For busy families, especially those with babies and toddlers, saving money is all about convenience and simplicity. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to spend your time searching for coupons, special offers, memberships, and subscriptions that may or may not lead to actual savings.
However, there are some tried and tested ways to spend less money and, just as importantly, save time. These five tips probably won’t change your life dramatically, but they’ll assist your family in developing responsible spending habits, while also teaching your children the value of money and how to save for what’s really important.
1. Quickly create a budget with one of these free apps
Unless you happen to enjoy accounting, creating a monthly budget isn’t particularly fun, especially when it involves calculators, paper envelopes, and complicated spreadsheets. Luckily, there are numerous apps that do away with the most tedious and time-consuming aspects of managing your family’s finances.
By downloading a budgeting app such as Mint, Wally, or Goodbudget, you can have complete control over your monthly outgoings, while also making sure to set aside enough money for education, savings, retirement, rainy day funds, and big expenses such as a new car or a vacation. And because these apps can be linked to your credit and debit cards, you won’t have to spend hours manually inputting all of your expenses. The apps do nearly all of the work for you!
You’ll be able to view colorful, easy-to-read charts and graphs to better understand your cash flow, make sure that your spending aligns with your budget, move money between categories, and get notified in case of overspending.
Certain personal finance apps have additional features such as bill tracking or investment management, and most of these apps can be synced across multiple devices so that you and your partner are always on the same page about spending and saving.
Certain apps, such as PocketGuard, can find ways to save money on your monthly bills, whereas YNAB (You Need a Budget) can help you break out of the cycle of living paycheck-to-paycheck .
Most of these apps are free, although some do have fees for extra features such as linking bank accounts or creating additional “virtual envelopes.” And the sooner you start budgeting, the sooner your family’s finances will start to look a whole lot healthier!
2. Use free browser extensions such as Wikibuy or Honey to find the best online deals
Online shopping is an essential lifeline for every family, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, as we continue to avoid crowded malls and shopping centers. However, online shopping can be fraught with frustration, especially when you’re trying to find the best deals on necessary items.
With so many online retailers, it can be very time-consuming to click between websites to compare prices and search for promo codes. That’s why adding a free browser extension such as Wikibuy or Honey can be a major time saver — and a great way to save money and earn rewards for your everyday purchases.
Wikibuy and Honey are virtual shopping assistants that are constantly scouring the Internet to find better deals on the products you’re viewing. The best way they do this is by looking for any available coupon codes and applying them automatically to your shopping cart, so that you don’t miss out on any easy savings.
They both offer loyalty credits that you can turn into gift cards for dozens of your favorite retailers, including Amazon, eBay, Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and many others.
Another great feature, especially with Wikibuy, is the price comparison tool that works seamlessly with your browser. For example, if you’re considering buying a new set of patio furniture from the Lowe’s website, but it’s being offered for a lower price at Target, you’ll see a little notification letting you know about the better deal. Honey has a similar feature, but it only seems to work when you’re shopping on Amazon.
Wikibuy and Honey are entirely free, so it’s worth trying them out to determine which you prefer — or just keep them both, as they won’t slow down your computer at all.
3. If you’re already a Prime member, register for Amazon Family to access additional discounts
You’re probably already using your Prime membership to stream movies and TV shows, and to apply free, fast shipping on your Amazon orders, but did you know that you could be getting much more out of your membership?
Amazon Family gives Prime members numerous additional benefits (without any extra fees), such as discounts of up to 20% on qualifying Subscribe & Save orders. This is especially useful for ensuring that you’re getting the best price on diapers (and that you won’t run out), but it’s also great for baby food, wipes, snacks, and many other family essentials. And by adding your children’s birth dates to your Prime account, you’ll receive a periodic newsletter with age-specific offers and product recommendations.
If you’re expecting, Amazon Baby Registry makes the entire registry process straightforward for you and your family, friends, and co-workers. Very helpfully, it allows multiple people to contribute towards the same gift, and you can even add items from other retailers to your Amazon Baby Registry.
Most registry items have a 365-day return window, so you won’t need to stress about return deadlines when you’ve got your hands full with a newborn. Prime members will also get a 15% completion discount on any items left on your registry, and you’ll be eligible to receive a Welcome Box full of freebies.
4. Find the nearest toy library to give your wallet a rest, teach your child about sharing, and help the planet
As a parent, you’ve probably spent many hours at the public library, enjoying the delights of the children’s book section. Piling your arms full of educational and entertaining books is a real joy — especially since it doesn’t cost a penny!
But when it comes to toys, especially educational toys that can aid in your child’s development, there are few options besides buying something new. Savvy shoppers are undoubtedly aware of Target’s semiannual toy sale in January and July, when toys are marked down by as much as 70%. Another budget-friendly option is buying gently-used toys from eBay, Facebook Marketplace, or Goodwill. Sharing toys with friends and family members is also a great way to limit expensive new toy purchases.
However, there’s an even better alternative that’s good for your wallet, your child’s ability to share, and the planet. Just as there are libraries for borrowing books, there are also libraries where you can borrow toys, puzzles, and games.
Many toy libraries are located within traditional public libraries, so your family can stock up reading material and playing material at the same time. Certain toy libraries only operate on-site, so your child will have to play with the toys at the library, under the watchful eye of the toy librarian, rather than taking them home.
There are approximately 400 toy libraries in the United States (and many in other countries, as well), so it’s likely that there’s one in your region. And if there isn’t, you could start your own toy library , or you could organize a toy exchange with other local parents. While most toy libraries are free, there are also some toy library companies that charge a monthly fee for their mail-order service.
Toy libraries are an environmentally-friendly alternative to frequent toy purchases, as they are focused on sustainability and reuse. Just think about the millions of toys, not to mention all of the associated plastic packaging, that end up in landfills every year. Plastic toys make up 90% of the toy market and are nearly impossible to recycle.
Not only do toys teach children about the value of creative, independent play, but they also assist in the development of gross and fine motor skills and sensory processing. Many toys are designed to help with speech, reading, and math. Toy libraries are an especially vital resource for children with
special needs, as toy libraries often have toys with unique adaptations, as well as toy librarians who are trained in how to use them safely and effectively.
You can learn more about toy libraries, search for locations in your local area, and find helpful play-related resources for parents on the USA Toy Library Association website. And to give back, and keep toy libraries alive, you may be able to donate toys that your children have outgrown to your local toy library.
To keep your family safe, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, make sure to always follow the CDC guidelines on cleaning and disinfecting toys.
5. Take part in a house swap and save over 80% on your family’s vacation costs
Even for the most budget-conscious travelers, going on vacation is expensive. It’s a treat that many families spend years saving up for.
Worrying about getting the best deals on hotels, adding up the cost of expensive restaurant meals, and deciding which activities won’t break the bank — it’s enough to make you wonder whether going on vacation with young children is even worth it. Even Airbnb, which can certainly be an interesting and rewarding travel option, is often just as expensive as hotel rooms or traditional bed and breakfasts.
But before you give up on the vacation of your dreams, there’s an exciting and affordable solution that most families probably haven’t considered. Remember the 2006 movie The Holiday, in which Cameron Diaz swaps her Los Angeles pad for Kate Winslet’s idyllic English cottage? Well, that idea isn’t just the premise of a romantic comedy. In fact, there are many websites that your family can use to make home swapping a reality.
Most of these websites, such as HomeExchange and Love Home Swap, charge an annual fee, and then members can organize and take part in as many house exchanges as they want. The $150 annual membership fee for HomeExchange is less expensive than one night in a hotel room in many vacation destinations.
By organizing an exchange, you can ensure that you’ll have all the comforts of home (and maybe more) during your vacation. You’ll also save money by having a kitchen and laundry room at your disposal. Frequently, the family vehicle is also included in the swap, so you won’t have to rent a car or pay for additional transportation.
Most homes will have TVs, books, toys, games, and often extra amenities such a swimming pool or swing set. There are over 400,000 homes in 187 countries listed on HomeExchange, so the possibilities for your family’s next trip are truly endless.
If your family is particularly adventurous, and you’d like to teach your older children about sustainability and volunteerism, you might consider joining WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), in which you’ll volunteer and stay on an organic farm, all for a small, one-time annual membership fee. Workaway is another exciting option with a flat annual fee ($56/year for couples and families) in which travelers can sign up for volunteer opportunities ranging from house sitting, education, child care, farmstays, forestry, boats, and more, with room and board provided.
Home exchanges aren’t for everyone, so it’s a good idea to thoroughly research the home exchange program and destination before deciding to make it your next holiday. For many families, a home swap is an excellent opportunity to experience a new part of the world by living like a local, all while saving hundreds or even thousands of dollars on your vacation.
About the Author
Margaret Lipman is a writer and part-time teacher based in the U.K. A frequent contributor to Huggable, she often writes about health, nutrition, budget tips, and family life for a variety of blogs.