Reducing expenses as a family

May 17, 2019


I don’t like to use the word “budget.” Budgeting often involves long hours spent tallying receipts, analyzing expenses, and berating yourself over past behavior, rather than focusing on the financial decisions you will make in the future. Budgeting also tends to be a solo activity, forcing one member of a household to square the accounts and manage other family members’ spending.

However, having a system in place to understand and control your spending is a must. Meeting financial goals—whether saving for retirement, paying down credit card debt or student loans, or setting aside money for a child’s education—typically requires some tradeoffs; reducing family expenses in areas like entertainment, eating out, or shopping can give you additional income to fund those goals.

Rather than setting a strict budget for the entire family all on your own, make reducing your expenses a family activity. Involving your partner or kids in this process should help them understand why and how you make certain household decisions, and will increase your odds of success.

  1. Start a conversation about money management.
    Too often, money is a taboo topic, even among the closest families. To get your partner or children on board with your financial goals, start open and honest conversations about money management over meals, on car rides, or whenever you have a moment together. It could be as simple as explaining how you decide what to buy at the grocery store to how much you set aside for savings each month and what those savings are for.

    If you talk honestly about your kids about money, they are more likely to understand why you can’t order take-out most days of the week or buy every new gadget.

  2. Give family members an allowance, rather than a list of spending restrictions.

    My clients tend to find spending allowances work better for them than overly-specific budgets. Especially if you are trying to control spending for a whole family, managing every little expense may demand way too much work and ultimately be counterproductive. Plus, telling family members what they can’t spend on certain items will likely leave everyone groaning.

    Try giving each member of the family a spending allowance for a certain period of time; it’s easier to think in terms of what you can to do manage your spending in a day or a week than in a month.

    Each family member can spend the allowance however they choose, but once the money is gone, they have to wait for the next allowance. The allowance should give everyone in the family a sense of control over their money, and forces everyone to think critically about how to spend it.

  3. Gamify it.
  4. It’s hard to make reducing expenses fun, but there are things you can do to motivate the family. Try setting rewards for reaching certain goals—maybe a game night, a sleepover with friends, or a favorite dessert.

    You can also build some fun into money-saving activities. Can you challenge your family to have a spend-free Saturday, a day spent only on free activities in your area? What about replacing a take-out meal with a feast of the forgotten ingredients sitting in the back of your pantry?

    Track your savings as a family, and communicate how those savings will be used; this will make everyone feel that they are working towards a common goal, and help them understand why it matters.

Involving the rest of the family in setting and working towards your financial goals will not only take some of the burden off you—it will make the process more fun and effective. Plus, your financial habits and good behaviors could have a long-lasting effect on your children’s own personal finance decisions, setting them up for financial success in their adulthood.

Kristen Euretig, CFP®, owns Brooklyn Plans, LLC, a financial planning firm dedicated to helping today’s women.

These articles are for informational purposes only and do not constitute tax or financial advice. Individuals should contact their financial professional for assistance.

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