How To Make—and Stick to—a Family Budget

Making (and living within) a budget can be challenging, especially for moms who are in charge of a great deal of the daily household spending. Here are hacks and tips to make the job easier.

Sticking to a budget can be challenging for the best of us. Money doesn't always go as far as you hope, unexpected needs arise, and who isn't prone to the occasional impulse buy?

For mothers, this can be a particularly daunting task, as we're often the ones doing most of the spending on home care, childcare, and other essentials, such as clothing, and food.

"In addition, for most moms, a lot of spending on children's items is so emotionally driven­–our children are precious, and we want to give them the very best of everything, so it's easy to get carried away with spending on our precious little ones," Keisha Blair, founder of the Institute on Holistic Wealth and author of Holistic Wealth: 32 Life Lessons To Help You Find Purpose, Prosperity, and Happiness. ($15, Amazon), tells Parents.

Furthermore, with economies opening back up, and many Americans fully vaccinated, people are starting to search for ways to spend, adds Blair.

"Bloomberg Economics estimated that as of January 2021 Americans were sitting on roughly $1.7 trillion of excess savings accumulated during the pandemic and this will trigger an event economists call 'revenge spending,' " continues Blair. "Now's the time to be cautious and not overspend. It's therefore critical to stick to a budget."

To help moms everywhere with the chore of staying on budget, we've rounded up tips and hacks from a variety of leading money and frugal living experts. Here's what they had to say.

An image of a woman holding a change purse.
Getty Images.

Start with your mindset

Your first step toward successfully creating and living within a budget should probably be reframing your mindset. It's important to view the idea of budgeting as a positive path to financial freedom versus a negative exercise in self-deprivation, Patricia Roberts, chief operating officer at Gift of College, and author of the book Route 529: A Parents Guide to Saving for College and Career Training with 529 Plans. ($10, Amazon), tells Parents.

"Recognize and celebrate that you're in the driver's seat and your daily, weekly, and monthly actions can influence the quality of your life, and your family's life, in the long run," says Roberts. "Developing the discipline needed to design and stick to any plan starts with a positive mindset and a sense of empowerment."

Undertake a spending review

As you renew your efforts to live within budget boundaries, consider embarking on a little homework assignment first. Blair recommends critically assessing and reviewing your historic spending patterns. This is especially important as many COVID-19 restrictions are lifting and we may not need some of the subscriptions or other entertainment expenses we required when cooped up at home.

"Review, refine, and refresh your budget," says Blair. "You may have expenses that you have to add or subtract."

Consumer finance expert Andrea Woroch offers similar advice, pointing out that it's impossible to create a realistic budget if you have no idea how much is being spent on purchases and expenses each month.

"Spend time combing through your bank and credit card statements from the past three months to set your budget baseline," Woroch tells Parents. "This should include all fixed expenses—those that don't change, like health insurance and rent or mortgage—as well as variable expenses like groceries, gas, and entertainment."

When it comes to variable expenses, calculate your average spend across a few months, and don't forget to factor in various financial goals, such as debt repayment or savings goals.

"Doing this will also help you see where you may be overspending, so you can make a plan to cut back," continues Woroch. "You can't change what you can't see. Doing this provides clarity about your spending and also helps you set a realistic budget that you can actually stick to."

Start small and use digital tools to help save

For many of us, it's easier to adopt smaller changes (baby steps, right?) than big ones, says Woroch. When it comes to your budgeting journey and living within the parameters you establish, try to tackle one low-hanging item at a time.

"If you eat out five times per week and want to reduce that, try to cut back to just two or three nights instead. Once that becomes a habit, move on from there," explains Woroch.

RELATED: 5 Best Budgeting Apps for Moms

Leveraging digital tools can also help reduce monthly bills effortlessly, says Woroch. For instance, TrueBill can help consumers pinpoint and cancel subscriptions you don't use, while BillCutterzwill negotiate savings on your monthly service providers. And, if you haven't compared auto insurance rates in a while, check out competitive marketplace sites like TheZebra to see if switching providers can give you extra wiggle room in your budget effortlessly.

Stress-test the budget you create

Once you've established an updated or "refreshed" budget, the key will be to stay on track. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to be well prepared for emergencies so that when they occur, you don't have to reach for a credit card or throw your monthly spending plan entirely off course. Blair calls this "allowing for contingencies."

"Stress-test your budget and ensure that there's enough wiggle room for emergencies," Blair explains. "This will allow you to better stick to the budget that you've created for yourself."

Identify impulse spending triggers

Impulse shopping can throw the most carefully crafted budget off-track in an instant. The key to curbing unnecessary spending is figuring out what the triggers are in the first place, says Woroch.

"For example, if you buy things you don't need to make yourself feel better, figure out a different way to deal with those emotions," says Woroch. "If you can't resist a sale, guard yourself against marketing ploys by turning off deal notifications in retail apps and unsubscribing from store emails."

Instead, look for sales and coupons only when you need them. Better yet, download a coupon tracker—such as Cently or Rakuten—to automatically add coupons to your online cart so you don't even have to face potential temptations when searching for discounts.

Share your commitment with like-minded friends and family

Talking openly about your budget goals can be beneficial in a number of ways. Once you've shared the fact that you're sticking to a budget with others, the concept becomes less abstract and more real, says Roberts.

"Speaking about it helps you solidify your vision and commitment, and helps you believe in the possibility of achievement," Roberts explains. "And sharing your goals with others also increases your accountability. Once someone else knows about it, they may check in to see how you're progressing. While you don't need to go into tremendous detail, there is a benefit to sharing with one or more others and asking them to be your accountability partners."

Plan ahead for holidays

Holidays and seasonal events like summer vacations, Christmas, and back-to-school can easily blow your monthly budget. To avoid this (as much as is possible,) plan ahead and have a savings fund earmarked for these types of expenses that you can you tap into instead of leaning on credit cards.

"Factor in special events such as weddings, and baby showers too," says Blair.

Don't be afraid to shop at thrift stores

Children inevitably lose things–winter gloves, school items, lunch boxes, you name it. And as parents we find ourselves purchasing these items over and over again during the year (or even during the same season). Pare down such expenditures by hitting the thrift stores, suggests Blair.

"There are many online thrift stores that are very budget-friendly that offer clothing and accessories for moms and kids," says Blair. "This includes ThredUp, StitchFix, Rue La La, and many others."

While you're at it, consider joining a local "Buy Nothing" group on Facebook, suggests Claire Hunsaker, founder of the website AskFlossie, a money community for women.

"These groups are becoming very popular, and many moms use them, not just champion budgeters," Hunsaker tells Parents. "It's a great way to get the clutter out of your own house and share the bounty of a neighbor's tomato crop. Post what you are looking for, and monitor the listings for kids' clothes, toys, and household items."

Cancel subscriptions you don't need

Circling back to subscription expenses again for just one moment—it's totally understandable that during the pandemic we all may have added a few extra subscriptions to our monthly spending. As life returns to normal, there's no better time to take a long hard look at those costs and scale back or cancel subscriptions you're no longer using quite as much.

"From Disney Plus to Netflix, we have all piled up online subscriptions especially during lockdown, when we needed more home entertainment for the family," says Blair.

Save on the things that don't matter— spend on the things that do

No matter what the size of your budget is, it only needs to match two things: your income and your values, says Hunsaker. Work on aligning your spending with your values.

"For instance, we rarely buy new books, clothes, or toys, but we spend on organic food," explains Hunsaker. "For some families, travel, tithing, or even the electricity bill is the top priority. Every family's choice will be different."

For those with children, Hunsaker's approach might be more than a little challenging, but when a child feels disappointed in a no-spend decision, use it as an opportunity to reinforce your values.

"It might burn a little, but it helps teach them responsibility," Hunsaker explains.

Craft your own money mission statement

In addition to all of the day-to-day approaches and hacks already outlined, developing and staying on a budget may also require taking a step back and getting a handle on your overall money mindset or perspective.

For instance, in her book Holistic Wealth, Blair outlines the importance of establishing what she calls a personal mission statement with regard to money. Creating such a statement, says Blair, is essential for living an intentionally designed life, one that includes successfully living within a budget.

"Our spending and saving patterns should be in alignment with our personal missions. As a matter of fact, crafting a money mission statement allows you to be more intentional about how you budget because it allows you to be more purposeful with your money," explains Blair.

Roberts, author of Route 529, calls this task embracing your "why."

"Visualize what you will achieve by creating and sticking to a budget—and how it will make you feel," Roberts advises. "For instance, if you're yearning for a greater sense of control and fewer financial worries, or the ability to afford something you currently cannot, imagine how it will feel and how your life will look when your finances are in better order. Make note of your 'why' in a visible place, so that you're regularly reminded of what you are working toward."

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles