African-American mother and daughter grocery shopping in produce aisle
African-American mother and daughter grocery shopping in produce aisle

6 best budgeting strategies for a family

If you believe it’s finally time to get your family’s finances in order once and for all, at First Financial Bank, we know exactly where to start.

It’s time to develop a family budget.

It’s a simple sentence, but that doesn’t mean it's always so simple to take action on—especially when you’ve got a family. People get busy, money somehow starts to seem tighter, and family conversations about money aren’t something that you may have ever done before. But remember, financial planning is part of taking good care of your family.

Here are 6 budgeting strategies for a family

1. Take Inventory of Your Expenses

Do you want to create a family budget but don’t know where to start? A good place to begin is to collect information. Collect all of your bills, paycheck stubs, bank statements, grocery receipts, and monthly subscriptions, and write them all down.

It can be helpful to create a spreadsheet that keeps track of all of the money coming in or going out of your household. This will show you exactly where you need to be cutting back, what you need to prioritize, and how can you be more frugal as a family. Online money managment tools like Insights can help you categorize your spending and better understand your money habits.

You can’t properly manage your spending if you don’t know how much you’re spending on groceries, utilities, and going out to eat. Once you have access to all of this information, you can create a budget. Determine what areas of spending can be cut back or eliminated. If you have the intention of saving money but no plan, you will become frustrated and this will be inefficient.

A budget lays bare what steps you can take today to save more money instead of playing a guessing game or feeling guilty when you make a larger purchase. With a plan in place, you can account for certain expenses and fit them into your budget.

2. Develop SMART Goals

The trick to staying on track and holding yourself accountable when it comes to budgeting is to keep your goals specific and attainable. To make sure your budgeting goals are realistic, follow the SMART rule:

  • Specific: Keep your goals simple and well-defined so they don’t become too confusing to track.
  • Measurable: There should be specific criteria to measure any progress made towards achieving the goal so you know if you’re succeeding or not.
  • Achievable: You want to push yourself to save more but these budget cuts should be attainable, not impossible.
  • Realistic: Keep your goals reasonable and practical. Your budget should be relevant to your spending habits but you don’t need to avoid spending altogether. Budgeting isn’t about depriving yourself, it’s about living within your means.
  • Timed: You should have a defined timeline that establishes the start and end dates of your budgeting goals. This holds you accountable to maintain a certain budget for a certain amount of time.

For example, let's say your goal is to save $100 a week over ten weeks. Other objectives might include:

  • Steadily increasing the amount of money you have set aside for your emergency fund to $10,000 over an 18-month duration.
  • Putting $50 a month into college savings account for your kids.
  • Saving $5,000 for a special vacation in the next 12 months.

These goals create great incentives to budget properly, knowing that you’re working towards a worthwhile reward. Then, you need to calculate the amount of money you should set aside to achieve these goals. If you’re new to budgeting, a popular suggestion is to start setting aside 2% of your monthly income into a savings account.

3. Manage Your Debt

Another consideration to take into account besides the amount you are earning and spending is how much you owe. Have you taken out loans? Do you have a car payment? Have you racked up a lot of credit card debt? While you may not be in the financial position to pay off all of your debts right away, you can create a debt management plan that will lower interest rates and put you in the best position to work toward paying this off. Any good budgeting plan worth its salt should include a plan to eliminate or greatly reduce existing debt. Otherwise, you will continue to pay sky-high interest rates over long periods. Consider things like debt consolidation, paying more than the minimum payments to reduce the length of loans, reducing your debt-to-income ratio by paying off debt and avoiding taking on more, and asking for lower interest rates.

4. Get the Kids Involved

One of the most overlooked budgeting strategies is to get the entire family involved – that includes your children! Have a conversation with your kids to let them know that you are budgeting, as a family. Ask them for their help by communicating with them what things they would be willing to give up temporarily or cut down on. Incentivize their cooperation by letting them know that if you can successfully stay on budget for the next 12 months, you can go on that dream vacation as a family. Discuss what things your kids want and what they need. Your children may need internet access for school, but they may not use that Netflix subscription enough to justify the monthly payments. You would be surprised what children and teens are willing to sacrifice in the present in the hopes of a more substantial reward in the future. With their help, you can cut down even more on costs. This can also be done in smaller ways by asking your children to turn off the lights when they’re not using them, to take shorter showers, and avoid setting the thermostat too low in the summer or too high in the winter.

5. Negotiate & Make Smarter Choices

When it comes to the things you’re already paying money for, whether that be a cell phone provider, cable, premium subscriptions, or groceries, you need to be thinking carefully about how you can make subtle changes or get better deals. If someone in the family is a good negotiator, it’s a good idea to call up your phone, cable, or internet provider to ask for a better deal or to shop around for more affordable plans. Sometimes it’s as simple as threatening to cancel your plan to get offered a better deal. Consider all of the services you’re paying for and what you can live without. If your family hardly ever watches TV and has a streaming service subscription, then is it worth it to pay for cable? Do you need unlimited data on your phone plans if you’re always connected to wifi? These are decisions you can decide as a family.

6. Budget for groceries

If it seems like groceries are getting more and more expensive with each passing month, it's becuase they are. In fact, grocery and restaurant prices increased 2.2% from February 2023 to February 2024,1 and prices are expected to increase a total of 2.5% in 2024.2

But you have more control over your spending than you might think. Here are some tips to help stretch your budget at the grocery store and cut back on price-related stress.

  • Come up with a meal plan. Plan your meals for the week ahead of time. This will help cut back on impulse-buying and help you stick to the grocery list. Don’t forget to check your fridge and pantry for ingredients you may already have.
  • Freeze your meals. If you have leftovers, don’t be afraid to freeze your meals. It’s not only convenient during busy weeknights, but it will help cut back on food waste. From bread to chili, you can freeze more thank you might think.
  • Order curbside pickup. If you find yourself putting everything that looks good in your cart, try ordering your groceries online. All you have to do is drive up – no browsing needed. It will help you stick to your list and buy the things you actually need. Not to mention it’s fast and convenient.
  • Shop in season. Make meals with produce that’s in season. If you’re buying strawberries in January, they’re not only going to be marked up, but they’re not going to taste very good. Instead, buy apples or squash in the winter, and save the pineapples for June.
  • Don’t shop when you’re hungry. It may sound silly, but when you’re hungry, everything seems to look good. If muffins, ice cream, and potato chips aren’t on the grocery list, but you find yourself reaching for them at the store, it may be better to eat at home before heading out.
  • Plan around sales and coupons. You don’t have to buy food on sale just because it’s on sale. But you can plan your meals around upcoming coupons and sales. If you know meat goes on sale on Tuesdays and you’re making cheeseburgers on Thursday, take advantage of the reduced prices. And if you have physical or digital coupons, see if there are any that coordinate with your grocery list – many grocery stores send out weekly discounts in their ads. Try to avoid picking up 5 boxes of cereal just because it’s buy three, get two free.
  • Navigate the grocery store like a pro. The middle aisles are where grocery stores get your attention. With an abundance of processed (albeit delicious) foods available, it’s hard to resist picking up some Cheetos – especially when you have to walk through the chip aisle to get to the milk. Not to mention, grocery stores have a special tactic: they put the “best” (AKA the most expensive) food at eye-level and produce/essentials on the outskirts of the store. But if you know what to look out for, you can avoid their gimmicks and stick to your grocery list.
  • Join a wholesale club. If you have a big family or go through certain products fast, buying in bulk can be a wallet-saver. You’ll be spending more money upfront but saving overall with cost-efficient quantities.

Small habits can make a big difference in the long run. Budget calculators like the one below can help you track spending and decide how much money can be comfortably put towards food and groceries. Online money managment tools like Insights can help you categorize your spending and better understand your money habits. When you make a budget and stick to your list, you may find that trips to the grocery store aren’t so bad after all.

In Conclusion

When it comes to saving money and cutting down on costs, these five budgeting strategies will be useful in getting you started. While it will take some getting used to, altering your lifestyle can make you appreciate the rare occasions that you do splurge on, like a family vacation, new TV, or your child’s first car.

While budgeting will take some restraint, patience, and willpower, you don’t need to live an unsatisfactory life. Reward your family with small incentives throughout the year to keep you on track and to remind yourself why you’re doing this.

By combining a well-formulated budget and a personal line of credit, your family will have much more wiggle room when it comes to living expenses.