What do you do when money is tight and you have a family to care for? Read how we’re raising children on a tight budget while still enjoying life.
My family and I haven’t eaten in a restaurant in five months. We frequent free family outings, rely on our kids’ imagination to squash boredom, and slash our grocery budget as much as we can.
This isn’t a picture of living below poverty level (or anywhere near it). My husband and I have jobs, all sorts of insurance and a spacious apartment. We have too many comforts that pass as luxuries for many others.
Still… having $86 at the end of the month is a disheartening realization. It’s especially tough when you feel you’re already frugal as it is, with hardly any breathing room left.
Raising children on a tight budget became a reality as we went from one child to three. Like many families, we’re straddled with child care costs higher than rent or taxes. We also have “responsible” expenses like life insurance and 401(k)s.
Tips on raising children on a tight budget
In three years, we’ll have more breathing room. We’ll put our twins in public school and cut childcare and preschool costs.
In the meantime, how are we balancing needs and wants, especially when we had already been living a frugal lifestyle to begin with?
Spend on what’s important and ignore the rest
Rather than, “Watch what you spend” or “Cut back on spending,” I’ve learned it’s more effective to be mindful of what you spend money on. After all, what’s important for one person may hold little value to someone else.
For instance, I can’t remember the last time I had a pedicure—it’s not what I’d want to spend my money on. Would I like to have them more frequently? Sure, but with money tight, I’m willing to part with it to save a few bucks.
For you, a pedicure might be an essential, just as buying fresh produce and eating home-cooked meals are to me. Each person is different. Find the expenses you value most and focus on that. Everything else? Do you best to do without.
Find free or inexpensive entertainment
My husband and I squeeze in fun with inexpensive outings. A trip to a free museum (just $10 parking), hiking or visiting the beach. We avoid birthday parties that cost at least $300 and instead opted for an outing at a local amusement park with just the five of us ($67).
Plan for large expenses
My husband and I get paid every other week. So two months of the year—when three pay days fall on those months—we receive an “extra” paycheck. During those months, we plan our large, out-of-the-ordinary expenses. Things like auto repairs, buying new car seats and even enrolling our son for a month of swim lessons.
We also save a little at a time for big expenses like our twins’ preschool deposit ($1,550) and pace our spending for replacements. We plan to buy a vacuum in April, a fan in May and an air conditioner in June (instead of all three right now).
Earn extra income
I’ve also looked into little ways to make money on the side. You can only cut down so much, but you can always increase income.
We sell outgrown clothes and toys to a consignment store for store credit or cash that we stash in savings. I plan purchases based on credit card points whenever possible. And there’s this blog which is adding a nice side income.
Instill non-materialistic values in kids
All this budgeting means our kids don’t get spoiled. We teach them about writing wants on a list and saving and planning for those items and outings. They don’t get toys other than for birthdays and the holidays, and we borrow books and movies from the library.
It seems frugality has rubbed off on our five-year-old. Just the other day, I mentioned replacing their random, broken crayons with new ones. He replied, “Why do you need to buy new crayons? We already have so many.”
Oh, so true.
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Rely on savings
It’s during these times I’m thankful to my younger self for saving, now that we have had to dip into our accounts. We use years-old savings to supplement child care costs. And we even enjoyed a simple vacation thanks to having stashed money into a travel savings fund long ago.
Take a look at the video below, where I share three not-so-obvious signs you might be spoiling your child:
Be grateful for others’ generosity
People’s generosity have helped us in countless ways while money is tight. My mom visits every week, bearing food, clothes, books and toys in ways grandmothers often do. She has even given us money for the kids’ college funds, which helps since we can’t save as aggressively right now.
And our extended family has also given us gifts for birthdays and the holidays. We stash gift cards into an envelope and use them to buy clothes and kid-related items.
Adjust your work schedules
My husband and I adjusted our flexible work schedules to lessen the need for extended child care. I work an early shift so I can be home in time to pick my eldest up from school and send the nanny home earlier than if I worked a regular shift. Meanwhile, my husband works later in the day for morning drop off.
We also take advantage of our companies’ vacation days. We use paid time off during winter and spring breaks to avoid extra child care expenses when school is out.
The light at the end of the tunnel
Perhaps my saving grace is knowing this isn’t permanent. When all three kids are in school, our expenses will lessen by thousands every month.
I also understand there’s so much more we can do to further cut expenses, drastic steps like moving to a less costly city to more doable ones like forgoing social events. But we spend on what’s important to us, and we don’t on what’s not.
We may not have as much disposable income as we’d like, but we foster gratitude and remember how much we still have despite a tight budget.
Doing all this has made it possible to provide for our kids without spoiling them—all within our budget.
Get more tips:
- What You Need to Do when You’re Stressed about Money
- 12 Types of Flexible Work Arrangements You Can Actually Do
- The Benefits of Fostering Gratitude
Your turn: What other tips do you do to live within your means? What are your tips for raising children on a tight budget? Let me know in the comments!
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