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Whether financial times are tough or not, developing a family budget is a great way to plan where your money will go and decrease the chance that you’ll dig yourself into a hole of debt. When you have a budget, you’ve thought out in advance where you’ll need to spend money each month, and you’ll be less likely to find yourself with a
bill to pay and no money in your account. Being intentional about how you spend will help your family get the most out of the money you make.

How to Create a Budget
Budgeting worksheets are great for helping decide where you’re going to allocate monthly income. If you’re married, fill out a worksheet together to make sure one of you isn’t overspending when the rest of the family really needs the money for other things. Start with your take-home pay, and then determine exactly how much you’re going to spend in each category, including rent or mortgage, utilities, debt payments, transportation costs, food, clothing and activities. Of course, you should also put aside savings every month to ensure you’re planning for the future.

Creative Ways to Stretch Your Budget
After creating a preliminary budget, track expenditures in each category for a month to find out whether it’s a realistic budget. You’ll find that you need to get creative to stretch money. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Camp. Instead of heading to a resort or hotel for your vacation this summer, head to a less expensive campsite, where you can enjoy nature and explore a brand new area together.
  • Plan meals. Check out grocery store ads and plan your meals around what’s in season or on sale each week. Shopping at stores that offer better prices is an easy solution, as well.
  • Swap clothes. Exchange clothing with other families who have kids, and bring the kids along to “shop” among the used clothes. Everyone will find new outfits without spending any money.
  • Make it Double Feature. Choose inexpensive entertainment, like renting a movie and making popcorn at home for a family movie night. You can rent two movies for the less of the price of taking the entire family out to one show. Instant streaming allows some movies to be downloaded for free. Snacks are always cheaper at home, too; even if you purchase name-brand candy at the grocery store. So it can feel like a treat, even when eating it at home.

Sticking to Your Budget
No matter how carefully you plan your budget, things always come up that require you to make some adjustments. In these situations, a cash advance can tide you over with the money you need, and you can cut back on nonessentials for a few weeks to get back on track. It’s important to remember that your budget is there to make your life more organized, not more complicated. Living within your means will make you happier in the long run because you won’t be burdened by a mountain of debt.

Getting Your Family on Board
Are you ready to make a family budget? You’ll need the help of each member of your family as you tackle the project together. Don’t be afraid to explain to your kids that you can’t buy them everything they may want or everything their friends have. Explain to them the things that you are giving up too, so that you’ll all feel like you’re “in it together.” You are in it together! Kids love to help you save, whether they’re clipping coupons, thinking of creative ways to reuse old toys, or helping out in the kitchen to make less expensive snacks. When you work together to budget, you’ll grow closer as a family and teach your kids important skills to carry into their adult lives.

Earnest Parenting: help for parents who want to put together a budget.

Image courtesy of 401K2012 via Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.