With my husband out of work and my freelance income in constant flux, my household exists in a permanent state of financial anxiety.
At least we're in good company: it seems like all our friends are in similar straits, though some folks just seem to have a can-do attitude about money management. We're all scrimping and saving, but not everyone has the desperate, fearful attitude that marks my interactions with the cost of living.
One thing I have done to reduce anxiety a bit is to ramp up my bargain shopping. I'm afraid of food-borne illness and passionate about ethical farming, so I still buy meat at Whole Foods--but I no longer get chicken breasts, only thighs (much cheaper!), and I buy in bulk.
(We talked about whether buying organic is worth it more in this story.)
My other shopping is parceled out among the stores that are cheapest: diapers, wipes, milk, eggs from Costco, weekly specials (organized with their new smartphone app) from Safeway, flour from the restaurant-supply store or Trader Joe's. I keep a constantly updated list that tells me where things are cheapest.
Basically, I ease my anxiety by shifting my obsessing to a specific, hobby-like activity.
Turns out, lots of other moms have systems in place to help keep them sane throughout the year, too. We've rounded up ten of the best ideas we've heard.
(P.S. Those are my kids in the photo above! They're pretty happy all the time.)
Start With the Basics
"My husband and I nearly lost everything after a three-year economic crisis. A financial coach gave us four specific strategies: Set up a $1,500 cash reserve that's our "credit card" for emergencies. We budget, which means we pre-allocate our spending in each category and adjust as needed. We take out cash for all our needs and never use the ATM card--it gives both us and our kids a concrete visual about money. And we committed to paying off debt, which has gone quicker than you'd think. After just five months, this has become second nature, and I'm amazed at how much it has changed us." -- Lynn, 47, California (mom to Miles, 8, and Audrey, 6) Photo courtesy of Lynn
Get Friends on Board
"A long time ago, a friend told me to take care of the singles and the hundreds will take care of themselves. I think of that every time I want to make a small splurge." -- Jenifer, 39, Connecticut (mom to Frances, 9, and Kathleen and Woody, 6)
"When friends ask us to go out to this or that fabulous restaurant, we tend to say, 'Come over, we'll make dinner, you bring some wine.' Too many times I've eaten some $20 pasta dish only to think, 'Wow, I could have made that at home for $2.'" -- Darien, 50, California (mom to Annika, 10)
Create a System That Works
"We got out of crazy debt by consulting with a debt-management expert and holding each other's credit cards. I mean that literally: I have his credit card in my wallet, and he has mine. So neither of us can make a big purchase without asking the other--er, I mean discussing it."-- Lea, 33, California (mom to Amelia, 2)
"My husband and I keep separate accounts. We both pay into the household budget, and we have separate retirement accounts; whatever we have on top of that, it's up to us to decide how to spend it. This has cut down dramatically on nagging and judging each other." -- Judy, 39, New York (mom to Indy, 15 mo) Photo courtesy of Lea
See the Good in Simple Things
"The answer for me wasn't to just stop spending. When you have a kid, or even when you're single, you still have to pay bills. So rather than feeling like a jerk every time a dollar left my hand, I look at what I have to spend, decide how to spend it and know what credit is for. It seems obvious, but really, it took some doing to get here." -- Dee, 55, Idaho (mom to Angela, 25)
"I navigated a Byzantine system to get both my kids into good public schools. I'm Queen of the WORLD!" -- Lynn, 43, New York (mom to Bess, 6, and Sam, 4)
"When I stress out about finances--and believe me, I do--I stop and think about how I am this minute. I am fine. I have food in my belly and a roof and the kids are wearing clothes." -- Jenifer, 39, Connecticut (mom to Frances, 9, and Kathleen and Woody, 6)
Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
"Money and I are good friends because I refuse to feel social pressure to buy something simply because everyone else does. Here in San Francisco, you can feel like a freak if you don't own a Prius, but I've stuck to owning used cars that were fuel-efficient and donating some of the difference in price to green causes." -- Darien, 50, California (mom to Annika, 10) Photo courtesy of Darien
Save for What's Important
"I pay myself first. Since I work from home, I have a SEP-IRA, which is a tax-deductible retirement account, and a 529 to save for my daughter's college. I pay those first, and plan the rest of my budget based on that lower number." -- Judy, 39, New York (mom to Indy, 15 months)
Tell us--what are your money secrets that keep you and your family happy?
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