“I recently quit my job as a full-time teacher to stay at home with my two kids. I know it’s the best thing for our family, but I am finding myself more and more anxious about the money. I’d love any money-saving tips you have!”
Sometimes I flip through Netflix and watch a few episodes of “Extreme Couponing” with the kids. That show always makes me feel incredibly lazy and worse at math than I am already know I am, but then inevitably they mention how they spend 30-40 a week couponing and I realize that while it may be an incredible saving strategy for your family, it can also be a full-time job. I already have a full-time job, so who needs another one?!
That being said, no one goes into full-time ministry to get rich (well. Full time ministry not on television or massive book deals), so I do have to work hard to save money. I will be totally upfront about the fact that I know I could do much better at this than I do, so I am going to be watching the comments later to pick up some tips! But before I jump into techniques, what I’d first say to you is that you can be anxious with $10 or you can be anxious with $1,000,000. Anxiety is a heart issue, not a wallet issue. So I can give you all kinds of money-saving tips, but if your heart is struggling with trust and wise stewardship, it won’t really matter. It’s easy to view money stewardship as simply a question of “how can I save enough money to be able to do the things we want to do?”. The problem with that is that the heart of that question is- how can I make happen what I want to make happen? When I start thinking this way, there’s not much room left for Him, and even less room for me to be generous. What I want when thinking about money is to think- how can I be wise with whatever He’s given me, knowing that it’s all His, so that I get to be more generous to my family and others? When I view it this way, it shifts from being anxious to trusting, and from what I want to thinking about what He wants.
I promise you that you can’t teach your kids to be generous if you don’t first teach them that money doesn’t really belong to us.
The first thing I’d say is something Wes and I have counseled premarital couples when talking about how to plan ahead for living off of one income, if that is a desire of the couple. The shift from two incomes to one can be quite dramatic, and for some it seems impossible. If your goal is to be a stay at home mom (or work part-time), then we counsel couples to try as much as they can to live off of that one income. Babies can be expensive, so living as though you only have one income helps you practice what that lifestyle is like, and may give you some room when unexpected expenses come. This definitely requires self-discipline, but that discipline will only help you in the long run, when you have to make choices about what to purchase for your kids and how to help them learn to manage money.
*Buy used and trade with others. My kids are older now so we don’t really get many hand me downs anymore, but they were a lifesaver when they were smaller. Kids grow fast and they are rough on clothes and shoes. I know that my kids will get holes in the knees of their jeans in about a month’s time or less, so I buy them jeans at Once Upon a Child or Goodwill. Every once in a while, I will find something at Goodwill that I know is worth much more, so I buy it and sell it back to a resell shop and buy clothes for my kids (once, I found a rack of Janie and Jack dresses at a Goodwill, and was able to buy coats for all three kids).
Be generous in giving clothes away, older moms. Remember what it felt like to open up a beautiful dress for your baby that someone gave you. I remember that a very sweet friend gave me a gorgeous smocked dress for Selah simply because I had told her how pretty I thought her daughter looked in it. That was years ago and I still remember that generosity and kindness.
*Buy in off seasons. This is more difficult when your child is younger, since they grow so quickly and it’s hard to predict what size they will be but as they get older, it gets a little easier to buy for the next year. More expensive items like boots, coats, sweaters are discounted at the end of winter so I try to buy for the next year.
*Buy quality, not quantity. I realize that seems counter intuitive since I just talked about Goodwill, but I have found that if I will buy cheaper pieces that I know will get destroyed faster, then I can spend a little more on higher quality pieces. Example- I like to buy Selah’s shirts and dresses at Gymboree or Gap. She chews on her sleeves and collars, and these stores clothes can hold up to that, but I’ll buy jeans or leggings much cheaper since I don’t mind replacing those more often. My kids will also wear shirts and dresses for much longer than pants, so it makes sense to spend more money on those.
*Buy basics, not outfits. At the beginning of each season, I will buy pants or shorts in basic colors and shirts that coordinate with those. Selah gets a few basic dresses that she can wear in summer and fall with a sweater.
*Invest in a good laundry system. A high quality stain remover, bleach pens, and getting to stains as quickly as you can will save many clothes from being made into dust rags.
*If you have girls, consider learning to sew a few basic patterns- this is something I am still working on. I’d love to be able to make Selah a few summery dresses and skirts because she lives in them, and because as she gets older, it has become more and more difficult to find cute modest clothing. One of my favorite blogs for repurposing clothes has inspired me to look more closely at clothing to see if I can make it into something new that will work for me or my kids- check it out- http://refashionista.net/
*Learn to cook. I know. I can even hear the eye rolling. I’m sorry, I don’t want to be *that* friend, but I can’t lie to you. Cooking is cheaper than eating out- not only financially, but cheaper in long-term health costs, and a better investment in time spent with your kids. This is especially important if you have a child with any kind of food allergies- I’ll be honest, I am not sure it is possible to address a food allergy if you don’t learn to cook. Learning to cook can be overwhelming, so start small. When I was learning, I decided to learn one new technique and one new recipe using that technique each week. The very first thing I learned to make completely from scratch was lasagna- sauce, filling, and noodles, and now I can even make the ricotta cheese and I am working on learning to make mozzarella. This doesn’t mean spending money on a bunch of cooking classes or cookbooks! Find a cooking friend, borrow some basic cookbooks from the library, even YouTube has great instructional videos on basic cooking methods.
*Shop in season, and learn proper food storage methods. Right now I am buying pickling cucumbers and corn on the cobb in bulk- why? Because it’s the end of the season and it is very cheap. I will make pickles to store and I am shucking the corn and freezing it for later. I in a few weeks, I will do this with tomatoes as the season winds down. Last year, I got two huge boxes of very ripe tomatoes at the farmers market for $20 and made about 20 batches of spaghetti sauce. Combined with a $1.00 bag of pasta, I was feeding my family for $2.00 a meal! With some homemade bread and a salad, that was still under $5.00 for a dinner for a family of five. This tip honestly probably saves us the most money, because much of our wasted money comes from having to throw food away that has gone bad. Obviously, you can’t freeze everything, but when you can buy milk, eggs, and bread on sale, freezing them makes a big difference in your monthly bill.
*Start a stockpile of sale items. This probably seems difficult if your food budget is tight, so I’d suggest decreasing your weekly food budget by $10 a week for about two months until you have set aside some money for surplus deals. This way, when chicken goes on sale for $1.00 a pound, you can stock up and freeze the excess.
*Start a small garden- even a few tomato plants for the summer, and herbs year round to freeze can save money.
*I try to make at least two vegetarian meals a week, and I rarely use canned beans, and I never use canned vegetables. This may be more difficult if you were raised in a meat and potatoes family, but the fact is, you don’t need meat every day, and eating a meal of vegetables and/or lentils will help not only your wallet, but your body too.
*Make a budget and plan ahead. If you only do one thing, do this. I spend so much more money when I don’t have a plan and when I don’t pay attention to budget. Use a cash envelope system if you need to, but try to sit down with the grocery store ads to figure out what is on sale at the beginning of the week, then plan meals around that and stick to it.
Other areas to save-
*Make your own detergent, soap and cleaning supplies. I do this and I truly does save money, and I haven’t noticed a difference in my clothes.
*Keep up on car and home maintenance. Spending money on appropriate air filters for your air conditioner is much cheaper than repairing a broken air conditioner!
*Pay attention to utilities to determine where you can reduce cost. Turn off your lights. Make sure your plumbing is working properly, and that your kids are turning the water off all the way. Unplug your appliances when not in use.
*Consider having only one car. I’ve heard people say “this is impossible” and I would say that for some, this would be very difficult, but it is not impossible. Inconvenient, yes. Not impossible.
*Consider new opportunities to generate income. I do NOT mean jump into every Mary Kay/Advocare/Tupperwear/Company of the moment chance that comes your way. Please. Don’t become *that* person. But if you have a talent or passion, pray about how you might be able to use it for income. I’ve taught voice lessons before, and Wes has taught piano lessons. I currently do cake decorating and some catering. Right now I don’t make any money writing, but I’d love to someday. The important thing here is to try to do something you are passionate about, because working and being a mom is difficult, and even more so when you are working at something you hate.
I’d LOVE to hear your tips! Is figuring out how to save something that exhausts you, or energizes you? How have you tried to teach being a good steward of money to your kids?
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