Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on Living on the Cheap.
Finances are a family affair, and there’s no better time than the present to take stock of your spending and saving. Call a family meeting and start working together to spend wisely, save more and work toward financial goals together.
Here are some conversation starters.
What are we paying for that we aren’t using?
Start by taking a careful look at your monthly bills, and then have an honest conversation with each family member to see where cuts can be made. Does your daughter still enjoy her ballet lessons, or is she more into her school’s drama club (which is free)? Discuss what you spend money on that you can replace with a less expensive option.
Here are some ideas for what to have a conversation about:
Gym memberships. Trading in that expensive yearly gym membership for a family membership to a local YMCA or similar club could save you money. Look for local, privately owned gyms that offer free workout days or classes that are open to the public at a reduced cost. Hospitals, clinics or community centers sometimes sponsor special workout classes in parks or other public areas. Many schools and learning centers offer access to students. If you still want to join a gym, check out these tips to save money.
Cable. When’s the last time any of you actually watched movies on the movie channels that are part of your cable subscription? If you’re not utilizing a service, get rid of it and put the savings away or toward paying off debt. You also could install an antenna to pick up some local channels.
If you pay for high-speed internet, you can get many channel streaming options. Your monitor can do double duty as a TV set, or you can set up the streaming on a smart TV.
Many well-known TV channels have playlists of episodes available for free on their websites. Watch classic movies or television episodes on YouTube. Roku lets you watch episodes from your favorite channels for a one-time price. Do you already subscribe to Amazon Prime? You can get Amazon Prime Video for free.
Classes for kids. Many schools have free or low-cost after-school activities for enrolled kids. If you are paying for dance or karate classes, have a talk with your child and see if they are really enjoying their time there. You could find alternatives, including free apps that your kids can install to learn coding and other cool stuff. Businesses like Michael’s and Home Depot hold workshops for kids throughout the year.
Can we spend less on parties?
The party invitations seem to never end. If you have school-aged kids, or just have a large family, it can feel like every week is another birthday, shower, wedding or other celebration. All of this is happy stuff, of course, but there’s also an associated expense, whether it’s bringing a gift, needing something formal to wear or getting your hair done.
If party season has you broke, try to make an agreement that you can’t say yes to every event, or find ways to be creative with gift giving. One option would be to set aside an entertainment budget for each child for the year. Include the child when using this money to buy gifts or special outfits for parties. This could be an opportunity to teach your child about making gifts, spending wisely, and using discount sites like Groupon to make purchases and choosing what is most important.
Consider having a conversation with extended family about gift limits, which will help you save on presents throughout the year. Another idea is to make the gift an experience, like visits to a museum or zoo on free entrance days. Instead of giving family members more stuff, you can spend time together while doing a fun yet affordable activity.
What does our family want to save money for?
Breaking out of the credit card impulse shopping habit and actually putting money away toward a desired purchase is a great example to set for your kids. Talk about what your family savings goals are. It will give all of you something concrete to think about when you’re tempted by a toy or new piece of clothing. Do you want that item more than you want that summer vacation or backyard trampoline?
Get the kids to practice what you’re preaching with their own money. When you encourage them to save their allowance toward a purchase of their own, they’ll understand and appreciate the value of things. Visit websites like Centsables.com for kid-friendly money lessons.
For big family outings, like a weekend away or a trip to the amusement park, have everyone start contributing their spare change to a savings jar. They will see their money build right in front of them, and enjoy the end result.
How can we be more frugal?
Wouldn’t we all love designer things, the latest tech gadgets and frequent dinners at nice restaurants? But in reality, that lifestyle can’t be sustained on a middle-class family income. Talk about how you can approach life with a more frugal mindset.
Here are some frugal, money-saving habits to consider:
Clip coupons. Some people think coupon clipping is a waste of time or too complicated. But you don’t have to be an extreme cheapskate to benefit from these little bits of paper. I recently saved more than $50 by using two coupons at a local health food store.
Wait for sales. Some stores follow seasonal sales cycles, including markdowns on bed linens and electronics in January. If you can wait to buy a product, look for deals during those cycles. Winter coats will go on sale before spring, and summer clothing gets discounted around August. Turkeys are inexpensive around the holidays, and specially wrapped or themed candy will head to the discount aisle when the holiday is over. Shop during sales to save more.
Buy store brands. A store brand costs the store less money because there are no advertising or marketing costs. They can sell the product to you for less and still make money. A caveat: Some people say that store-brand products don’t perform as well as name-brand products, so your mileage may vary. Others insist that the quality is high. Do some product testing with your own family and find out how you can save on store brands without sacrificing flavor or fun.
DIY. Take on DIY projects around the home. YouTube is filled with how-to videos that can help you fix a leaky faucet, build a birdhouse or put on weatherstripping.
Accept hand-me-downs from family and friends. Don’t be shy about asking for clothing their kids have outgrown. Most families are happy to find a second home for outgrown clothing instead of trashing it. You can save money and keep that still-great clothing out of the landfill. Parents love sharing clothes, books and toys, and it is a wise, money-saving practice.