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Tips to Reduce Family Spending and Tighten Up Your Budget

April is Family Finance Month – the perfect time to get your money in order. Learn how to slash your expenses and save more cash for the future – for you and your kids

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After the birth of her second child, Melissa Buckles of Troy took a year's leave of absence from her job as a human resources manager for General Motors to give living on one income a go. Cognizant that living solely on her husband's salary would require some major lifestyle changes, Buckles got to work restructuring just about everything from her family's approach to grocery shopping to their cable TV plan and insurance premiums.

Her efforts enabled her to part from GM altogether following her leave – and have since equipped her with so much money-saving know-how that in 2010, she launched Bargain Shopper Mom, a website with budgeting, couponing and general family finance tips. In addition, Buckles now teaches classes throughout Oakland County to help others looking to shore up their own family finances.

"I'm saver and always have been," Buckles says. "I love a good deal. I've always been that person telling friends or people at the store how to save more."

April marks National Financial Literacy Month and the time of year when tax returns – or lack thereof -– have many families taking a closer look at just exactly how they are spending their precious dollars. Though the economy seems to be on the upswing, Michigan's December 2012 unemployment rate was still at 8.9 percent. And, according to personal finance guru Dave Ramsey, 70 percent of all consumers are living paycheck to paycheck – while the average American family would have to use a credit card to pay a $1,500 unexpected expense. Living on less is a harsh reality for many families who, perhaps now more than ever, are looking for ways to slash the family budget.

Taking stock of family spending

Financial advisors typically point to the crucial first step of creating a budget to begin getting your financial house in order.

"One of the biggest reasons that some people lose money each month is because they aren't tracking how much is coming in and how much is going out, often due to fear of reality and simple laziness," says Chris Miles, founder and cash flow expert at MoneyRipples.com. "I recommend spending a few minutes each week tracking and categorizing your money for the next six to 12 months. Set aside time each week to discuss your finances with your spouse and/or family members."

A popular tool for budgeting and tracking family finances is Mint.com, a site favored by Miles – and Crystal Paine, the Kansas mom of three behind the popular Money Saving Mom website, which averages more than 1 million unique page views each month.

"It's imperative to have a budget," Paine says. "If you don't, money just slips through your fingers. You need to be in control of your money. I also really like YouNeedaBudget.com and DaveRamsey.com for budgeting tips and tools."

In addition to a solid budget that your family sticks to, Paine recommends setting financial goals.

"Doing so will give you momentum to stock up with penny pinching," she explains. "If you're married, sit down with your spouse and discuss where you want to be in one year, five years, etc. Break that goal down into bite-sized pieces with weekly and monthly goals. It can be as easy as setting the goal of saving $40 that week. When you have goals – such as paying off a credit card or saving for Christmas – it motivates you and reminds you why you are driving a used car, taking a brown-bag lunch to work and clipping coupons."

Paine's other top money-saving tips include maintaining financial accountability by meeting monthly with your spouse or someone who can help you stick to your financial goals. She also suggests surrounding yourself with frugal, like-minded friends.

"When you're around people blowing money, you can be tempted to do the same – especially when you are brown bagging it and feeling sorry for yourself," she says. "Surround yourself with people of the same mind-set or find frugal friends online."

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