How do small cuts in your family budget affect your kids?

(I wrote this for BlogHer last week, but due to the election, didn’t have the opportunity to post it here until today. Hope you enjoy this break from all of the political talk.)

Although you may never have had to worry about making cuts in your family budget in the past, chances are that with the current recession you dollar_sign.jpgare probably examining your finances more carefully and trying to find ways to cut back on spending. It may or may not be a necessity right now, but when planning in uncertain times, the more money you can sock away in the bank, the more secure you’re likely to feel. However, while the money saved might make you feel good, you may find yourself worrying about how these small budget cuts will affect your kids and family life.

Two weeks ago on Oprah Suze Orman discussed Teaching Kids About Money. The show focused on the fact that many families who’ve been used to saying “yes” to all of their children’s wants are now, because of the economic crisis, having to start saying “no,” how the kids react to that, and how families can start teaching their kids about money.

Suze’s top five tips were:

  • Start talking about money now
  • Teach kids to value money
  • Don’t reward with money
  • Be an example
  • Teach kids how to prioritize

You can learn more on about Teaching Your Kids about Money.

There are so many little ways families can cut back and, because this is a hot topic, there are a lot of bloggers out there talking about this right now. How your kids will be affected by small budget cuts depends on how it is presented to them (if you’re scared, they will be scared), your attitude (will this be a fun adventure or a burden?), how old they are, and whether or not they’ve heard “no” to any of their wants before.

Dana at Mommy Madness recently posted about her family budget and has a handful of things that they do to help save money. Some of the things she’s found to be helpful include:

  • Cutting her four children’s hair herself
  • Using cloth diapers and/or working on infant potty training (also called elimination communication)
  • As a home schooler, she suggests finding ways to homeschool for free or very cheap by taking advantage of sites like Ambleside online for their curriculum outline that utilizes literature as the main “texts.” She also suggests taking advantage of the library for free books.
  • Several of her friends have been making their own laundry and dishwasher detergents.

I just took my two kids for haircuts (after putting it off as long as I could – seriously, Ava’s bangs were well into her eyes, and Julian was growing a mullet) and after laying down $30 plus tips, I’m thinking I seriously need to learn how to cut their hair. I’ve tried it a few times in the past, but I’m not as comfortable with it as I’d like to be.

Earlier this week, Lori at MyThings Blog wrote 10 Ideas to Save Money on Everything. One of her ideas that I really like is “Buy clothes on the off-season, on eBay, and at off-price retailers like Marshalls.” To that I must add, visit consignment shops and thrift stores. I love to buy my kids’ clothes from consignment stores. I’ve gotten some great deals on clothes that look like-new and because they are only 4 years old and almost 2, they couldn’t care less where there clothes come from. On Oprah, the mom and teenage daughter of the family they interviewed said they now enjoy going to thrift stores to do their clothes shopping together. I’ve also recently started visiting thrift stores for books for my kids ($.79 per book? heck yeah!), kitchen stuff and occasionally toys (again, $.79 for a metal firetruck – sweet!). It’s hit and miss, but you can get some score some great stuff this way.

Over at Monroe on a Budget, they report that Spending on kids is often hardest expense to cut and follow up with some tips to help cutting back on kid expenses:

  • Don’t take kids shopping with you, especially the younger ones.
  • Limit exposure to advertisements for toys and commercial foods. Maybe you plug in a video, rather than turn on a TV channel, for entertainment. Maybe you hide the toy catalog as soon as it arrives. They might see an advertisement at a friend’s house for a toy you can’t afford. But at least the kids won’t see the same commercial over, and over, and over again.
  • If money is tight but you want to continue the children’s activities or programs, look for any way to cut the expenses or get financial aid. You don’t have to be a welfare family to get help paying these expenses – it all depends on the grant, scholarship, sponsor’s bequest or foundation rules. I have a post that specifically talks about kids’ sports expenses.
  • Pick your financial battles. You know you can’t pay for everything the children want to do – so figure out which one or two activities or events the kids really, really want to participate in. That’s where you focus your money (and fundraising efforts, if needed). Anything else they want to be involved in has to be low-cost.

McKenna at The Mom Crowd recently wrote Teaching Your Children (and Yourselves) How To Live Within Your Means and while it doesn’t necessarily have tips for how to cut back expenses, it does have some great advice regarding teaching kids about money.

  • Be honest with your children about your family budget and explain to them that if you add an expense, you will have to take away another expense. Explain to them that in order for your family to increase their cable channels, you will have to have dial up internet. Allow them to share their thoughts and play a role in your family’s budget.
  • Remind your children that “stuff” is not what is important in this life. Volunteer as a family at the food bank or homeless shelter. Expose them to families who do not have very much. For Christmas, have your children give presents to children who are less fortunate than they are. Set an example to your children by not complaining about what you don’t have. Being around people who are less fortunate than you are will not only impact your children, but it will impact you and remind you of all of the things you have.
  • If there are things your children really want, tell them to add it to their Christmas list or birthday list. This will not only make these celebrations more exciting, it will also help steer your children away from a “have it all, have it NOW” mentality. You can also use these items they want as rewards for them. Buying them whatever they want, whenever they want will not only be bad for your checkbook, your children will never learn how to live within their means or discipline.

Gina at Mommy Making Money blogs about “how to save money on the family budget while working around the kiddos.” She has links to printable coupons, tips on sales at various grocery stores, and more.

Rachel at Small Notebook wrote Your Family Budget step by step. While my family doesn’t tend to live beyond our means, budgeting is something I struggle with, so I was happy to find this advice.

When I make a budget, I focus on two kinds of amounts:
* Planned amounts- what you think your income and expenses will be.
* Actual amounts- what the income and expenses actually were.

If you’ll notice, I didn’t mention “ideal amounts.” My thoughts are a budget is a planning tool, and it is most effective when it is realistic. It’s not the place for what you wish the numbers were. Once the budget is set up and you can see where your money is really going, there will be plenty of opportunities to change your spending.

Rachel also advises to keep the budget simple and workable so that you actually use it.

Here are a few more ways families can cut back on spending:

  • Rent movies and have time together as a family, instead of going out to a movie.
  • Cook dinners at home rather than going out to eat. Let the kids choose the meals and be involved in the planning.
  • Go camping in your backyard or at a nearby location rather than taking an expensive vacation.
  • Repair/mend clothing rather than buy more.
  • Bike or take public transportation rather than drive yourself.
  • Borrow books from the library rather than buy new ones.
  • Find free or low-cost activities, events for the kids or even whole family to attend. Check your local paper online for information.

The bottom line is that cutting back on your family budget may be hard on the kids at first, but it can be a valuable learning experience and enjoyable as well. The more fun you make it, the more they are likely to realize that things don’t matter nearly as much as quality time spent with family does.

What are ways that your family has cut back in spending lately and how have your kids reacted to it?

Related posts:
* Give the Kids an Allowance and Save Money
* Personal Budgeting: 6 Money Savings Tips for Today’s Economy

21 thoughts on “How do small cuts in your family budget affect your kids?”

  1. Amy, thanks so much for the link! I’ve been following your blog for a while now and have enjoyed learning about new things. I cut my little girl’s hair. The first time was definitely not great, but the next time turned out pretty cute!

  2. I don’t have kiddos yet, but your tip about telling your kids to add things they want to their Christmas and birthday lists reminded me of me!

    About a year ago when we got really serious about debt reduction, shopping turned into an “only when I need something” activity. To help with the transition, I started an Amazon wish list, and when I saw something I wanted, I put it on the list. Then last Christmas and birthday (mine are close together) whenever someone asked me what gifts I might like, I just pointed them to the list. It really helped me get past “shopping as a hobby”, because I could still shop–I just didn’t get the things I wanted until later.

    And, funny thing, I’ve discovered that I often go through and later delete things I’ve put on my list–after a cooling off period, often that thing I “had to have” just isn’t.

  3. We’re definitely trying to cut back and save in case one of us loses our jobs as a result of the recession. I definitely agree about the savings on haircuts–I’m cutting Gabriel, Lily & Matt’s hair and also letting my go a bit longer between cuts than I used to. And since I’ve started buying our clothes second hand, I’ve saved literally hundreds of dollars each season change!

    Some other things we’re doing:
    * making our own granola, yogurt, icecream & bread (this alone is probably saving us $20 a week with a loaf of organic whole wheat bread running close to $5 now!)
    * focusing on whole food snacks (cheese, veggies, fruit) instead of expensive processed foods
    * buying bulk from a local co-op and preserving as much as possible to eat this winter
    * forgoing network television (we still do watch TV, we just download it online)
    * not using the credit cards for ANYTHING short of a major emergency

    We’re using to track our budget and have trimmed a great deal of the fat in the past 2-3 months. It feels good to be in control of our spending without feeling deprived and we’re looking forward to actually saving for purchases for the new house instead of buying them on credit and paying them off later (that seems like common sense, but is not something we’ve been good about in the past).

    Great post!

  4. Thanks for so many great ideas. Not taking the kids (or my husband) with me when I go shopping helps a lot. So does tracking my expenses, either with a computer program or by using cash envelopes (when the envelope is empty no more spending in that category).

  5. One big money saving tip is not to cater meals to fussy eaters. Make something for dinner that all of the family members have to eat or they go hungry. Guess what a couple of nights of “I don’t wanna” and not getting a separate meal made for them cured them of that. So no, they did not starve.

    Growing up my mother never made something different for a family member because they claimed they didn’t like something she was making for dinner. However, now my sibs with kids don’t want to deal with the tamtrums and make separate meals for their kid who decides that today they hate green beans or whatever. Separate meals makes your food budget much larger.

  6. Well Amy,

    I read your post yesterday and I dug out the Wahl haircutting system that I had purchased for $10 on craigslist over a year ago. I have 3 boys (7,4, and almost 2), so I figured the worst that was going to happen was that I would cut the hair too short and I would just have to let it grow back.

    It turned out amazingly well. I did it on the oldest yesterday. My middle son’s hair is really thick, so I am going to try his today. His will be harder, but it grows really fast, so I think it will be fine.

    Wish me luck and thanks for the inspiration!


  7. i’ve been cutting Brian & Josh’s hair for some time now. i buy a new pair of clippers every so often for between $15-$20, and since it would cost me about $15 to get Josh’s hair cut elsewhere, you can see how much money we’re saving. for Brian it would be about $24 to get his hair cut. we save a lot of money every year by doing this.

    i should say that although we’ve made a lot of adjustments to our budget, i don’t think Josh has been truly affected. we’ve lived frugally for a long time now – he gets hand me downs from his older cousins, and i rarely have to buy him clothing aside from socks and underwear.

    after reading about it on another blog, i now use Google Calendar for menu planning. it sounds like a small step – but that combined with using a grocery list has saved us a lot of money. we eat more meatless meals now, which is also saving us a boatload on the grocery budget.

  8. We’re a bit obsessed with green living on a budget over at the I find our thrifty lifestyle oddly exhilarating and take a strange sort of pride in just how creative we can be with finances. With food prices going up, it’s meant that we eat less meat, grocery shop less often, and stock up on organic goods at the Grocery Outlet.

    Our website is choc full of all sorts of money-saving, planet-saving tips. It’s fun to see how often those two go hand in hand. We’re also doing a giveaway for an organic onesie and cap by My Little Pakora. It’s over on November 10th so stop by soon if you’d like to enter!

  9. One thing that we did was we created a family challenge of how long we could keep our heat turned off this fall. We live in Minnesota, so it’s not an easy task! We called it our “how long can we go?” challenge and we set a goal of going through the whole month of October without turning on the heat. The kids were really into it and bundled up and snuggled under blankets when they got cold. We made a lot of soup on the stove, baked a lot of goodies and took hot baths when we felt too icy. My hubby finally turned the heat on because he was sick and it was *really* cold, but we were all proud of how long we lasted and they’re fully on board with keeping the heat set really low now because they feel tough when it comes to heat. LOL Considering the cost of fuel oil, this helps a lot!

    We also cook mostly from scratch, eat vegetarian, shop at thrift stores, buy from local farmers, don’t use credit cards, rely on libraries, volunteer at science and history sites which gets us free family memberships (not that that’s why we volunteer, but it’s a nice bonus)…. I actually think it’s kind of fun to be frugal! 🙂

  10. I felt very proud of myself for cutting up and cooking my Halloween pumpkin. Yesterday my 2-year-old and I made pumpkin bread from it, and there’s enough left to make another loaf. It made me feel like a pretty good farmgirl. Also, for dinner last night I made deep fried root vegetables: parsnips and yams cut pretty thin and fried up. Tasty, and those items are relatively cheapo because they’re not very hip.

  11. We have always been frugal, however lately Becca and I have been making things that she desires, instead of buying them. For example, she really liked a Littlest Pet Shop Clubhouse she say at the store, so we went home and made a pet clubhouse out of cardboard, markers and fabric. It was totally fun!

  12. Thanks for the mention, Amy!

    These are all great ideas for saving money. We haven’t really changed any of our habits with the downturn in the economy, we’re just doing what we’ve been doing. It is getting more challenging, though, as the kids get older and are exposed to more “gimme” attitude from friends, TV, etc.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *