Over the years my attempts to wrestle the family budget to the ground have involved two types of savings: those that involved making changes in services and those that involved holding the line on open-ended monthly expenditures.  The suggestions here are a combination of both types of savings opportunities.  For those of us who feel that we have no control over monthly costs and are constantly surprised by inflated bills, it takes enlisting the help of everyone in the family by laying down a few rules.  It’s well worth the effort even if playing the enforcer is not a role you relish.

1. Consider getting rid of your land line.

Do you really need two phones?  If your household is like mine, the kids all have cell phones anyway on the family plan.  For kids who are too young to have a cell phone – an age that drops every year – provide your own telephone as the contact number for your child.  Telephone service is cheap, until you start adding on essentials like the message service and caller ID.  Cell phones can be used for faxing these days as well.

tightening your budget

2. Cut out memberships to fancy gyms.

Maybe your gym membership doesn’t need to be a social connection.  I used to love those beautiful interiors featured in the latest “clubs” that opened for suburban workouts, many of them with pools and restaurants.  But they can be pricey, particularly if gym exercise is a family affair.  In most cities of any size there is a YMCA or YWCA, and most of those have retrofitted their buildings to include excellent workout facilities.  It’s not only the membership cost you’ll be saving money on; it’s the charges for such luxuries as on-site restaurants and personal trainers.

3. Don’t buy anything that’s not on your grocery list. 

You can do all the meal planning you’re capable of, but if you don’t have shopping discipline when you’re pushing that cart down the aisle there’s no point in trying to manage food expenditures.  A written list can help control those compulsive urges.  Dealing with children who “must” have something off the shelf is another issue; maybe grocery shopping should be a solo expedition.

4. Make gasoline a family concern. 

If there are youthful drivers in the house, it’s time to look at gasoline as a family budgetary issue.  That means requiring your teenage drivers to bring the car back with as much gas in it as it has on departure.  If they can’t afford it, they can’t afford to use the vehicle.  This may also mean car pools for school, even though they can be time consuming for you on your day to drive.  With prices at $3.50 a gallon or worse, gasoline has jumped into the “substantial” column for monthly budgetary items.

Check out these 12 tips on saving on gas.

5. Manage your kids’ expectations. 

I was not good at this and as a result there was a constant stream of cash going out the door following a request from one child or another.  Every family handles this issue their own way, but the goal is twofold: parents that are capable of saying “no” and children that are not shocked or resentful when they hear it.  For some families an allowance is the answer; for others a general discussion of the family’s financial limits works.

Bob Hartzell has been writing for five years about education, business, budgets, and other life essentials on a variety of websites.  He writes steadily on the changes in collegiate goals, for undergraduates on campus and the online master’s  as a continuing education option.  He lives in Maine where budgets can be more a seasonal than an annual concern; in the Northeast there is a “cost of winter.”

Photo Credit: wayne’s eye view

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