Life sure has gotten expensive, hasn’t it? I hate to be one of those people, but I remember a time when coffee was $0.29 and gas was $0.84 a gallon and–okay, okay. I see you rolling your eyes. You get my point — life sure is getting expensive. Moreover, if you have children? The costs are astronomical. I remember spending hours at a store trying to justify spending $18 on a pair of shoes for my daughter who would probably grow out of them in just about 18 days. However, what choice is there? Go without shoes? Buy shoes that are too big and watch her suffer from blisters? Living on a budget is hard enough, but parenting on a budget can sometimes seem impossible.
Moreover, let’s make one thing clear right now — I do not care about all the platitudes. You know the ones I mean, that it is our jobs as parents to teach our children about the value of a dollar, or that they cannot always get what they want, or about material things and blah, blah, blah. We already know that. Parents already know they need to teach these things to their children. However, when you have to choose between putting gas in the car so you can go to work and buy your daughter a new doll…I do not care what kind of lessons you think a parent should be teaching — it still sucks to know you cannot make your child happy at that moment. Moreover, it will always suck.
Yes, if you are parenting on a budget, there are going to be times when you will have to tell your children “no” to something they want — to something you want to be able to give them. However, hopefully, with some of these budgeting tips, we can help minimize how often that happens so that when you turn them down for something, it will be for a good reason, and not because you had to.
Put Together a Budget
I cannot stress this enough…I meet so many parents who will tell me they are parenting on a budget, but then they do not even know what their budget is. They do not know exactly how much money they bring home, or what expenditures they have. They live paycheck to paycheck and expense to expense. The only problem with this is that literally, anything can knock them out of their budget. A child growing out of his or her shoes can create an expense that forces the parents to have to skip a payment elsewhere down the line.
Sit down and review your income, your known expenditures, your goals for spending, and develop your budget based on this information. If you are parenting on a budget, then you should always know how much money you spend on food, or on clothing, or on gas for your car every month. Also, if it is at all possible, try to make sure one of those expenditures is some savings, to help with unexpected costs that may come up later on.
Reevaluate your job(s) and income(s).
For single parents, this may not be an option. However, if you and your spouse both work outside the home, you may want to sit down and evaluate how well that is working out for you financially. You’ll need to compare how much each income brings in, and compare each amount to the cost of having that job: mainly things like extra money spent on gas, if having that job requires a second car (along with the car payment and insurance payments that go along with it), daycare or babysitter costs… In the United States, daycare for an infant or toddler can cost anywhere from $4,000 to $18,000 per year depending on where you live.
With today’s costs, chances are pretty high that one of your incomes is getting sucked out of childcare. Also, I have known cases where a couple was able to save money by getting rid of one job and having that parent stay home with the children. If you want, start with checking into work-from-home options — there are a lot of companies out there (especially in customer service industries) that will hire people to work from home. Otherwise, stay at home with your child until he or she reaches the preschool age or older when the costs of a daycare go down drastically across the country. Alternatively, perhaps, get rid of the second car (presuming you can work out a schedule that allows you to share the one car without causing too much inconvenience or troubles for you).
Whenever possible, buy things like toys or furniture that will grow with your child. Many times, these types of purchases will cost a bit more upfront, but if you can swing it — it helps you save money in the long run. Some examples include things like infant car seats that convert into forward-facing car seats, cribs that convert into toddler beds, and tummy-time mats that transform into standing toys or walkers.
If you cannot swing the higher investment upfront, don’t fret. Keep an eye out for deals and do some comparison shopping. If you can, then buy used. While I would not recommend buying used for anything safety-related (such as car seats), for some things (such as toys and beds) used will work every bit as well as buying one new. If you can save some money by buying used clothing and toys to get the slightly more expensive car seat — go for it.
Moreover, if you still can’t swing the higher cost, then just get the best that you can with the resources you have, and try again at a later time. Sure, you may end up having to replace that car seat a little more often, but it is better to do that than not have a good car seat at all. You might be able to get a front-facing car seat that will convert into a booster seat later on.
Find some free family events and activities in your area.
Most towns have community buildings or areas that offer some family day or children’s day. Museums and libraries usually have something going every month — sometimes even every week. If you can get your family to these events regularly, the pressures of living on a budget will come down. You will be able to spend quality time with your children outside of the house, and you will be able to catch a break from the anxiety and stress that trying to live on a budget can create.
Evaluate your automatic payments.
I once signed up for a monthly menu planning course. It came with a free trial, and I fully planned to cancel within that 14 day trial period. I just wanted the two free books that came with the trial! However, eep, wouldn’t you know I ended up paying for that menu planning course for months before I finally went in and canceled? Moreover, sure, $4.95 per month is not much money… but over the course of 11 months? I spent almost $50 on menus I never used. They just went to my email inbox and got themselves buried. I am sure if I went digging, I would find them all in there, but that is not quite the point.
I also signed up for that free credit monitoring service to check my credit report. Moreover, do you know what I found more than a year later? They had been charging me $12.95 per month every month since I signed up! Should I have known? Yes, it is right there on their site in tiny print. However, I missed it, never canceled in time, and lost out on almost $150 over the course of that year.
Sit down every couple of months and comb through your bank statements. Make sure the only things coming out of your bank account are things you need, words you are using, and things you signed up for. For everything else, call and cancel right away. The money does add up, and if you are already watching every penny, then you cannot afford to lose $5 a month on something you do not use.
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