There’s no doubt about it; raising kids is expensive.
Being a mom is the best job there is, but it’s certainly not an easy one. Trying to juggle raising children, running a home, and managing the finances is beyond challenging. The mounting cost of groceries, a mortgage or rent, clothes, car maintenance, and paying the bills on time can put enormous stress on a family.
When I found out I was pregnant with my first baby, I knew I was going to be a stay-at-home mom. We’ve had to make huge sacrifices on one income and often struggle to make ends meet—from not owning a car, skipping vacations or buying myself clothes, to cutting my own hair and receiving used baby equipment and clothing from friends.
It’s been four and a half years, and I’m still home full-time with two kids. And I’m still broke but a little less so now.
Are you also trying to make it all work somehow on one income? Or are you a double income family with the additional strain of childcare fees? Maybe you left your job to be home with the kids but unfortunately, your partner has since been laid off? Are you a single mom?
Whatever your situation is, being broke is distressing and overwhelming. The good news is that there are things you can do to get ahead while keeping the family happy (and yourself sane!).
Here’s a list of how you can reduce the costs of living, where you can access free stuff, learn how to get creative and DIY everything, and finally some tips to make extra money for your family.
1. Reduce Spending
The first place to focus on reducing your costs is your budget. Find a budgeting app, and have a look at where you could make some positive changes. Prioritize paying off debts – and hide the credit cards! Little things like turning off lights, taking shorter showers, not using a clothes dryer, switching off appliances at the socket overnight all add up and will save you a small fortune over the year.
Vacations might be out, for now, so instead, go camping – even if that means in your living room. ‘Staycations’ can be a lot of fun, and when you have kids, it can be a lot easier because you have everything you need, and their routines won’t be thrown off.
Buying everything second-hand is the way to go. Look online or head to garage or yard sales for seasonal clothing like winter coats, toys, furniture, games, and even new items that you can give away as gifts.
Childcare is expensive, but there are ways around this. It might not be ideal, but moving in with the parents (or in-laws) for a period could enable you to get on top of your savings (or debts), while hopefully receiving some free childcare so you can work. If this isn’t a consideration, you could form a babysitting club with local moms (or just one other mom you know and trust), and take turns looking after each other’s children while you work. Keep a record of the hours so that it’s fair for everyone. The bonus is the social interaction for the kids.
Learning to say no to events, like birthday parties in restaurants, can be tough but necessary. There will be plenty more opportunities when you find your feet. You may need to cancel memberships like cable, the gym (go hiking instead), or classes for the kids (go swimming together!). Putting the car away and either walking, cycling, or using public transport will save you a LOT!
2. Find Freebies
You can find plenty to do with the kids to keep them entertained without spending a cent. Inspire a love of reading, and kids will escape into their imaginations – certainly no toys needed for that! Head to the library, where you can borrow books, DVDs, magazines, and CDs for free. There are usually scheduled activities, like story time or baby sessions. Stay and play. The library often has games, puzzles, and Legos, as well as free access to computers and free internet. Check if you have a toy library nearby as well.
You’ll also find an abundance of free local fun in your community, like visiting museums, galleries, parades, movies in the park, concerts, skate parks, and playgrounds. Eat picnics in the park, swim in the nearest lake, beach, or creek, and visit free national parks.
Invite your kids’ friends for play dates, and bake together, play board games, watch movies with popcorn, go on lots of nature walks with challenges (like who can spot the first bird, or who can skip all the way to the post).
Finally, never underestimate the power of a good rewards program! Sign up at restaurants, movie theatres, and stores. You can get all sorts of freebies and deals. Look online for listings of items that people are giving away. Many people simply don’t have the time or motivation to list their goods to sell, and they just want to get rid of them to clear some space or before they move.
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3. Get Creative and DIY Anything
Having less money should hopefully get the creative juices flowing. You can’t just go and buy gifts for every birthday and holiday, so check out Pinterest for DIY gifts you can make out of bits and pieces you already have. You’ll be so surprised at what you can make, and you can even get the kids involved.
For cheap arts and crafts, you have everything you need at home. Homemade sensory bins using rice and scoops; mud-pies and water play; get the kids to make cards and wrapping paper by decorating old magazines or newspapers. You’ll find recipes to make your own spa treatments and cleaning products from items in your kitchen.
It’s healthier and cheaper in the long run if you make your food from scratch. Grow your own food if possible, even if it’s only a few herbs in a pot on the windowsill. Meal plan every week so you know exactly what you’re cooking, won’t be tempted to get takeout, and to prevent waste. Save your leftovers and take your lunch to work. Since you’ll be saying no to dinners out, why not have your friends over, and request that each guest brings a course or a bottle of wine.
Meeting up with other moms regularly is essential. Socializing is integral to your mental wellbeing as a parent (you need to have a rant once in a while!), but it doesn’t have to cost anything. Meet up at a park with a reusable coffee cup that you filled at home, and take some snacks you can all share. Go for walks together and get some exercise while you vent about your week.
4. Make Extra Money
So, you’re doing everything you can to cut corners, and you still feel like you’re drowning in money problems? Your spending continues to be greater than your income? It’s definitely time to think about how you can make money. Network and spread the word that you’re looking for work. Reach out to connections that might have opportunities even if it’s for only an hour or two a week.
You could start by selling your things either online or through a garage sale. Check out websites where you can even rent out stuff you already own. Are you good at making something that you could market? Social media provides free advertising for your product. How about baking cupcakes, cooking meals for time-poor professionals, making jewelry, or painting pictures?
Do some soul-searching and find your side hustle. Could you provide a service? What are you passionate about? Take free classes, and learn a skill that you can monetize. Calligraphy, photography, Facebook ads, Instagram marketing, virtual assisting, babysitting, copywriting, graphic design, dog walking, or gardening … the options are endless. You can work on your business when the kids are asleep or on weekends if you can get some help.
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I hope you find this list helpful. I have put each and every one of these tips into practice myself, and while we still often struggle, we’re not all-consumed by finances anymore.
It basically comes down to attitude. I wouldn’t want to take away this time I have had with my little guys. Kids don’t care about a fancy home, extravagant parties, and gifts, or the latest toys and fashion. They won’t remember any of that.
They’ll remember the quality time they had with you. Being a kid should be about letting imaginations run wild, being outdoors and getting muddy, and most importantly, having loving relationships around them.
All of that is completely free.
What do you do when you're broke? How are you saving money? Have you found a creative way to earn money from home? Drop us a note; we'd love to hear from you! If you enjoyed this post — please share it on your favorite social media site.
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Kara Wilson is a mama, parenting writer, and early childhood consultant. If she had some spare time, you would find her either cooking, reading, daydreaming about traveling, or sleeping. You can check out her other published articles at KaraWilson.com.