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Stop Letting Your Budget Manage You

pen and checkbook on top of bill for $186.90 Does your financial situation make you feel like you’re constantly underwater? A 2013 study by Allstate Insurance found that 4 out of every 10 Americans are living paycheck to paycheck and trying to afford the essentials for their family on less money than they need. But that underwater feeling doesn’t always come entirely from the amount on your pay stub. It usually comes from the fact that you don’t have a moment to catch your breath, assess your family budget, and think about making changes that could benefit everyone. Creating a family budget that will actually work for your family’s needs has a way of sounding incredibly daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. As much as you’d like to avoid taking stock of where your money goes each month, it could be the easiest way to avoid drowning when your bills show up. Here are some ways you can get the whole family involved in saving a little extra.

1. Teach Your Kids Affordable Fun

Do your kids think the weekend is all about trips to the movies, afternoons at the mall, and eating out at their favorite restaurants? While everybody wants to treat their family to this kind of expensive fun, you should try and class these things as special occasions. Teach your kids new ways to spend their free time, some of which are virtually free of cost. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that families spend around 16 percent of their monthly finances on entertainment and personal expenses. This is probably one of the easiest places you can cut back. Take the kids to the library, where you can usually find free storytimes and other classes for the younger ones. Plan picnics or games in the park, look for free screenings or other outings in the local event calendar, and even let the kids take over your Netflix account for an evening and pick out movies to order. There is plenty for them to enjoy without the heavy price tag.

2. Don’t Settle for your Bills

Researchers recommend that you do some investigation into at least one bill a month. This is mostly to see if you can find a better deal with another company. Plenty of things might have changed about your household since you signed up for your car or health insurance package, and sometimes you could be paying a cheaper premium price and not even know it. Time Magazine reports that most customers save an average of 40 percent simply by routinely shopping around for insurance policies. That’s because not only do these industries change very quickly, there are also huge discrepancies between the prices of different carriers. The same is true with cable TV, cell phones, and even, in some locations, utilities like electricity and gas. There might be alternative companies that would serve you better, and you can also find out ways to reduce the price you’re paying with the company you have now. So whatever bill makes you feel the most underwater should be the first one you google to find out what other people in your area really pay.

street sign saying savings and budget

3. Change Your Grocery Habits

Although buying groceries is way more healthy for your family than hitting the drive thru multiple times per week, it can be hard to figure out if it’s really that much cheaper. How much you save at the grocery store depends entirely on your habits. Every year, coupons save shoppers nearly $4 billion, so it pays to clip coupons not only from mailers but from the internet as well. And learn to buy in bulk when you can. When something your family eats regularly goes on sale, buy three or four instead of just one or two. This helps you take advantage of discounts and also avoid too many smaller trips to the store during the week, which will naturally end up costing more money. You can also follow tried and true advice when it comes to things like using cash over credit, avoiding the grocery store when you’re hungry, and making a list you can stick to. They may seem like little things, but changing your mentality when you shop can make a big difference.

Most budget experts advise families to not be afraid of making the big changes when they have to. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices when it comes to getting your finances back on track, such as getting out from under a home or car that is crippling your life. But the best idea is to start with the little changes and see how much of a difference you can really make. Write down your expenses and see what you can cross off. Your kids might not be living in the lap of luxury, but they’ll surely appreciate your investment in their future down the line.

Amie Gottschalk is an avid blogger. Check out more of her writing at Traderquote . You can also follow her on Twitter @amiegottschalk.

Images courtesy of RambergMediaImages and 401(K)2013 via Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.

The editor-in-chief of Earnest Parenting, Amy is the mother of two sets of twin boys. Yes, they drive her crazy, but they also make her laugh occasionally. Amy enjoys writing, quilting, reading, and working on her burgeoning cyber empire.

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    • May 23, 2013, 1:00 pm

      Excellent advice but I would also suggest setting up weekly allowances for the adults in the family as well as the kids. This can avoid those little arguments about why you paid $5 for a latte. That will reduce stress overall as well. In my house I am the saver and I often save at least part of my allowance from one week to the next so I can make larger purchases occasionally too.
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