How to Get Your Family to Save
By Jonni McCoy

How do you get your family committed to a budget? This proves to be one of the hardest parts of the frugal lifestyle. If you are pinching the copper from each penny, but your family eats out for lunch or buys designer jeans, you have a hole in the budget bag.

Since the entire family needs to be involved for any family budget to work, we need to discuss spouses and children separately. In order to get my husband to agree to the spending changes that I wanted to try, I needed to convince him that those changes would be easy and profitable.

The best thing I did to convince my husband was to show him (on paper) what we could save over one year if we applied all of the frugal ideas I had suggested. I explained that by applying my guidelines to our groceries, we could save $6,800 per year; and that by quitting my job, I could reduce other hidden expenses by another $8,600 per year. By doing both (quitting my job and applying my miserly ways), I could save our family over $15,000 per year (this was in 1992). I had his attention. He admitted that, prior to my explanation, he thought I was talking about a dollar or two here and there, and that he had no idea what an impact these ideas could have. He was sold on the plan. The icing on the cake came when I explained that it doesn't take me that much time to save that much money, and that it was well worth the trouble (it took me about 7 hours per week).

Quiting my job was not a logical choice during these tight times. I was making over half of our joint income, and we were living in the very expensive San Francisco Bay Area. But I found that there was a cost to working. I learned that I could actually save more by not working. To read more about these calculations, please read my article The Cost of Working on this website or mine (

Several months went by and he saw that we weren't dipping into savings nor running up the credit cards, and that this actually was working. A few months later, we were even able to make our first major purchase (since the ending of my job). Every month I would save whatever we had not spent. Sometimes it was only 1-2 dollars, but I did it anyway. With the savings I had accumulated, I had set aside enough money to buy 6 oak dining room chairs.

Like most of us, my husband had certain weak spots in which he wanted to spend freely. His weak spot was buying books. He is a true bookaholic. We found a way around this and he learned to use the inter-library loan system at our local library where he could borrow almost any book from any library for free. We did the same for music and videos.

Be creative with any trouble spots that your family has with money. If it's the "gotta have a new outfit every day" attitude that is eating up the budget, learn where the best rerun and consignment shops are located. If computer software is the weakness, explore some shareware catalogs for cheaper fare.

If you are having trouble with someone realizing what their habit is costing the family budget, write down everything that they spent for one month. Categorize the expenses (entertainment, food, subscriptions, clothes, household, hobbies, bank fees for overdraft charges, etc.) and figure the total for each category. Show them how much was spent on trivia. He/she might become a convert then.

Convincing the kids to save can be equally as challenging as the spouse. The younger kids seem to need a different approach than the hormonal teenagers. When shopping with young children, it is very easy to give in to a child's persistent whining about a toy or special food item, especially when you are holding a toddler, a shopping list, and your diaper bag. It's easier to just grab what is convenient or familiar and get out of the store as fast as possible.

These are the times where your miserly skills are tested severely. The best way to solve this battle is to get your kids on your side. Get them to see the finances as something we are all working on.

If your child is old enough to understand that there is a limited amount of money to be spent at the store, then start there. Explain to him/her there is only a certain amount of money to spend. Use the opportunity to help them learn to make choices. Explain that if we buy this brand of cereal that we won't have enough money to do something else. If possible, even go a bit further. Show them what the total amount that you plan to spend at this store. Give them a calculator and have them keep busy with a running total of what you have spent so far.

Control your own impulse shopping. If they are used to seeing you buy whatever you want when you go shopping, then they won't understand why they can't do the same. Let them see you put some of your things back when you realize you have gone beyond the budget.

Another thing that helped my kids was to ask them if they want to use their allowance to buy it. Usually the answer was no. Their money was worth more than mine to them.

For the very persistent (and young), let them buy only one item that has a dollar limit (mine was low, like $2). All other wants have to be traded for that one, so that when you get to the cash register, they only have one item. This worked well for my kids since it kept them busy trading the item for others throughout the shopping visit.

Teenagers present new and challenging obstacles to the savings plan. I find that the two areas that we have the most trouble with teens are food and clothing. Cars and insurance were non-negotiable (they pay or don't own).

When the "name brand clothing bug” bites the kid, the best thing is to let them take over the clothes buying. Give them their portion of the budgeted clothes money. This amount should be no more than what would pay for good off-brand clothes on sale or at a rerun store. Let them make up the difference for designer label clothes by using their allowance and job money. Show them how to shop for their name brand items at good resale, consignment and thrift shops. If they blow the entire budget on one designer jacket, let them live with that choice. They won't be hurt by it, but they will grow tired of the same clothes after awhile and will learn from it.

For food, try these kitchen tested ideas:

*Watch what is being snacked on. Snack foods and teenagers can be a costly combination. Make your own muffins, breads, pizza, drinks, etc. We made them once a month and froze them so they can put them in the toaster oven for a quick snack.

*Popcorn makes a great quick snack and is inexpensive.

* If you can't make something very well (such as potato chips), stock up on them when they go on sale.

Happy Family Frugality!

This article is not to be reprinted without permission by Jonni McCoy, 2006

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