The summer holidays are nearly upon us, and it’s a time many parents worry (more than usual) about whether or not they can afford to keep the kids entertained. With a little planning and sensible behaviour, however, sticking to a budget is as easy as one, two, three.
Here, you’ll find eight budgeting tips and online resources to help you make the most of your money and have fun with your children, without blowing the bank. With this advice, getting into the habit of budgeting all year round and saving for holidays (or emergencies) will be easy. Got any budgeting tips to share? Share your advice with us in the comments below.
1. Know how much you’ve got to spend
It’s impossible to spend wisely if you don’t know how much you’ve got to spend in the first place. Use a budget planner, make yourself a spreadsheet using Microsoft Excel or even use a trusty piece of paper and pen. Whichever method you choose, be sure to:
- Be as accurate and honest as possible. It’s easy to see if your outgoings exceed your income, but you can only work out where there’s room to cut back by breaking the numbers down into specific categories, including housing costs, utilities, credit cards, savings, travel, etc.
- Work together with your partner, or even older children in your household. Budgets effect everyone, so the creation of such should be a team effort
- Review your budget on a regular basis to make sure it still meets your needs
- Set some ‘fun’ money aside, so you can still enjoy yourselves. Creating a budget that is all ‘save, save, save’ is not sustainable and much harder to stick to than one that allows you to do some of the things you enjoy as a family
2. Set up automatic savings transfers
When you know how much you can afford to save each month, set up an automatic transfer from your current account to your savings account to ensure you don’t fritter it away. Thanks to internet banking, you can set up online-only savings accounts with certain banks, quickly and easily. We recommend taking a good look around to find the best interest rates on offer, and to make sure the account offers the access you need, before committing to any savings account.
3. Don’t forget your shopping list
Whether you’re popping into town to buy your child a new school uniform or stocking up the fridge for the next week, make sure you’ve got your shopping list with you. Thinking about what you actually need before you leave the house will help to stop you wasting money on unnecessary items. Carrying a list will also ensure you don’t forget anything you were meant to buy!
4. Get savvy with your weekly shop
Feeding a family is never going to be cheap. However, there are simple ways you can cut back on the amounts you spend:
- Look out for decent offers. It may be tempting to gravitate to the ‘buy one get one free’ or ‘half price’ offer stickers straight away, but make sure you actually need what these promotions offer you
- Many supermarkets, including Tesco and Asda, offer price guarantees, where they offer to refund the difference if you discover you could have completed your shop cheaper elsewhere (in certain circumstances). This Guardian article offers a good overview of how such schemes work
- Take advantage of loyalty schemes, such as Tesco’s Clubcard or the Nectar Card, which Sainsbury’s and BP petrol stations are part of. Depending on the card, you can use the points you collect to get money off on various products and activities
- Check your receipt for any vouchers. Supermarkets like Tesco often run promotions for money off petrol if you spend over a certain amount, and high street pharmacy Boots often gives money off vouchers to their customers as well
5. Savings coupons
Make sure you check any local or national newspapers and magazines for any money-off coupons that are relevant to you. You can often find vouchers for things like money off online grocery shopping, or buy one get one free entry to a whole host of family attractions across the UK. However, it’s important to avoid being persuaded to buy something you wouldn’t otherwise purchase. Check bus tickets and the back of receipts for coupons, too.
6. Are you getting the support you’re entitled to?
Whether you’re employed or not, there are a number of benefits that families are entitled to, implemented to help them with everyday living costs. For example, childcare and tax credits, and free school meals. Visit Gov.uk to find out about these various benefits, their eligibility criteria and how to apply for them. Even an extra £20 a month can help!
7. Compare utility bills (and don’t accept renewals without doing your research)
There are now so many comparison sites out there for utilities, insurance and much more, you’d be silly not to use them. If you’re coming to the end of your car insurance cover, for example, don’t just take the renewal letter at face value. Make sure you use one of the sites listed above to make comparable quotes. If you find one that is less than the renewal quote you have been offered, contact your current insurer to let them know. They’ll most likely be keen to keep your custom, and may make an offer to match your more affordable quote.
8. Have fun in a smart way
Summer is all about family fun and just because you’re on a budget, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some quality time together. There are tons of low-cost or free activities you can do, no matter where you are in the UK.
- Head down to your local tourist information centre to discover any attractions in your area you may not even know are there
- Pack yourself a picnic and head off on a walk in the sunshine, either on a public footpath or at a local nature reserve. If you’re lucky enough to live in the same village as a National Trust reserve, you’ll most likely be able to get in free
- Get on your bikes. Thanks to the National Cycle Network, there are now many cycle paths across the UK that keep cyclists away from the roads – perfect for family outings
- Head to your local library. Not only can you borrow books for free, you’ll find DVDs, audiobooks and CDs available for a small fee too. Many libraries offer children’s activities during the school holidays too.
Who can help with family budgeting online?
If you’re looking for even more ideas to help you with family budgeting, check out some of the websites and Twitter accounts to follow below.
- Money Saving Expert – free guide to budgeting and managing your money (@MoneySavingExp)
- The Guardian – section of the website dedicated to family finances (@guardianmoney)
- NCT – information about family finances from the UK’s largest charity for parents (@NCTcharity)