If your family is anything like mine, life is non-stop, hectic — and let’s face it, overwhelming at times.
Most of us are living in homes with two working parents (or a working single parent), kids who are involved in multiple activities, and with not nearly as much outside help as past generations had.
It’s natural that when it comes to spending, we often choose convenience over savings.
But on top of everything else that is stressful in our lives, our budgets are often stretched to the max, with many of us spending more than we can afford. Scrutinizing your budget and trying to zero in on ways you can cut back can feel like an insurmountable task in and of itself.
However, when it comes down to it, there are a few basic categories where most of us are overspending. Taking some time to pare down on those might be the ticket to saving a little more money and gaining a whole lot more peace of mind.
Here are the top eight categories where you are probably overspending, along with a little advice on what you can do about it.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a family earning $73,573 per year spends about $7,729 a year on food — $ 4,363 spent on food that’s eaten at home. No matter what our income is, the fact is that almost all of us are wasteful at times with our grocery spending. Many of us are buying more than what we’ll eat, not buying in bulk, not looking for deals, and relying on impulse buying.
You don’t need to give up healthy or organic eating just to cut corners in your budget. A little pre-planning can go a long way, and helps you to avoid buying foods you really won’t eat. There are some awesome online sites where you can buy healthy foods at great prices, many of which allow you buy in bulk or straight from the manufacturer.
2. Household Cleaning Products
I like to use non-toxic cleaning products as much as possible. But so often, those are the most expensive brands on the shelf. Fortunately I’ve found there are some simple ways to save money and “go green” in the process.
Consider making your own cleaning products: just mix together some warm water, vinegar, baking soda, and some of your favorite essential oils. There are also great sites to buy eco-friendly cleaning products for better prices than ones you’ll find in your local store. Buying in bulk can save you a pretty penny as well.
3. Bottled Water
I’m as quick to reach for bottled water as the next person, and it’s available almost everywhere. But it’s not good for the earth or our pocketbooks.
Americans spend $16 billion on bottled water per year. That means that each family is spending hundreds of dollars of this stuff. And with bottled water averaging $1-2 dollars a bottle, the cost can really add up.
Investing in reusable water bottles is definitely the way to go. We have one for each of us in our family, and the kids love picking bottles with their favorite characters or logos. Plus, many reusable water bottles out there are made with much healthier materials than plastic, so you can feel confident that you are not only saving money but keeping your family well.
I need my Starbucks as much as the next person, and I’m not alone. One study found that the average American spends over $1000 a year on coffee. We all know buying coffee from chain stores can really add up. At one point, my husband was spending $15 a day on coffee alone!
There are some great options out there for saving on coffee without sacrificing convenience or taste. Buying coffee in bulk or from a “coffee club” can save you money on the initial purchase. You can pre-make your coffee the night before and set your coffeemaker on a timer.
5. Dining Out
Of the average $7,729 Americans spend on food each year, almost half of that is spent on food eaten outside the home. As delicious and convenient as dining out can be, we all know you don’t get as much bang for your buck as you do if you eat at home. One meal at $50 for a couple really adds up.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t splurge at times, but we could all be a little more mindful about our dining out tendencies: creating a budget for it, or limiting it to just a few times a month. We can also all learn to recreate some of our favorite dishes from restaurants in our own homes. It’s fun to try, and the results can be really yummy.
6. Snack Foods/Convenience Foods
Pre-packaged foods can be convenient, but they will drive up your bill. All those single-serve snack bags of pretzels, crackers, and chips you throw into your child’s lunch — not only are you paying more, but you are creating more waste material, which won’t make mother earth very happy. Snack and convenience foods also tend to be less healthy, with more added preservatives, salt, fat, and sugar than foods you can snag at home.
Instead try sticking to whole food snacks like carrots and hummus, nuts, dried edamame (so good) and fruits. You can stick these in an earth-friendly container or reusable baggie for on-the-go snacking. Your kids’ health (and your wallet) will be much better off in the end.
7. Paper Towels
Most of us rely heavily on paper towels. I get this! They are so convenient and work so well to clean up all the many messes we are faced with daily. If you are like me, you are also reliant on baby wipes – even beyond the years that your babies are babies. A few wipes is enough to clean an entire bathroom, right?
The solution? Use cloth! There are some excellent choices out there, and you’d be surprised by how efficient some of these are. I actually was able to reuse my kids’ cloth diapers — they are awesome cleaner-uppers. Microfiber towels are also great choices – so absorbent. Just spritz with water or your favorite natural cleaner and you are good to go.
8. Baby Food/Kid-Friendly Food
It’s kind of a novel idea given all the marketing out there for kid-specific food, but the truth is that children can eat what you eat, and you don’t need to spend all your hard-earned cash on separate food items for your kids. Even babies can eat appropriate grown-up foods (just have to mush it up!).
So skip the special kid drinks, meals and snacks. Feed them food you like (or, you know, ones that their picky little palates with tolerate) and you will see your grocery store bill decrease quite a bit. Not only that, but getting them used to grown up food will help instill lifelong healthy eating habits.
So there you have it. Cutting back on all of these things at once might feel like too much at first. But pick a category you feel you could easily decrease spending on and go from there. It is so freeing to cut your budget, and you’ll soon find that you probably didn’t need half the things you overspent on in the first place.
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