Having a family and raising kids is expensive. Between child care, education, housing, and food, the cost of raising a child (or multiple) is pricier than ever—at an average of nearly $300,000 from birth to age 18, according to the USDA. The pandemic hasn't made things any easier on parents either.
In a 2020 survey conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics, 40 percent of the parents responded that their household finances had been negatively impacted by COVID between March and November 2020. Having to juggle at-home learning also proved to be a financial burden—a 2020 survey by Credit Karma found that 25% of parents surveyed had taken on debt to provide for their kids' remote learning.
Looking at your family's expenses and figuring out what to prioritize can help you spend less on recurring purchases and save more for times of financial uncertainty. Whether your household finances took a hit due to the pandemic, or you're simply looking for new ways to save, here are some expert strategies to manage your family's spending so you can have greater financial security in the long run.
1. Use what you already have, and only buy what you use.
Whether it's food, clothes, or other items your family needs, try to take inventory of what you have—so you're not wasting money buying multiples of things. Declutter your home and get rid of anything that your family doesn't actually use.
"A lot of money can be saved if parents simply stop buying things that their families don't use," says Kimberly Coleman, mother of two teen boys and blogger at Mom In The City. "So many times, I have found that we have double items (food, hygiene items, etc.) because we don't finish what we already had first," explains Coleman. She says being mindful of this has helped her family cut costs—Coleman and her family are 100% debt-free from using cost-cutting measures like this one.
Try to stick to items your family actually needs to cut down on your expenses."Narrow your list down to items you want versus items you need, and be realistic with your lists," suggests Colleen McCreary, chief people officer and financial advocate at Credit Karma. McCreary suggests relying on family and friends for favors when you need them, and asking for hand-me-downs (you can even swap items if someone has kids your age), to save money on things your kids might outgrow quickly.
2. Meal prep and use coupons to save money on groceries.
Food costs are usually a big portion of a family budget. Preparing meals in advance can help you save money and trips to the grocery store. Coleman says she first checks what food items she already has at home before going grocery shopping and plans the upcoming week's menu around finishing what they already have. Meal prepping for your kids' lunches or family dinners will keep you from reaching for the takeout menu and save you time in the morning.
Another tip is to buy groceries in bulk whenever possible. "Buying items in bulk from your local Sam's Club, Costco or BJ's Wholesale Club is a great way to stretch your dollar and to save money on items that you purchase more frequently," Sharita Humphrey, certified financial education instructor, tells Parents.
Humphrey suggests taking advantage of weekly grocery sales using an app such as Flipp, which allows you to see grocery sales in your area every week and lets you compare prices. Make sure you also take advantage of cash-back apps such as Fetch Rewards, Receipt Hog, and Ibotta. "[It's] a way for parents to put money back into their monthly budgets," says Humphrey.
3. Cut back on unnecessary daily expenses.
Small, everyday expenses might seem harmless in the moment, but they make a big impact on your wallet. "Think Starbucks, those little treats for the kids at the checkout line, streaming subscriptions, and fast food, to name a few," Teresa Britton, owner of blog Moms Who Save, tells Parents. "Many of us are spending $100 or more every month on these 'little' expenses," she adds.
That can add up to a serious spending leak in your budget—and can be a huge drain on your finances, especially when you're paying with a debit or credit card. "Paying with plastic is our new normal, and it can keep what parents are spending 'out of sight out of mind,'" says Humphrey. This can turn into a slippery slope and lead to debt, which can hurt your credit. She suggests using Self Financial to help, through their credit-builder account.
Humphrey says cutting back on these everyday expenses by paying with cash more often—or setting aside a few "no spend days" with your family—can save you an additional $100 to $200 each month.
4. Budget for occasions such as birthdays, travel, and holiday shopping to avoid overspending.
Planning for occasions and events that you need to spend on will keep you from spending too much last-minute. McCreary suggests allocating funds early on for birthdays, any family trips coming up, and the holidays—so you aren't "scrambling to save in the eleventh hour."
An 2020 survey by MagnifyMoney found that about 30% of those surveyed took on holiday debt that averaged a little over $1,300. "This is why planning your spending, creating a holiday fund, and shopping the early sales or off season is so important and can prevent buyer's remorse," says Humphrey. It's understandable to want to give your kids and family everything on their list for the holidays, but it should not put you in debt. Come up with a budget early on, and start saving now so you don't overspend.
5. If you own a home, try to make bigger payments to save money down the line.
If you're a homeowner, paying more toward the principal can potentially save you big in the long run, says Britton. "You'll pay off your mortgage early, and you can save literally tens of thousands of dollars in interest," says says. Britton suggests using a loan calculator online to figure out how much you would save based on your current mortgage amount and payments. Find areas your family can cut back on in your budget to prioritize paying down your mortgage quicker; you'll thank yourself in the future.
6. Involve your kids in family finances.
Get your kids involved in the household finances, too. Depending on how old your kids are, McCreary suggests engaging them in age-appropriate finance chores such as writing a grocery list based on your family's budget, or showing them how you pay bills.
"The sooner you get your whole family involved, the better they'll understand how you spend and save as a family," says McCreary. This will help your kids build good money habits, and will keep you and you family on the same page when it comes to saving money.