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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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Family fun on a dime

Krissy Powe of Belleville took the occasion of the New Year to get busy getting her family of eight's finances in order.

"My husband and I knew we needed to do some things differently," Powe says. "We'd like to go on a trip to California to visit my husband's grandmother, and I'd like to pay off some debt."

But after putting together a solid budget and beginning to account for where their money was going, Powe and her husband realized they did not have as much money as they thought they did.

"We make money to cover our expenses, but aren't able to save much," she says.

To turn the family's financial tide, Powe, her husband and her six children began by making small changes in their everyday lives.

"We no longer go out every weekend with the kids," she says. "When you have six kids and you go out for an evening, it's going to cost at least $100. We do more at home now. That means we have to be creative sometimes, so we look for free or inexpensive things to do."

Powe explores event calendars, like the one found in Metro Parent, to find family events and activities that are no or low cost. Likewise, she is a fan of Groupon and LivingSocial, both of which offer discounts on family activities like laser tag, bowling and skating.

"We even did a mall scavenger hunt that lasted three hours," she recalls. "The kids absolutely loved it, and it didn't cost us a thing. It was also way more memorable than any movie we could have taken them to."

Mom of two Debbie Sprawka of Plymouth Township says the best advice she has for families looking to save is to take advantage of their local library.

"Not only are there lots of free family and children's events, but you can check out games and DVDs at no cost," she says. "We love our family movie nights watching DVDs we rent from the library.

"We've also taken advantage of the library's organized family fun nights, story time, LEGO nights, juggler and magician."

Sprakwa checks local government websites, too, to peruse event calendars for free activities. This month, other options range from Sunday kids' activities at the Detroit Institute of Arts (free to tri-county residents) to the FestiFools parade in Ann Arbor – and no-charge Earth Day events, too.

"I think people would be amazed at how much there is to do for free," she says.

Supermarket savings

In addition to adjusting how her family spends free time, Powe has sharpened her focus on how her family spends dollars on groceries.

"Groceries are one expense I can control," she explains. "So I started shopping smarter and using coupons. I began reviewing the ads for sales. I go to the fruit market which, while out of the way, carries produce for prices that are even better than sale prices at my usual grocery store. I also shop at multiple stores to get the best deal."

Taking all of these steps has saved Powe $200 a month off her grocery bill.

"I have also become more aware of what items we're running low on at home, so I can buy them when they're on sale instead of at full price at the last minute," she adds.

It's this kind of forethought and planning that has become habit for mom Melissa Jennings of Independence, Ky. who, along with her friend Shelley King, founded StockpilingMoms.com in 2008. Through the site and their Savvy Saving Book, Jennings and King share their knowledge of couponing and stockpiling groceries to save big. It is through these tactics that Jennings says she has been able to whittle her grocery bill down to only $200 a month for her family of three.

"Before being diagnosed with celiac disease, that figure was closer to $150 per month," says Jennings, who attributes the increase in her grocery bill to now eating only organic and gluten-free foods, which tend to cost more. "There's definitely a 'coupon high' you get when you save more money than you spend. It's exciting."

At the core of her grocery savings strategy is an emphasis on buying large quantities at rock-bottom prices.

"We consider 'rock bottom' to be 50 to 70 percent off," she says. "Something may be on sale for $1 at the grocery store. If that store doubles coupons and you have a 50-cents-off coupon, you get that product for free. Don't buy just one; buy enough to last your family through the sale cycle."

Jennings admits that it takes a good three months to build a stockpile and realize big savings. But now that Jennings has her stockpile well established, instead of jumping in her car when she needs something to bake a cake, she walks down to her stockpile in the basement, where she shops from the shelves lined with goods she has accumulated throughout the year.

"Don't go to the store and pay retail," she says. "Go to your stockpile. In addition to saving money, you'll be saving time and gas."

For her part, Buckles adheres to a formula for grocery savings that consists of one-third meal planning, one-third stockpiling and one-third couponing.

"First, buy what you need around sales," she explains. "To do so, you need to start paying attention to sale cycles, so that when boneless skinless chicken breasts go on sale once a month, you take advantage and buy for the entire month. Lastly, use coupons. People get overwhelmed with couponing, but I reassure them that you can do the basics of couponing by devoting only one hour a week to clipping and organizing. In the end, you can realistically save up to 50 percent off your grocery bill."

Buckles is not a fan of the term "extreme couponing" that has become popular thanks to the TLC program of the same name.

"I call it 'realistic couponing,'" she says. "Start with your top 15 grocery items, those things you buy regularly. Keep a price book. Track the sale cycles, and then start stocking up. You can save $150-$180 a year on just one item."

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