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Parenting on a Budget

Stick to that resolution to save money in 2012 with these cost-cutting tips for parents.

Even though it’s a brand new year, most of our own personal economic situations haven’t changed. That paycheck, mortgage payment, and gallon of milk price tag are the same as they were in December. As much as we’d all like a nice, fresh start on paying bills and saving money, it’s hard to make big changes when so much is beyond our control. I mean, you might be able to get a deal on diapers depending on where you shop, but they’re still expensive.

If you made a big promise to yourself to cut your spending—whether it’s to save for a specific purpose, build a nest egg, or just add to your little one’s college savings—you might be looking for some easy ways to do this. I know I can always afford to take advice on how to save some money on everyday items… who can’t? So get out your planners and Excel spreadsheets and let’s make a plan to save some money by parenting on a budget in 2012!

Make a Monthly Budget

Step one is to know what that budget you’re parenting on really looks like. Know all your expenses for the month and be honest about how much money is coming in and going out. Obviously, you want to make sure you’re spending less than one you make. And by cutting these costs even more, you could actually start putting some money away into a nice savings account, for you or you kids.

Banish Credit Card Debt

Of course, before you can save money, you should wipe out that credit card debt. Paying it later or in smaller increments means you’ll pay more down the road, thanks to rising interest rates. I’ve got a credit card or two that needs to be wiped clean, so this will be my first order of business in 2012. If you can, consider getting a 0% APR balance transfer credit card to consolidate your debts to. It will make it easier to get ahead of your payments if you’re not accruing so much interest every month! See what Wise Bread has to say about these cards and where to get one.

Save the Environment AND Lower Your Bills

Saving on energy can really help you find extra money every month. If you have the extra money to invest upfront, switch to energy-efficient appliances to use less energy, water, and heat. Swap the light bulbs in your home for lower electric bills and always turn off electronics when they’re not in use.  If you can stand it, dial the thermostat down two degrees from wherever it’s set now (in the winter, turn it two degrees up in the summer). Your heating (and cooling) bill will go WAY down, just from the slight temperature drop. And most of the time, you won’t even notice it!

Of course, you can also save on gasoline by walking or biking when you can. Obviously, it needs to get a little warmer before that happens, but take advantage of those nice, mild days and cut your costs while you get some exercise! Find more tips at Real Moms Guide for saving on your energy and water bills.

Cut Corners on Groceries

After your monthly bills, groceries are probably your biggest expenditure. I know that we can easily drop a serious amount of money on food when we’re not looking, and I’m sure we’re not the only ones! Still, buying the groceries to prepare your own meals, pack lunches for everyone working outside the house or going to school, and brew your own coffee every morning can save you hundreds every year. Consider that you’re saving $3 on every cup of coffee (that’s at least $15 per week per coffee drinker!) and about $15 per lunch (which adds up to $75 a week!) just by spending a little money up front at the grocery store.

While you’re shopping, there are a few things you can do to manage grocery expenses:

  • Shop with a list and stick to it! Impulse purchases can easily add $10, $20 or more to your bill in the blink of an eye!
  • Start at a farmer’s market for fresh produce. It costs less, is usually fresher, and adds a lot of healthy fruits and veggies to your diet instantly!
  • Don’t buy disposable items you don’t need, like bottled water or single-use Tupperware. Invest in a water filter and Nalgene bottles for everyday use to cut out costs of up to $2 per bottle of water you drink!
  • Buy generic wherever possible. Usually the store-brand products are made by the manufacturers of the top-selling brands, but they sell a lot less! Cut expenses by up to 50% just by skipping on that fancy label.

Raise Kids for Less

There are lots of ways to cut your expenses for your little ones’ needs, from clipping coupons to shopping second-hand stores. For a new baby, check out resource guides like The Complete Book of Baby Bargains by Kimberly Danger. For your toddlers and older kids, consider these tips:

  • Start clipping and organizing coupons for big budget items, like formula and diapers.
  • Take advantage of special cash-back or discount programs at stores like Kohl’s, Carter’s, and Osh Kosh B’gosh whenever possible.
  • Get a wholesale club membership and buy in bulk. Our membership at BJ’s has helped us keep the cabinets well stocked for over a year now. I don’t know how we afforded the basics without it before.
  • Join a rewards program from baby brands like Pampers or Huggies. Record your “rewards codes” from every pack of diapers or wipes and get great rewards like photo books from Shutterfly, toys, clothing, and magazine subscriptions.
  • Never turn down hand-me-down clothing from friends and shop second-hand whenever possible. They grow out of them so fast, they don’t need to have the latest fashions season after season.

For more money-saving tips for parents (or anyone) on a budget, read up at Parenting Squad and Web MD’s Shopping Guide for raising babies for less.

Thank you to all my readers who have followed Crib Notes for the last year and made this such a rewarding experience! This will be the last Crib Notes column at the Patch, but I wish you all a happy and healthy 2012!

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