Creative ways to save more and spend less

Kids saving money in a piggy bank

There are many simple ways to make smarter saving a part of your family’s routine. But what if you could save even more by spending less on everyday things – or even better, by not spending any money at all?

Just making one month, one week – or even one weekend – your spend-less or no-spend goal, can translate into in new savings and healthy new spending habits for even the youngest members of your family.

So whether you’re saving up for a trip, paying down your mortgage, or looking to increase your savings, you can free up more money with some creative approaches to spending less – or none at all – on many everyday things.

Borrow beyond books at the local library

We all know that a family can save a lot of money on borrowed vs. store-bought books with a free or low-cost public library membership. But these days, there are also plenty of other surprising and valuable things for loan at your neighbourhood library:

  • Movies, TV series, music, games and toys are all often available to borrow alongside books from the public library, including free subscriptions to digital media services with an even larger selection of e-books, audio materials and more.
  • Some libraries now loan out supplies for recreational activities including bikes, fishing gear, walking poles, gardening tools and knitting and crafting kits – you may be surprised what your family can borrow from your local library for a fun and free weekend.
  • Museum passes are now available to borrow on a first-come, first-served basis from the Ottawa public library, saving families there as much as $100 on admission fees for a week or weekend spent touring the capital’s many galleries and museums.
  • The Vancouver public library loans out musical instruments to members, and many libraries across the country in both big and small centres now have 3D printers for use (but note that users generally have to pay a small fee for this service).
  • Don’t forget all the free classes, story-time sessions, speaker series, makerspaces and musical performances held regularly at most public libraries – check out the event calendar for your local library for fun, free ways to spend time with your family this winter.

Trade to save

Swapping goods and services among friends and neighbours has a long and rich history as a common and savvy currency for thrifty families. With a little creativity and an open mind, you may be surprised what your family could save by teaming up and trading with other families:

  • Babysitting and pet sitting are two easy ways to save money by taking turns with another family you know well – everyone gets a night out or trip away, and the kids and pets are having a fun playdate for free.
  • Swapping gently used clothes, toys, baby gear and sporting equipment between family and friends can save you hundreds of dollars every year – kids grow so quickly that hand-me-downs can be like new, paying off in savings and freeing up your storage space when you pass it along to the next family.
  • Big city costs for transit passes, parking and gas can eat into any family’s budget, which makes carpooling a natural way to trim back these transportation costs – the bonus is having some company for long commutes or delays in traffic.
  • Trading houses among friends and family from another city is an increasingly popular way everyone can save big on a short vacation – or consider trading your time for lodging during a family adventure volunteering for a good cause.

Make it yourself

Creating things from scratch can be as simple or elaborate as your skills and patience permit. But approaching even a few everyday things with a DIY perspective can add up to major savings for your family:

  • Create your own gift tags for next year by cutting up pretty holiday cards left on the mantle; make DIY holiday cards with leftover supplies and materials in your craft cupboard; and repurpose old magazines, newspapers or fabric scraps as wrapping paper.
  • Save on gifts with something home cooked in your kitchen, a coupon for quality time spent together, an act of service, or a handmade craft – many family members will also appreciate framed pieces of your children’s artwork, or a recent family photo.
  • Make a plan to use up the groceries in your cupboard or freezer for one weekend of every month – use a recipe website that helps you create a meal based just on what’s in your pantry, or wing-it and see what new family favourites you can create from combinations of ingredients you already have.
  • Reduce your spending and the clutter under your sink by making your own cleaning supplies – everyday cleaning can generally be done, and done well, with nothing more than baking soda and vinegar, two ingredients easy to find and cheap to buy.

Spend less on your free time

If time truly is money, then perhaps the best way to save more by spending less is finding ways to spend no money at all on your free-time activities:

  • Check out your city or town’s website for a community calendar of free public events, or stop in at city hall and ask in person.
  • Community pools often have low-cost or no-cost public hours, and outdoor skating rinks are always free and fun.
  • Most museums and galleries have free days or evenings each month, while many others offer pay-what-you-can or by-donation admission fees.
  • Local hardware and craft stores often offer free weekend classes for kids and families – and many communities have free family-friendly festivals or concerts.
  • Head indoors to your local botanical garden or conservatory to escape the winter blahs for a few no-cost hours – or embrace your winter spirit with free, kid-approved outdoor activities like sledding, snow fort building or a good old-fashioned snow ball fight.

If you have children, paying the bills while still putting away money for savings like their future education takes commitment and planning. But, there are ways to stay on track and we all know that every little bit helps in the long run!

No matter how your family tries to cut back on spending this year, you’ll likely find that trying new ideas to save more money together is a fun, valuable way to teach kids of any age about smart saving and spending.

It’s never too early to show kids the value of money, creative ways to save, and it’s never too late to learn new spending habits that can help the whole family save more, and spend less.

Carmen Kinniburgh

Carmen Kinniburgh is a freelance writer and editor exploring topics and ideas about parenting and families, Canadian science and research, health and medicine, as well as travel and lifestyle. Born and raised in Alberta, Carmen has also lived in Southern Ontario and Manitoba, where she worked in professional communications for a university and a national health charity. Currently living in Thunder Bay, Ontario, she gets all her best ideas and insights for Parentwise from her own three delightfully precocious children.

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