Anyone between single, minimum-wage mom and two-parent households making $80k+ are having trouble building for their future. We have kids. They have needs. WE have needs. How do we balance it all? And what about when they go to college!?!?!
1. Take Online College or GED Courses
I know I sound like your grandpa here, but I’m serious. You ARE eligible for grants and scholarships through FAFSA & other outlets, where you will likely get extra money 💰. Also, you get automatic forbearance on all your CURRENT loans so you can go ahead and subtract that $300+ out of your budget while in school. Lastly, it never hurts to add those feathers to your cap and move your career forward in the future. I recommend Western Governors University – average tuition is around $2,300 (which can be fully funded for middle-class parents by FAFSA grants), they often have a $0 application fee, the time commitment can be as little as a few minutes per week, and they allow you to go at your own pace. 👍🏻
2. Make a List of Free Things to Do & HANG IT ON YOUR FRIDGE!
If you’re like my family, you often spend money when you wake up on a day off and have NO IDEA what to do for the day. Try to make the list at least 10 different items, so you’re not doing the same thing every day. I also recommend updating the list every season.
3. Pack Lunch & Snacks
Even if you’re only spending $5/trip on McDonald’s during your drive from preschool-to-home – it adds up quicker than you may think. Doing this once a week is $20/month, $240/year; three times a week is $60/month, $920/year; every day…. don’t even think about it. And it gets exponentially worse if you’re buying meals/snacks when you’re in entertainment areas like the movies or the water park. The bottom line: if you pack some nuts and crackers you’re not only saving HUNDREDS of dollars throughout the year, but your family is eating much healthier. Whatever your routine, a good start is eliminating just one fast food purchase per week.
4. Plan Expensive Outings in Advance
We like to go to the Great Wolf Lodge indoor water park. More often than not, I get two unexpected days off in a row and we book our stay on the way there. However, we have started booking our trips ahead of time. By planning hotel stays, plane trips, or resort visits at least 60 days ahead of time, you will save 50-75% over what you would have spent in booking within 30 days. BONUS: most places don’t require any money down when booking in advance – you either pay when you get there, or when it’s 30 days out. For us, that’s at least a couple grand throughout the year.
5. Buy Memberships! (All That You Can)
Consider taking your tax refund or a big bonus and putting it toward an annual membership at the local zoo, water park, museum, science center, etc. This will be a HUGE money saver, because most Memberships are usually priced to be cheaper than two visits for the family. (It also gives you more to add to your “free things to do” list on the fridge.) The icing on the cake: these things are almost always educational and enriching for your kids. And! Don’t forget about free memberships in the area like the library and some museums. Quick caveat: this advice does NOT apply to Costco and/or Sams Club memberships – unless there is a plethora of items that you KNOW you blow through every week AND you have storage space for all of it, these memberships end up taking your $50 and then make you buy more food than you need so you waste it every week.
Same math as packing snacks – when Ashley and I go to Starbucks we each get a drink, and a cookie for the kids to split – totaling about $9. Make this trip every day and that’s $270 per month! Make a one-time investment of $50-$100 in a Keurig or coffee maker and that’s at least a couple hundred dollars each month. If you can’t cut your caffeine craving cold-turkey, consider weening actions like reducing your trips to just the weekends or just Mondays & Fridays; or, downgrading from Starbucks to a cheaper brand like Dunkin Donuts or Tim Hortons; or, just downgrading your drink from a grande to a tall.
7. Cook at Home & Plan Nights Out to Eat (Sparingly)
This just has so many benefits all around. Cooking at home is well-known to be cheaper, especially when you use raw, fresh ingredients. It also provides better quality family time. An average night out to eat for a family is about $70, which is about the amount of money it takes in groceries for the whole WEEK of dinners. The dollars will add up quickly.
I know – duh, everybody says this. But, it’s easier said than done. The only thing I will say differently is consider your options. Where do you stand on credit card debt? If you’re paying $200/month on two or 3 maxed-out credit cards you may not be getting very far in paying them down because of interest. After six months you may find that you’ve spent $1,200 but only paid each card down by a hundred. It may take 2+ years and THOUSANDS of dollars to pay them down. Consider stopping payments all together. Save that $200+/month that you’re paying, ignore the bill collectors for a year, then you’ll start seeing mail coming in with offers for reduced settlements. If you don’t have any major purchases coming up, often times after 12-18 months the offers will be discounted by 50%-75% of what the total balance was. So – you end up paying about $500 for cards that were maxed to $2,000, and you were able to pocket those payments for a full year.
9. Buy Clothes (and Fireworks) Out of Season
Ashley told me not to put the fireworks bit, but I had to (this is a dadblog after all). I think everybody knows that clothes are cheaper out of season. It’s just a matter of having the discipline to do so. When you walk into those nice stores with all those cute clothes – it’s hard to resist the urge to only buy things you can just take home and put on the kids right away. One of the tactics I’ve seen work best is preparing a list of what you’re going in for, then sticking to that list 100%. You have to commit to it! As for the fireworks – come on, start on July 5 you can get most fireworks at buy-one-get-THREE free. You just can’t beat that.
10. Downgrade From Cable
Depending on how you watch TV, this may or may not be the right option for you. Internet will usually cost you around $45-$75. On top of that, analyze what exactly you watch and when you watch it. Some of us may be able to cut all the way down to just Netflix, which takes your $200 cable bill down to $10. If you have your “shows” or your kids like to stream Disney Junior 24/7, other good options are Sling TV, DirecTV Now, and Hulu. SlingTV is the cheapest, starting at $20 and you can customize it by adding certain channels for just another $5 and you get exactly what you watch, nothing more. DirecTV Now certainly has the most to offer, but is a little more expensive at $35.
11. Pull Together & Be on a Family Cell Phone Plan With as Many (Trustworthy) Family Members as Possible
If you have trustworthy friends or family that may be interested in sharing a plan with you, it wouldn’t hurt to reach out to them. Each person you add will save you and them about $20/month. A couple musts: 1. Make sure that they WILL actually pay you (on time) and 2. Make sure they aren’t the type who watches Netflix over cellular instead of wifi all day.