Thursday, May 04, 2017

7 Tips To Run Your Family On A Budget

Tips for running a family on a budget

I hear so many people complain of being 'skint' and sometimes it does irritate me a little when in the next breath they complain about their expensive TV package, or are off shopping needlessly. 

Knowing what it's really like to feel that way and genuinely worry where the next meal comes from, makes it really hard to listen to these complaints when you know full well there are so many things people can do to live on a tighter budget. It's not nice, but it is doable and we really have been there.

We are a pretty low income family still, but we plan and try to be careful, yet still get told we are 'lucky' we can afford some things or that I can work from home. No. We are very lucky in the grand scheme of things, but with most people we are in the same boat, we just play it slightly differently. I never intended to leave work but it's just how things have worked out.

The fact that we mostly manage is not by chance, it takes planning and careful spending. You get used to your budget and I think people would be really surprised at how much just a few small changes can save. I've put together some simple tips that have helped us to live on a shoestring at times. It's not hard once you are used to it but it certainly does take some adapting to. If you're careful you can still have treats and family holidays without missing out on family time or feeling that you are missing out financially.

We would all love to not worry about the cost of things and give our children everything they want, but it's not always possible and it doesn't mean we need to struggle necessarily either.

1. 'Cut it out'

The first and most important thing is to make a big list (or a spreadsheet if you are like me) of everything you spend money on. Every single thing. From those pesky phone contracts, utility bills, beauty treatments, entertainment packages, food, petrol etc etc.

Once you have your list, firstly put all the 'essential' bills in one section. Essential bills are your heating, electricity and food. (Not sun beds and weekly bottle of wine).
Go through the essential list and ring the companies direct to ask if there is anything they can do to reduce your monthly bill. Simply tell them it is too high for your current means and that you will be moving. 

I pretty much cut all my bills or got money back from this process. Customer retention is a huge deal for companies and there is often room for movement when it comes to tariffs and deals. I also found I was on the wrong water tariff for us and my bill was hugely reduced. 

Instead of paying monthly amounts you can't afford, ask to have some kind of payment plan if you are in any kind of debit. If you don't have the money, you can't pay it and they usually understand and will help. Ask what your friends pay, if yours does seem high, get some new quotes and switch. You have no loyalties to these companies, but your custom is important to them and they will try and help you to retain the service.

2. Food bills

Food is obviously a must have. Think to yourself what you buy and if you need it all. Do you have any waste each week?

Make a list of 7 main meals and just buy what you need for those (we usually do 8 or 9 in case we don't fancy one). Buy only the fresh items you need and if you find you do throw a lot out, reduce what you buy and freeze what you can. 

Good quality food is worth the money, but you don't always need to spend a fortune or buy big brand items. Your local market will sell fruit and veg so much cheaper than supermarkets and it's so much nicer too. It's well worth the trip if you don't already and get through lots of fruit and veg as it can be expensive. Making lists and planning can be boring but will save you lots of money each week.

Cooking meals in batches can also save money, pre making lunches in bulk saves time too and really helps especially if you are trying to eat healthily. A batch of chilli for example would cost just a couple of pounds but make lunches for two for a good few days.

3. Non Essentials

Next its time to look at your non essentials. Look at whether you need everything on your Sky package, or if in fact you need a Sky package at all (sorry Sky it's just a good example). Freeview is great and has plenty of rubbish to watch. 

Your phone contract may be easily reduced, just call them. If you don't need the best of the best new phone then simply don't get one and save a fortune each month with a more basic model. Do you need those beauty treatments or could you do it yourself or have a student do it? The money you save could pay monthly payments for a holiday or beef out a savings account, let alone pay off and current debts.

It's lovely having luxuries, but they do feel more special when they are less frequent and you soon get used to it.

4. Spending

Work out how much you have to spend each week and stick to it. If you are working with a small budget it is really easy to slip up and be left with very little. If you stick with what you have, then it avoids mishap and I find getting the cash out at the start of the week really helps to see what you are working with. It also feels like you are spending more when you use cash, I tend to make a lot less random purchases as it soon adds up popping things on card.

5. Credit

Credit cards can be a godsend in an emergency, or just to tide you over a day or two before pay day. As long as you pay it straight back, it can be a really useful thing to have. Always read small prints though, check rates and choose offers with 0% which you can then transfer if not paid off in time to another 0%. Pay weekly schemes and store cards can cost you a lot and make things a lot more expensive than they should be, I avoid these like the plague as there just seems no benefit to them and they seem to target people in bad situations and make it worse for them.

6. Kids

Kids clothes come in at all budgets. Places like Primark offer really nice clothing at a really low prices and I always stock up in the sale for the next year when jumpers and pyjamas are just a pound. You can also buy pre loved bundles and look in charity shops for some good quality second hand clothes.

The kids grow out of them so quickly and are not at all precious with what they have on, does it really need to all be brand new? When it comes to toys, again second hand can be good but when buying new look out for special offers like Sainsbury's 25% off toys offer they have before Christmas and Amazon lightening deals. We tend to do a mix of old and new to cater for their needs and they are always more than happy.

7. Swap shops

Why not organise an event in your area? Negotiate a free church hall and invite everyone to bring their unwanted, but good condition clothes, toys, anything. Everyone can have a rummage for something new to them and you can lighten the cupboards in the process. If you need to then everyone could pay a few pence an item which you can then offer to the venue for hiring the space.

You could even get a group of friends together and swap things you no longer need, pay a pound an item and put it all in the pot for a big night out! That way, nobody misses out, you all have new things and what feels like a free night of fun.

The most important thing really is to plan, be realistic and don't overspend on things you don't need to. There are lots of advice services (Citizens advice is one) out there if you get stuck and if you're ever struggling, most companies and banks will understand and help you get in a better place, so never let it bring you down. I'm determined to work from home now until the kids are older and by doing the above, I've made this possible for the past year.

Do you have any more tips that work for you?