Raising a family on a budget is a daunting task. From infancy up to adulthood, kids are expensive, and it takes a lot of creativity and strategy to keep the finances in order.
GOBankingRates asked some of the top female bloggers and finance experts — who also happen to be mothers — for their best money tips to help you stay on top of family finances.
1. Build Your Weekly Menu Around Grocery Store Sales
To combat one of the biggest expenses families face — food costs — take advantage of every bit of leeway your local supermarket offers. Jeanette Pavini, a consumer savings expert, said that moms can get more control over their budgets by planning meals around sales.
“By simply building their weekly meal menu around what’s on sale at the grocery store, using reward/loyalty programs and coupons, you can save up to 40% on your grocery bill,” she said.
2. Be Financially Independent
Part of being a parent is accepting the huge responsibility of protecting your family’s financial future. According to Emma Johnson, founder of WealthySingleMommy.com, that starts with addressing your own personal finances.
“Never depend on anyone else for your financial security. Life can happen at any time — death, divorce, disability,” Johnson said. “It is your responsibility as an adult and parent to always take responsibility for the security of yourself and your family.”
3. Make an Extra Mortgage Payment
Just one extra mortgage payment a year can get your principal down, allows you to pay off your home faster and saves you money on interest, said Debbie Andersen, formerly of the blog Pineapples & Palm Trees. She used this strategy herself: “Our home loan was paid off years before its time and my husband thanks me constantly,” she said.
4. Keep Your Pantry Stocked
Cooking a family dinner at the end of the day can be stressful, but a well-stocked pantry can make this task easier, healthier and more affordable. So just what is a “well-stocked pantry”?
Culinary expert and cookbook author Holly Clegg explained: “Think of a well-stocked pantry as a permanent shopping list. This tip will enable moms to cook more meals efficiently and affordably by saving money [that otherwise would have been spent on] last-minute groceries, fast food or meals.”
5. Say ‘Yes’ to Hand-Me-Downs
“Accept any hand-me-downs you’re offered,” said Lori McDaniel, a mother of two and a senior manager at Charles Schwab. “You have no idea how much money you’ll save on everything from clothing to toys by accepting gently used items.”
And if you don’t end up using them, “you can simply donate the hand-me-downs you don’t want,” McDaniel said.
6. Start a Day Care Out of Your Home
Stay-at-home moms can earn some income by providing licensed day care right in their own homes. Marie Phillips, author of “Choose Wealth! Be a Millionaire by Midlife,” did this back in the ’80s to pay for her education expenses when she went back to school to become a computer programmer.
“Make it fun and educational,” Phillips said. “Your kids will get instant playmates, you will earn considerable money and you will get experience being in business for yourself. It is hard work, but very rewarding.”
7. Buy Sale Items in Bulk
Coupon Mom author Stephanie Nelson has some great advice on how to make the most of grocery store coupons.
“Don’t throw away money paying full price for expensive grocery items that go on sale for half price every other week,” she said. “Just buy twice as much as you need during sale weeks and you’ll save hundreds of dollars a year with very little effort.”
As for which foods offer the best bulk value, Nelson recommends chicken, meat, pork and cereal.
8. Edit Your Grocery Cart
Before you head to the checkout, Cherie Lowe of Queen of Free said there’s one last step you should take.
“Put back three to five items right before you check out at the grocery store,” she said. “You’ll easily save $5 to $10 without using a single coupon.”
9. Pay Yourself First
This age-old advice doesn’t just apply to parents — everyone should listen to it, said Ella Newman, business development expert with Norton Advisory Group.
“Pay yourself first, 5% to 10%.”
Not sure how to invest the funds? “Put your savings in stock index funds or ETFs through a discount brokerage account,” she said.
10. Head to Your Local Library
Your local library is chock-full of free resources and activities for the entire family.
“Moms can bring the kids to take out an armful of children’s books or partake in story-time activities,” said Susan Kessler, aka The Frugal Diva.
Parents don’t have to leave empty-handed either. “You can pick up a movie to take home, a book for a DIY project or a novel for when the kids are sleeping,” she said.
11. Use Price-Matching Browser Extensions for Online Shopping
Online shopping is convenient for most families — it’s quick, easy and you don’t have to drag your brood to the store with you. But there are certainly ways to make it more affordable, said Liz Gumbinner of Cool Mom Tech.
“Never ever buy anything without looking for a discount code online first.” Additionally, “Install a browser extension like Priceblink, which automatically searches the web and displays better prices at competitive retailers before you add a product to your cart. I’ve saved a fortune using it,” Gumbinner said.
12. Talk to Your Kids About Money
Personal finance education should start at home, and there are plenty of money lessons kids can learn from an early age, investing expert Nicole Sherrod said.
“It’s important for kids to hear parents discussing savings, investing stocks and the economy because it will stimulate their interest,” she said. “The sharpest adults I’ve come across tell me it was their parents who triggered their passionate interest in the markets and stimulated their financial education.”
13. Give Children an Allowance
This can be a hot topic among parents, but Motherhood Moment blogger Bekah Jorgensen is a fan of giving kids an allowance from an early age. Jorgensen said it sets “a policy that if they want something that isn’t a need, they buy it themselves or wait for the next gift-giving holiday.”
“It avoids the battle in the store, helps kids be thrifty right from the start and helps parents save on impulse buys,” she said.
14. Shop the Off-Seasons
Amanda Tollis, a professional bookkeeper, knows how to time her shopping just right.
“Buying the next size up for your children in apparel or shoes while in the off-season or late season can score you deals that are hard to beat, even in a second-hand shop,” Tollis said.
Additionally, she said, like-minded parents who find great deals from well-known stores often share them on sites like Slickdeals, so keep your eye out on deal sites for great prices.
15. Resell Your Kid’s Stuff
Sheiresa Ngo, who provides personal finance advice at The Cheat Sheet, said that parents can “make some quick cash by reselling your child’s old books, clothes and toys.” Ngo recommended setting up an online shop on a site like Amazon, eBay or Swap.com.
16. Go Wild With Price-Matching
Tameka J. Raymond, a mother, philanthropist, designer and cast member of VH1′s “Atlanta Exes,” shared one of her favorite ways to save money: “Price-matching. You can price-match anywhere, from grocery stores to department stores,” she said. “Many stores will honor the price you find online, and still allow you to use coupons.”
17. Tame the “Target Crazy”
Forget skipping your daily latte — it’s your Target habit that could be keeping you from reaching your savings goals.
Patty Kennedy, investor and founder of SpeakWell, said that she’s sick of reading tips like “cut your coffee,” especially when “for many moms, coffee is a matter of survival.” An easier way to cut down spending: Avoid the red bullseye.
“I know many women who go into that store, perhaps just for paper towels, and leave with $150 less in their pocket. This is a lot more damaging than the 30 cups of expensive coffee you’d have to drink to spend the same amount.”
It doesn’t really matter if it’s Target or another popular retailer, either. “What matters is that you are likely pouring a lot of money into those financial wastelands — money that you likely completely forget how it was spent by the following week,” Kennedy said. “If invested well, [that money] could mean more than $200,000 in your pocket later. Please think about that before you buy the third white shirt you don’t really need.”
18. Buy Life Insurance
Unfortunately, unexpected events can leave your family financially insecure. Co-founder of Aspire Canada Keisha Blair has first-hand experience with this.
“My husband died when I was just 31 years old and our life insurance that we paid just $20 per month for saved our lives,” she said. “I had two young sons and this happened eight weeks after I gave birth to the second one.”
Emergencies can happen to anyone at any time, so take the necessary steps to ensure you and your loved ones are protected.
19. Invest in Groceries
Most of us have heard of investing in the stock market, but investing in groceries? Teri Gault, former CEO of The Grocery Game, explains.
“Think like an investor — stock up on half off and BOGO sales for your pantry, fridge and freezer,” she said. “Within eight to 12 weeks, make meals from your half-price ‘store’ at home. Keep ‘investing’ and stick to weekly product specials, and you’ll cut your food costs by about $500 a month.”
Not only does this save money, but, Gault said, it’s “the easiest lifestyle change for shopping and meal preparation.”
20. Buy Household Items in Bulk
Whether you have one child or many, your household likely flies through items like paper towels, toilet paper and tissue. These supplies can be expensive, unless you follow this tip from Tangela Walker-Craft, founder of the blog Simply Necessary Inc.
“Plan ahead and stock up on products that are popular in your home when they’re on sale,” she said. You might have to get creative with storage, but the savings are worth it.
Ellie Hirsch is a freelance writer, founder of the former blog MommyMasters.com and mother to three little boys, so she knows a thing or two about schlepping kids around.
“Instead of using gas every morning and afternoon, find a group of friends that are interested in carpooling,” she said. “It will not only create some extra time for you, but will be fun for the kids.”
22. Get a Side Job
Side jobs can give many parents the opportunity to save money, bring in extra income and build a business. Heather Stephens, former manager of the FatWallet blog, has some ideas on how to do this.
“If you have a car, start a shuttle service to help elderly people get to doctor appointments or shopping, or taking kids to lessons and practices,” she said. “If you have a computer, become a virtual assistant, freelance writer or graphic designer. If you love the outdoors and live in a beautiful area, organize tours for hikers, campers, Boy or Girl Scouts, fishermen and photographers.”
It might seem overwhelming to think about, but the money-making possibilities are endless, Stephens said. “Take what you own and know and put a creative twist on it.”
23. Think of Saving Like Paying a Bill
Karlene Sinclair-Robinson, “mompreneur” and founder of KSR Solutions, shared how she manages to keep savings at the forefront of her priorities.
“Moms should make savings a ‘priority bill’ that must be paid first,” she said. “When we consider savings as a bill, our mindset shifts over time. It becomes a consistent habit, so at the end of a certain period, moms would have saved more money than they expected.”
24. Buy Last Year’s Model
Even if you are a die-hard fashionista who needs to have the latest and greatest, buying the previous season’s goods can save you a bundle, said Erica Harriss, founder of Saving Grace Beauty.
“I have a particular tennis shoe I love that retails for $160,” Harriss said. “By snatching them up when the new colors are released, I usually save about 30 to 40% buying the ‘old style.'”
After all, as Harriss said, “full-priced equals overpriced!”
25. Stick to Sack Lunches
Dr. Cynthia Bailey, president and CEO of Advanced Skin Care and Dermatology and a seasoned mom of now grown children, is a strong supporter of the sack lunch. She started this tradition when her kids were young, keeping the pantry well-stocked with lunch food and treats they could look forward to. Not only was this a way of keeping her own household expenses low, but it also taught her children a valuable life lesson.
“My grown kids still make their own lunches and live on tight budgets,” she said. “They are proud of their self-competence, and my 25-year-old son even cooks his own dinners. Buying premade food is expensive, is usually less healthy than homemade meals and doesn’t teach your kids to be resourceful in the kitchen.”
26. Give Your Kids Their Own Debit Cards
If this concept feels a little terrifying, just listen to what Cherie Corso, a parenting and lifestyle expert, has to say about it.
“I found giving my daughter a debit card was amazing,” she said. “She learned fiscal responsibility, plus math. Mothers let their kids use their credit cards to buy sneakers and things online, but it’s more effective when they have their own card.”
27. Become a Work-at-Home Mom
Sometimes cutting expenses isn’t enough to make ends meet. Parents who take time off to raise children can still find ways to keep one foot in the workplace and one in the play space. Gaby Merediz, who owns Tmuffin, a kid’s playspace, and Make Your Perfect, an online community for moms, told us crowdsourcing can be a great platform for a side income.
“Websites like TextBroker.com let moms write for projects with low commitment and pay anywhere, on average, from $5 to $50 an hour,” she said. “Moms can bring in some extra income this way while staying home with the kids.”
28. Cash In on Competitors’ Sales at Grocery Stores
According to The King’s Care blogger Abisola Osho, many grocery stores will match competitors’ sales. “If you have a favorite store but the price is not the cheapest, ask them if they price-match,” she said.
Osho also added one more helpful tip: “A smart way to identify the store for you is to write a list of the 20 items you most often use and check various stores’ pricing.”
29. Don’t Order Off the Kid’s Menu
Lauren Mendel, a writer at MilitarySpouse.com, offered up some unique advice on how parents can save more money. When she dines out with her toddlers, Mendel brings snacks from home to keep them busy and fill them up before the food arrives.
“I like to save money by avoiding kid’s meals like the next dirty diaper,” she said. “By the time we get the meals we’ve ordered, everyone is full and ready to color. In the off-chance that someone is still hungry, I can always share my usually-way-too-big meal, which in all likelihood is what they want to eat the most anyways.”
30. Focus On Presence, Not Presents
You’ll love this simple and down-to-earth piece of advice from Sherlyn Pang Luedtke, author and founder of PresentParentTraining.com.
“Show your child love with your presence, not with presents,” she said. “Giving your child 100% of your attention for as little as 15 minutes a day increases your connection and reduces the need to compensate by buying gifts that will never fill your child’s need for a relationship with you.”
31. Always Keep Your Money Growing
Saving money on day-to-day expenses is important, but parents also need to keep their eye on the prize: retirement.
Cheryl Fields, CEO of Lifestyle Wealth Group, said, “You want your money to grow tax-free and without restrictions so you can use it to enjoy life, enjoy retirement, ensure you never outlive it and then pass it on to the next generation.”
Fields also gave some simple guidelines to help novice investors keep their money growing no matter what happens in the stock market or economy: “Look for investments that 1) carry no market risk (yes, they are out there), and 2) have no risk of rising taxes eating away, or destroying your wealth and your plan for retirement,” she said.
32. Don’t Stop Working
Farnoosh Torabi, a financial strategist, journalist and best-selling author, offered her words of wisdom for how mothers can find financial success.
“Don’t opt out from the workforce,” she said. “Child care is expensive and it may seem like the only option you have is to quit working to become the full-time caretaker, but try to avoid staying out of the workforce for more than a year. Continue to work when your children are young so that you can go on to earn the seniority that’s often necessary to call the shots, and create a better work/life integration as your kids grow older and demand more of your time.”
Torabi pointed out a stat Sheryl Sandberg mentions in her book, “Lean In”: Women’s average annual earnings decrease by 20% if they are out of the workforce for just one year, and 30% after two or three years.
33. Hire an Au Pair
Au pairs — live-in nannies who are typically from other countries — aren’t necessarily just for the wealthy. Summer Blackhurst writes for Go Au Pair and is an expert on the costs of child care in the United States. She says if you have two or more children, an au pair can cost half of what traditional day care expenses would be.
Not only do parents save on child care costs and gas from driving to and from day care centers, but it’s less stressful having a child care provider in the home who can help in the morning, prepare meals at night and even assist with light household chores.
34. Block Out Time for Your Own Projects
“If you have a running list of money-making projects you need to complete, the only way to turn those ideas into cash is to make the time for them,” Carrie Olsen of Best That Could Happen told us. “Plan your week every Sunday evening, and block off time to work on your projects. You can even use a productivity app to help keep you on track.”
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Gabrielle Olya contributed to the reporting for this article.