You’re not alone if your family is feeling a little pinched in the wallet now that a new year has arrived. “By January, I’m dreading the mail. After Christmas vacation, and gifts, not to mention all the winter gear we had to buy at the start of the season, I know my credit card bill will be a nightmare,” says Hamilton, Ontario, mom Yuki Hayashi. “And January is not cheap for utility bills either,” she says.
On that front, one nugget of traditionally received wisdom is to save money by turning down the heat and washing clothes in cold water. These are worthwhile goals and valid ways to save a little cash and go a little easier on the environment.
However with babies and young kids at home, turning the heat way down can make for a cranky, uncomfortable family, not to mention spousal thermostat wars. So here are a few additional easy ways you can also save money this time of year.
1. Learn how to cook your favourite takeout foods or restaurant meals.
If there’s a particular creamy tortellini dish from a neighbourhood restaurant that you and the kids crave, or a quick tofu-and-veggie fried rice that’s a family favourite, why not learn how to approximate these foods at home? The key to saving money here is to pick simple dishes with a few easy-to-find, inexpensive ingredients. Use Google to look for a similar recipe from a site you trust, or ask for tips from friends on Facebook (your foodie friends, and we all have them, love to share recipe sites) and try your hand at cooking. Get your kids in on the action so they can see the ingredients that go into their meals close-up.
2. Replace one sedentary thing you pay for with one that’s outdoors, free and active.
This one is good for your health as well as your bottom line. Swap one family movie outing, with its attendant big price tag, for a family tobogganing session. Turn your next bistro lunch with friends into a 45-minute winter walk and you might be surprised that your pals are grateful for the exercise and the reprieve from spending money right now. Swear off the food court near your work for a week, or even a day, bring your lunch, and use the saved time to go for a brisk walk. Just do any of these things once and you’ll save money and be a little bit fitter.
3. Download and clip coupons for kids’ stuff.
You don’t have to turn into a full-blown couponer, but you can save a quick dollar or two or even three with the click of a mouse, or a browse through the weekly flyers. We asked The Flying Couponer for the coupons parents should look for right now. During this stage of winter “you’ll find great coupons for kids snacks like crackers, cheese and yogurt,” says Mary, the Toronto-based semi-anonymous mom and flight attendant who is the writer behind The Flying Couponer.
4. Anticipate the little purchases that eat into your $20 bills.
Ah, those new polymer $20 bills with the narrow clear window and the plastic feel. Isn’t it funny how once you break them at the convenience store on a bottle of spring water, the change just seems to fly out of your coin purse thereafter? And as much as we love our kids, more often than not we’re inwardly groaning at spending those bills on snacks or drinks that we really should have anticipated they would need. Bottles of water, little cartons of milk, cut-up fruit salad in plastic packaging— these are all things you can bring from home in reusable containers, which will cut down on packaging waste, too.
5. Borrow and trade kids’ winter sports gear from your friends.
Winter sports gear is particularly expensive, but the good news is you probably know someone that already owns some of the items you’re looking for. Ice skates for a learning toddler, hockey sticks, a big sled, kids’ ski gloves; your pals might have these items collecting dust in the basement and would be pleased to lend them out to you or to trade for something you have. Ask around before you buy or rent, or put the question out there on your social network. You might be surprised how many helpful responses you get.
6. Drink your preferred coffee brew at home.
Coffee and parenting go hand in hand. Many a drowsy mom has thrilled to the thought of a paper cup filled to the brim with hot milky coffee. But whether your coffee taste is high-end or drive-thru, you can, and if you want to save money you should, brew it at home. The savings aren’t only in the price of the takeout cups of coffee, but temptation in the form of cookies, donuts and breakfast sandwiches. In today’s coffee market, every coffee shop and café almost without exception sells coffee for home consumption, even McDonald’s, so you have every reason to at least try it. Bottoms up!
IMAGE: COURTESY OF BANK OF CANADA