Welcome to the second edition of Managing Debt with Kids – a three part series which addresses the challenges that parents face when raising a family alongside the heavy burden of debt. This article focuses on how to enjoy family life as much as possible whilst making sure that debt repayments are being taken care of.
Raising a family these days can be pretty costly, especially if you need to factor in childcare costs or the loss of income if one parent stays at home. There are all sorts of bills that need to be paid in order to support your family such as the mortgage or rent, council tax, utilities and groceries. Then there are the items that need to be purchased every so often such as clothes and shoes etc. But what if you also have a big debt repayment to make each month too?
Being in debt is absolutely no fun at all. Accumulating debt might have seemed like a good idea at the time to fund that ‘must have’ purchase or perhaps you had to resort to credit to get yourself out of a scrape or two. However you got into debt, if you’re in debt now after the purchases you made have worn out or your emergency has long passed, then all debt really leaves you with is less money in your pocket and a bitter aftertaste.
If you have a family to support, the burden of debt seems heavier than ever. Why? Because ultimately you have another mouth (or more) to feed, so finances are squeezed even tighter. But also, with children comes responsibility and accountability.
If you’re in debt and have children, you probably know already that you don’t want them to make the same mistakes with money that you might have done. And you most likely want to protect them from any kind of suffering. Something like losing your home if your debt took an ugly turn would be a catastrophic event no matter who it happened to, but if you have kids, this would be devastating. So it goes without saying that debt must be managed properly if you have children and preferably it should be eliminated as soon as possible!
Budgeting as a family
Whether you’re in debt or not, it’s always a good idea to have a budget where you list all of your earnings and outgoings each month. This will help you keep track of your bills and enable you to pay them on time. You’ll be able to see easily where you’re overspending in certain areas.
It’s important to keep your budget realistic, accurate and up to date each month to keep on top of things. If you’re in debt, you’ll then be able to see how much money you can free up to go towards debt repayments to speed up the process of getting your debts paid off.
Your budget must be realistic, otherwise it will fail leading to overspending and then you’ll feel guilty. It makes sense to have some kind of socialising or ‘family time’ budget because it’s just about impossible to live like a hermit forever. If you have kids, it wouldn’t be right to keep them in all the time anyway – for their health and wellbeing as well as their development. So, don’t blow the budget in this area but set aside a small amount of money each month to make sure you can take your kids swimming a couple of times or on a cheap day trip for example.
Once you have an accurate budget set up, you’ll need to see what areas you can save money on. Be ruthless and get rid of anything you don’t need such as magazine subscriptions and gym memberships. Keep on top of the best phone, gas and electricity deals and continue to check at least once a year that you’re still getting the best value for money.
Here are a few areas that you should be able to save money on regularly:
By planning your main meals weekly or even monthly in advance, you’ll be able to buy food in bulk, cook it and freeze it. You may be able to save yourself a good chunk of money each month by doing just this.
The best way to do this is to generate a weekly menu, making sure that nutritious hearty meals are on the list that all the family can eat. Foods such as bolognese, chilli, vegetable curry, casseroles and soups are really good to cook in bulk and freeze because they go further by adding more vegetables and liquids to them.
Stock up on plastic containers suitable for the freezer and you’re good to go. Frozen vegetables are good to buy because they last much longer than fresh vegetables and are still very nutritious too. Spend less money on unhealthy snacks like chocolate and crisps but spend a little more on fruit and yoghurts to make sure that you can feed your family well even on a tight budget.
It’s also well worth shopping around at different supermarkets to get the best deals. You can use sites like My Supermarket to compare the prices of products at each of the major supermarket chains. Whilst it might seem like a hassle shopping at more than one supermarket, it could free up more money than you think.
2. School uniform
It can be really expensive to kit your children out in their school uniform especially if the school insists on the pupils wearing school branded clothing. So it’s worth checking the school’s policy on unbranded uniform items in the first instance.
Supermarkets like Asda, Sainsburys and Tesco sell plain school uniform items for a fraction of the cost of branded uniforms from specialist retailers. Kids grow out of their clothes so fast too so it can leave you out of pocket before you know it.
You may find that other parents are willing to sell their own children’s uniform to you second hand once they have outgrown it. All you need to do is ask and don’t be embarrassed to do so because the chances are that most parents are looking to save money in some way or another!
3. Second hand clothes and toys
Speaking of buying second hand clothes, if you need to save money and pay off debts, then buying new clothes and toys should be your last priority. You can pick up some great used bargains on eBay, Gumtree and even through your local area’s facebook groups if you have them.
Make sure your kids understand your situation
When you’re having to cut back on costs and focus on debt repayments, inevitably, you are going to have to say ‘no’ to certain things that your children want which cost money.
Saying ‘no’ to your kids is fine and should be done as long as it’s explained in the right way so that your kids don’t think they are being punished in any way. It’s actually good to say ‘no’ to your children if they want something that costs money from time to time anyway because it’s important that you teach your children about the value of money. By the way, you may be interested to know that part 3 of the Managing Debt with Kids series will focus on just that – teaching your kids about money.
Free or cheap things to do as a family
Even though the debts need to be carefully managed and tackled and your budget will be tight, it’s still important to make sure your kids are happy and you get to spend quality time together with them.
Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean that you and your kids can’t have fun. There are plenty of cheap or free things that you can do as a family such as trips to the seaside or local nature reserve. Take a picnic with you instead of eating out in a restaurant. Camping trips are much cheaper if you intend to take a holiday than staying in a hotel somewhere and your kids will probably benefit in many ways from that kind of experience.
Focus on ‘experiences’ rather than ‘things’. Going swimming is a fairly cheap family activity and going on a family bike ride is even cheaper (as long as you all have a bike!). There are often cinema deals where kids can see a film for next to nothing on a Saturday morning for example. If you decide that you want to take your kids to a zoo or theme park as a special treat, why not check to see if you can get a voucher or coupon beforehand to lower the price first?
Being in debt and raising a family at the same time doesn’t mean that you can’t ‘live’. But you do need to get in control of your debts and your overall finances by budgeting carefully and planning ahead. Focusing on giving your kids experiences (free or cheap) can only be a good thing. And whilst you’re continuing to manage your money well, paying off your debts should be at the forefront of your mind.
In case you missed part 1 of the Managing Debt with Kids series, here it is: Paying off debt with a family to support. Why not subscribe by email to make sure that you don’t miss part 3?
Author Bio: As well as writing for Debt Advice Blog, Hayley also writes about how she’s paying down debt over at her website A Disease Called Debt. There you’ll find further reading on how she’s managing debt with a family as well as a whole bunch of debt payoff tips. You can also follow Hayley on Twitter.