Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in Living on the Cheap.
Finances are a family affair, and there’s no better time than now to keep track of your expenses and savings. Host a family gathering and start working together to spend money wisely, save more, and work toward shared financial goals.
Here are some conversation starters.
What do we pay for that we don’t use?
Start by taking a close look at your monthly bill, then have an honest conversation with each family member to find out where cuts can be made. Does your daughter still enjoy her ballet lessons, or does she prefer her (free) school’s drama club? Discuss what you are spending money on that you can replace with a less expensive option.
Here are some ideas of what to talk about:
Gym membership. Swapping out that pricey annual gym membership for a family membership to a local YMCA or similar club can save you money. Look for local, privately owned gyms that offer free workout days or classes that are open to the public for a fraction of the cost. Hospitals, clinics, or community centers sometimes sponsor special exercise classes in parks or other public areas. Many schools and learning centers offer access to students. If you still want to join a gym, check out these tips for saving money.
Cable. When was the last time you actually watched a movie on the movie channel that’s part of your cable TV subscription? If you don’t use the service, get rid of it and put it into savings or to pay off debt. You can also attach an antenna to pick up some local channels.
If you pay for high-speed internet, you can get lots of channel streaming options. Your monitor can double as a TV set, or you can manage streaming on a smart TV.
Many popular TV channels have episode playlists available for free on their websites. Watch classic movies or television episodes on YouTube. Roku lets you watch episodes of your favorite channels for a one-time price. Have you subscribed to Amazon Prime? You can get Amazon Prime Video for free.
Classes for children. Many schools have free or inexpensive after-school activities for enrolled children. If you’re paying for dance or karate classes, talk to your kids and see if they really enjoy their time there. You can find alternatives, including free apps your child can install to learn coding and other cool stuff. Businesses like Michael’s and Home Depot run workshops for kids all year round.
Can we spend less on parties?
Party invitations never seem to go away. If you have school-age kids, or just have a large family, it feels like every week is a birthday, shower, wedding, or some other celebration. All of these are happy things, of course, but there are also costs involved, whether it’s bringing a gift, needing something formal to wear, or getting your hair done.
If your party season is failing you, try making a deal that you can’t say yes to every event, or find ways to get creative with gift giving. One option is to set aside an entertainment budget for each child for a year. Include the child when using the money to buy gifts or special clothes for the party. This can be an opportunity to teach your child about making gifts, spending wisely, and using discount sites like Groupon to make purchases and pick out what’s most important.
Consider talking to the extended family about gift limits, which will help you save on gifts throughout the year. Another idea is to make the gift an experience, such as a visit to a museum or zoo on a free entry day. Instead of giving your family members more items, you can spend time together doing activities that are fun but affordable.
What do our families want to save for?
Getting out of the habit of credit card impulse shopping and actually setting aside money for desired purchases is a great example to set for your kids. Talk about what your family’s savings goals are. This will give you something concrete to think about when you’re tempted by a new toy or outfit. Do you want that item more than you want a summer vacation or a backyard trampoline?
Get the kids to practice what you preach with their own money. When you encourage them to save their allowance to buy things of their own, they will understand and appreciate the value of things. Visit websites like Centsables.com for kid-friendly money lessons.
For a large family outing, such as a weekend getaway or trip to an amusement park, have everyone start contributing their spare change into the savings jar. They will see their money built right in front of them, and enjoy the end result.
How can we be more economical?
Don’t we all love designer goods, the latest tech gadgets, and frequenting dinner out at fine restaurants? But in reality, this lifestyle cannot be supported by middle-class family income. Talk about how you can live life with a more frugal mindset.
Here are some frugal and money-saving habits to consider:
Clip coupon. Some people find cutting coupons a waste of time or too complicated. But you don’t have to be an extreme curmudgeon to profit from these little paper scraps. I recently saved over $50 using two coupons at my local health food store.
Wait for sales. Some stores follow a seasonal sales cycle, including reduced prices on bed linen and electronics in January. If you can wait to buy a product, look for deals during that cycle. Winter coats will go on sale before spring, and summer clothes will be on sale around August. Turkeys are inexpensive during the holidays, and specially wrapped or themed candies will make their way to the discount aisle when the holidays are over. Shop during sales to save even more.
Buy store brands. Store brands cost stores less because there are no advertising or marketing costs. They can sell you products for less and still make money. Warning: Some people say store brand products don’t perform as well as brand name products, so your mileage may vary. Others insist that the quality is high. Do some product testing with your own family and find out how you can save on store brands without sacrificing taste or fun.
DIY. Do DIY projects around the house. YouTube is full of how-to videos that can help you fix a leaky faucet, build a birdcage, or install weather protection.
Receive inheritance from family and friends. Don’t be shy about asking for clothes that are too big for their children. Most families enjoy finding a second home for expired clothing rather than throwing it away. You can save money and keep those great clothes out of the trash. Parents love to share clothes, books, and toys, and it’s a wise and money-saving practice.