15 top tips for families on a budget
1. Make a budget:
It doesn’t have to be fancy, and certainly don’t pay someone to do it for you. It can be as simple as a piece of paper in an exercise book. The first step is to figure out what you are spending your money on each week – write down everything you are getting your wallet out for, even the little things like takeaway coffees and the bread and milk you ran out to the shops for this morning. Make a list of all your expenses: groceries, mortgage or rent, electricity, gas, water, council rates, phone, mobile phone, internet, health fund, union fees, school fees, day care fees … You get the picture. The next step involves a bit more effort. Get your old bills together and divide each one to work out what they cost you weekly, fortnightly or monthly (depending on your pay cycle). Write the amount next to each bill and total it all up. Next, work out how much money you’ve got coming in each week, and compare this to the amount of money that is going out. If you appear to be in the red, it’s time to divide your weekly expenses into needs and wants and get cutting. Step 3 is DON’T PANIC if your expenses exceed your income. The following tips will help you find ways to narrow the gap. For your first family budget, you’ll have to decide how brutal you need to be. Perhaps you want to cull the majority of your unnecessary spending in one go so you can eliminate debt as quickly as possible – others prefer to slowly cut spending habits out week by week until they have reached a better financial position. Of course, the real trick to budgeting is actually following through with your decisions, so make sure you are committed to sticking to your goal, otherwise you won’t see any differences! Take the time to reassess your budget regularly, particularly if your financial situation changes in any way.
2. Automatic payments:
Now you know how much each of your expenses is per week/fortnight/month, set up Internet banking to pay money off each of your bills every payday. It looks a bit scary when you check the account and don’t see much left in there, but remember that there won’t be any bills to worry about at the end of the month or quarter.
3. See a financial counsellor:
NOT ONE YOU HAVE TO PAY FOR! Organisations like the Salvation Army have free financial councillors who can not only check your budget or help you make one, but can also negotiate with your creditors for arrangements that will enable you to pay them back over an agreed period of time. Talking to creditors yourself can be embarrassing and scary. They also tend to be more willing to give you time to pay if they know a financial counsellor is involved and you’re getting professional help to sort out your affairs. For more information visit: financialcounsellingaustralia.org.au.
4. Shop around for the best deal:
Jeff and his wife Trish have managed to live on a single income for most of their married life using this trick (and a few others on this list). Trish regularly shops around to see if they can get better deals for their utility bills, insurances and other expenses. In one afternoon another friend managed to save us $700 a month by changing health, car and house insurances as well as negotiating a better deal with our electricity provider. Check out iselect.com.au and comparethemarket.com.au.
5. Ditch the big supermarkets:
For the past 14 years I’ve lived 4 doors from a supermarket (not to name names) owned by some German brothers. Stupidly, after I had kids, I fell into the habit of buying all my meat, fruit and veg, deli items and general groceries from one of the big 2 Aussie supermarkets. Why? Because I got lazy and sucked into the convenience. Also, I didn’t want pre-packed deli items, I needed baby formula and everything seemed much easier if I just got in the car and drove to the shopping centre instead of walking 4 doors to said German-owned store. The kids no longer need formula, I recently discovered a family owned deli/fruit market near school and I have returned to my neighbouring shop and found that my grocery bill is half what it was. Lesson learned.
6. Grow your own veggies:
Another one from Jeff and Trish. Trish has grown all their fruit and veg for years in a regular suburban backyard. She started with some tomatoes in a foam fruit box and now has the yard covered in garden beds.
7. Make a weekly menu plan:
Making a last minute decision to grab takeaway because there is nothing in the house for dinner is something that blows many family budgets. While a lot of people think that takeaway or fast food is cheaper, cooking healthy, filling meals at home is actually much better for your wallet and your family’s wellbeing. The key here is planning ahead – decide what you are going to cook each night, make a shopping list of everything you need, and buy and prepare all ingredients ahead of time. A big time and money saver is cooking in bulk and freezing leftovers for those nights you don’t have the time or energy to cook.
8. Shop with cash:
You can’t impulse buy if you know you only have enough money for the groceries in your wallet.
9. Leave the kids at home when you shop:
Ditto for impulse buying when there’s no nagging kids.
10. Make your own lunch and don’t buy coffee at work:
$4 a coffee and $10 for lunch each day equals $14 a day, equals $70 a week, equals $280 a month! Scary stuff!
11. Make your own desserts and snacks:
A super yummy homemade dessert will tempt the kids to eat their veggies AND save money on biscuits and snacks for school lunches and work.
12. Make your own cleaning products:
Better for your health, better for the environment (less chemicals down drains and packaging in landfill), MUCH BETTER for your wallet. It's amazing what you can do with bicarbonate soda and cheap vinegar.
13. Have cheap or free fun with the kids:
There loads of free holiday and weekend activities around if you look. Community newspapers are a good source of information in the lead-up to school holidays but there are some obvious ones too. Shopping centres have free holiday activities and shows, libraries have free story times and activities, cinemas often run movies from previous holidays and only charge $5 a ticket. Go for a bike ride in the park or go to a nearby suburb where there is a river with bike paths, go for a picnic in the park near your house or have a picnic in the backyard!
14. Be good to yourself:
Just because you are on a budget doesn’t mean you have to surrender holidays – breaks are vital to your mental wellbeing, and provide valuable time together as a family. While a trip to Europe might be off the cards, there are still plenty of beautiful destinations that are closer to home and cheaper. Sites such as airbnb provide options for the budget conscious traveller, and often have the added advantage of giving you the luxury of staying in a house rather than a hotel room. Even a weekend trip to your nearest camping ground can provide the change of scene and break you were after. It’s also not a bad idea to use your network of friends and family – if anyone is going away for a few weeks, offer to house sit! There are several good websites where you can put your name down to house sit in some fabulous places. Often all you have to do is feed the cat and water the plants – then head out to enjoy the local sights! Don’t go without a holiday if you need one. But consider house sitting. There are several good websites where you can put your name down to house sit in some fabulous places. Often all you have to do is feed the cat and water the plants – then head out to enjoy the local sights! Alternatively, grab a tent and head to your nearest camping ground. It can provide the change of scene and break you were after.
15. Buy second-hand:
This one could take a bit of getting used to, but it really is a smart way to save hundreds of dollars on household appliances and gadgets. It is also much better for the environment if these items are used again rather than thrown out. Look online for cheap second hand washing machines, microwaves, even things like sewing machines, power tools and cars. Obviously you don’t want something that’s too old as it could potentially break down and end up costing you more money than you paid for it, but items that are only a few years old are fantastic investments and will be much cheaper than buying the full priced, brand new item.Posted by Phyllis Stylianou and Katie Adema.