10 Family-Budgeting Secrets Mommy Bloggers Swear By

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Having a family is expensive. In fact, the estimated cost to raise a child from birth to 17 years old is $233,610, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While that’s undoubtedly a scary number, there are ways to keep costs down and the kids happy.

We chatted with five budget-conscious mommy bloggers (and one daddy blogger) about their top money-saving tips and how they keep their family on a budget. They’ve mastered everything from meal planning and child care to family vacations and birthday presents.

Here’s how they do it.

1. Meal planning

money saving tips

“We’ve all heard the common advice to make a list of meals for the week, write up a grocery list and only buy what’s on the list,” says Robyn of A Dime Saved. “I say do the opposite!” Yup, when it comes to figuring out how to feed her family on a budget, Robyn goes to the store, sees what’s on sale, and then plans her meals around what she buys.

“Tomatoes are on sale,” she says. “Go home and google tomato recipes. Is canned corn on sale? Look in your cookbooks for recipes with corn. Some of my favorite food recipes I found because I was searching what to do with food that I bought.”

Robyn also says this adds a bit of adventure and excitement to her family mealtime. “I discover new foods that me and my family like that we wouldn’t have thought of before,” she says. “I had a memorable meal two weeks ago where I tried tons of beet dishes because beets were dirt cheap.”

She adds, “I can save anywhere from $20 to $100 a week, or way more. It’s also a great feeling to know that you can feed your family on $20 a week if needed, which I have done.”

2. Student loan repayment

family budget

When budgeting for student payments, the first thing you need to do is figure out how much you can afford — whether you have a family or not.

Remember, your bill is not set in stone. If you have federal loans, there are many different loan repayment options to work with. If you just entered the job force and are having a hard time paying your bill, look into a graduated repayment plan. Your payments start small and then increase over time.

“Sometimes things happen in life, and you struggle,” says Kumiko Ehrmantraut, founder and creator of The Budget Mom. “For these times, I suggest looking into the income-based repayment plan. Your total due every month is based on your income, rather than the standard plan they initially set you up on. Make sure to talk to your loan provider and figure out your options.”

3. Family vacations

mommy blogger

“Travel during non-peak times if you have some flexibility around your children’s schedules,” says Cliff Hsia of Live, Family, Travel. “Not only are airports and destinations packed with people, everything is much more expensive. By flying during the offseason, we’ve saved at least $2,000 to $3,000 per international trip for our family.”

If traveling during the off-season is not feasible for your family, consider using credit cards with sign up and spending bonuses and incentives, and use those points for free nights at hotels and flights.

“With lots of credit cards offering rewards points there are many opportunities to accumulate a good amount of points to use for free nights at hotels and for flights,” says Cliff. “My personal favorite credit cards are Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred, and the Starwood Preferred Guest card. Every time we use points for hotels, we save at least $150 or more per night.”

While using points to pay for travel can certainly help with bringing vacation costs down, it’s important to make sure you can afford to pay down monthly balances in full. If you are unable to pay in full, then the accrued interest on purchases can counter any potential savings from points.

Cliff also advises staying in Airbnb apartments to save money on costly hotels. “For stays longer than a week, staying in Airbnbs makes a lot of sense,” he says. “You’ll get a kitchen, more space, and lower overall prices.”

For most of their travels around the world, Cliff and his family stayed in Airbnbs, which cut their accommodation costs by at least half. “On our trip through 10 countries in 10 months in 2015, we saved at least $10,000 in costs by staying in Airbnbs instead of hotels,” he says. “And our price for over a month-long stay in a nice two-bedroom apartment in the middle of Barcelona? $66 per night.”

4. Family activities

money saving tips

Finding ways to entertain your family can be difficult and expensive. That’s precisely the problem Peggy Chang faced when looking for ways to keep her kids occupied. That’s why she created ActivityHero, an online marketplace where you can shop for camps, after-school classes, workshops, and kids’ nights out.

What she learned from setting up the website was that you could save money on family activities by signing up for free workshops and events. “Many retail stores and shopping malls have free weekly or monthly craft or building activities,” says Peggy. “You’ll find free activities on ActivityHero.com, Eventbrite, Facebook or Nextdoor.”

Another one of her money-saving tips: “Save money on summer camps by getting early registration discounts, sibling and multi-session discounts. Look for value-priced camps that have a longer day if you need it.” Since camps can often be half days or full days, you’ll want to look for the ones that have the best per-hour rates. If you work a full-time job, finding a camp that has a full day of activities with a lower hourly rate can help with savings.

Regarding budgeting, make a category in your budget labeled “family fun” to allow for a little extra spending money for things like the amusement park or the zoo without breaking the bank. Kumiko recommends putting aside $100 a month if you can. Take whatever is unused each month and roll it into the next month. That way you can save up for a much bigger day out.

5. Kids’ needs

family budget

When it comes to clothes and back-to-school supplies, remember you don’t have to buy everything new. A great money-saving tip is to shop at secondhand stores for kids’ clothing.

“As a mom, you know that clothes don’t last long, so buying them new doesn’t make a lot of sense,” says Kumiko. “I make sure to buy clothes that are a little bigger so my son can grow into them. Also, I find that the best time to shop at thrift stores is when seasons change. It’s the time when people are cleaning out their closets or going through their seasonal clothes.”

In particular, Kumiko says a great time to go to a thrift store is around the first of the year. “People just got done buying new stuff during the holidays,” she says. “And are getting rid the old stuff to make room. It’s also the deadline for making donations that you can write off on your taxes.”

6. Mortgage/rent

mommy blogger

“For mortgages, consider refinancing when possible if it will drop your interest rates,” says Cherie Lowe creators of Queen Of Free. She went from having 22 years left on her mortgage to 15, saving her family around $50,000 if they go full term.

You will have to pay some upfront closing costs, which is why it’s important to do the math and find out how long it will take to recoup your closing costs. “If your rate lowers 1% – you are saving roughly $1,000.00 ($2,000.00 if 2% saved) for every $100,000 owed each year,” says Cherie.

For rent, check into referral programs your landlord might have, suggests Cherie. If you bring in a new tenant, some places offer a referral reward to you and the new resident. “When we lived in an apartment, we did this more than once,” she says. “If you live in a privately owned home and are in hard times, you may want to check with your landlord to see if there’s any way you could have your rent reduced for a set period of time.”

7. Transportation

money saving tips

When it comes to transportation, car issues can be one of the biggest expenses. “It’s never a question of if something is going to happen to your car that you will need to shell out money for, but when,” says Cherie. “Find a trusted mechanic and stick with the same one over a lifetime rather than hopping here or there to have the oil changed.”

She adds, “It may cost a little bit more but having a relationship with your mechanic can save you hundreds and even thousands of dollars over the years. A lot of chains work on commission and/or high pressure sales. A hometown mechanic can shoot you straight without overselling because they’re in it for a long term maintenance approach rather than one time shot based on a coupon or deal. This will keep your car up and running longer.”

Don’t know where to find one? “Ask your social network,” says Cherie. “People love to brag about reliable, worthwhile service.”

Cherie also advises putting time into maintaining your car as well as a preventive measure. You may have your hands full with the kids, but make it a point to regularly check your tires and tire pressure, get your oil changed regularly, and buy good windshield wipers.

8. Child care

family budget

Child care can be one of the most expensive parts of raising a child. According to 2016 Care.com member data, the average cost of a daycare center for infants is about $10,468 per year, but can go as high as $20,209 a year in some locations. Toddlers have similar pricing of about $9,733 a year. Opting for the nanny route? For one child, it will cost you about $28,905 a year, but can go as high as $32,677.

“If you don’t need a nanny 40+ hours a week, consider doing a nanny share,” says Juliet Izon of Juliet’s Married. “That’s when one nanny watches multiple children at once from different families. That way you’re not paying someone full time, but you can still attract candidates looking for a full-time salary.”

Juliet also adds, “Consider asking your boss if you can work one day from home and have your spouse or partner do the same. That way one to two days out of five working days are covered. That can add up to some big savings.”

If you average about $10,000 a year for child care, that’s about $42 a day. If two days a week are covered by you and your spouse, that’s over $300 a month in savings.

9. Holiday gifts

mommy blogger

Birthdays and holidays can be tough when it comes to both pleasing your children and your budget. To help pay off their $127,000 worth of debt, Cherie and her husband Brian stopped giving each other presents and put the money they would have spent towards their debt. But, when it came to their kids, they knew they couldn’t stop giving gifts.

“We’d always give each of our kids three gifts for Christmas,” says Cherie. “They get a book because reading is a gift, they get an item of clothing because not everyone gets a beautiful blue coat, and they get one big gift or electronic. They get something to open and at least one big item, which is all they need.”

Cherie also got creative with her stocking stuffers. “I actually use small pillowcases filled with practical but fun things like nail polish, junk cereal, a toothbrush, and bubble bath,” she says. “It’s practical and inexpensive items but feels splurgy. A huge box of goldfish was one of my daughter’s favorite gifts.”

10. Dining out

money saving tips

Just because you have kids doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a nice meal out. While meal planning certainly helps with the day-to-day expenses of feeding a family, there are still ways to save money even at a nicer restaurant when dining with children.

“At a restaurant with no kids menu,” says Juliet. “It never hurts to ask if they can do a half portion of an entree like pasta or chicken. You won’t be charged for an adult portion, which will go to waste and your little one can work on refining her palate, to boot.”

Interested in refinancing student loans?

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1 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

  1. VARIABLE APR – APR is subject to increase after consummation. The variable interest rates are based on a Current Index, which is the 1-month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) (currency in US dollars), as published on The Wall Street Journal’s website. The variable interest rates and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) will increase or decrease when the 1-month LIBOR index changes.

2 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student Loan RefinanceFixed rates from 3.999% APR to 7.804% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.480% APR to 7.524% APR (with AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loan. See APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 2.480% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 2.07% plus 0.91% margin minus 0.25% ACH discount. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, and the term of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. *To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit inquiry. Unlike hard credit inquiries, soft credit inquiries (or soft credit pulls) do not impact your credit score. Soft credit inquiries allow SoFi to show you what rates and terms SoFi can offer you up front. After seeing your rates, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit inquiry. Hard credit inquiries (or hard credit pulls) are required for SoFi to be able to issue you a loan. In addition to requiring your explicit permission, these credit pulls may impact your credit score
  2. Terms and Conditions Apply: SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet SoFi’s underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. To qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. If approved, your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, years of experience, income and other factors. Rates and Terms are subject to change at anytime without notice and are subject to state restrictions. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp., NMLS # 1121636. (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org)

3 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

  1. Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). The following table displays the estimated monthly payment, total interest, and Annual Percentage Rates (APR) for a $10,000 loan. The Annual Percentage Rate (APR) shown for each in-school loan product reflects the accruing interest, the effect of one-time capitalization of interest at the end of a deferment period, a 2% origination fee, and the applicable Repayment Plan. All loans are eligible for a 0.25% reduction in interest rate by agreeing to automatic payment withdrawals once in repayment, which is reflected in the interest rates and APRs displayed. Variable rates may increase after consummation. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.08% effective July 25, 2018.

4 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  1. Education Refinance Loan Rate DisclosureVariable rate, based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of August 1, 2018, the one-month LIBOR rate is 2.07%. Variable interest rates range from 2.72%-8.17% (2.72%-8.17% APR) and will fluctuate over the term of the borrower’s loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Fixed interest rates range from 3.50%-8.69% (3.50% – 8.69% APR) based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Lowest rates shown require application with a cosigner, are for eligible, creditworthy applicants with a graduate level degree, require a 5-year repayment term and include our Loyalty discount and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. The maximum variable rate on the Education Refinance Loan is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change. Please note: Due to federal regulations, Citizens Bank is required to provide every potential borrower with disclosure information before they apply for a private student loan. The borrower will be presented with an Application Disclosure and an Approval Disclosure within the application process before they accept the terms and conditions of their loan.
  2. Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer with the Education Refinance Loan. Borrowers should carefully review their current benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans and replace those with the benefits of the Education Refinance Loan. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit http://studentaid.ed.gov/. We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision at http://www.citizensbank.com/EdRefinance, including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
  3. Citizens Bank Education Refinance Loan Eligibility: Eligible applicants may not be currently enrolled, must be in repayment of their existing student loan(s) and must make the minimum number of payments after leaving school. Primary borrowers must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or resident alien with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. Resident aliens must apply with a co-signer who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The co-signer (if applicable) must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a co-signer will be required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at anytime. Interest rate ranges subject to change. Education Refinance Loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/consumer credit agreement, verification of application information, certification of borrower’s student loan amount(s) and highest degree earned.
  4. Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
  5. Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
  6. Co-signer Release: Borrowers may apply for co-signer release after making 36 consecutive on-time payments of principal and interest. For the purpose of the application for co-signer release, on-time payments are defined as payments received within 15 days of the due date. Interest only payments do not qualify. The borrower must meet certain credit and eligibility guidelines when applying for the co-signer release. Borrowers must complete an application for release and provide income verification documents as part of the review. Borrowers who use deferment or forbearance will need to make 36 consecutive on-time payments after reentering repayment to qualify for release. The borrower applying for co-signer release must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. If an application for co-signer release is denied, the borrower may not reapply for co-signer release until at least one year from the date the application for co-signer release was received. Terms and conditions apply.
  7. Average savings based on 18,113 actual customers who refinanced their federal and private student loans through our Education Refinance Loan between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017. The calculation is derived by averaging the monthly savings of Education Refinance Loan customers whose payments decreased after refinancing, which is calculated by taking the monthly student loan payments prior to refinancing minus the monthly student loan payments after refinancing. The borrower’s savings might vary based on the interest rates, balances and remaining repayment term of the loans they are seeking to refinance. The borrower’s overall repayment amount may be higher than the loans they are refinancing even if their monthly payments are lower.
2.57% – 5.87%Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Earnest
2.80% – 6.38%1Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Laurel Road
2.48% – 7.52%2Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit SoFi
2.47% – 7.99%Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Lendkey
2.57% – 6.65%3Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit CommonBond
2.72% – 8.17%4Undergrad
& Graduate
Visit Citizens
Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.