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Money Saving Tips For Single Parents
Budgeting For Single Parents
Living on a budget isn't easy, especially for a single parent, but there are ways to save money in nearly every area if you know where to look.
Food: The best way to save money on food is to plan ahead. My mother-in-law taught me her method and it's worked for me for years. Make a list of seven dinners; main dish, vegetables, salad, desert, etc. Then make your grocery list from these menus. This will insure you have whatever you need and won't be running back and forth to the store, which also will save you time and gas money and you'll have less opportunity to succumb to impulse buys. This method also saves time and work as you can make several meals at once and have all the ingredients at the same time that you have the energy to cook .Incorporate whatever meat, fish or poultry is on sale that week by checking the ads. This will save impulse buys and gas. To save time, prepare more than one main dish at a time. Make two meat loaves and freeze one, or a pan of lasagna, pot of chili, etc. This way you'll be less tempted to go for the take-out food on nights when you're too tired to cook. I've baked a chicken and potatoes, a sweet potato and meatloaf all at the same time. This also saves on the gas or electric bill.
Make up a food budget for the week and shop with cash. We're all tempted to over-spend when using a credit card. Try to shop without the kids, if possible and after a meal, so you won't be hungry. Swap babysitting with a friend so you both can shop when you're alone and unstressed (well, less stressed).
Buying nutritious food sounds expensive, but in the long run it can be quite cheap. For instance, a pound of brown rice or dried beans is very inexpensive and packed with nutrients and fiber. Time is limited for single parents, so make a batch of chili or beans and rice on the weekend and you'll have several meals ready to go. Or, freeze the extra in individual servings for those days when you're just too tired or uninspired to cook. Invest in a slow cooker (you can often find perfectly good used ones at thrift shops for only a few dollars). Casseroles go a long way to stretch a small amount of meat and are a healthier choice. The same goes for cereal if you purchase a container of plain oatmeal instead of the very expensive, sugary pre-sweetened packets, where you pay mainly for sugar and added flavorings and artificial colors. I also remember an episode of a sit-com where the Mom bought generic or store brand cereal and put it in the fancy, name brand boxes. It was funny, but did sound like an easy way around the kids who love a specific, expensive, kind of treat. The key is to start this when they are young as they catch on fast!
Check to see if there is a food co-op in your area. I belonged to one for years and it was amazing the amount of money I saved on items like natural peanut butter, dairy products and fresh fruit and veggies in season. The co-ops purchase in large quantities and sell to their members for the actual cost of the food without the grocery store mark-up. You may have to volunteer to help package and distribute the foods when it's your turn, but it's well worth the time and I made many friends in the process. The kids would join me and it was actually quite fun. It is easy to get a little carried away, however. I ordered a pound of bay leaves, which was cheap, but way more bay leaves than most people will use in a lifetime!
Buy whole chickens instead of the precut or boneless varieties. They are easy to cut up yourself and can cost about half the price as the cut up or boned varieties. I do splurge on the more natural or organic varieties of meat and poultry, but I buy these at our local Farmer's Market and they really don't cost that much more and I have peace of mind knowing my family isn't eating added hormones and antibiotics.
Team up with another single parent (or more) and buy in bulk and split the large bag of spuds or whatever you agree on. My friends and I used to do this a lot when it came to the sales of family-sized packages of meats. None of us had much freezer space, but we were still able to take advantage of the savings by dividing up the ‘spoils'.
Plant a Veggie or Herb Garden: You don't need a ten-acre plot to grow vegetables. My neighbor tore out the weeds and grass from a strip of soil along the side of her house and planted tomatoes, beans, cucumbers and peppers in that small space. Dig up a small portion of your back yard or even plan a large container with veggies and you'll be amazed at how good and inexpensive your produce will be. This is also a great project to do with your kids.
Clothing: Shop in thrift shops or garage sales. You'll not only save a ton of money, you'll be recycling and going green as well. The Goodwill and Salvation Army are excellent places to find otherwise expensive, name brand clothes for a fraction of the cost. A woman I worked with taught me this when I admired her very attractive outfits. She told me that all of her clothes came from the Goodwill! She often wore designer and upscale brands that looked new to me. Her husband made a good living and she made more money than I did (she was my boss) but she insisted there was no need to spend thirty dollars for a skirt when she could get one just as good at a thrift shop for three dollars! Most thrift shops have half-price day or ‘bag' day, which means you can pay only a dollar or two for whatever you can fit into a paper grocery bag!
Look for, or organize your own, Mom-to-Mom swap. These are a wonderful way to save money on clothes, toys, games, etc. Each person takes items they want to swap or even give away, and trade with other participants. Sometimes there is a small fee to cover the cost of flyers or the like, but in the end it's almost like getting items for free!
Look for end-of-season sales. Late June is the perfect time to find bargains on summer clothes. Kids grow fast, so buy one size larger than they currently wear. Items like swim suits, beach towels, tank tops and swim toys are available for as much as seventy-percent off! The same is true in January and February for winter clothes.
One of my favorite words in the English language is "Clearance"!
Gas: Transportation is expensive, so make your trips to the store count. I live in the country, so shop only once a week and make a big 'loop' so that I'm not running back and forth between the grocery store, post office, thrift shop, and so on. I plan my route and it saves a lot of gas money.
Organize or take part in car pools for school and after-school programs such as scouts, band and soccer. If you save only three gallons of gas a week, that's ten to twelve dollars, or five-hundred dollars a year!
Gifts: Again, shop for gifts at the end of a season. One year I bought a variety of bird houses at a craft store at the end of the summer and they were eighty-percent off! Some were beautiful ceramic or wood styles that had been thirty dollars each. This is also true of craft supplies and decorative items, such as candles. I found beautiful decorative candles and holders the day after Valentine's day that were red and made great Christmas or birthday gifts. Keep an open mind when finding bargains and think about how they can be used for other times of the year.
Outings: There are many fun places to go with kids that can be free. For instance, many zoos, museums or art institutes have one day a week where admission is free. Many are free all-year round and offer classes or one-day workshops that cost very little money. Check these places on-line in your local area.
Making a day of apple or berry picking is a fun way to spend time with your kids and is often a cheaper way to buy fresh fruits. Pack a picnic lunch and maybe go with another family to save gas.
Barter: My neighbor cleans her friends home once a month and in return her friend, who is a beautician, gives four boys free hair cuts. Trade babysitting for piano lessons, or swap veggies from your garden for an oil change - whatever you have to offer there are others who have something to swap for.
Think Outside the Box: Always be on the lookout for ways to reuse or recycle what you already have. If your old sofa is looking shabby, buy or make a slipcover. Make curtains or other decorative items from sheets that you find on clearance. Use baking soda and vinegar for cleaning instead of expensive, and often toxic, commercial cleaning products.
Saving money may be more fun and easier than you ever imagined, once you start thinking about creative ways to do it!