I have found the best way to save money as a family is to include everyone in the family in on the plan from the onset. Sometimes we as parents sit down and discuss finances and enforce rules which make sense to us, but the children do not understand and sometimes this causes rebellion.
Including them in on all matters of your finances is not necessary. However it can be a lot of help when you are trying to save money as a family to include them in on the plan and make them a part of it. Normally children are more than willing to help out when things get difficult, or you are just trying to save money for emergencies or vacations or whatever your financial plans are.
So many times as families we all have our own agendas individually, and we are not looking at the big picture of family savings. We are merely thinking of our own desires or things we believe we need. It is helpful to sit down and have everyone (age appropriate of course) write down what monies they need during the pay period and then a list of things under the wants category. Then when the lists are completed, you can discuss their importance as a family.
It is important when starting out that you do not put everyone on a starvation budget (so to speak). Unless of course there has been a crises that requires this kind of budget freeze. It is similar to going on a diet, and we all know what starvation diets are like. A few days go by or maybe even weeks but then you are eating everything in sight because it becomes too difficult. Going on a budget does not have to be so difficult that it makes everyone miserable. Each individual in the family needs to be willing to give up a few things and be able to keep a few things.
Having discussions with the family during this time about saving on electricity, phone usage, water, and food, etc. is important. Making everyone accountable for turning off lights and conserving utilities is a good idea. As parents, depending on the age of the children, we could even have a recognition program in place for every time the child remembers to turn out the lights or to conserve water. This kind of behavior needs to become a habitual behavior for everyone in the house.
Something that many times happens in our family is wasting food. We buy too much at the grocery store or make too much food for the meal. Fresh fruits and vegetables seem to always be going bad before we eat them and the refrigerator shelves are full of leftovers not eaten. We have started to try to remedy this problem first of all by sitting down and making out a menu for the week.
By planning your meals and shopping for the meals you have planned it really helps in not coming home with extra items you do not need. You can get input from the family on what dishes they would like to have in the coming week and then plan accordingly. Then before going to the grocery store you can also check the pantry and refrigerator and make sure you do not already have some ingredients on hand so that you do not buy duplicates. I know so many times after I come home from the store I find that I already have many of the things I have purchased. In pre-planning your grocery trip you can save a few dollars or more each trip. Planning menus also ensures that you are not making a trip to the store every other day. I know I have been guilty of doing this and when you find yourself going every other day you are also picking up extra food because it looks good.
Making lunches for the family two or three times a week can be a huge savings for the family as well. It may take a little more time in the evenings to prepare the meals but if the children are old enough they can help you to prepare the lunches. Not just for the children but for mom and dad as well. School lunches can get expensive and often times the child does not have enough time to eat because they are waiting in lines and going out for lunch as adults can get very pricey as well. This does not mean that you have to stay in your office for lunch either. Take your break and go to a park or sit outside or even taking your lunch to the cafeteria and eating with friends is an option.
Family entertainment can be another drain on the budget but being together as a family and having fun does not have to be expensive. Taking day trips to a park for a picnic or dropping a line in a nearby fishing hole can be a lot of fun. Having a family game night or movie night with popcorn is fun. There are quite a few places you can visit that have little or no cost. In our town the city zoo has a family day that is free once a week. There are nature centers or arboretums that have either no charge or small fees. The parks in the area are free and some have lakes and most have playground equipment. Camping trips as a family can be fun and a great bonding tool. There are numerous state parks all over the country that are safe and they normally have lakes for fishing and swimming along with clean facilities and nature walks.
Depending on where you live of course there is a possibility that you can ride your bike instead of driving to work and school. Large metropolitan cities sometimes make this impossible but smaller towns afford the opportunity to save on gas and save the environment at the same time. Schools and many places of business have bike stations and with the purchase of a bike lock it can be a practical idea for some of us. Many cities today have bike trails as well. Before considering this option it is most important that you check the safety of the routes in advance for all involved.
Also depending on where you live something that can be a lot of fun is getting together with the neighbors for a pot luck or barbeque where everyone contributes. If you live in a residential area you can have everyone bring an outdoor game such as badminton, a football, baseball equipment, or even a croquet set. You could even have some old fashioned relay races. In our community a couple times a year we would have a block party and it would really bring the neighbors out. You get to meet neighbors you might otherwise not and you may find you have a lot in common.
These are just a few ways to save money as a family. Since every family is different and has different financial priorities it is important that you sit down with your family and spend time discussing your options. It does not have to be painful and if the family works together it can be very effective in saving money over time. Even if you decide to trade out one expensive outing per week or month for a family outing that requires little to no money it will benefit the bank account in the long run. The problem with most of us is that we think that if we cannot save a ton of money very quickly it is not worth the effort. A small amount here and there can really add up in the long run. Give it a try and cut back in small ways and you will realize the savings over time. Including the entire family and everyone making small sacrifices along the way is very important not only for saving money but for building a stronger bond as a family as well.
Ken Myers is a father, husband, and entrepreneur. He has combined his passion for helping families find in-home care with his experience to build a business. Learn more about him by visiting @KenneyMyers on Twitter.