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How to Cut Expenses on the Family Budget (8 Cuts to Make)

Cutting spending with a family? You’ve got challenges not faced by single people. Find specific ideas for how to cut expenses on the family budget.

Let’s face it: cutting expenses looks a lot different for a single person than it does for a person with a family.

family playing out back on a tire swing, text overlay "how to save money when dealing with a family budget - 8 actionable ideas"

How to cut expenses on the family budget, especially when:

  • You have to manage multiple people spending from the family money pot
  • Kids’ stuff, sports, and school events cost so much
  • There are bound to be objections from someone

Not to worry.

I’m going to share with you a bunch of ideas for how to cut expenses on the family budget – simply choose the first one you want to try and tweak as you go!

How to Cut Expenses on the Family Budget

When figuring out how you’re going to cut expenses on your family’s budget, first read through all of the below, and then take action on just one idea that gets you excited.

After you master that? Come back and take action on another.

Also, be sure to check out these family budgeting tools to help you keep your money in check.

1. Transfer Some Money Responsibilities to the Kids

If you’ve got older kids, then you need to start asking yourself what should be included in a family budget vs. what should your teens be responsible for.

That’s because some of the items in your family budget, you might want to give as money responsibilities to your teens.

Especially if you:

  • Give your child an allowance/earned chore commissions OR
  • They have an outside job

Handing over money responsibilities WITH money is one of the very basic pieces of advice I give on my site, Money Prodigy when I guide parents on how to teach kids financial responsibility.

After all, how many of us parents have money without money responsibilities, and obligations to pay for? I would venture to say, zero of us.

A few money responsibilities you can take off of the family budget ledger, and give to your teens (just suggestions – obviously what you choose to do is up to your comfort level and your own values):

  • Weekend entertainment costs (when they go out with friends)
  • Extra clothes
  • Friend’s birthday presents
  • Data usage on their smartphone
  • Car insurance/oil changes for their car
  • Horse riding lessons
  • Summer camp

2. Dial Back the Reward Inflation

Do you ever notice how rewards tend to get inflated after a while? Meaning, you need to up the ante on what a reward is for it to still feel rewarding?

Like, suddenly instead of getting an ice cream cone from the drive-thru at the end of the semester, your child expects an ice cream cone for each of their school accomplishments (no matter how small).

Or, instead of the occasional eating out for a well-played sports game, eating out gets to be the norm after Saturday game time.

That can get mega-costly, especially with multiple family members to give them out to.

You need to dial back the rewards in your home and instead, make them ones that cost any money (or hardly at all).

For example, a reward can be:

  • Getting to choose the family movie on family movie night
  • Getting to have their best friend sleepover on the weekend
  • Getting to choose the next family hike location
  • Getting to pick what you cook for dinner this Friday night
  • Etc.

Pssst: in case you want to hear more about rewarding yourself for less, here’s 365 ways to reward yourself for $5 or less.

3. Choose One Activity Per Child, and Cut the Rest

Maybe several activities are fine when you have 1-2 kids. But when you have more (or when you need to tighten things up)?

Well, sometimes it’s a good idea to limit each child to 1 extracurricular activity.

Hint: it’s helpful to give kids a head up, if at all possible, before cutting activities. You could always make the decision, then let them know to expect the changes next fall/the start of next season/after this season ends.

4. Do a “Wise Man”, 3-Gift Approach for Christmas

Has Christmas and gift-giving in general gotten a bit out of control?

Cut expenses on your family budget by limiting Christmas gifts to three per child.

Depending on how badly you need to cut expenses, you could choose to give two needs and want, or 1 need and two wants, to also cover some of your other buying occasions.

5. Do a Family-Wide, No Spending Challenge

I write a good bit about no-spending challenges as a way to cut expenses and save money. In fact, you might have heard of these before.

But did you ever think of doing a family-wide no-spending challenge?

My favorite no-spend challenge ideas for families:

  • Make a Family Leaderboard: reward points for various things during the family no-spend challenge, such as 1 point for substituting a buying occasion with a good idea, or 1 point for coming up with a free entertainment idea for the family.
  • Ask Each Member to Come Up with a Rule: It’s a good idea to focus on a theme or just one area of spending during each no-spend challenge you do. For a family challenge, ask each member to come up with one area of spending they’ll focus on to bring overall family spending down.

Psst: for even more tips to decrease spending on a family budget, check out my 5 surprising ways to cut household costs.

6. Buy in Bulk, But Divvy Out Normally

I love the idea of buying in bulk and buying several things for our household from places like Costco.

But you know what? I found that oftentimes when I bought something in bulk, we would just consume more of it (versus it lasting for twice as long).

Do you know what I do now?

I repackage the bulk items into a “normal” package from before. When that is gone, it’s gone, until the next normal shopping trip where I replenish with one more cycle of the bulk product.

Let me give you some examples so I can explain this better:

  • Cokes: My husband loves a good coke! However, when I finally figured out I could buy these in bulk and they would cost less, I also figured out that when I simply put the bulk-sized packaging in the fridge he would consume more. Instead, I keep one of those 12-pack refrigerator cases and then put 12 in once per week after doing our normal grocery shopping trip. When they’re out, they’re out, until next week.
  • Bulk Gouda Cheeses: You know those totally snackable, little round gouda cheeses? I started buying them in bulk at Costco for myself…and then realized I was eating way more than I normally would. Now, I put the “normal” amount of them in the front of our cheese/meats bin, and the rest in the back. Once a week, I replenish from the supply in the back.
  • Bulk Meats: The first thing I do after purchasing a bulk package of meats – like, while my husband is unloading groceries – is whip out our freezer bags and separate them into normal-sized amounts (so, 3-4 pieces of meat per bag). My Mom’s been doing this for years, so I got this habit from her!

7. Get a Coupon Book for Your Area

Do you know those travel coupon books you can buy for like $35 or so (one is called the Entertainment book)?

Well, consider purchasing one for your area. You’ll get some decent discounts for attractions around you that will help keep your whole family entertained, for less than you would normally pay when going out.

8. Audit Your Kitchen Habits

Let’s be honest: probably one of the top costs of having kids comes from the kitchen area.

Dinners, packing them lunches, breakfast, and the snacks, snacks, SNACKS.

I’ve been working on auditing our habits in this area for years, and I think it’ll make a big difference for you, too (so will making things fun – here are fun meals to make as a couple).

Meaning – I’m going to give you several real tweaks we’ve made to decrease costs and increase efficiencies in our kitchen, but don’t attempt to do all of these at the same time.

At least for me, too much change at once means I’ll just abandon it all. Instead, I like to tweak one thing at a time until it’s part of our natural habits, then move on to the next.

Psst: you'll also want to check out these fun Saturday night family dinner ideas to use instead of going out.

Kitchen Habit Ideas We’ve Used:

  • Switched Cleaners: About 7 years ago (or more), I stopped spending money on counter/stovetop/surface/floor cleaners and instead bought a bulk thing of white vinegar. We mainly use white vinegar and water now for most of our cleaning! Do you know the insane amount of money we’ve saved over the last 7 years with just this one change? Not to mention, we eliminated tons of chemicals from our house. (Note: you shouldn’t use vinegar and water everywhere…but for us, it’s worked on pretty much everything we have).
  • Reusable Cleaner Cloths: I gave up using paper towels about 10 years ago. My husband, however, did not (haha – see? Having others involved when trying to figure out how to cut expenses on the family budget can cause some frustrations even in our own household). For years, we used mainly cloth towels and washed them, but I found that they got gunky with our hard water. Now? We use a more expensive version that was gifted to us, but it’s just like the more affordable E-Cloth, which removes 99% of bacteria (not to mention, gets our counters the SHINIEST I’ve ever seen them – they’re actually fun to use).
  • Reusable Snack Pouches: I just so happened to score one of these reusable snack pouches for free, and LOVE how it replaces the need for plastic bags. Easy way to pack snacks for our little guy for school pick-ups and road trips.
  • Food Can Covers: I don’t know about your house, but in ours, we routinely use part of a can of something and need to store the rest in the fridge. I would use a plastic bag to do this but then got tired of such waste. Instead, I purchased these cat food can lids (one small can lasts our cat three days), and then these regular can lids and they work so great to cut down on waste!
  • Batch Cooking: Not only do I find batch cooking to add a ton of efficiency to our food prep, but it also saves money. Why? Because you use up the ingredients you have, and you aren’t tempted to eat out.

And one other that I want to detail a bit here, with my exact process: batch cooking my lunches.

I work from home, and I need something quick and healthy to get me excited about lunches (even more excited than the thought of hitting up a Chick-fil-A on the way home from picking our preschooler up).

What I do is use these three recipes I’m about to share, and prep the ingredients that take time, ahead of time. For example, I would cook two chicken breasts in the oven on the weekend while we’re hanging out anyway, and then the dressings that go with each recipe.

On the day of, I simply put it all together.

Recipe #1: BBQ Chicken Bowl

Can. NOT. Get enough of this stuff. I use this recipe, as a base, but I don’t really follow it all. Instead, I use this simple coleslaw dressing from here.  

The coleslaw, I find cheaply bagged near the lettuces at the grocery store. The sweet potato (these make your home smell delicious) and chicken breasts, I cook ahead of time in the oven on the weekend. Then, I make the dressing. I skip the pickles (but if I have some leftover pickled red onion in the fridge that I make homemade? I’ll use those).

This lasts me for 3-4 lunches throughout the week!

Recipe #2: Salmon Mason Jar Salad

Here’s another lunch recipe that changed my life!

I buy frozen salmon fillets (wild, not farmed), then cook one on the day of. I make the rice or quinoa and the dressing ahead of time on the weekend, and then I eat a delicious, hot lunch for several days.

Sooooooo good.

Recipe #3: Chinese Chicken Salad

I scored this awesome and simple recipe from the book, The Frugal Foodie Cookbook, and can’t find it on the internet (I was SO looking forward to sharing this with you…).

Here’s a close version.

I use almonds or walnuts, whatever I have on hand, and a bag of coleslaw with some shredded carrots added in. Then I make the dressing and cook two chicken breasts ahead of time, and each weekday I simply have to assemble it.

I seriously could lick the plate, it’s so good.

Psst: Any of these could be used for quick weeknight dinners, or to pack for yourself/your husband to pack for you.

I hope you'll take these tips on how to cut expenses on the family budget and start to apply them. What I've found is that the more you work at it, the more other savings ideas will be revealed to you…starting a nice snowballing effect towards greater savings.

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Amanda L Grossman

Personal Finance Writer and CEO at Frugal Confessions, LLC
Amanda L. Grossman is a writer and Certified Financial Education Instructor, Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Frugal Confessions. Over the last 13 years, her money work has helped people with how to save money and how to manage money. She's been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, LifeHacker, Real Simple Magazine, Woman's World, Woman's Day, ABC 13 Houston, Keybank, and more. Read more here or on LinkedIn.