Bringing up a family on a budget is always a challenge. It seems as though every week, food, clothes and bills go up, and yet we're not earning more. However, families have always coped on a limited income - just look at how our grandmothers managed (and with larger families). Try these tips for bringing up a family on a budget, and you'll be able to make your income stretch further …
1. Hand Me Downs
Kids may want everything new these days, but when you're bringing up a family on a budget that just isn't practical. So the younger kids will just have to cope with wearing hand me downs from older siblings, whether they like it or not. Sneaky tip: if they're old enough to be interested in fashion, tell them that wearing second-hand clothes is retro and trendy - even the stars wear vintage clothing.
2. Budget for Christmas
Christmas is a nightmare if you're raising a family on a budget. Paying for food and gifts can quickly become a financial nightmare. So if you like to splash out at Christmas, the key is to start saving well ahead, even as early as the beginning of the year. It's even better to spend less - Christmas shouldn't be about spending money (and definitely not about getting into debt).
3. Limit Gifts
Kids have always whined that their lives will be ruined if they don't get what they "need." Parents often give in and buy them what they demand, even if they can't really afford it. Get tough with your kids, and limit gifts to special occasions. Don't spoil them all year round, and set a limit for how much you will spend on gifts.
4. Cheap Treats
Taking the family out for the day can blow a hole in the budget, what with entrance fees, travel and food. So look for ways of giving your kids cheap trips out. Search for venues that offer free entry or discounts for families. You can also take them for free pleasures such as walks - they might find that more fun than they'd expect!
5. Shop Smart
If you have a family to feed, then your shopping bills can end up pretty high. The advantage is, though, that because you use more, you are less likely to waste food than a single person. You can buy larger quantities of food, which works out cheaper. Look out for special offers on items that you know your family will eat (but only buy if you will use everything before its expiry date).
6. Say No … and Mean It
Many parents give in when their kids plead or whine. That does the family budget no good! So learn to say no - and stick to your guns. Kids will survive if they don't have the latest gadgets and clothes. They can do without, or wait until Christmas - perhaps everyone can contribute so they have one big present.
7. Bulk Buy
If you have storage space, then you can make savings by purchasing in bulk from discount stores. Non-perishable items are always worth picking up when on special offer, as you know they won't go out of date! Food items can also be bought in bulk providing they have a long date and you can store them correctly - items such as rice can work out very cheaply bought in large sacks from ethnic stores.
Do you feel that your house is too small? You may be keen to move to a larger house so that your kids can each have their own bedroom. But can you afford the higher mortgage or rental? It won't hurt siblings of the same sex to share a room - use furniture to divide it so that they have a sense of their own space.
Coupons are an excellent way to save money when you're raising a family on a budget. They can reduce your weekly grocery bill by quite a bit. So clip as many coupons as you can - lots of people do, and there's no need to be embarrassed. Why spend more than you need to?
10. Plan Meals
A great money-saving tip is to plan meals carefully. For example, if you buy a large joint of meat, work out a meal plan so that you can make the most of it. Planning meals helps avoid waste. It's also smart to only have one meal on the table, rather than something different for each person.
11. Babysitting Circle
Nights out can be pretty expensive for parents, but they do need some time away from family responsibility. So you can save on the cost of a sitter by joining a babysitting circle. If there isn't one in your area, why not start one among friends and neighbors?
As soon as they are old enough to do paid work, encourage your kids to find a source of income. It will help ease the pressure on family finances if they can pay for their own luxuries. Having a part-time job or doing jobs for neighbors will teach them a work ethic, and that you have to work to get the things you want.
13. Explain Finances
As they get older, it's wise to start teaching your children about money. Explain to them that your income is limited, and that you have to live on a budget. So they will have to make choices, and accept that they can't have everything they want. This will help them handle their own finances in the future.
14. Emergency Funds
However much you try to plan your finances, there are always unexpected expenses where children are involved. They might need new glasses or shoes, for example. So put money aside in an account to cover any unexpected family bills.
15. Brand Names
Peer pressure can mean your kids beg you to buy them brand name clothing and shoes. This is very bad for the budget! So if you do buy brand names, look for sales and discount outlets, or buy secondhand. Or they can buy them out of their birthday money and earnings.
16. Keep Bills down
The bigger the family, the more they waste energy by leaving lights on or turning the heat up. Encourage/blackmail/bully them into being more conscious of the bills! Teach them to turn lights off when not in the room - you are paying for the energy bills so you make the rules!
17. Use Everything
Make sure that you don't waste any food - it's estimated that the average American family throws away at least 25% of the food they buy. That's like tossing hundreds of dollars in the bin! So use everything up. You can make meals from leftovers, and turn tired vegetables into soup. There are lots of ways of using up food.
18. Less Meat
It's increasingly common for people to eat less meat these days. Having a couple of meat-free meals is a good way to stretch your family budget. Try substituting the meat you'd normally cook with a couple of cans of beans - they're filling and tasty.
Making your income meet your outgoings is tough in the present climate, especially when you have a family to support. Follow these tips, though, and you will definitely save money. Some tips are practical, while others are about how you deal with money from a psychological viewpoint. Both are important. There are so many different ideas for bringing up a family on a budget - what tips can you share with us from your own experience?