Let’s face it, parents are busy. If we’re not dropping off kids at school, picking them up from soccer, supervising sleepovers or trying to figure out how to incorporate more organic food into the family’s diet, then we are tied up late at work or trying to get the house in order. If you’re like me, the last thing you want to do is worry about the “f” word—you know, finances. Shudder.
According to Visual Economics, each child you raise today “will cost more than buying three brand new, 2011 Jaguar XFs.” (And, that starts around $53,000 and goes up.) This means that we have to be smarter and craftier than ever when trying to budget for our family. But how, especially with everything else we have going on? Check out these five easy tips for keeping your family on a budget.
1. Live within your means. You’ve heard it before, probably from your parents or grandparents. But, it’s true. Stop comparing yourself and competing with others. The day of keeping up with the Joneses is just … over. (Mainly because the Joneses are probably on the way to foreclosure.) Stop impulse buying for now and stick to purchasing only what is on your monthly budget. When the economy turns around, you can reassess.
2. Use cash and limit online shopping. Aside from emergency purchases, use cash whenever you purchase non-fixed expenses like clothing. Using a credit card is too easy to overspend because it’s “virtual” money. Having cash in hand will make you aware of what you’re actually spending. If you shop online, set a monthly limit and keep a running tally of each purchase you make (including shipping) and post it somewhere the entire family can see it to keep you in check.
3. Avoid unnecessary fees. A big budget breaker can be those overdraft charges and ATM fees … and you won’t even realize it. A cool thing that some banks offer now is overdraft protection for checking accounts so that you can remedy an accidental overdraft without the punishment of substantial fees. Also, use your debit card for cash removal sparingly and only at your own bank. (Why should you pay $3 to $5–or more–to another bank to get your own money out?) Additionally, automate fixed payments like mortgage and utilities so that they come directly out of your checking account. This will help you avoid some of those late fees.
4. Plan for fun. Sticking to a budget can, well, suck. However, there are plenty of things to do with your family that are fun and budget worthy. Check out local libraries, community centers and even movie theaters for free or discounted events. Also, “like” your favorite local places on Face book. Many provide coupons or freebies regularly for followers. Also, don’t forget to put “fun” into your budget. If you know you’re going to have family pizza night every Friday or date night once a month, budget for it.
5. Get help. If you’re having trouble sticking to a budget (or even getting started), invest in help from a financial advisor or even an online kit that includes a workbook. Also, try the old-fashioned “envelope” method to get your started—put the amount of money you will be spending for the week (or month) in labeled envelopes and only spend out of those envelopes. Period.