Spring Cleaning the Family Budget

Couple on computer reviewing ways to spring clean the family budget

A little spring cleaning of the family budget can go a long way in getting your financial house in order.

I will admit that there’s really no such thing as ‘spring cleaning’ in our house. There’s just regular cleaning (infrequent and largely unsuccessful attempts to catch up to the mess of three kids, two adults and a dog) and panic cleaning (frantically stashing the piles away minutes before guests arrive).

We do however, manage to tidy our financial house this time of year. It’s usually a result of getting organized to file our taxes, including touching base with our financial advisor to see how our savings for retirement and the kids’ education are adding up.

From there, it’s not much more work to see if our budget is a real reflection of our spending and saving. Some years, it can be a real reality check as to where we can improve things.

This spring, if you’re finding your financial house could use a little sweeping, try some of these tried and true strategies for squeezing some extra dollars out of your family budget.

How to spend less money and save more

Deciding what extras you can live without can take some trial and error, as we’ve discovered over many trials (and many errors).

Easy places to start are cooking more homemade meals and dining out less, but you can save even more with savvy strategies for grocery shopping. We’ve tried them all, and find that buying in bulk, choosing store and generic brands, and racking up the points on reward programs are easy savings wins.

Clipping coupons and buying a wholesale club membership, on the other hand, didn’t add up to big enough savings for me, in either time or money. Ditto for cutting back on cooking costs by simplifying all our family meals: there are only so many humble casseroles you can try and convince your kids (or yourself) to eat.

On the other hand, it was easy for us to cut cable out of our lives when we watch most of our TV online or rent shows from the library for free. For some of my friends, sharing a cell phone with their spouse, or moving to a lower-cost, no-data cell phone plan was an easier adjustment. We’ve put our Internet accounts on hold for the summer months, and have no shame about calling up our provider to ask for the latest promotion.

There are also plenty of ways to cut down costs on extra-curricular activities so you don’t have to cut them out entirely. Similarly, when it comes to vacations, I’m not generally willing to cut out holidays and visits back home with family and friends, so we make every effort to turn our travels into affordable getaways. Whenever possible, we drive versus fly to our destinations and either camp or bunk with friends and relatives along the way.

Doing things the DIY way can also save you lots of money, for example on Halloween costumes, as can buying second-hand whenever possible. Over the years we’ve found kids’ clothes, baby gear, toys, and sports equipment, all in great condition, at local thrift stores, consignment stores or garage sales – for a fraction of what they cost to buy new.

Clothing swaps with my moms’ group and close friends are also a fun and easy money-saver: add some wine and appetizers and this is a perfect girls night in. Swapping babysitting duties with another set of friends can also keep date night affordable, though unless my husband does the babysitting, I still prefer to hire a sitter and enjoy a strings-free night off the job.

Ways to make extra money

For those times your budget is as lean as it can be, but there are still bills to pay and savings goals to reach, a little creativity can bring in some extra income.

During my three maternity leaves, I made good use of consignment stores, garage sale and online classifieds to sell the clothes, gear and toys our kids quickly grew out of. I babysat for friends on a short-term basis to cover their childcare gaps, and we rented out the parking pad beside our garage.

I have friends who balance their desire to be home with their kids with their need to boost their income through direct-sale businesses, selling everything from jewellery to cookware to leggings out of their living rooms. Taking on a casual or part-time job with flexible hours, even if it’s outside your pre-kid career path, can help you balance family time with finances when your kids are young.

The takeaway from all of these experiments, with spending less and earning a little more is,‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’. Keeping an open mind to the options for stretching your budget a little further can help you reach your savings goals, this spring or anytime of year.

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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