With multigenerational households on the rise, families living in them share their best tips for saving money.

By Damarys Ocaña Perez
January 11, 2021
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Credit: Illustration by Anne Bentley

Taking care of one another? It's in our blood. So when the going got tough, these families decided multigenerational living would help them weather the storm. But first they had to get a hold of their budgets. Here, they share their tips for saving money, no matter how many people are under the same roof.

1. Pool Your Talents

The Villalobos Family
Phoenix, Arizona

When her father, Miguel, quit his job four years ago because of a work-related injury, Yoma Villalobos persuaded her parents to move into the house she shares with her husband, Edgar, and two sons, now 12 and 9. "They hadn't saved up for retirement, and we needed support with child care," says the Mexican-American mom. The arrangement exceeded her expectations. As did the costs. That's when the family came up with creative ways to cut expenses by taking a do-it-yourself approach.

Credit: Courtesy of the Villalobos family

Master a new skill.

Abuelo couldn't believe his son-in-law and grandsons were spending $100 a month at the barber shop. So he turned to YouTube and learned to cut hair. Says Villalobos, "He calls his operation 'Miguel's Salon!'" When Abuelo isn't perfecting buzz cuts, he's in the backyard pruning shrubs and trimming bushes, saving the family in landscaping services.

Make it your business.

Villalobos turned her hobby of creating seasonal wreaths into a business with an Etsy shop called Crafty Yoma. "It helps me de-stress, and I make $400 in a good month," she says.

Chuck it or sell it.

The family holds a biannual yard sale. "It was my husband's idea. He'll tell us, 'If you haven't used it in a year, get rid of it,'" Villalobos says. While the pandemic may not be the most opportune time to invite neighbors to pick through your belongings, apps like Letgo make it easy to sell stuff in a virtual marketplace.

Reduce necessary costs.

After her parents moved in, Villalobos's electric bill nearly doubled. Not one to shrug her shoulders in defeat, she called her utility company. Good thing she did: They offered to enroll her in an energy-saving program that gives a rebate to customers who use the bulk of their energy during off-peak hours. By running the washing machine and dishwasher after 8 p.m., the family saves $60 a month.

2. Pinch Pennies, Nickels, and Dimes

The Novo Family
Miami, Florida

Last March, Mari Novo, single mom of 4-year-old Lucia, temporarily lost her job as a substitute teacher in Miami because of the pandemic. Her Cuban parents knew they needed to act: "They told me, 'Either you and Lucia move in with us, or you'll have to quarantine alone,'" Novo says. So she packed up her things and took them up on their offer. To make the arrangement function, Novo made a commitment early on to streamline the family's spending. "I didn't want any of us to have to dip into savings," she says. So far, so good.

Credit: Courtesy of the Novo family

Evaluate services.

Novo eliminated outdated tech in her parents' home, such as a landline and a fax line. She also researched auto insurance for the family's two cars and saved $500 a year by switching to a different provider. "We were surprised by how many companies were willing to work with us to get our business," Novo says. "All we had to do was ask."

Rethink retail therapy.

"My mom and I used to go to Target, Macy's, and Marshall's to browse, and before you knew it, our cart was full," says Novo, who found shopping therapeutic. "I didn't realize how much unnecessary spending we were doing until we stopped during the lockdown." Now, she's more intentional about her purchases. And if she needs to chill out, Novo invites her mom for a walk.

Buy secondhand.

She has also gotten into the habit of shopping refurbished housewares and electronics online. "You can buy used items on Amazon," she says. "People often return things because they don't like them, not because they're damaged." The experience has taught Novo that it's not always essential to purchase items brand-new when you can pay next to nothing by thrifting.

Accept hand-me-downs.

Novo doesn't always need to splurge on a new wardrobe for Lucia. Instead, she swaps clothes with friends and relatives who have children of varying ages. "Lucia gets bigger kids' clothes, and all her stuff goes to the little ones," Novo says. Best of all, if a hem needs to be adjusted or there's a stain on a shirt, Grandma, a gifted seamstress, alters the garment and even adds a homemade patch if needed. "It makes the piece extra special," says Novo.

3. Plant a Seed

The Ravelo-Matthew Family
Garden City, New York

When Annette Ravelo-Matthew and her husband, Peter, got married in 2012, they lived with his parents to bolster their savings. Once they were ready to buy a house, they invited the aging couple to move into their place. Their sons, ages 7 and 3, love the arrangement, especially bonding around the dinner table. But it does add up. "Our biggest cost is food," says the Dominican-American mom, who with Grandma Josette designed strategies to save hundreds of dollars without sacrificing delicious meals.

Credit: Courtesy of the Ravelo-Matthew family

Grow your food.

Like many Latinos, Ravelo-Matthew likes to cook in bulk. What she's not into is the price of groceries: "Produce is expensive!" she says. Luckily, her mother-in-law has a green thumb, so the pair started planting vegetables in the backyard last spring. They grew so many tomatoes, peppers, peas, and squash this past summer that they're planning to expand their plot and make their own compost to save on fertilizer.

Rely on the freezer.

"We freeze everything," Ravelo-Matthew says. Cheese, rice, onions, oatmeal, salchichón! "It's a great way to reduce waste." Plus, it's gratifying to know there's a meal ready to go when she's too tired to cook. "I prepare lasagna, then divide it into single portions that can be heated up easily. It keeps me from spending money on takeout after a long day of work," she says.

Repurpose leftovers.

Before throwing out food scraps, Ravelo-Matthew once again turns to Grandma Josette, who is a real whiz at giving yesterday's dinner new life. "Watching my mother-in-law stretch every ingredient is a revelation," Ravelo-Matthew says. Pernil from the night before is used to make sandwiches and flavor soups, vegetables, and rice dishes. And fading fruits become smoothies and popsicles for the kids. "Nothing gets tossed," she adds.

Get tapping.

Ravelo-Matthew finds ways to make every trip to the supermarket work in her favor by scanning receipts on apps such as Fetch and Receipt Hog, which offer coupons, deals, and gift cards to customers of participating stores. "It's just a few points at a time, but it takes two seconds to do, and the money adds up," she says. Bonus: The apps let her track how much she's spending on food, which gives her almost as much satisfaction as those big dinners she shares with her family.

This article originally appeared in Parents Latina's February/March 2021 issue as "All in the Familia."

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