Financial Tips for Families

These days, family finances can get too crunched for anything as lofty as “investing in a career” or “following the American Dream”; just getting out of debt might become the new American Dream. If a raise isn’t coming and the new career is uncertain, families still have some good options, even if budgets are squeezed.

Saving Money

Stretching a dollar is still possible, without having to mine your garage for sell-worthy junk, or opening a time-trap account on eBay. Families often don’t know how much they spend on ‘soft’ budget areas such as eating out, entertainment, and gifts. (Tip: It’s the frequent small items that add up to much more than initial large purchases, and kill the budget.) Groupon and Weekly Plus give great two-for-one options. Coupon books such as Phoenix Entertainment can be bought from charities, door-to-door kids, or online… for less than $30. Keep an eye out for businesses that cater to children on, such as Denny’s “Kids Eat Free” days.

Beyond Costco and Walmart, food discount stores are also making a great comeback – for those who just can’t afford takeout or dine-in options. Save-a-Lot stores are open from Maine to California, the 99 Cent Only stores offer free shipping, and Big Lots has options for both produce and gifts. It’s not necessary to Grinch out on Christmas, but it might be time to pass around the name hat or have a ‘white elephant’ gift party. That would reduce both financial stress and add time to a family holiday that’s quickly becoming more of a burden than a blessing.

Part-Time Work for Homeowners

There are hundreds of ways to save, from Discount Tire to reduced doctor visits, but sometimes it’s necessary to create some cash.

Since gas costs rise alongside food costs, it might be time to turn a dime in your own neighborhood. About 100 years ago nearly everyone knew a seamstress, a laundress, the farm with a small stream of egg and milk clients, and those with light hands on the pastry. It’s possible by watching YouTube videos or the Food Channel, to find ways of making cheesecakes or green bean casseroles or fluffy mashed potatoes, with a small time investment. The next step is to have samples to pass on to those who are too busy to cook – the working mother, the 7-to-7 executive, or the mechanic with two jobs and no family.

It’s possible to make twice to three times at much food as your home can handle, and still have neighbors waiting with cash in hand. Package it attractively in Rubbermaid containers, and ask them to bring back clean containers when they’d like Irish stew next Tuesday. Becoming a Bountiful Baskets distributor could help establish a local presence, and net two weeks’ worth of produce for $15. If turned into tomato basil soup or broccoli cheese casserole, instant meals from Fry’s and Safeway could become yesterday’s news.

Food isn’t everything, for those with ‘charcoal fingers’. Options abound for family members who are mechanically inclined to tinker with things that need fixing. This could be the time to invest in Vistaprint free cards, and ask former charity cases to turn into customers. Most homeowners dread having to call up a plumber or electrician for the least little thing. They either have no experience or no time to install new water heaters, paint walls, or simply put in new tile on the bathroom floor. If Dad is handy with cars or wood, get a reputation for installing batteries and replacing broken headlamps for a small charge, and have the kids run errands and answer the cell phone. (Just work on the car outside and talk to neighbors for a month. They’ll ask.) Or if ‘good deeds’ turn your crank, show up at a friend’s house on a Saturday and say you’re going to trim his palm trees and mow the lawn if he’ll spread the word to everyone else. Don’t take on a job that requires a professional if you’re not, but some of the smaller jobs can bring in extra monthly cash. Feel free to put it on your resume as “contract work”, and ask an accountant about tax benefits for home offices. 

Pet sitting can apply here. There’s no rule in life that says you can’t charge people to stay over at their house and make sure that Fido gets fed on time and eats his pills. It also looks good on the resume – one must care about both clients and animals to apply. Pet care is more than a $45 billion dollar market – tap into just a little of that, be willing to sleep on someone else’s sheets, and Mom won’t have to work nights at Starbucks.

Kids can also take on work, such as house-sitting and pet-sitting. Add in a paper route, maybe some housecleaning and babysitting, and there won’t have to be any uncomfortable ‘allowance reduction’ conversations. Having to work outside the home also helps install family values alongside of making money, with added benefits such as personal confidence and handshake etiquette. Besides, it’s harder to pester for luxury items once they know how much effort money takes to make.

Part-Time Creative Work

Moms, while dreaming of becoming the next J.K. Rowling, it might be an idea to earn a reputation as a writer. (In fact, dust off those old grammar books and teach the kids how to craft essays, and you can bring in money while preparing them for college.) There are hundreds of sites, from Helium to Skillpages to oDesk that can put your turn of phrase to use. With all the outsourcing these days, being a native English speaker can get you anything from teaching jobs overseas to part-time work as an editor, or content writer for blogs.

oDesk also features contract white-collar work, for those who can’t leave their home, or live far away from high-rise office buildings. Mom could bid and be accepted as a virtual assistant, a graphic designer, or a computer whiz – or anything in between – and still be on hand for milk and cookies after school. If Dad objects to installing wireless internet systems at people’s homes for extra cash, he could try setting up a PayPal account, scanning some verifiable documents, and trying out for office work…without working in an office. With some negotiating skills, it’s possible for the family to take care of projects in the same amount of time spent watching Netflix reruns of “24” or “Burn Notice”. To get the family away from computers and out into the fresh air, plant a ‘Freedom Garden’ with a mix of fruits, vegetables and herbs, and save even more on trips to discount grocery stores.

Sure, it takes time to develop a reputation. No, it won’t generate thousands of dollars within ten days, and there are few guarantees. On the other hand, even full-time jobs don’t guarantee a cost-of-living raise this year, or even health benefits. Call a family meeting, brainstorm out a list of ‘marketable skills’ from lemonade stands to toy car auctions in the front yard, and watch the magic pennies pour in!