Best Ways to Cut Costs, Save Money, and Stay Home with Your Kids
Many women entertain the possibility of becoming a stay-at-home mom. However, these dreams tend to focus on just the benefits: doing the household chores at a leisurely pace, greeting the kids with a plateful of homemade chocolate chip cookies, or being there when the baby decides to take her first step. What’s missing is the large dose of reality that many women suddenly face when they discover the cost for quitting their job.
If you’re feeling unorganized or overwhelmed because you don’t know where to begin, have never lived on a single income before, or need to put your new lifestyle into perspective, the following tips and tricks can help you make the transition to becoming a new stay-at-home mom easier.
Put Away Your Need for Perfection
While a well-organized home runs more smoothly, give yourself time to make the transition. Moving from convenience foods and eating out several times a week to lower-cost menus and old-fashioned home cooking will take a period of adjustment. So will learning how to stretch a dollar by cutting back on expenses, limiting the kids’ activities and desires to fit within your new budget, and finding substitutes and free things to do that won’t cause you to feel deprived.
In the beginning, things will feel a bit chaotic, and you’ll make mistakes, but put away any tendencies toward perfection and think of your new-found freedom as a challenge. Staying home requires networking, sharpened skills, and hours of research, but you can draw upon your past job experiences and education to help you shift to a single income. Think practical rather than perfection. Many have succeeded in making a one-income family work, and so can you.
Saving Money Requires You to Know Yourself
Once you’ve relaxed your expectations and given yourself permission to make mistakes, it’s time to sit down and take a good look at your current lifestyle. Write down everything you’re used to spending money on, how much you spend on each item, and how often. Until you have a good grasp on what you’ve been doing and how you’ve been living, you can’t begin to figure out how to restructure your life.
Children don’t get cheaper as they get older. Raising teenagers is even more expensive. And with all of the smaller packaging schemes and clever marketing gimmicks fighting for your dollars these days, knowing yourself and tracking patterns is the best way to defend your family against the impulsive and mindless spending that ruins even the best budget plans.
While almost all one-income families will need to cut costs by making changes, the degree of change required is individual to your own family’s needs that go beyond the basics. Take the necessary time to figure it out, and crunch the numbers, so you have something to work with. You need to know exactly where your money is going. While one family might need to reduce their cable television expense from a premium package to basic, another family might need more drastic measures – give up television completely and switch to yard-sale VCR movies instead.
Either way, staying home is a life-changing event that requires you to find new and creative ways to make your expenses fit within a single income. But don’t despair. With a list of your current expenses in hand, you’ll now have the time and energy to learn how to do things you’ve never had time to learn before.
Separate the Family’s Needs from Your Wants
After getting your current lifestyle down on paper, it’s time to reassess your priorities. Divide the expenses you’ve recorded into basic needs and wants. While staying home with your kids usually means some form of sacrifice, figuring out what you can live without is a good place to start. If you’re used to going to the hairdresser every week, stopping by to pick up a pizza on Friday night, or taking the kids to every new movie they want to see, many of those types of activities may no longer fit into your budget.
The idea is to work toward simplifying and downsizing your life. Basic needs cover:
- food and water
- shelter, including utilities
- gas for the person earning the income to get to work
- a reasonable car payment
- health care expenses
Most of everything else falls into the category of wants, but you can even readjust or downsize some of the basics, if needed:
- grocery bills can be slashed
- clothing can be purchased at thrift stores or yard sales
- you can choose basic clothing styles when buying new
- move into a smaller home or apartment
- move closer to work
- trade in the car for a less expensive, cheaper-on-gas model
- switch to a cheaper cell phone plan
- limit your trips in the car
Also consider the cost for upkeep of your possessions. You may find there are cheaper alternatives. For example, a dishwasher costs more per load than washing dishes by hand, once you factor in the cost for the machine and the yearly repairs when it begins to age.
Saving Money on Groceries
Most stay-at-home mothers suggest newbies begin saving money by cutting back on groceries, since food tends to be a major expense, especially for working families. However, changing what you eat and how you cook won’t be as easy as flipping on a light switch. Most families spend a large sum of money on convenience foods and eating out, so start with the basics.
Buying in bulk is often recommended to save money. It allows you to take advantage of sales and heavily marked-down items. However, it may not fit nicely into your current budget and money-saving abilities. With only a single income, there might not be enough money left over to stock up. An alternative method is to limit your purchases to what’s on sale that week, marked down on clearance, or what carries a budget price in your local area.
For example, after scouting out the available stores in the small central Utah area where we used to live (two small grocery stores and a Super WalMart), the cheapest meats were:
- chicken leg quarters, .79 cents a pound in a 10-pound bag
- boneless, skinless chicken breasts, $1.98 a pound
- ground turkey, $2.49 in one-pound rolls
- ground pork, $2.00 a pound
- sale pork chops, less than $2 a pound almost every week
Beef, and even hamburger, was especially expensive there. Hamburger was at least $3.69 a pound for the 80% lean variety. Most of the time, it was almost $4. And you couldn’t get out of the store for less than $6 a pound for steak or roast beef. Because of that, we rarely ate hamburgers or used ground beef in recipes unless it was on clearance.
I did substitute ground turkey sometimes, or I made ground pork burgers. Ground pork is far leaner than ground beef anyway, and full of flavor.
I also took fresh chicken breasts, horizontally sliced them into my own cutlets, and simmered them in spaghetti sauce. Served over pasta, it was far more filling than a traditional spaghetti dinner.
While learning to shop and cook with what’s on sale or marked down is essential, the key to saving money on groceries is to find creative ways to make your current recipes work with what you have available. That holds true whether you're cooking for 3 or a larger crowd. Don’t tie yourself down to dishes that will only work with a certain type of meat or a particular vegetable. You need to be flexible. Casseroles, soups, stir fries, lo mein, Mexican dishes, rice dishes and quick breads all transform into new creations when you switch up the meat, vegetables, fruit, or sauce.
Also be willing to sub out higher cost ingredients for something less expensive and more substantial. That sometimes means buying the pre-shredded cabbage for cole slaw if your family won’t eat the cabbage that’s left over. Throwing away food is like throwing away money.
Try serving breakfast for dinner or make up your own hamburger patties ahead of time and freeze for a quick fast-food meal. In addition, don’t forget to check out the day-old bread rack. You can often find loaves of French bread selling for a mere 50 cents a loaf. Day-old bread makes fantastic pizza, hoggie sandwiches, bread puddings, or French toast.
Watch for Sale Patterns
One of the easiest ways to catch on to a store’s sale pattern is to record everything you buy in a price book, where you bought it, and how much it cost. Keeping track of the date is also important. Although tedious, keeping detailed and accurate records will pay off quickly because you’ll be able to see patterns you’ll find helpful during future shopping trips
For example, the stores in our area love to mark down traditional foods associated with a particular holiday. That’s nice for holiday festivities, but once the holiday is over, prices are usually higher for a week or two. That allows the store to make up the money they lost over the holiday. Those super holiday deals aren’t really deals, unless you can space your shopping out far enough to take advantage of the sale, but not shop again until prices come back down. Without going through the price-book exercise, you might not notice that’s what the stores are doing.
Become Aware of What You’re Throwing Out
Keeping your refrigerator neat and organized can help you stay on top of leftovers. If you don’t know what’s in your refrigerator, you’ll probably end up throwing most of it away once it goes bad. The same goes for your kitchen cupboards. Rather than shopping according to what you have an urge to cook or eat that week, take advantage of the ingredients you already have on hand. If you can’t use the celery or carrots fast enough, you can always freeze them to go into a pot of soup or a stew later in the week. The average family wastes far more food and money than they realize.
Clipping coupons might work if you live in a large metropolitan area where products are easily available, but coupons are not always the best option. Most coupons are for highly processed convenience foods or high-priced non-food items. If you save 25 or 50 cents on a brand-name product you wouldn’t buy if you didn’t have a coupon, you’re losing money. While coupons for meats, dairy products, and other basics do pop up now and then, beware of any impulse to buy something just because you have a coupon. You also want to check out the after-coupon price against similar brands you don’t have a coupon for to make sure that you’re actually getting the best deal.
Saving Money on Snack Foods
Because of their high energy requirements, kids need snacks, but they don’t have to be expensive, individually-wrapped dried fruits and chips, or cute-shaped crackers. Gravitate to more basic items like apples, oranges, or bananas. For those with large appetites, try offering peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, celery and carrot sticks dipped in homemade Ranch Dressing, small containers of cold cereal, or graham crackers and milk.
Ways to Cut Costs on Non-Food Items
For me, the easiest and quickest way to save money on cleaning supplies was to learn to consolidate. You don’t need ten different products. I use window cleaner or ammonia, and a powdered or liquid cleanser, for almost everything. A simple, all-purpose cleaner would work well too.
Keep your eye on the clearance section of your local discount store, take advantage of your local dollar store, and try to stay away from non-food items on standard grocery store shelves unless they are on sale. Grocery stores typically charge much higher prices for non-food items.
In addition, cut down on the amount of bubble bath, lotion, and fancy soaps you buy until you get a better idea of what basic living expenses are going to be. Frugality doesn’t mean you have to only buy what’s cheap. I found that balancing out the budget was the best way to handle the higher priced items I preferred. If I spent extra money on a higher-quality brand item, I then needed to balance it out elsewhere. That works for groceries, as well as personal care products and house cleaning supplies.
How to Ease into Being a Stay-At-Home Mom
The easiest way to make the switch to being a stay-at-home mom is to experiment with different tips and techniques on saving money and wean yourself off your paycheck before you quit your job. If you place your paycheck into a separate savings fund, that reserve can help the transition from spending to saving go smoother and easier.
You can also seek out stay-at-home forums, frugal-focused egroups, library books, and frugal articles to find ideas that will fit within the boundaries you’re willing to live with. Try out some of those suggestions such as the ones presented in the following video while you still have a job, and play around with what works best for you.
Transitioning From Working to Staying at Home
Don’t forget to address your emotional reaction to quitting your job as well. Kids don’t stay kids forever, and if you don’t hang onto your individuality and grow right along with your kids, you won’t have much of a life once they’ve left the nest and struck out on their own.
Sanity Hacks for a Stay-at-Home Mom
However, for many stay-at-home moms, attempting to live a more frugal lifestyle ahead of time isn’t possible. If you’ve lost your job or your kids have special needs, the transition might be quick and painful. Therefore, you’ll need to sit down and figure out where your money is going, and then take the necessary steps to cut out everything you can easily live without first. For some families, that will be enough, but for others, you’ll have to keep cutting and cutting until you’re left with a lifestyle that fits within your current income.
How to Make the Transition Easier -- Additional Tips
While staying home is hard on the budget and means you’ll have to live without many things you’re used to having, the pay-offs of being able to attend Little League games, your daughter’s dance class, take your kids to the zoo, or teach your kids how to take care of a dog are well worth the price.
Don’t believe that?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, 80% of all stay-at-home moms are extremely happy with their current lifestyle. Although the average household income of those who find themselves making do with a single paycheck is less than $75,000 a year, those who have arisen to the challenge that staying home creates wouldn’t have it any other way.