When I look at our family budget to find where our money is oozing out, I find a lot of different places with little leaks here and there, and I wonder how we as a family can save on things we LIKE to buy for the family. Tracking every dollar you and your family spend clearly identifies the differences between expenses and spending.
Reducing Discretionary Spending:
After all the necessary expenses are paid, and savings are squirreled away, there may still be money left over for discretionary spending. Although this part of your budget is spent at your discretion it is still best to plan, and limit it. Some things are a fun treat for the family like: a trip to the ice cream shop that costs four times the price of one tub of ice cream at the grocery store; a new t-shirt and cap because it’s a great souvenir; or the outing to a professional sports venue with overpriced hotdogs and drinks. Although not an actual need to help you survive to the next day, this is the first place to attack your budget if you are looking to save money.
Entertainment: There are plenty of free entertainment choices for younger kids. Try skipping the professional baseball game and instead hit the local diamond to watch the high school students. The kids will be just as thrilled, and, when they lose interest 20 minutes in, you won’t feel like you wasted your money.
Movie Time: I prefer movies in the living room to watching them at the theater; bathroom breaks are easier to handle….pause please! Popcorn is cheaper and you can ask the tall person in front of you to move, probably just your sister anyway. I know a movie in the theater is a worthwhile experience, go ahead enjoy it once in awhile, but every new blockbuster may be too much for the budget. Another favourite option in our town is Movies in the Park during the summer. Not only is it free, but they have all sorts of activity options for the kids for several hours before the movie starts and the family is out under the stars during the movie—awesome!
Books: We LOVE books!! and I find it hard to resist owning my own personal copy of favourites. We have a large collection of children’s books, mostly purchased second hand, and they have been read over and over…and….over again. But for new book adventures we head to the library, we sometimes leave with as much as mommy can carry, or sometimes just a few. As well, every time we go, the library has free fun activities on the go all the time. The kids run off and do their thing while I fill the bag with books and then I have to drag them away from all the fun. I admit that, if we fall in love with a book I might still go buy us a copy, or a copy for our young cousins since I love to support authors that I like.
Eating Out and Other Conveniences: Conveniences can create a deep hole in the expense account. Restaurants, drive-thrus and even quick-prepare choices from the grocery store may seem necessary if you have been on the road for the whole day. We try to eat breakfast before we go, pack a lunch or a healthy snack, but if we are still out of the house by dinner time we usually cave-in and eat out. It can be a hard habit to break when you have ‘hangry’ children and you haven’t planned your next meal. Your family and budget will benefit if you cut back, one meal at a time with healthier unprepared ingredients, and you will find quality family time too if you include your little helpers in the meal preparation process.
Unplanned Convenience Purchases: Think of the all the things you do, or buy, just because it is convenient. Are you still buying your morning coffee on the way to work instead of making it at home or office? Other unplanned convenience purchases might occur if you neglect to plan ahead causing you to make purchases under stress, for example, buying sunscreen at the rest stop on the highway. It likely costs double what you would have paid if you had bought it on sale and brought it with you. A little extra effort and you could save some serious money.
Check out The Automatic Millionaire, written by David Bach. In it he discusses how saving money spent on small things like a latte can make a difference in the long run. He has posted a Latte Factor calculator. My husband and I read it together B.C. (Before Children), and it really focused our vision on reducing our variable discretionary spending.