Saving money can be tough these days.  It seems that everything keeps getting more expensive, and our paychecks just aren’t keeping up.  Below, we’ll look at a few things every family can do to stretch the budget a bit.


Make a meal plan

Before you do your grocery shopping for the week, plan out your meals for next week.  This eliminates the aggravation of trying to decide “What’s for dinner?” and can make you less likely to decide on a fast food night out.  In addition to being less healthy than your typical home-cooked meal, fast food costs more than twice as much.  Planning and shopping for next week’s meals all at once can also make you more likely to resist impulse buys at the supermarket.  A longer list of (truly) necessary items leaves less room in the cart (and the weekly shopping budget) for too many extras.  


Reuse and recycle

Disposable goods are usually pretty cheap and convenient, at least on the surface.  Does it really make sense to keep buying the same disposable items over and over when you could spend money once and be done?  For instance, consider washable cloth napkins instead of using paper napkins to do the same job.  You can save money in the long run, and reusable napkins result in less paper waste.  Paper cups and plates can make cleanup easy, but, again, it’s less expensive and less wasteful to stick with washable stuff whenever possible.


Another way to save money and reduce waste is to buy secondhand goods whenever possible and practical.  Instead of hitting the big-box bookstore to stock your kids’ bookshelves, try garage sales and secondhand stores.  Toys, games, and even bikes and scooters are also great secondhand purchases (provided they’re still in good shape, of course).  When it comes to furniture, you might be surprised at what amazing finds there are to be had at consignment shops and garage sales.


Before throwing anything out, ask yourself if the old item could be turned into something useful.  For instance, old towels and sheets can make great drop cloths or table cloths for kids’ projects.  They can also come in handy in the event of a plumbing disaster.  For items you’ve replaced or that your kids have outgrown that are still serviceable, consider selling the items yourself through a consignment shop or via a site like Craigslist.  At the very least, make an effort to donate such items to a local charity.  This keeps them out of landfills and could be a great money saver for another family.


Be energy efficient

If your windows are old and drafty, an investment in new ones can definitely pay for itself pretty quickly.  If that’s something that’s just not feasible for you, there are still a few ways to lower your energy bills that don’t require spending a bunch of money.  An inexpensive kitchen faucet that’s designed to be water efficient is a start.  You can also find similar models for bathrooms.  Getting everyone in the house to get into the habit of turning off the water while they brush their teeth can actually shave a decent amount off of your water bill, too.  If you know your household wastes a lot of water waiting for hot water to travel from the hot water heater to certain faucets, you might want to look into point-of-service water heaters.  They do represent an up-front investment that might not be affordable, but if you can afford such heaters, they can pay for themselves in the long run.


Central AC and heat can eat up a huge chunk of your electric bill.  If you know you should keep your thermostat higher in summer and lower in winter, but don’t think you’ll be comfortable, try raising (or lowering) the thermostat in several one- or two-degree increments over a couple of weeks.


Following these steps might not be your ticket to wealth, but they can help keep you from feeling like there’s too much month left at the end of the money!