According to the Pew Research Center, more than one in four mothers are currently stay at home moms. This is a trend that has increased in recent years after decades of women returning to the workplace in droves. Perhaps more and more moms have realized that the notion of the working mom who has it all and can do it all is more myth than reality. Or maybe it’s the innate desire that moms have to be home with their babies and make the most of those precious years. Whatever it is, more and more women are putting their careers on hold and trading the briefcase for a diaper bag.
The problem is that in today’s world, it can be a real struggle to raise a family on just one income. It’s often worth it to the more than five million stay at home moms, who get to bond with their babies and treasure all of those sweet childhood moments, but it can also be a challenge to make the money stretch far enough. If you’re a stay at home mom, you know that you have to save where you can. Here are some ideas for trimming your budget and keeping more money in your pocket.
Become a One-Car Family
While it takes some schedule juggling and a bit of getting used to, you can save a whole lot of money by having just one car. This might mean that your working partner has to take public transportation to work, and it might mean that there are days when you’re just at home with the kids or are limited to whatever’s within walking distance, but it will definitely reduce your costs. Even if both of your cars are paid off, you’ll still save at least a few hundred a year in car insurance costs; there’s also fuel and maintenance costs that you won’t have to incur as well. Becoming a one-car family isn’t for every family, but if you can make it work, you’ll certainly save some cash.
Trim Your Monthly Bills
Heat, air conditioning, electricity, water — they all add up, and the bills come every month. While you can’t eliminate them completely from your life, there are a lot of little things you can do that will add up to significant savings in how much your family pays per month in utilities and other costs. If you rent your home or apartment, finding a place where heat and even electricity and water are included in your monthly payment can save you from worrying about some of these concerns. If you’re responsible for paying your utilities on your own, though, there are some cost-saving measures you can try.
To keep your heating bills down, try lowering your thermostat. Even one degree can make a difference over the course of a month. Bring it down even more substantially when you leave the house and at night; using warm blankets and wearing cozy pajamas will keep you comfortable even if your home is a bit chillier than usual. To keep electric bills to a minimum, maximize your use of natural light and keep lights off. Also, unplug and turn off appliances and electrical equipment to prevent slow drains that add to your bills; these include things like computers and printers, microwaves, and even charging cables with nothing plugged into them. Finally, water bills can be lowered by taking shorter showers, bathing kids every other day (especially in the winter), and having small children bathe together. If you’re not already keeping the faucet off while you brush your teeth, now is a good time to start.
After monthly utilities, you probably have other bills that come every few weeks. If you’re paying for cable or satellite TV service, consider reducing the number of channels you get or dropping it altogether. If you’ve got internet service in your home, see if there’s a slower option for a lower monthly charge; it probably won’t affect your online time all that much, and you can save ten or twenty bucks per month. As for cell phone service, shop around to find the best plan, keeping in mind that pre-paid plans (along with some conservation and diligence on your part) may be your best option.
Eat for Less
The first rule of eating when you’re trying to save money is that you don’t eat at restaurants — at all. In fact, to keep your food costs as low as you can, it’s a wise idea to avoid any pre-made foods completely, as you will pay a premium for the convenience. This includes grabbing pre-made lunches at the grocery store, hitting the drive-thru for a taco, and especially grabbing coffee on your way to work. You can make all of those things at home for less than you’d spend at a to-go place: brew your own coffee, pack your own lunch, and save some cash.
This also goes for lunches with the kids: when you’re a stay at home mom, it can be tempting to get out of the house for lunch. However, eating in is always best for saving money. If you need a change a scenery, pack a picnic with your little ones, grab a blanket, and head to the local park for lunch al fresco. Or, if it’s cold outside, have a pretend summer picnic on the floor.
When you go grocery shopping, your cart should be full of staples. Dried beans, big bags of frozen vegetables, apples and oranges, cartons of eggs, cylinders of oatmeal, and potatoes — these are all filling, healthy, and relatively affordable foods. What’s more, you don’t even have to join a warehouse store like Costco or Sam’s Club to buy fairly large quantities; many large supermarkets carry warehouse-sized containers at warehouse prices. Also, do your best to get out of the mindset that you need to have meat at every meal. Read up on the Meatless Mondays initiative for ideas of meat-free eats, and remember that there are great and inexpensive non-meat sources of protein like beans and eggs.
Next, get cooking! Even if you’re not a master chef, you still have the ability to prepare tasty and nutritious meals that are simple and inexpensive. In fact, even if your busy schedule leaves you no time to cook, invest $15 or $20 in a crock pot and come home to a hot dinner. There are lots of websites like this one that can give you great ideas for inexpensive and delicious crock pot meals.
Finally, be mindful of how much food you waste. According to the United Nations Environmental Programme, about one third of the food that’s produced for human consumption on our planet is wasted — just thrown away or somehow lost. How much money would you save if you didn’t waste any food? Make that your goal — eat or use everything you purchase. It does take a bit of creativity, but once you’re in the mindset that food does not go in the trash, you find a use for everything. Stale bread crusts become tasty breadcrumbs for a salad, apples with brown spots get cooked down into applesauce, brown bananas and fruit that’s overripe get buzzed into perfect smoothies, and milk that’s about to turn sour gets made into a quick pudding with a bit of sugar, cornstarch, and vanilla extract. Use up everything, make less trash, and keep more money in your pocket.
Coupons While You Shop
In addition to shopping smarter, shop with coupons and coupon apps to save even more. You don’t have to be an extreme couponer to save $10, $15, or even $20 every time you head to the grocery store. Check to see if your local grocery store has a frequent shopper or rewards program that you can join. They’re usually free, and they can save you a lot. For example, Wegmans has their Shoppers Club, Meijer has mPerks, and many other large supermarkets have their own cards and programs to save you money.
Clipping actual coupons can also go a long way toward saving you money, though you do want to make sure that you clip coupons for things you actually buy. In other words, don’t buy a product you wouldn’t ordinarily purchase simply beause you have a coupon. You can check your Sunday newspaper for coupon circulars, or check out Coupons.com for hundreds of free printable coupons. Simply click the ones you want, print them out, and go shopping. Or, use Cellfire to print coupons or link your store’s rewards program card for added savings.
If you’ve got a smartphone, use it to your advantage when shopping by using a free money-saving app. Ibotta is one that gives you money back on select purchases. To use it, simply select the items you’re going to buy, go shopping, and scan your receipt. Within a day, the rebates will appear in your account. When you’ve got at least $10 in there (which can easily happen in just one or two shopping trips), you can use it for gift cards or cash out to your PayPal account. Get friends to join for bonus cash and for team bonuses too. The SavingStar app works in a similar way. Or, to keep close tabs on the lowest prices on items you use every day, download Favado to start tracking prices. All three of these apps are available for both iOS and Android.
Great Deals on Clothes for the Kids
Kids clothes are generally affordable, but there’s one problem: they always need new ones! They grow quickly, they play rough, and they wear things out faster than you’d ever think was possible. While sales at stores like Target and Carter’s do help, there are even cheaper ways to get your kids dressed for less. Instead of buying new, look into quality used clothes as consignment shops, ebay, and at yard sales (which are notoriously great for finding affordable kids clothes).
For free clothes, consider organizing an annual or semi-annual clothing swap with other stay at home moms near you. Everyone brings a bag or two of clothes that their kids have outgrown but are still in reasonably good shape, and you can all trade for the sizes you need. Of course, if you have multiple kids, saving your older child’s clothes for your younger children can also be a great way to stretch a dollar. Plus, when kids are young, they don’t look at hand-me-downs as a bad thing; they’re usually happy to be able to wear their big brother’s or sister’s clothes.
Entertain Them for Free
You can buy books, spend money to rent movies, and sign up for expensive Mommy and Me classes, but all of those things are a big drain on your budget. Instead, look for free entertainment options, starting with your local library. More than just a place to borrow books (although that’s good too), most libraries offer a great selection of DVDs for patrons to borrow plus all sorts of free programs like storytime sessions, arts and crafts events, lego building parties, and much more.
After the library, be resourceful about checking out local parks and museums for free opportunities. Playgrounds and other outdoor spaces are usually open to the public and can entertain kids for hours. Museums often hold free admission days once in a while, and they’ll often hold additional programs for families on those days. During the summer months, check your area’s calendar for things like outdoor festivals, movies in the park, and other fun and free activities for the kids.
Remember Why You’re Doing This
It’s important to keep your family’s life in pespective, especially on those days when you start to feel deprived of luxuries that all of your working friends might have. Remember, your kids will be little for only a few years. They’ll be in school all day before you know it, and when they are, you can go back to work. You’ll bring in lots more income, have the money to afford more, and will be able to lay off on the scrimping and saving. For now, remember that you have the gift of your children’s formative years, and nothing that money can buy can replace how wonderful that gift is.