As the family Chief Financial Officer, analyzing expenses and preparing a household budget is your responsibility. Sticking to it, however, is a family affair. If you can't get the whole gang on board with the budget, it won't work.
In a large family of varying ages, uniform cooperation is as unlikely as one-size-fits-all shoes. In this article, we'll give you some tips for recruiting players to your team, individually and collectively, and strategies for stretching every last millimeter out of your budget dollars -- without becoming a Scrooge.
Communication is critical. Your team can't hit the goal if it doesn't know what it is. Have a family meeting and take the time to discuss income limits and higher objectives, such as family vacations and college. Then work to get everyone on-board with some brainstorming. Ask everyone to contribute ideas for cutting expenses or changing the usual routine to make it more cost efficient. A feeling of ownership in the plan will boost your players' efforts in making it work. Then, assign individual and team responsibilities based on each person's abilities and interest.
Grow Your Own
A family garden is a fun way to save money on food. You can convert a sunny section of the yard to an herb and vegetable plot, or tuck a few vegetables among your shrubs and flowers. Not only will you get good food, you'll get exercise and a rewarding educational experience. Even the youngest kids can help with planting and watering. It's exciting to watch seeds grow into plants and eat food that you grew.
'Tis the Season
Even if you don't have the space -- or energy -- for gardening, you can take advantage of seasonal abundance and low prices with an age-old practice: canning. It's labor intensive, but it's not hard. Your county cooperative extension agency should have how-to information, or you can take a free self-study course online through the National Center for Home Food Preservation. There's a low initial investment for equipment and jars, but since almost everything is reusable (lid inserts aren't), it's sustainably cheap and green, too.
Sustain the Shelter
Stuff breaks, usually just when you think you're getting ahead. Between air conditioners and washing machines, most homes have at least seven major appliances with life expectancies of five to 12 years. Large families give these machines heavier-than-average use, potentially shortening each lifespan. Throw in non-moving systems like roofing and flooring, and you can see it's a good idea to consider home repair an annual budget item.
To replace worn-out appliances, think used and cosmetically imperfect. Habitat for Humanity ReStores stock serviceable used appliances and building materials. New but scratched or dented floor samples are often offered at discount prices.
"All of my kids either share clothes or hand them down," said Dawn Bunn, who's raising three teen girls and three elementary-aged boys. "I don't buy them much. They mix and match what they have."
When replacement clothes become necessary, discount stores offer serious price cuts on off-season or slightly imperfect clothing, including designer items. Thrift stores are another great option for gently-used designer clothes, as well as books, games, puzzles, small appliances, cookware and furniture. Some states even hold tax holidays on back-to-school shopping, so you'll save a little more then.
Tens of thousands of scholarships are available. Ask the high school counselor about local, state and regional ones. Look for scholarships from your credit union, electricity provider and community organizations. Explore college Web sites for school and department offerings. Investigate employers and industries for scholarships offered to children of employees or for particular areas of study. And give your kids incentive to get and keep scholarships.
"I tell my kids if they don't keep their scholarships, they're living at home and going to the community college," said Bunn.
Once they're in, buy used text books, or rent them from Internet vendors.
Fun can be free -- or really cheap. Try some of these options to entertain the whole family.
- Take advantage of game events at local eateries
- Break out the cards and board games on the dining room table
- Build a puzzle together
- Borrow books, magazines and movies from your local library
- Get outside -- for gardening, hiking, bike riding, bird watching and star gazing
- Hit the community park for playgrounds, swimming and tennis, and wide fields for Frisbee and catch
- Bunn, Dawn. Mother of six, gardener and chicken keeper. Personal interview. Aug. 10, 2010.
- Martin, Ray. "Preparing a Family Budget You Can Stick To." The Early Show. CBS. Oct. 18, 2008. (Aug. 8, 2010) http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/10/18/earlyshow/main4530699.shtml
- "Schedule of Normal Life." The Old House Web. (Aug. 12, 2010) http://www.oldhouseweb.com/how-to-advice/schedule-of-normal-life.shtml