If there is one thing worse than having no money, it’s having children and no money. Children seem to be drawn like a magnet to more expensive toys. Then they need clothes, books, food, drink, bedding, school uniform and trips. The list is seemingly endless.
A few years ago my husband lost his job, suddenly. Not one of those nice redundancies with a good financial package –the plug was pulled on the company and no-one got even their last months’ wages. It was a huge shock to the whole family. We explained to the children that we were on a ‘spending freeze’. It meant that we were only going to buy essentials. And my children suddenly learnt what it was like to have no money.
Shopping became a marathon task to feed each member of the family on £10 a week. We made one concession to the children that they could choose one thing each week, costing less than a pound as their ‘treat’. My 10 year old daughter suggested we re paint the kitchen in blue and white stripes to match all the ‘value’ products we had in our kitchen cupboards. One of the worst things was when friends came over for a meal. I had never had to ‘entertain’ on next to nothing. Our social life plummeted and we rarely went out.
Being without money helped the whole family appreciate money. We learned to buy less. To do without. To only buy something if we really, really needed it. My oldest two children, who are now at University, learned an important lesson in money management, and as a result manage well on their student loans.
But what would you do if your income suddenly came to a halt? What could you do to economise and still provide your family with the basics? Here are a few ideas you could try if you are in that position:
- Find out all the cheap and free things to do in your area. Museums, libraries, events, parks. Make it a project and involve your children in the mission.
- Find cheap ways to have fun such as Frisbee, football, water fights and picnics
- Plan what home cooked meals you will need for the week & plan your shopping list. Go to a low-cost supermarket or market stall and buy value, economy or own brand food –and only what you need. Look on the internet for ideas on ‘cooking on a budget’.
- Buy in bulk if you can, and use any coupons that save you money on the products you need to buy. Find the area in your local supermarket where they reduce the cost of food close to it’s sell by date, but make sure it is something you need and comes within your budget
- Take a really good look at your bills. Go on line to money-saving sites and see if you can save any money by changing provider for your mortgage, mobile or utility bills. Also make sure that if you are going to go overdrawn you talk to your bank, explain the situation and arrange an overdraft.
- Make a game out of being thrifty. Get your children involved in seeing who can save the most money, or find ways to buy things for less.
- Talk to the school about your situation. School trips and ‘extras’ can really mount up. Teachers are very understanding and will bend over backwards to make sure your child does not miss out on class activities. They may also be able to offer suggestions about other ways to help.
- For birthdays and celebrations, cards can be made and online auction sites can be a source of cheap presents. A pound-shop and some ‘thrift’ shops can offer a surprising array of goods at low prices.
- Arrange evenings in with home-cooked meal and a hired DVD- or better still borrow DVD’s from your friends.
- If you are in a relationship, being short of money can cause huge tensions between you. Couples argue more and you can find yourself getting very low in mood. Resolve to spend time together having fun, keep talking and find little things you can do such as giving a massage, doing a small job for the other person or go out together for a walk.
Most of all be gentle on yourself. It can be difficult when your friends have money and you don’t. Find small things that give you pleasure and get plenty of fresh air and exercise. And lastly spend time with friends who make you feel good and focus on spending quality time with your family. This will help you to stay positive and make it easier to meet the challenges of living on a tight budget.