Q: Our family of five has had a busy summer. Our oldest worked two jobs saving up for a car and his education. Our younger two would have liked to work but are still too young. Between various day camps, spending time with friends, and going away to visit their cousins, their summer was full as well. While the busy summer led to a lot of fun in between everyone’s obligations, it also derailed our household schedule and routine. Staying up late, sleeping in, and being too lazy to cook much at home – how do we rein in our lives to get back on track, especially with our finances? ~Jen
A: After a few months of summer fun, September is the time many families resolve to get their life and finances back on track. The return to school followed by the changing of the seasons signals a restart for routines and a resumption of more regular schedules. Even for those who don’t have school-aged children, September often signals a renewed interest in one’s goals.
With the high cost of living, many Canadian families feel like they’ve fallen a long way off track, with little hope of freeing up enough breathing room in their monthly budget to make a difference. If your goal is to save money while reinvigorating your family’s routine, here are tips to consider.
Identify which areas of your spending require change
Changing your spending habits and household routine often go hand-in-hand, however, it’s about more than posting a new schedule or budget on the fridge. Before making any changes, it’s important to identify what you’re currently doing versus what you’d like to be doing. Have a family meeting to share your motivation behind getting back on track and ask for everyone’s input to make it happen. Talk about what’s working and what isn’t; your kids’ perspective might be very different from yours. For instance, teens might enjoy the food delivery driver bringing dinner because it means they don’t need to help with the dishes. Without insight from you, they have no way to fully appreciate how the additional costs are impacting your budget.
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Money discussions are a valuable learning opportunity for your children, but only share as much about your finances as you’re comfortable sharing. Look for ways to learn about money together so that your kids gain their money values at home rather than from their peers.
One way to gain family insights about your household’s spending habits is to track everyone’s spending for a week or two. If you’re not comfortable divulging the amount of your household bills, ask everyone to collect receipts for their discretionary spending so that at the end of the week, it’s possible to record everyone’s spending in one place. Tracking your household’s spending is a crucial step when you want to create better money habits. It helps you to identify what you’re doing with your money so that you can make changes and implement other choices.
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Manage changes as a team to avoid additional stress
We are creatures of habit and change can be hard, especially when we’re facing a lot of changes all at once. With school-aged children and teenagers, too many changes on the home front can compound the stress they’re experiencing with the start of a new school year. Work together and allow your kids to come up with how they can help implement steps that work toward achieving your family’s goals.
For example, if laundry tends to get out of hand in your home, let the kids identify what’s needed to manage it better. Their ideas may include colour-coded or labelled laundry baskets, a weekly schedule of what is washed on specific days, or setting time aside in the weekly schedule to wash, dry, fold, and put away laundry on a set cadence. It may take trial and error to find the system that works best for your household, so avoid discouraging your kids’ ideas before they’ve been sufficiently vetted.
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Consider the impact of the cost of convenience on your monthly budget
Organizing a system to keep your household running smoothly is a big part of what it means for many families to get back into a school-year routine. It might mean setting up after-school carpooling, adjusting work schedules to ensure that one parent is available to manage busy mornings, or spending time on the weekend to do meal prep for the upcoming week. Your goals will help determine your organization system as well as the steps needed to achieve success. However, consider the cost of convenience as you re-establish your family’s routine.
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In our fast-paced lives, convenience is no longer just convenient; it’s an expectation. The unplanned costs for online ordering with pick up, disposable pods to brew a cup of coffee in just a minute or two, 24-hour convenience stores that sell pre-made meals, fast food plus delivery, and ride-hailing services through which you can order alcohol, all add up to a wallop to your wallet. However, some of the biggest reasons for the demise of a well-planned budget are found at the grocery store. Bagged salads, pre-cut vegetables, sandwiches and microwave-ready dinners, grated cheese, online ordering with grocery delivery surcharges — they all represent small conveniences that come with a big premium. While there are occasions when convenience is worth the price, incorporate sufficient time and planning into your routine to limit the need for such conveniences for when you truly need a helping hand.
The bottom line on spending habits that destroy a budget
A successful family plan will need everyone’s buy-in, so involve even young kids right from the start. Set realistic goals with actionable steps, and outline a workable household budget to help keep your spending decisions aligned with your goals. Be kind to yourselves as you work to re-establish your new normal and create new habits. Just like a journey of a thousand miles, one step at a time will help you achieve your goals.
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Peta Wales is President and CEO of the Credit Counselling Society, a non-profit organization. For more information about managing your money or debt, contact Peta by email, check nomoredebts.org or call 1-888-527-8999.