. But it also just so happens to be one of the areas most primed for cost cutting through a variety of easy steps [source: Schrage]. First, it's absolutely necessary to use coupons. Some people embrace coupons with a gusto. You know, they're those "extreme couponers" who devote hours to finding coupons online and in the newspaper. And they know tricks to using them that most people don't know is possible, like combining manufacturer's coupons and store's coupons at the same time on the same item for extra savings [source: Schrage].

You don't have to go to this extreme, but Andrew Schrage, editor of Money Crashers, a Web site devoted to promoting financial fitness, says using some coupons is a no-brainer. "Take the time to at least look at the coupon section as you're scanning the store for potential purchases," he says. "By spending just a few minutes here and there you can save a ton of money every month on your grocery trips."

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Obviously, coupons aren't the only way to save at the grocery store. Buying in bulk can yield tremendous savings, and always shopping with a list to avoid impulse purchases keeps money from flying out of your wallet.

Keep reading to see how eating healthier can also save you money.

8

Grow a Garden and Make Your Own Food

One of the main credos of the local food movement is that buying and consuming produce from large grocery stores -- which often pack their shelves with items that have been shipped thousands of miles -- is bad for the environment. But the food's not as tasty or nutritious as locally grown fruits and veggies, either.

Well nothing could be more local or economical than fresh produce grown in your own backyard, so one good way to save on food is to plant a garden and use the goodies you cultivate to make delicious meals. "Having your own garden is easy to maintain and will allow you to expand the number of items you can make homemade," Schrage says. "And if the financial incentives aren't enough, remember that making food from scratch is not only tastier, but also a healthier alternative to buying processed foods."

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Read on to discover ways to save on clothing.

7

Save Big on What Your Family Wears

There's no reason to pay full price for any clothing because thrift stores and consignment boutiques have stylish clothes for next to nothing.
There's no reason to pay full price for any clothing because thrift stores and consignment boutiques have stylish clothes for next to nothing.
©iStockphoto.com/Dan Driedger

Unless your family consists of triplets, quadruplets or quintuplets, chances are there are going to be clothes that older kids have outgrown that can be passed down to younger and smaller siblings. Pipkin, who has five children, says his family always utilizes hand-me downs. When that doesn't work, however, there's still no reason to pay full price for any clothing because thrift stores often have stylish and little-worn clothing. So does the Freecycle Network, a nonprofit Web site that provides a place for people to donate and snap up a wide range of free items, including clothing.

Carlson of InCharge Solutions says it's also possible to take the concept of Freecycle Network, which connects strangers, to your own network of friends and extended families. "You'll be way ahead of shopping at the mall if you do swap meets with friends for clothing and toys," she says.

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Keep reading to see how driving a hard bargain can save your family cash.

6

Play a Little Brinksmanship

It's one thing to decide to jettison pricey items like your cable TV package or high-speed Internet altogether. If you think you can handle the mutiny it might spawn amongst other family members, then eliminating those items can really help bolster your monthly savings. But if you'd rather maintain the peace that comes from letting your family have access to "Friends" reruns 24 hours a day while still paying a lot less it helps, literally, to just ask for a better price [source: James].

Kyle James, who runs the Web site RatherBeShopping.com, which is dedicated to helping families live on a budget, suggests calling your cable or Internet providers' customer service numbers and telling them you'd like to cancel because they're simply too expensive. "In this down economy, they don't want to lose your business and will do almost anything to keep you as a loyal customer," he says. "I recently did this and received $15 off my satellite bill for one year, and got the introductory DSL rate of $19.99 per month for two years from AT&T. It took all of 15 minutes and I now save $25 per month or $300 every year."

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Click to the next page and see why your teenagers aren't the only ones who should keep a diary.

5

Chronicle Your Spending

The phrase "knowledge is power" may very well be cliché, but it certainly has more than a grain of truth to it when it comes to saving. Probably the very best way to understand -- and most likely change for the better -- how you and your family are spending money is to know exactly where every penny goes. To do that, many financial experts suggest keeping a so-called money diary for at least a week, though a month would be better.

In it, you record every cent that leaves your wallet or bank account to pay for bills, food, utilities, entertainment and everything else. While it may seem like a pain to keep this sort of record, the results are almost guaranteed to shock you. Who knew you spent $50 per month on bagels or lattes? Once you have a clear picture where your money goes each month, it's much easier to prioritize and actually come up with a budget that reflects what's truly important in your family's life. Sharing what you find in a money diary with family members is also a way to trigger a conversation about what is most important spending-wise as a unit, a vital exercise if everyone is to pitch in and help save.

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Go the next page to discover why generic can be better.

4

Avoid Paying a Premium for Brand Names

Whether it's food or clothing -- or just about anything else, for that matter -- the reason you and your big family know the brand names of particular items is because the company behind them has spent big bucks promoting them [source: Schrage]. And all of those marketing dollars have to be recouped some way, and the simplest and easiest way to do that is for companies to charge more for their marquee names.

But does it make sense to shell out extra money for, say, Cheerios, when a generic label offers the same cereal at a reduced price? Not necessarily, says Schrage of Money Crashers. "Consider generic brand items instead of those expensive, widely marketed brand names that often don't provide any extra quality or effectiveness," he says.

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Keep reading to see how a clean desk can save you and your family money.

3

Get Organized

Keeping all of your bills and important documents organized will help you stay on top of payment due dates so you don't fall behind.
Keeping all of your bills and important documents organized will help you stay on top of payment due dates so you don't fall behind.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

If there's one word that can best describe a household with lots of people in it, it's chaotic. Without a concerted effort to stay tidy and organized, school books and projects can pile up and get mixed in with utility bills and credit card statements -- a recipe for an expensive disaster. "If you let bills pile up and don't keep track of due dates, you will most likely at some point pay a bill late," says Allison Flinn, a professional organizer. "Avoid paying late fees by setting up a time once a week to review and pay bills."

Flinn also argues that a messy, cluttered house presents an opportunity to generate some extra money while also getting some of the peace of mind that comes from having an organized house. "If your home is cluttered with stuff you are not using, sell it," she says. "If you're not using items, you won't miss them."

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Read on to see how being mechanical -- or at least being willing to learn -- can yield big savings.

2

Learn to be Handy

Make an effort to learn how to do your own home and car repairs, even if it means reading books and online how-to articles.
Make an effort to learn how to do your own home and car repairs, even if it means reading books and online how-to articles.
Jupiterimages/Thinkstock

There is a reason why auto mechanics, plumbers, carpenters and other professionals who fix things often charge a lot: these are complicated types of work requiring a lot of skill and training. That said, for those who are determined to learn, figuring out how to do even the most basic repairs on your car or how to fix that door that doesn't close properly can really add up in savings.

Pipkin learned how to fix many things on his 1995 Kia Sephia -- a car that was given to him by a friend -- and he says that, while often frustrating, it has been worthwhile financially. And here's the thing: With a big family, especially one that includes grown children or grandparents, there's a good chance that someone will be mechanically inclined or already have valuable skills that are helpful in fixing things around the house.

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Click to the next page discover why it's always good to reward good behavior.

1

Rewards Matter

Just as it's wise to keep a money diary in order to become aware of where your money is going, being crystal clear on why your family is saving can provide much-needed motivation and direction. "A lot of times people see tips on saving money and none of it is all that mysterious," Carlson says. "The biggest challenge is finding motivation to maintain these habits."

To do that, she says both goals and rewards are vital, and can be everything from big ones -- like a vacation -- or small rewards, like buying a book when you reach a savings goal. "Without goals and rewards, why are we going to save money?" she says. "If kids know why and it sounds good and they get something for their efforts then they're much more likely to get on board. It's also a good start toward creating lasting habits."

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Sources

  • Carlson, Karen. Director of Education at InCharge Debt Solutions. Personal correspondence. Oct. 27, 2011.
  • Flinn, Allison. Professional organizer. Personal correspondence. Oct. 24, 2011.
  • James, Kyle. Operates family finance Web site www.rather-be-shopping.com. Personal correspondence. Oct. 24, 2011.
  • Pipkin, Brandon. Author and father of five children. Personal correspondence. Oct. 24, 2011.
  • Schrage, Andrew. Editor of Web site www.moneycrashers.com. Personal correspondence. Oct. 28, 2011.