Managing your money is no easy feat, but when you add a family to the mix, it can get downright overwhelming. As a general rule, the more mouths there are to feed, the more complicated the money situation gets. Regardless of the size of your family, though, it’s hard to know what the right moves are as a parent, from sticking to a budget to figuring out the best college savings plan.
The good news: There are moms and dads out there who have mastered the money game and are willing to share their secrets to success. Read on to get financial advice from parents so you can manage your finances better and raise your kids to be great with money.
Ashleigh Allman: Plan Ahead
Ashleigh Allman of Smart Cents Mom said that planning is the best thing you can do when you’re a parent. “Shop grocery cycles with a plan to purchase items in bulk when they go on sale, that way you never have to pay full price,” she said. “Prep meal recipes and freeze every four to six weeks so that you always have an easy dinner that can be made in a crock-pot (Instapot). This will save you time and money, especially on busy nights when you are too tired to cook.”
The same rules apply to shopping for clothes, Allman said. “Stay one step ahead when it comes to buying clothes by shopping the end of season sales and purchasing a size up for the following season.”
And, when you’re looking at the family calendar, remember to plan ahead with your money in mind. “Each season, create a plan of things you would like to do with your family,” she said. “Use that plan to help guide your budgeting for that season — include birthday parties, trips and a bucket list of things you would like to do. Staying one step ahead will give you more opportunity to stay within your budget and save money.”
Suzanne Brown: Consider the Financial Impact of Big Decisions
Suzanne Brown is a work-life balance speaker and strategist, author and blogger at Mom Powerment. She has interviewed working mothers for her books, and she’s heard the same lament time and time again.
“Before starting a new endeavor, especially an entrepreneurial idea, get your financial ducks in a row,” she said. “You never know how long it will take to make your first sale or get funding, even if you have an amazing idea. If you’re making big assumptions on the financials, you might fail before you’ve given yourself a chance to succeed.”
Whether it’s changing jobs, moving, getting remarried or starting a business, the same rules apply. Consider the financial implications that a big change will have for your family. Although you shouldn’t let fear deter you, it’s always advisable to consider the whole picture when children are involved.
Tim Hewson: Write a Will
It might seem premature or morbid, but writing a will is truly something your children will thank you for in the long run. Many adult children lose a parent and then — salt in the wound — find out their parent never got around to writing a will. This is an unnecessary hardship to put them through during the grieving process.
No one knows this better than Tim Hewson of the site U.S. Legal Wills. “Most new parents don’t have a will, and there are some very good reasons for this,” he said. “Firstly, the traditional will writing process is inconvenient; booking an appointment with an attorney during office hours with both parents in attendance, making arrangements for the care of the child during this time. Also, it’s just not an exciting part of having a new baby.”
However, it’s critical to have one for a number of reasons, Hewson — who is also a parent — said. Perhaps chief among them is deciding who will raise your child in the event of your passing — something you wouldn’t want to leave to chance.
“Fortunately, there is now a convenient and affordable approach,” Hewson said. Using a site such as his means that “you can put your kids to bed, sit together on a sofa with an iPad and write your will for a fraction of the cost of working with a lawyer. You can also update the document at any time, so you don’t have to wait until the second or third child. You write a will today and update it whenever your circumstances change.”
Read Her Story: Decisions We’re Making Now to Protect Our Son When We Pass
Julie Lause: Automate Your Savings
Don’t underestimate the power of automation. This is what Julie Lause, school principal, mother and blogger behind The Bossy House, recommends. “I have several yearly or quarterly expenses that always creep up on me, and I used to have to spend a month scraping up the money for the bill and then another month totally broke,” she said. She’s since developed an automated savings method that has helped her stay on top of her bills — and spend less money every month.
“I have several accounts in the same bank that I can manipulate online,” said Lause. “There are two checking accounts, one for paying bills and one for spending, and two savings accounts, one for annual expenses and one for savings. Each month, my paycheck is direct deposited into the spending account and is automatically pulled from that account to the other three. I have calculated which bills come at which time and exactly how much I need to pay bills on the 15th and the 30th. I’ve added up the total amount of my annual expenses and, each month, a portion is put into the annual account to be saved up for when the bill comes due. A portion goes into savings each month.”
Doing the math has paid off big time. “Without even thinking about it, I am able to maintain a budget and save for the big things,” she said. “When the money’s not there, it’s harder to spend it.”
Matt Matheson: Let Your Kids Make Money Mistakes
Matt Matheson, parent and creator of Method to Your Money said that money mistakes aren’t only OK to make, they’re great. “Allow your kids to make mistakes with money,” he said. “They want to blow their money on some ridiculous impulse purchase you know they’ll regret? Let them. Do they have grand plans to run a car wash in the chilly January air? Stand back and watch the car wreck ensue. Don’t be the helicopter parent who swoops in to save the day.”
Why would any parent let their child fail, though? “In order to learn, your kid needs to experience disappointment and pain,” said Matheson. “It’s called non-catastrophic painful failure. The pain of regret isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, making mistakes can actually be a powerful motivating force behind growth and a critical money rule for kids to learn. Use these failures as jumping off points to have great conversations from these teachable moments.”
In short, we all make money mistakes, so it’s better to let your kids make them when they’re young and the consequences aren’t as great.
Tricia Nibarger: Comparison Shop
Tricia Nibarger, a former lawyer turned stay-at-home mom and blogger behind COVET by Tricia, said that comparison shopping can mean big savings for families.
“Don’t miss out on comparison shopping just because you’re already at the store,” she said. “Many stores price match, especially to their own websites. Just recently, I pulled up the product I was purchasing on a brick-and-mortar retailer’s own website and showed it to their cashier. She matched the online price, which was 50 percent less than the in-store price.” You can use this method whether you’re shopping for groceries for the week or school supplies in the fall.
Further, Nibarger advises thinking outside the box. “If the retailer won’t price match, try ordering online for in-store pickup.”
Paul Vachon: Start Saving for College Early
On that same note of financial advice, though it might seem odd to do when your little one hasn’t even said their first words yet, it’s never too soon to start planning for their college education.
“The average cost of a four-year college degree at a public university runs about $57,000 and shows no sign of slowing down,” wrote Smart Money Squad member Paul Vachon on his site The Frugal Toad. “We did not start saving for our children’s college expenses until they were around 3 years old. I would advise any new parent to set up a 529 college savings account as soon as possible after the birth of a child, and set up an automatic monthly contribution so that you will have the benefit of time to grow the account. The longer you wait to start saving for college, the more you will have to contribute each month.”
So, if you plan to cover, or at least help with, your child’s education, remember that it pays off to start as early as possible.
More From Vachon: How My Daughter Plans to Graduate College With Minimal Debt
Fran Walfish: Instill Giving in Your Children
Although money is key to stability and security, it certainly doesn’t buy happiness. Beverly Hills, Calif., family and relationship psychotherapist, author and regular guest expert on shows such as “The Doctors,” Dr. Fran Walfish, has some financial advice for parents: Teaching children to have a giving spirit is just as important as how to make and save money.
But, when kids tend to be focused on themselves, where do you even begin? “Start by knowing each one of your individual children. Identify what brings each one of your kids personal pleasure,” Walfish said. “Maybe one loves to cook while another enjoys painting. Join them in baking cookies and painting colorful pictures to take to the local homeless shelter for families, and watch them beam smiles as they give their creations to less fortunate children and families. This plants the early seeds of pleasure in giving. Their faces will light up, and at the same time, your kids will see the receivers’ faces light up in joy. The mirroring effect seals the experience in glue.”
This habit might cement itself, but don’t be surprised if it takes a little while for your child to master it. “One crucial contributing factor is the personality style of [the] child. Is she self-centered? Is he self-serving? Or, are they selfless by nature? All of these things affect how long it will require changing your taker into a giver.”
Teach Your Kids: How to Be an Awesome Human Being — Without Spending a Dollar
Andrea Woroch: Cash in on Clutter
Do your kids have boxes and boxes of toys they’ll never play with again? Has your junk drawer grown into a junk closet or maybe even a junk garage? “Clutter creates chaos,” said Andrea Woroch, another Smart Money Squad member and money-saving expert behind AndreaWoroch.com.”But instead of just tossing your unwanted items, turn them into extra cash.”
You can do this the old-fashioned way by hosting a garage sale or turning to sites like eBay, but Woroch advises a different method if you want cash fast. “Instead of posting [your] items to an auction site, you can sell them quickly and easily via sites like Facebook Marketplace, where you can upload photos instantly from your phone and chat with potential buyers via Messenger for a seamless transaction.”
The mother of one (with another on the way) notes that this is a win-win — you’ll rid yourself of claustrophobic clutter, and you can use the profits toward other things. “I recently sold an old dishwasher to a local community member for $75 and plan to use this toward my holiday shopping budget,” she said.
Click through to read more about money habits you should steal from your kids.