Even for individuals, money is complicated. When you have a family, managing your financial life can feel impossible.
Don’t let money matters come between you and your loved ones. Get a grip on your finances before they stress you, your spouse, or — worst of all — your kids out.
Fortunately, managing your family’s money isn’t rocket science. A few key tips can put you back in the driver’s seat:
1. Put Away Your Credit Cards
Chances are, misusing credit cards is what got your family into financial trouble in the first place. Start with the root of the problem: Take your credit cards out of your wallet. Don’t cancel them altogether, which can negatively impact your credit score.
Although credit cards offer attractive rewards, you might have discovered their dark side: It’s easy to spend money that doesn’t feel like yours, and a single interest charge can negate all of the perks you earn.
How can you get the convenience of a credit card without the risk of falling into debt? With a debit card. A debit card draws directly from your bank account, preventing you from spending money you don’t have. Plus, debit cards generally come with fewer fees than credit cards.
2. List Everything You Make and Spend
The next step to strengthening your family’s finances? Getting an at-a-glance view of your family’s income and expenses.
List everything you earn and spend in a given month on paper or in a spreadsheet. Think about your:
- Mortgage or rent
- Utility bills
- Insurance bills
- Investments and retirement contributions
Look back through your bank’s transaction history for expenses that don’t fall into those categories. Keep in mind once-in-a-blue-moon costs, such as taxes and car repairs. This can be time-consuming, but you can’t prescribe a solution until you first diagnose the problem.
Once you know where you stand, you can start on the hard part: deciding what to cut back on.
3. Cut Unnecessary Spending
With a bird’s eye view of your income and expenses, you’ll start to see opportunities to save money.
The truth is, a lot of us spend money on unnecessary things. We all deserve a treat once in a while, but buying luxuries too often is a bad idea.
Take your ax first to these expenses. Common sources of unnecessary spending include:
- Digital subscription, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime
- Snacks, beverages, and meals out
- Rent-to-own services, such as Aaron’s
- Vacations and weekend getaways
- Apparel and personal accessories
This isn’t to say that you should never take another vacation, or that you shouldn’t buy new clothes when you truly need them. However, they may be eating more of your budget than you realize.
It’s a lot less stressful to manage your finances if you focus on cutting costs. Only if that isn’t sufficient should you worry about creating new income streams.
4. Call Your Utility and Insurance Providers
After you eliminate unnecessary spending, what’s next? Lowering the costs of your necessary expenses.
One of the best ways to lower your bills or find discounts is by calling your utility and insurance companies. Your utility and insurance companies want to keep you as a customer, so they are usually happy to help.
For example, your car insurance company may be able to lower coverages on a vehicle that you rarely use. Discussing your home’s safety and security features with your homeowners insurance company may unearth new rebates you quality for.
What about utilities? Many gas, water, and electric providers allow you to pay a monthly average. That way, you’re not facing huge bills to heat your home in winter or keep it cool in summer. This may not save you money, per se, but it makes budgeting more predictable.
The point is, you never know what savings opportunities you might be missing unless you call and ask. If you’re friendly, the representatives will be more than happy to help you. Collect all the numbers you need, set aside a few hours, and start calling.
5. Find Free Ways to Have Fun
Everyone needs to have a little relaxation and fun in life. When you’re worried about money, however, it can be tough to unwind.
The trick is to find free events and hobbies. Researching your options ahead of time is a good way to avoid impulse purchases when you’re itching for entertainment.
For example, the next time your kids or spouse want to see a movie, consider borrowing one from your local library. Surprisingly, libraries often have collections of TV shows and movies that rival even Redbox or streaming services.
Other family favorites include:
- Hiking trails
- Taking the kids to the park
- Visiting free museums and zoos
- Reading together
- Drawing, painting, or taking photos
To give your family something to look forward to, pencil these activities into your schedule every week. Before long, they will become second-nature.
6. Make Saving a Game
Especially if you have kids, why not gamify saving money? There are all sorts of family-friendly activities you can turn into competitions, such as:
- Gathering aluminum cans for metal recycling
- Collecting spare change
- Raising and selling potted plants
- Taking photos for stock photography sites
- Mowing yards
Although none of them are likely to make you a millionaire, savings do add up. Encourage buy in by using the proceeds to treat everyone to a pizza or other small reward. Consider adding the money you earn to a vacation fund.
7. Cut Yourself Some Slack
Big, unexpected expenses happen. Don’t berate yourself because your car needed a repair. Realize that your water heater was bound to go out eventually.
By the same token, it’s OK to occasionally enjoy what you earn. Take your partner out on a date night. Celebrate your raise with a bottle of champagne. Don’t be afraid to treat your kids to ice cream after a trip to the dentist.
Getting a handle on your family finances can be challenging, but you can do it. Spending less and saving more don’t necessarily mean enjoying life less; if you do it right, they can even be part of the fun.