I just read an alarming statistic. According to Bankrate.com the typical family with children under the age of 6 spends $239 per month going out to eat. What?
The context of the article was about saving money for a family vacation or summer vacation and included various ideas for reducing every day expenses so that more money could be directed towards the vacation fund. To combat the funds being used for dining out, the article suggested eating meals at home or having a “pantry” week where you don’t go to the grocery store and just eat from the supplies you already have at home. Both ideas seem reasonable at least to me.
Let’s start with the $239 per month for dining out. While our child is now 9 and the article didn’t give any statistics about families with children over 6, I’m guessing the monthly amount increases. I’m envisioning this money being spent on quick meals at drive-through restaurants and pizza nights in addition to an every now and then family goes into a restaurant for a sit down meal. As children get older and are involved in more activities on week-ends and after schools, I imagine that the dining out gets more frequent.
The frugal side of me just can’t seem to grasp this concept. Yes, there are times when it would be easier or more convenient to hit a drive-through than to prepare a quick meal. For example, earlier this spring, the boy was involved in play. Rehearsals began at 6:00 pm. At least one night a week he also had swimming lessons which ran from 4:30-5:15. The locations for the swimming lessons and rehearsals were 2 blocks apart. So, a sack dinner was prepared in advance for both the boy and the husband—who typically took him to swim lessons and then rehearsal—so that they could both eat before rehearsal. Imagine the savings from doing that for 6 weeks in addition to the gas savings of driving to/from a drive-through to purchase meals.
When the calendar calls for a particularly busy week of activities, I cook ahead over the week-end—getting the most out of my oven use by baking a ham, chicken breasts, potatoes, muffins, and anything else that might be beneficial for the week. This makes it easier to prepare meals at home or for on the go throughout the rest of the week.
So, our family has mostly mastered the “eat at home” for savings concept.
Now let’s tackle the “pantry” week. I’m going to add “freezer” to the pantry category. We typically do this especially before a vacation when going to the grocery store seems frivolous. (I get even more frugal right before a trip.) Since I stock up on sale items, the husband was making fun of the number of cans of pork-n-beans on our pantry shelves. I was banned from buying any more even when they were a great deal. Just last night he joked about some militia coming because we were hoarding food and if they took it we would still be left with cans of beans. I reminded him of the uneasy feeling he gets when the shelves are bare. And, just last night, I did a little shopping for food in our “freezer” and found bacon and shredded cheese.
Yep, we’ve got the idea of a “pantry” week that minimizes grocery shopping.
Other ideas the article had for reducing everyday costs to support vacation funds were:
- Reduce subscription services—such as cell phone, cable, etc. We’ve maximized our savings with all the discounts we could find to apply to our monthly cell phone bill. In addition to the monthly “points” that can be used for products and services, we get a 25% discount by combining various discounts for our carrier. As far as the cable bill, I phone our company at least once a year to negotiate the price for our cable/phone/internet package. I then lock in a discounted price by agreeing to a length of service. If I disconnect service before the end of the agreement, I would pay a penalty. Win/Win—the cable company knows they are going to get paid and I get a reduced rate for services. The last time, I negotiated for a two year term of service. No more surprises when opening the bill either!
- Sell your stuff. A garage sale may be on the agenda for later this summer!
- Consider cutting back on non-essentials—like going to the movies. This is similar to the “eat at home” idea for reducing costs. Our movie going is infrequent. The husband and the boy did go see The Avengers but they went during a matinee, which is less expensive, and I stayed home which reduced admission costs. Manicures and pedicures might fall into this category, too. I went all last year without a pedicure. I did get one recently as I received a gift card for Mother’s Day and used it to treat myself to a pedicure.
- Use your tax refund now—meaning that you change your withholding on your W-4 to reduce the amount of taxes being withheld from your paycheck. Your paycheck will increase almost immediately. Do the math carefully as there is a fine balance as you don’t want to end up paying taxes if not enough is taken out. We made this change a year ago. We did not have to pay taxes, but our refund was smaller as we had that money monthly on our paychecks.
- Use rewards and miles from credit cards to support your trip. We have taken advantage of frequent flier miles and frequent stayer incentives to support our travel and help us save money. My advice—sign up for frequent flier programs and frequent stayer programs on your very first flight or stay—or even before. We are flying US Air for our next trip and have already signed up for their frequent flier program and have it attached to our flight reservations. Often people think it isn’t worth it or that they aren’t going to do this again or they will sign up next time. It is easier to get points/miles for flights if you are signed up before than during or after your flight as you have to provide boarding passes as proof of flights. Sign-up early!
The boy’s first flight was when he was three weeks old and the husband and I had been traveling before that and we’ve continued ever since. It’s a priority for us to save money for family vacations and we have learned a thing or two along the way and continue to learn something from each trip or experience. If you have a special travel savings tip, please share with us via comments.