I was in the middle of researching the best web directory for my blogs when I came across such a useful article from babycenter.com. I just had to post it here — who knows, maybe the one or two people who read this blog can use a few of these tips.
Look for hidden waste
Can you find a cheaper cell-phone plan, long-distance phone service, or Internet service provider? Is it time to refinance your mortgage or car payments? Can you raise your insurance deductibles, which lowers your premiums? What about canceling your long distance and purchasing budget phone cards — or using a cell phone (with free long distance included) in off-peak hours? Are you getting your money’s worth from your gym membership, or could you walk, jog, or play basketball in the park instead? You may want to consider becoming a one-car family — you’ll save on gas, insurance, and car maintenance. And ask your utililty company how you can lower your payments. Even simple changes, like turning down the temperature on your water heater or installing energy-saving showerheads, can bring your monthly bills down.
Watch those credit cards
If credit card charges are eating up a big chunk of your monthly budget, look into consolidating your balances or getting a lower interest rate. Examine your credit card statements: Are there automatic charges — subscriptions or monthly fees — that could be canceled? (Get more tips on easy ways to lower your credit card debt.)
Plan low-cost family vacations
Instead of staying in hotels, consider traveling with friends and renting a house together. This is usually cheaper than hotel rooms, and it allows you to cook meals instead of going to restaurants. Other ideas: Travel locally so you can drive rather than fly. Carry a cooler full of snacks and sandwich ingredients so you don’t have to eat out for every meal. Pack up the tent and go camping. (Get more tips on saving big on family travel.)
Go co-op crazy
Form a meal co-op with friends and neighbors — each family takes a night to make dinner for everyone. This saves time, builds community, introduces children to a broader variety of foods, and saves money by allowing participants to buy food in bulk (without having to eat the same food for weeks straight).
A babysitting co-op may also be a good idea. By trading babysitting duties with other families you’re close to, you can save money on childcare and know you’re leaving your child with people you trust.
The average American family eats out four times a week, which takes a big bite out of their budget, says Jonni McCoy, a mom and founder of the Miserly Moms Web site. You can save a lot by making relatively painless adjustments to your dining habits. On date night, leave the kids with friends and prepare a candlelight dinner at home instead of going out to eat. On workdays, bring your lunch to the office. On weekends, make a picnic and take your family to the park or the beach. Take snacks to the playground, zoo, or movie theater instead of visiting the snack bar. You can also save money by making coffee at home — those fancy coffee drinks really add up. Splurge on your favorite beans and a travel mug and take yours to go. (One Baby Center reader figured that by breaking their specialty coffee habit, she and her husband could shave $2,000 a year off their budget!)
Find cheaper entertainment
Go to matinees or rent movies instead of heading to the theater, and try borrowing videos and DVDs from your local library rather than paying for rentals. And do you really need cable television when you can rent DVDs of your favorite premium channel shows?
You can also get creative about finding ways to cut costs and create family time. Organize a family game night instead of going out, or make holiday presents together to save on gift-giving.
Become a smart shopper
Start with the food bill, McCoy advises. “This is usually the largest category of spending, and there are so many ways to whittle it down,” she says. Buy in bulk, clip coupons, and mail in rebates. (You can trade coupons with other parents on our trading post forum.) Generics and store-brand products are almost always cheaper than name brands. (Get more tips on trimming the fat from your food budget.)
For clothes, baby gear, furniture, and similar items, secondhand stores and resale shops have bargains galore, as do sites such as eBay and Craigslist. Or, if you’re buying new, purchase clothing for next year during end-of-season sales. For furniture or appliances, ask for floor models — you probably won’t notice a scratch on your new bed, but it could bring down the price significantly.
And finally, skip the pricey salon and become a beauty school drop-in. Beauty schools offer discounts on services such as haircuts, facials, and mani-pedis.
Keep a tight rein on your budget
Stay-at-home mom Heather DeGeorge uses a simple envelope system: Every two weeks she takes the cash from her husband’s paycheck and divvies it up into envelopes marked for specific expenses. So if she has budgeted $400 a month for groceries, she puts $200 into the grocery envelope every two weeks. Then she knows she’ll have the money when it’s time to go to the store. DeGeorge has envelopes for other fixed costs, as well as for luxuries. “We budget a certain amount for eating out,” she says. “If there’s no money in the ‘eating out’ envelope, we go to the pantry.”
Similarly, you can use a separate bank account to make sure you have all the money you need tucked safely away for certain fixed monthly or yearly expenses. Add up the yearly total of all your fixed expenses, divide it by 12, and deposit that amount every month in your separate bill-paying account. Once you get going with this system, you’ll never have to scramble to pay your property taxes or any other regular expense.
Put in the time
It’s time-consuming to develop and maintain a budget, find the lowest prices, collect coupons, and shop for the best deals. It takes still more time to shop and cook in bulk, and to make presents instead of buying them. McCoy figures that she devotes seven hours a week to keeping her household costs low. “That includes everything: meal planning, shopping, making meals from scratch, and keeping track of spending,” she says. “When you consider the rewards, it really isn’t that much.”