How to save money as a busy business-owning parent
“Do not save what is left after spending, but spend what is left after saving.”
Having a family is an expensive business. While the figures vary, it costs between $159,120 and $548,400 to raise a child to 18 here in Australia.
This sounds ridiculous until I consider that I spend nearly $7 a day just buying my son yogurts.
In my book, Six Figures in School Hours, I talk about money management, setting targets and managing your time to hit your desired income figure.
But obviously, if you’re able to reduce your expenses, then you can possibly reduce your desired income too! Which would be nice eh?
Let’s get started
I want to give you some family money wins that helped me make my money go further (and some amazing additional tips from my members).
But before I do, I want to talk big picture.
The spending shifts
Anyone who is 50ish or younger has lived through a period when money has become cheaper and cheaper – during Covid, money felt essentially free.
Our generation has lived in a time when if you want something you get it, immediately.
Credit on tap. Everyone in debt. Everyone living beyond their means.
(If you’re a Game of Thrones Fan, it’s kind of like we’ve lived through the summer and now our financial winter is coming.)
You earn more. You spend more.
And saving has become a bit of an anathema for most.
As Morgan Housel wrote in The Psychology of Money: “Saving money is the gap between your ego and your income” and for most of us our ego is in the driving seat.
John Cachia, Founder of the AFA Group, dad of two boys (6) and (3). told me:
“We’re currently working with a client where the household earns $300k and they’re going backwards $20kin the hole every year. So we’re talking to them about cutting back on spending and making trade-offs. It’s not going to be easy.”
The cold hard, uncomfortable truth is that we need to work out exactly what we need to make ends meet, develop a more frugal mindset, and make trade-offs.
As John outlined:
“There are three things you can do to improve your cashflow. Number one: you can earn more – hard for some, easy for others. Number two: you can reduce your expenditure. Okay, once again, easy for some, hard for others. The third one is revising your goals. For example, do we need to go on that holiday every year? Do we need to upgrade that car? Do we have to have that new car? Can we reduce?”
The mindset shifts
While cutting costs should be a straightforward, logical process, it’s often not.
No one likes to feel a sense of deprivation.
Just as kids don’t like having their toys taken away from them, we adults don’t like having our Netflix and coffee taken away from us.
I went through a process of creating a family budget when I applied for a mortgage recently and was frankly horrified at the amount I spend on shopping, coffee, and subscriptions.
But choosing which subscription to get rid of felt like a wretched choice.
I had some stampy feet moments as I planned to cut my daily coffee shop purchases and make coffee at home (with my amazingly expensive coffee machine I might add).
I’ve generally found, the more discontented I am, the more stuff I need to bolster my sense of self-esteem.
The more exhausted I get, the more I must rely on subscriptions and services to keep things running smoothy.
The more guilty I feel, the more I lavish gifts on my son.
When I’m happy, well-rested, and feeling balanced, I spend much less. Is this the same for you?
So, while there are practical cost-cutting tips in this chapter, the true challenge is asking yourself:
- Why do I feel the need to buy this in the first place?
- If it’s anything beyond a basic need (food, shelter, crisps) what do I think this item is giving me?
I’m not saying you have to push yourself through an existential survey every time you want to buy some new knickers, but it serves to stop and think before you get your credit card out.
Personally, I’m an ecommerce storeowners’ worst nightmare, I’ll add something to the cart, then give myself a week to think about. Yes, I’m that abandoned cart human you loathe. For me it’s the perfect way to:
- Pleasure delay: I enjoy the anticipation more than the actual item.
- Evaluate the level of want: Was it just a momentary urge or a burning long-lived desire?
Okay, so now I’ve dug into why I buy. Let’s see how I can sprinkle a little layer of frugalness over your spending habits by digging into my tips:
Show me your tips!
Tip 1: Avoid the big supermarkets
If you’re anything like me, one of the biggest expenditures after the home loan is food shopping.
Our family spends an insane amount of money on food. I was honestly gobsmacked.
In Australia two big supermarkets dominate the landscape, I won’t name names but you know which ones I mean. More recently the wonders of Aldi were introduced, and boy does shopping there makes a difference.
We’ve literally chopped our shopping bill by a third if not half.
Yes, the brands aren’t as recognisable to you (but us Europeans recognise a lot of them). And yes, you might still have to pop to the bigger supermarkets for bits and bobs. But even if you just buy the essentials from Aldi, you’ll save heaps. And really, who cares which brand of dishwasher pods you use?
TOON TIP: Of course, the only disadvantage is you’ll need to get super-fast at packing. Or go slowly and fix the checkout human with a steely determined glare.
Tip 2: Buy in bulk
Another recommendation, which seems obvious but I always forget, is to buy in bulk. I don’t have a Costco card but I do buy my loo rolls in monster packs from Who Gives a Crap, and it saves me a fortune.
Toon Tip: I also recommend using unit pricing on the labels to find the cheapest version of something. Often things that look like a bargain aren’t when you compare litre for litre or gram for gram.
Tip 3: Use rewards, discounts and cashback apps
My son got me onto the Honey app, which I have installed on my browser so it pops up with voucher codes whenever I’m online shopping.
Korryn Haines, Admin and Tech Consultant, mum of two kids (8) and (5) says:
“I use Cashrewards, ShopBack and Super-Rewards, which earn me cash back on shopping, and Bounty Parents which give rewards for doing online surveys. I turn these into gift cards and use for either groceries or other stores for Christmas shopping at the end of the year.”
Belinda Tanish Morgan, from Morgan and Me Interiors mum of Lola (6) Charlie (4) adds:
“Tap your Flybuys everywhere, then convert your points into cash at the end of the year and have a few hundred dollars to spend at Xmas.”
Tip 4: Shop around for better deals
Ring around for a better deal or use sites like Finder.com.au (here in Australia) to look for better deals on everything from credit cards and health insurance to utilities and mobile plans. I tend to make this an annual activity as deals change every day and I give an entire day to it and ensure it’s in my calendar.
TOONTIP: If you don’t have the time to call each of your service providers or find this kind of thing challenging, there are several bill-negotiating services available that will do all the work for you.
Tip 5: Buy reusable goods
Buying products you can reuse repeatedly isn’t just good for your family’s budget, it’s also good for the planet. So you can save money and feel like a good human. We have washable dishcloths, I’ve gone down the washable period knickers path, we use beeswax wraps rather than clingfilm (or gladwrap as it’s called here in Australia.) Small changes but it all adds up.
Tip 6: Grow your own food
Growing your own veggies is an easy way to save money, and if your neighbours are also growers, you can swap food. If you have space, plant a few fruit trees; they take a bit of time to mature, but don’t need a lot of love and then they really deliver.
I grew some awesome strawberries when my son was small; he absolutely loved tending our veggie patch. Also, I grew a huge marrow and a load of tomatoes (which I don’t like).
Tip 7: Have staycations
Now I can be a little smug here because I live in the beautiful beachside suburb of Umina, NSW, and it’s quite literally where people come for holidays.
But wherever you live, you can make it a holiday destination. Google ‘free events in your local area’ to entertain kids such as water parks, fishing, community festivals, short hikes and outing possibilities, and have an ‘act like a tourist’ day.
How many times have you driven past that sign to that walking track, or local berry farm and thought ‘I must go there one day’?
Remember, your kids likely won’t remember the destination or the snazzy expensive theme parks; they’ll just remember the time and the laughs.
Tip 8: Save energy
Trimming your utility bills is another way to boost your budget and save money. When my son was small, I made him ‘lights off’ monitor, and he would dutifully turn lights off around the house. He still does. Often when I’m in the room midway through doing something, but hey I’m saving money on my bills!
Tip 9: Get stuff free (or cheap)
Joining a local shopping group or a pay it forward group (there are oodles on Facebook) often helps you to bag a bargain. One person’s trash is another’s treasure and all that. You can also trawl Facebook marketplace and Gumtree (if you have the patience) especially when kids are young they don’t really know when gifts are ‘new’ – nor do they care.
Even teens often don’t care or know (I got my son a fab kickboxing bag for Christmas and he thought me oh so generous, but in fact I got it for a fraction of the price on Gumtree).
Sally Westra Co. & Flow-On Plumbing & Gas Fitting, mum to Hazel (6) & Sage (3)
”Go ‘kerbside shopping’. I’ve found amazing wooden furniture and vintage items on the nature strip headed for the tip that I’ve been able to paint / clean up and use in my home or flip for some quick cash on Facebook marketplace.”
Nell Casey from Fete Creative, mum to Amelia (1)
“I use Facebook Marketplace for baby things. They grow so quickly that you can find barely used baby stuff for 40-50% the price of new. I’ve bought a pram, travel cot, bouncer, sleep suits and clothes off Marketplace. I look for well-known, quality brands so that when we’re finished with it, I’ll be able to sell it for close to what I paid.”
Tip 10: Visit the local library
I’m lucky enough to have a fab local library. Not only do they offer little classes and activities for small humans, but they also have books (obviously), board games and audio books. I also found it a great way to kill half an hour by just going in and reading picture books with my son when he was small.
Tip 11: Look into state government voucher opportunities
In Australia each state has available different vouchers for families, for example in my state, NSW, there are options for swimming lessons, school uniforms and afterschool care.
Tip 12: Reduce TV subscriptions
Netflix, Disney+, HBO, Spotify, Audible, Stan. it’s easy to let your subscriptions build up. You sign up to just watch that show, and forget to unsubscribe. Have a family meeting about which subscriptions you really want to keep and try to cut back to one or two.
Tip 13: Start sharing
I loved this tip from Kylie Ufer from ProfitAbility Virtual Assistance, Proud Step-Mum to Tahlia (31) and Christian (25):
“I recommend sharing expensive tools like lawnmowers and drills with family and friends, so you don’t all have to buy them.”
Of course, this assumes you have family close by (I don’t) and friends, so it won’t work for all. Also, that you have friends and family that will give the tools back.
Tip 14: Get a fuel app
I love this tip from Sarah Wordsworth, Wordsworth Marketing, mum of Heidi (9), Hamish (8):
“We also use a fuel app to find the cheapest fuel (and the 7/11 app to lock in low fuel prices for 7 days).”
Also, consider the benefits of becoming a one-car family.
We survived until my son was ten with no car at all, instead biking around and getting one of those Dutch cargo bikes to transport him and the dog and the shopping.
Obviously for some families having one car would cause hideous dramas, so whatever works for you.
Tip 15: Use your insurance extras
If you have medical insurance, try to wrap your head around what extras you’re given (such as dental check-ups, new glasses / contact lenses, etc). I think they often make this deliberately tricky, but it’s worth the scrutiny to be sure you take advantage of them all.
Tip 16: Get into DIY
Now this one I’m a little dubious about, a because if often feels like once you’ve purchased all the bits and bobs and power tools, you’ve spent as much as hiring someone.
And then there’s the risk of you doing a terrible job, but Sarah Wordsworth (a mine of budget tips) swears by DIY:
“We DIY almost everything (to the extreme – we built an entire office ourselves by watching YouTube videos. Just today, the aircon in the car died so we found a video on YouTube that suggested that the problem might be the fan, found one at a wreckers nearby – all replaced and fixed for $38 instead of hundreds at the mechanic’s).”
Tip 17: Make it yourself
As an avid crafter I love any opportunity to make the thing rather than buying the thing, again with often dubious results. Add to that the pleasure of making and (when my son was young) an opportunity for solid parenting. I do pity the poor recipients of my craft projects but Sally Westra thinks it’s a solid way to save cash.
“Make birthday cards yourself. I buy blank cards at Kmart and draw something or stick pressed flowers to them. $0.20 cents vs $5. I also wrap in recycled paper or reused bags sometimes even the ‘Who Gives a Crap’ toilet paper wrappers, and make my own cleaning products with vinegar and bicarb.”
Tip 18: Get clever with your credit card
If you’re good at not going wild in the aisle, then a credit card can work. Helen al Hariri, from Haluna Happy Names, mum of Hadi (18), Selsabeel (16), Raiyanne (14), Tasneem (12), Muhammad (10), Yaqoute (8) and Ilaf (6) said:
“I use my credit card to pay for stuff, but have it set up to pay off in full every month to avoid debt and interest, then have many times used accumulated credit card points for new / replacement household items such as a vacuum cleaner, tv, fan, even Apple TV.”
Tip 19: Give the family haircuts
Buy a hair clipper for your husband or kids. Your first efforts will probably be disasters, so experiment on your dog first. Cost of clipper: approx $60 on Amazon. Cost of haircuts (per male) at least $20. Number of haircuts per year: 12. Savings: $180.
It’s also huge fun (like shearing a sheep!) and you get a stack of embarrassing photos you can share on your kid’s 18th birthday.
Tip 20: Profit first at home
Oddly while I was keen to implement Profit First at work I found it more of a struggle at home. A simpler method might be to use the envelope system, which has been around for decades but was popularised by Scott Pape’s book ‘The Barefoot investor’. The idea is that when the wages came home, the money was divvied up into different envelopes.
I still remember my Grandma having little envelopes on the mantlepiece for ‘Coal’, ‘Co-op’, ‘Milkman’ and so forth.
Again it requires you to have a clear family budget, and to divvy up income whenever it comes in.
Easier if you get a monthly salary, slightly more challenging if you’re paid in dribs and drabs.
But however you work it, the important factor here is know which money is actually yours, and which is not.
Then managing your lifestyle to fit your income, rather than always creeping slightly beyond it.
While budgeting and making dishcloths out of old underpants might seem like something from a post-war era, all these little economies can add up to big savings.
Over to you
What budget tips could you test out? Here’s some ways to get started:
- Think about the last five non-essential things you purchased. What need did they fill?
- Make a day-a-month family budget day. Sit down and review spending. Talk about things you could cut down on.
- Have a clearout: Involve the kids in gathering up old toys and household items you’re no longer using and post them on Gumtree, Marketplace, or visit a car boot sale.
- Compare the pricing: Make a rule to shop at one of the more cost-effective supermarkets for one week, then compare your receipts. How much did you save?
- If you haven’t already done this, invest in a copy of the Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape.
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