The Thrifty Parent’s Guide to Crisis Budgeting

When an unexpected expense or job loss hits it doesn’t just affect one person, it impacts your entire family.

Having an emergency fund is essential in these times but that’s rarely enough. You need to be able to pivot your budget to minimal expenses to get through the tough times quicker and avoid going into more debt.

Thankfully that doesn’t mean you need to live on ramen or turn off your heating and cooling. There’s always something you can do to combat crises and keep up with all your essential expenses while maintaining a full life.

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How to Cut Your Family’s Expenses In An Emergency

There are hundreds of ways to cut your budget but when catastrophe hits there are some actions that pack more punch with less effort. The more you can do to save money without thinking too hard, the more clarity you’ll have to deal with emergencies and make better decisions.

So here are six of the most impactful things you can do to get down to your bare-bones budget and survive any calamity.

1. Examine your current budget

Before you get too extreme, review your family’s current expenses and see if there are any obvious cuts you can make. Buying a lot of bottled water? Try getting a water filtration system. Buying a lot of paper towels? Try switching to reusable cloth napkins.

Look at what you’ve been spending money on and think about ways you can shave a little off in every category.

  • What can you do to lower costs by 10%?
  • Can you buy it in bulk?
  • Can you shop at less expensive stores?

If you try to reduce wasteful expenses and shave 2% to 5% off across all your budget categories, reducing your spending may feel less restrictive.

2. Grocery shop online

We’ve all been there before, you’re walking through the grocery store trying to find everything on your list while your oldest is asking for all the snacks (and probably sneaking some into the cart) while their younger sibling throws a tantrum because you took a glass bottle away from them.

The chaos involved with taking your family to the grocery store causes even the most organized parents to overspend. Avoid the inevitable and shop online from the comfort of your home.

Grocery delivery apps like Instacart allow you to shop without distraction and lower the temptation to impulse buy groceries you (and your family) don’t need. Then they’ll deliver your groceries to your door or you can save some money by picking them up yourself.

3. Meal prep on Sundays

Aside from your rent or mortgage, food is typically every family’s biggest expense. Meal planning is essential to saving money on groceries but the real unsung hero is meal prepping.

Here’s why: Monday and Tuesday I would do great with following through on my meal plan but by Wednesday I was either too tired or too busy to follow through and I would end up ordering takeout or pop a frozen pizza in the oven.

It cost me money I hadn’t budgeted for takeout and I wasted a lot of food. It wasn’t until I started prepping my meals on Sundays that I was finally able to stick to my meal plan, reduce my food waste, and kick my takeout habit.

You can choose to cook your meals on Sunday and reheat them throughout the week, chop vegetables and marinate meat for ready-to-go ingredients later, or do a combination of both. Either way, a little meal prepping on Sunday can save you a whole lot of money for the rest of the week.

4. Cancel your subscriptions

If you can’t remember the last time you went to the gym, it may be time to stop saying you’ll go and just cancel the membership. Same with your fun subscription boxes and every other recurring expense that’s non-essential.

If you’re having a hard time canceling subscriptions, try canceling all of them and bring back one per month in order of importance. This will help you figure out which subscriptions you can live without and which ones you can’t. You may be surprised by the ones you bring back and the ones you find creative free ways to replace.

I used to have an Audible subscription but when I got rid of it I was forced to look for ways to find free audiobooks, which led me to find the Hoopla app. Hoopla has thousands of Audiobooks and almost every Audible book I looked for was available for free on Hoopla!

5. Shop secondhand first

There are so many options for getting the things you need at a discount if you purchase them secondhand.

The thrift store is a reliable place to buy affordable clothes but you can also find high-quality secondhand items online. ThredUP is my go-to online thrift store, but I also like Poshmark and Mercari. eBay is a great place to find discounts on new products that might have a visual defect or are just open box returns from other stores.

When you buy quality used goods you can use the items for as long as you need and when you’re done, resell them for what you paid or a little less. Facebook Marketplace is a great place to do that with gently-used kids and baby items you won’t use for that long.

6. Find free activities

Weekend activities, vacations and the endless boredom kids seem to have can push a tight budget over the edge. But you can combat those sneaky expenses by being prepared with free activities and events.

Facebook Events is a great place to find all the free local events going on in your area, and your city may also have a Macaroni Kid newsletter filled with events specifically for families and kids.

You can also lookup games and activities you can do with your family at home so if you ever find your city in quarantine you have a plan.

The Budget May Get a Little Tighter But it Doesn’t Have to Squeeze Your Lifestyle

There are so many ways you can cut the number of things in your budget without sacrificing the quality. And when you make the choice to get creative or do without a few things now, you’re buying a rich life for your family in the future.

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