A few years ago, hubby and I were in a very tight financial situation. It was a temporary situation, which lasted about 4 years. I was so stressed trying to balance bills, food costs and kids activities. Thankfully those times are behind us, but even so, with 4 kids and one wage, we are still unable to purchase big ticket items without planning and saving, and if an unexpected expense comes up, we have to start saving all over again.
Here I write about some tips that helped us get through, a lot of it is common sense, but hopefully there will be something that you read that you haven’t read before. Please note that I am not trained in finances or anything like that, this is just advice given from my own experience.
Firstly, bills. Each pay day, sit down with your bills, All of them. Work out what is due between now and next pay. Pay these first. If you have some big bills that will empty the account, call the company and set up a payment plan. Most companies are happy to do this and do so happily. We get very high electricity bills, so I walked around the house to see what was using so much electricity. I’ve started turning appliances off at power points, and we recently got fans installed in most rooms, so we paid a bit extra and got ones with lights on them which have the energy saving globes in them. These provide plenty of light when we are sitting around relaxing in the evening, so now we use these instead of our down lights. While I had the electrician here I asked them to separate some lights onto separate switches. This way we only turn on a couple of down lights with each switch.
Call your utilities company often to get the best deal. I try to do this once a year. Even when I have been under a contract I have been able to negotiate better rates saving hundreds of dollars each year. Also call your insurance provider too. There are so many retailers for utilities and insurance that you can always swing a better deal.
Secondly, Bank fees. Hubby and I married quite young, I was 21 and he was 22. We were fortunate enough to scrape a deposit together for a house by selling a car (this was back in the day when houses were 130k, not 500k+). When we went to the bank to set up our mortgage, we automatically asked to apply for a credit card. The man who was helping us did the best thing for us, he told us not to get one, so we didn’t. There were many times I wished we had one to get us through to next pay day, but at the same time, I am so thankful that we never did. If you do have credit cards, try to consolidate them to reduce bank fees. Speak to the bank, or to a broker, most have free services to help their customers get their finances in order. Every few years, I call the bank to see if they can offer me a better interest rate. What can they do to keep my business? Remember you are the customer, you can always shop around. At one point, we weren’t happy with the service we were receiving from our bank, so called a broker who came to our house and showed us some different options. Once we decided to change banks, I received a call from our current bank offering us a much better interest rate and removing account fees.
Thirdly, food. The best thing you can do when you are on a tight budget is buy whole foods, and basic ingredients that can be used in lots of different dishes. Buy butter, flour, sugar, eggs, rice, pasta, tinned or bottled tomatoes, blocks of cheese (instead of slices or grated). Buy dry beans and legumes instead of tinned, as they are so much cheaper and go so far. Throwing a handful of red lentils into a pasta sauce or soup helps increase the nutritional value, fill up the tummies but costs very little. I love red lentils because when they are cooked they sort of disintegrate into the food so the kids never know they’re there!
Shop around. I have several different green grocers I visit, depending on how much I have to spend that week, and how long I need it to last. Supermarkets are usually the most expensive option when it comes to fresh produce. Even if you can’t afford organic produce, buying conventionally grown food is still healthier and more nutritious than buying processed packaged meals.
Make slabs of cake and freeze in portions for lunchboxes. I know when I’ve bought lunchbox snacks from the supermarket, not only am I providing totally nutrient-deficient snacks, but my grocery bill sky rockets. I often make big batches of butter cake, separate into two or three bowls. To one I’ll add choc chips, or cocoa, one might have coconut and one might have dried fruit. Otherwise, keep it simple, with a grate of lemon or orange rind. I’ll be sharing some of these recipes on the blog soon.
When flavouring meats, again, keep it simple with fresh homegrown herbs. If, like me, you kill everything you grow in the garden, ask around, you are likely to have family or friends who have a rosemary bush or bay leaf tree, or parsley going wild in their garden and would be more than happy for you to help yourself. Avoid store bought sauces for your meats and pasta as they are full of sugar, salt, additives and preservatives that are obviously no good for you as well as costing a bundle.
Fourth, the kids.
Kids activities are expensive, let’s face it. Most activities cost around $200-300 a season, times that by a few kids and there goes your spare cash. Limit the activities the kids are involved in. Look at the school, they often have school run activities. Not only is this good for the kids because they are in teams with school mates. But you can car pool with other mums too. Speak to the administration and you will find most will be happy to let you pay in installments. If you need uniforms/costumes or equipment for your child’s activity, ask around. You will find there will be parents who have spares or stuff their kids no longer need or fit into. Most will be happy to sell for a small fee or even give for free. This is the case for school uniforms also. Our school has a fb page dedicated the buying and selling of second hand uniforms. Many parents are happy to give pieces away, they just want it out of the house!
But mum, everyone else has got one! How many times have you heard this?! My son wanted a ds for years, so after a recent birthday when he was given some money, we took him to the shop, and he bought a second hand one for a third of the price, all with his own money – he was so proud! Then shortly after, a friend was getting rid of a pile of ds games her (older) kids no longer played with so I bought the lot for $20.
I hope some of these tips have been helpful. I will be working on a post soon on how to entertain big crowds on a budget too.