How to Survive on a Low Income with Small Children

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Though it is difficult to raise a young family on a limited budget, it certainly is not impossible, which many people can attest to. A good place to start is to consider how your grandparents and great-grandparents likely used their time and learned useful skills to get things done. Plan a very specific household budget and stick to it as carefully as you can. Cut expenses where possible to keep the biggest costs down for your family.

  • Shop around for more affordable housing, considering all related costs such as utilities, fees or dues, taxes, insurance and commuting expenses. Rent out extra space that you own but can do without. Share housing with family or friends as a way to split costs. Provide management, maintenance or groundskeeping services in exchange for some or all of your rent. Try to take care of all small home repairs promptly before they become larger and more costly.

  • Purchase foods that are considered "ingredients" or "staples" and aim for the most possible nutrition for your dollar. For example, buy vegetables, meat and rice, instead of a prepackaged stir-fry. Grate your own cheese, chop your own produce and get value packs of inexpensive meats that you can divide into smaller portions and freeze. Learn to cook in a slow cooker that tenderizes inexpensive cuts of meat and helps you prepare meals effortlessly. Eat at home or form a "supper club" with friends. Plan meals, control portions, purchase what's in season, garden or patronize farmer's markets and shop weekly grocery specials.

  • Breastfeed your baby to eliminate the cost of formula. Work with a lactation consultant to help you get the hang of it. If you choose to feed your baby infant formula, check with the child's physician to see if it's okay to feed the baby generic (store brand) formula. The U.S. government requires that all manufacturers of baby formula adhere to strict guidelines, so they all are comparable in nutrition. You can join "baby clubs" online as well; these are manufacturer's loyalty programs that mail you newsletters and coupons for formula and diapers. Also, be aware that baby formula is often cheapest per ounce at a warehouse club, and powdered formula only costs about half as much as the liquid kind. As the baby grows, make your own baby food with a food processor or blender.

  • Ask a family member to babysit or call your local social services department for a list of licensed in-home childcare providers in your area. Check with nearby universities to see if their education or nursing schools maintain a list of babysitters. Swap child care with friends or join a babysitting coop. Trade services with a trustworthy stay-at-home parent, neighbor or retiree to get child care for free.

  • Talk to your local public health department to learn about sliding-scale community health resources. If you have health insurance, know what it does and doesn't provide, and talk to your doctor about reducing health-care costs. Shop pharmacies to find an inexpensive one and always request generic prescriptions from your doctor.

  • Take public transportation, carpool, walk or bike as much as possible. Keep your car tires inflated for fuel-efficiency and rotated for even wear. Change the oil and the air filter as recommended. Research the cost of repairing and operating a particular car model before you purchase it and have a trusted mechanic look over a used car before you buy it.

  • Wash clothing in cold water and dry it on a rack or clothesline instead of in a dryer. Decrease hot-water usage in your household by taking shorter showers and fewer baths, and switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs in all lamps and fixtures. Change HVAC filters at least every three months. Draw blinds or curtains in sunny windows throughout the day to reduce air-conditioning costs. Consider installing a programmable thermostat to save on energy costs.

  • Purchase almost anything you need for babies and small children from yard sales or consignment shops. You can find all sorts of baby gear, from strollers to toys to high chairs at sales such as these, and you can outfit your baby for very little as well. Or ask a friend who might be getting rid of baby clothes and other items if you could buy some things they no longer need. People are often delighted to hand off or sell their children's outgrown items to someone they know.

  • Purchase clothing at the end of each season, adjusting for size so that items will fit your children the following year. Purchase gifts and decorations during post-holiday clearance sales and store them for future use. Enjoy the library, your local parks and recreation facilities and free community events. Bake with your kids and make homemade versions of restaurant treats, run errands together, play games as a family and do home-improvement projects together. Your children will learn and you'll all benefit from the shared time.

Tips & Warnings

  • Check churches, schools and neighborhoods in your area for large yard sales or consignment sales.
  • Consign your baby's and children's outgrown items or sell them at your own yard sale.
  • Never purchase a used car seat from a yard sale or consignment shop, and only buy one from a friend if you can be absolutely sure that it has never been in a car accident.

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