If you want your family to have the best of everything you’ll know by now that the best doesn’t come cheap. Most families will have to save and compromise to afford the things they need, let alone any luxuries they want. However, what you may not realise is that the budget you thought was helping you manage your finances could actually be holding you to ransom. Just because you have entered all of your expenses, spending and income into a budget and there is little or no money left over for savings, doesn’t mean your situation is set in stone. You can change your budget and start saving in just five steps.
1 – Protein
The weekly food shop is a big expense for most families but there are easy and tasty ways you can save. The first is by looking at your family’s protein intake. Protein is important for the health and energy levels of your family, and most of us head straight to red meat for a protein hit. However, red meat will be one of the most expensive items on your shopping list, and chances are you’re eating too much of it anyway, which will in fact have a detrimental effect on your health.
A good rule of thumb is to eat a piece of red meat that is no bigger or thicker than the palm of your hand. This should be your daily intake, but most of us are eating double that – you could instantly chop your meat budget in half right there. Another way to work out your daily intake of red meat is to eat between ¾ of a kilo and 1 kilo of meat per kilo of out body weight.
What you do with your meat can also be somewhere you save. For example, rather than buying the kebabs already made up from the butcher, just buy some rump steak and marinate and skewer the meat at home. Or choose secondary cuts of meat and use them in casseroles where they cook down to tender, juicy chunks.
You can also supplement more meat with legumes or pulses such as beans, lentils, peas and peanuts, then you can eat less meat and still get your necessary intake of protein. Eggs are also high in protein and two eggs will cover the daily protein needs of most adults. Plus these additions of pulses and eggs are much more affordable than another trip to the butcher.
2 – Meal Planning
You can also save money on your family’s grocery budget by planning your shopping and planning your meals:
Have a meal plan. Set out a meal plan as you make up your weekly shopping list and then you’ll know you have everything you need to cook for that week – so there’s no excuse to order out because you’ve run out of soy sauce for your stir fry. This will also mean you’re less likely to buy things at the supermarket you don’t need, and which will probably go off before you use them.
When you shop. If you shop later in the week you will probably be able to pick up all of the discounted items which have been released for the week. Also, if you head to the shops later in the day you may be able to pick up bargains in the deli section where they’re trying to get rid of their roast chickens, or in the bakery where they need to clear their shelves for tomorrow.
Comparison shop. You’ll head to three or four different stores to compare prices if you’re looking to buy a washing machine or a TV, but when it comes to your groceries you don’t put in the same time do you? Well if you’ve ever saved a couple of hundred dollars on a TV by shopping around, you know that comparison shopping can be well worth your while. Plus, when it comes to your groceries you don’t have to physically pound the pavement as there are sites like www.grocerywatch.com.au which update the prices at grocery stores around Australia so you can find out where your favourite products will be the cheapest – it’s not always the big supermarkets either.
Shop online. If you put in your grocery order online – most supermarkets will have this function available – you won’t be distracted by items you don’t need and the money you would have spent on fuel outweighs any delivery costs, and don’t forget the value of your time too.
Control your meals. Just you are probably eating too much red meat, you may be blowing out your budget by serving your family too much at each meal. Find out the recommended daily intake of calories for each member of your family according to their age, weight and height, and curb your eating and your spending.
Cook in bulk. You can also save on your food budget by buying up in bulk when ingredients for freezer-able meals are on special, and making a big batch. This takes out a meal you need to cater for in the coming weeks, and saves you more time too.
3 – Food Shopping
To manage every aspect of your food budget you also need to look closely at what you’re buying and where you’re buying it from, and follow these tips to save :
Farmer’s market. By shopping at your local farmer’s market you can save on everything from meat, fish, vegetables, cheese and milk, as well as support your local economy. Plus, because you’re buying straight from the producers you know that you are buying seasonal produce which will be richer in nutrients.
Seasonal shopping. There is a reason you have to pay more for a mango in winter – because it is not the optimum time to grow mangoes and they have to be shipped a long distance, from warmer climates. Therefore, learn more about which fruits and vegetables are in season when, and you’ll be able to find bargain produce.
Homemade. Making your own biscuits and cakes is much cheaper than buying the pre-made or the pre-mix packets at the supermarket. Plus you can spend some time in the kitchen with the kids. Also look at options for home grown fruits and vegetables, and even in a small garden you can still grow herbs in pots on the window, or dwarf fruit trees in tubs.
Avoid packaging. Avoiding buying cookies from the supermarket is a great start to save money and feed your family healthier, preservative free food, but don’t stop there. For example, avoid buying chicken portions, and instead learn how to cut up a whole chicken. You’re saving money buying your meat this way, plus, every part of the chicken can be used – the carcass can be roasted and used to make stock for soup.
4 – The Entertainment Budget
The only thing worse than having to cut back on your family’s spending is losing all of the things you love. Luckily there are ways you can cut back on the amount your family spends on entertainment and extras, without losing any of the fun:
Easy entertainment. If you have young children it is remarkably easy to keep them entertained without spending any money. If your children are around five years old, you don’t need to spend money on expensive toys, ongoing lessons or a day at the movies, because they will be just as entertained if you took them to the library for story time or to the park.
Cheap thrills. Find something which helps you relax and which you enjoy such as a buddle bath – you will feel the world melt away as you sink into the warm, fragrant water, and all it has cost you is a few dollars in bubble bath. However, if bubble baths aren’t your thing, find something which will make you feel refreshed and rewarded – you know, those feelings you normally get from shopping or pulling you cars apart.
Movie night in. Go to the DVD store or even just raid your collection and put together a great night in for your family. You can spend a few dollars on a bag of corn kernels and make your own (much healthier) popcorn, and you can even invite your friends over for the real cinema experience without the expense. Plus, your friends will probably return the favour in the future so you’re still enjoying a night out.
Cook at home. Take a look at your budget now, and see how much you’re spending on restaurant dinners and bought lunches. It is probably several hundred dollars each month. Instead, start cooking a little more at dinner and take the leftovers to work, or get up five minutes earlier to make yourself a sandwich and pack an apple. Also, start cooking at home more and making meals an event. Set the table with your good cutlery and plate, light candles and put out a fresh table cloth. You’ll probably also find you and your family have a better time having dinner at home as you can hear each other talk.
Drink at home. Regardless of whether you’re drinking tea or beer, if you do your drinking at home it will cost you much less than if you went to a bar or cafe. Therefore, the next time your friend asks you out for a coffee, ask her over to your place instead, and go to her place for coffee next time. Or if you’re heading out to the bar with the boys, take a six pack of beer to someone’s house first, and buy fewer drinks when get to the pub.
Visit the library. Your library will have a lot of free activities on for your family, especially in the school holidays when you will find story reading times and craft making projects to get involved in. Plus there are the books, DVDs and magazines which you can borrow for free, and free internet you can use.
5 – Package Your Bills
You may think that bills such as your internet and phone are a non-negotiable part of your family budget, but there are ways to save. You can of course look at changing to different plans or cutting out services, but if these don’t meet your needs, you’re not going to save any money.
Instead, look at services you can bundle together such as :
Your internet + mobile phone + home phone.
Your electricity + your gas.
Your home insurance + life insurance + income insurance + car insurance.
By bundling these services together with the same provider you can receive a discount on the packaged deal. Plus, if your provider doesn’t offer you a discount for multiple services, ask for one, and if they’re still not interested look for a provider who is.