Families that have control of their finances are much more able to save, contribute to college for children and enjoy vacations and other luxuries. Many families find that the start of a new year is a good time to make changes and start afresh. That’s certainly a good idea, but you don’t have to wait until New Year’s Day to overhaul your financial situation.
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All that being said, it’s never easy to make financial changes and get control of the flow of cash into and out of your bank account.
The truth is that gaining a handle on things is one of the best things you can do for your family. Here are some practical tips to help you get started this year. Get the entire family on board and you’re much more likely to be successful and reach your goals.
1. Inventory Your Bills And Look For Ways To Save
One of the first things you can do is to take stock of the bills you have to pay each month. That includes cable, telephone, tuition, utilities, groceries and anything else you spend money on every month.
There are a variety of smartphone apps or software programs that can help you track your spending and see where your money is going. These programs collate all of your information so that you can see where you can make cuts.
Perhaps you can eliminate part of your cable plan or downgrade your cell phone data if you aren’t using these things on a regular basis. You might also notice that you tend to get fast food when you’re busy. Keeping ready-made meals at home can save you time and money. As a family, you can sit down and decide what items can be cut back on to save some cash this year.
2. Look For Free Things To Do
No family is going to want to sit at home all the time in an effort to save cash. There’s no reason why your family can’t get out and do enjoyable things even if you’re trying to cut back on spending. Most cities offer free days at museums, zoos and other places.
Schedule a family day on those dates and you can enjoy what your city has to offer without having to spend any money. Playing at the park, going hiking, playing board games, picking up movies from the library and going to free events at your local recreation center are great ways to have fun together without having to spend any money.
3. Overhaul Grocery Shopping
Your family has to eat, but it doesn’t have to be outrageously expensive. Even a large family can find ways to save money on food. One of the best ways is to cut coupons for the items you buy anyway. Most stores feature a rewards program if you join and become a member.
For example, Super Target features the Cartwheel app, which you can use to save money on the items on your list and earn rewards toward free food or other items. Most supermarkets offer sales for members of their club, and you can save a significant amount of money by taking advantage of them.
4. Start A College Savings Account
If you have kids, saving for college is something you can start doing as soon as your baby is born. Even if your kids are older, it’s not too late. Open a 529 for your kids and set up automatic transfers. This ensures that money goes into the account, but you don’t have to worry about remembering to put it in there yourself.
Some employers offer matching funds into these types of accounts, which is another great way to grow your money and help your kids go to college someday.
5. Buy Off-Season
Families need clothes, shoes and cold weather gear, but it can add up really quickly. Instead of spending more than you can afford when the seasons change, shop during the off-season.
For example, at the end of the summer, stock up on shorts, t-shirts, sandals and swimsuits for next year when these items are often marked way down to make room for the fall collection.
Do the same at the end of each season and you could save big money on items you have to have, but sometimes can’t fit into your budget too easily.
6. Don’t Be Afraid Of Secondhand
Families can save a ton of money by buying at secondhand or thrift stores. You can often find good quality clothing, shoes and books, especially for kids. Many thrift stores sell name-brand items at a fraction of the cost of buying them new.
You can also find toys, adult clothing, bedding, home goods, dishes and much more at secondhand stores, many times with tags still attached.
Consignment shops are another great place to score name-brand clothing for kids and adults at lower costs than new, although not as low as secondhand stores.
7. Keep Track Of Health Care Costs
Even with health insurance, you’ll still have some out of pocket costs, especially as a family. A certain portion of your out of pocket expenses may be tax deductible, so it makes sense to keep careful track of what you spend on your own.
Keep your receipts together and charge medical expenses to credit cards if you have them, so you can double up on the benefits by using your points. If you’re self-employed, you may be eligible for additional tax breaks. If you have trouble with money, speak with a financial planner to help you figure it all out.
8. Plan Early For A Vacation
No family should have to give up a getaway, but you can go broke if you don’t do it right. Financial experts suggest planning early and doing a lot of research. This helps you find the best deals and bargains to save you money on your trip.
Sign up for deal alerts from travel websites so you know when the hotel and airfare prices drop to their lowest. Once you’ve determined your destination, look at coupon websites for bargains, and check out the local city website to search for cheap or free things to keep you entertained.
9. Rethink Your Credit Cards
Credit cards can be useful, but only if you pay them off every month. If not, you’re simply accruing interest and spending more on items than you would otherwise.
Many families find that getting rid of credit cards teaches them to shop more effectively and to learn how to buy things only if they have the cash to pay upfront. Asses your credit card usage, and decide if you can do without them to save money.
Financial changes aren’t easy, but they are completely worth the time and effort. The trick is getting the entire family on board so that everyone agrees to the changes and is willing to participate in them.