Real-World Strategies For Saving Real Families Real Money

saving-moneyWhen we followed our dreams–and Jon’s job–to Silicon Valley 7 months ago we knew we would be in for some changes. Some of the changes were welcome, like the consistent sunny-and-70-degree days. Some of the changes, however, would be challenging, like the crowds and the traffic. There is one challenge to living in Silicon Valley, however, that trumps everything else: it is so freaking expensive here.

According to several research indexes, Silicon Valley has become the #1 most expensive place to live in America. And I believe it. We feel the pinch every time we have to pay rent (which is nearly 3 times more expensive than our mortgage in Seattle), or preschool tuition (which costs more than my undergrad tuition in 2001), or the ridiculous water bill (a reflection on the area’s years-long drought).

And don’t even get me started on trying to actually own a piece of this overpriced land. The housing market here is so competitive that potential buyers literally stalk houses waiting for them to go on the market so they can pounce with their million-dollar cash offers before the dozens of other million-dollar cash offers roll in. Or, if they’re really savvy, they’ll buy the house before it’s even for sale (I have several friends who have canvassed potential neighborhoods with flyers touting their merits as human beings and potential homeowners, imploring the current homeowners to sell them their house off-market if they ever decide to move. True story). At any rate, the cost of living here is just plain stupid.

In order to help meet our budget, I’ve come up with some creative ways to save our family money. I’ve always prided myself in being a thrifty spender, and have always enjoyed the thrill of finding a good deal. Now more than ever before, I’m finding creative ways to save and spend wisely. I will now share with you, dear friend, some of my best real-world money-saving strategies:

Take your kids shopping with you
This is a simple strategy that will save you money every time you use it–plus, the more kids you have, the more potential you have to save money! First, put your kids in the shopping cart. Then, try to do your shopping. With all your kids in the cart, there will be no room  for anything but bread and milk, so you’ll be sure to save money on the grocery bill. If you can’t convince your children to sit in the cart, just set them loose in the store. It will only take about two minutes before your children have caused enough havoc to make you want to run out of the store screaming so, again, you’ll save money on the groceries you didn’t have the patience to shop for. Kids: best shopping buddies EVER!

Clip coupons
Sure, you can clip coupons and actually use them in a store. However, if you coupon correctly (yes, “coupon” is a verb) then you’ll be spending 10-20 hours a week compiling your coupons, scouting out the best deals, and shopping around town for your savings. But with two little boys keeping me busy at all hours now I find that by the time I have actually clipped and organized all my coupons, there is no time left to actually go shopping. And when you don’t have time to go shopping, you don’t spend money. Problem. Solved.

Go on a family vacation
Now this may seem counter-intuitive, because vacations cost money. Just hear me out, though. Here’s how it works: plan a nice little vacation for your family. Go through the stress of organizing the trip, packing ten million extra kid items, calming crying babies and rambunctious children on an airplane or a long car ride. Try to enjoy yourself when you reach your destination, but find that you can’t actually relax because even when you’re on vacation you’re still a parent. Get through all this, and you will realize that vacations just aren’t worth it. You’ll probably never go on another vacation again (or, at least, until your darling children move out of the nest). Think of it as an upfront investment for long-term pay-outs.

Skip the car wash
Who needs to pay someone else to wash the car when your kids’ favorite game is already getting wet and playing with bubbles? I say just strip down the kids, send them out with a bucket and some sponges, and call them in when both the car AND the kids are clean. Two birds, one stone.

Eliminate gym fees
Save yourself some time and money by creating your own workout routines away from the gym. After all, you probably already have some of the best workout equipment at home: your kids.  Children can be used as stretching partners, weights, or even foot holds. If you need some fit-spiration, just watch this power mama.

Let your children dress themselves
Most children I know tend to fall into one of two dressing categories: 1)They only like to wear one thing, and they will wear it every day until it withers away into a mere memory, or 2)They are tiny nudists who prefer to wear nothing at all. Either way, you’ll only need to buy your kids 1 or 2 outfits max.

So, there you have it. Real-world strategies for saving real families real money. Happy saving!

Saving Money On Family Travel

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Last week we went on our first official “just the four of us” family vacation to Dublin. One of the great benefits to living in Europe is that we can literally hop in our car and drive to some of the most fascinating places in the world. In fact, this was one of the main reasons we wanted to move to Ireland in the first place: to travel and see as much as we possibly can in the next 2 years.

Dublin was a bit of a reality check for us, though. Turns out, it takes more than time away from work and a sense of adventure to travel with a family: it takes money. Loads of money. Especially in Europe. But I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure a lack of funds doesn’t keep us from our fun!

Here are a few ways we’ve found to save money on our travel. With a little extra planning and some flexibility, you really can stretch a dollar (or Euro) pretty far.

1. Travel Off-Season

Everything costs more if you travel during your destination’s peak season. If you have some flexibility in your schedule, travel when the area isn’t as popular (it will save you lots of money, plus there will be fewer crowds to deal with). If you need to travel at a specific time (like when your kids have a break from school), see if you can find a location that is off-peak during your preferred travel time. Many areas in the Bahamas and South America, for instance, have killer deals in the summer months during their “rainy season”.

2. Save Money on Transportation Costs

IMG_3213My friends over at This Beautiful Frugal Life just did a great post on saving money on airfare–really, if you want to save money on flights, this is a great post. Once you arrive at your destination, you’ll still need to get around. Many cities have great public transportation that is both convenient and affordable. If you plan on renting a car, you can often save money by renting for a whole week rather than by the day and by returning the car to the same location that you picked it up from (most car rental companies charge a fee for returning your car to a different location). For our recent trip to Dublin, we decided to spend a little extra money to have centrally-located lodging so we could walk everywhere and not have to pay for parking or taxis. Which brings me to my next point…

3. Be Creative With Your Lodging

Long gone are the days where hotels were your only (or even best) option for lodging on a vacation. For our family with two children under the age of 3 (read: two children who take naps and don’t sleep through the night), hotels are actually a BAD option. I need bedrooms. With doors that lock. And a kitchen to prepare the 5,000 meals a day that they require. We love renting from vacation rental sites like VRBO and AirBNB. For the same price as a modest hotel room, you can rent a whole house (or, for the truly adventurous, exciting options such as a gypsy trailer or a houseboat!). We have had several great experiences with rentals from these sites, so I really don’t see hotels again in our future for a very long time.

And, if you get really desperate for sleeping space, you can always let your baby fall asleep in the stroller then disassemble said stroller to bring sleeping baby inside.

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4. Buy A Pass.

IMG_3109Most large cities across the United States and around the world offer some sort of “City Pass” that allows you to visit several attractions for one (relatively) low price. If you’re planning on hitting up several sites on your visit, these passes can save you a lot of money. If you are visiting a U.S. city with a Costco, you may even check the local warehouse for City Passes on a deep discount. In Ireland we were fortunate to have Heritage Pass cards gifted to us–the cards give us free admission to hundreds of national heritage sites and parks in Ireland for an entire year. On our trip to Dublin last week we saved about $50 per person by using our Heritage passes to visit castles, old prisons, and government buildings. Many cities and states have a similar pass for parks, museums and public spaces.

5. Save Money on Food

IMG_3200Next to airfare and lodging, food is usually the most expensive part of any vacation. We like renting places that have a kitchen so we can cook the majority of our meals at home (plus, our kids are picky little things so it’s a waste taking them out to eat, anyway). If you can’t (or don’t want) to cook for yourself, consider buying share-able ready-to-eat meals (pizza or rotisserie chicken, anyone?). You can also order your restaurant meals as take-out to save money on tips and service charges (as an added bonus, you can even make your meal into an adventure by eating in a local park or at the beach).

6. Check The Group Deal Sites

Most major cities around the world are featured on group deal sites such as Living Social and Groupon. Sign up for e-mail alerts from your destination city to purchase vouchers for your vacation. I’ve gotten great deals on hotels, restaurants, and attractions this way.

7. Find Your City’s Free Admission Days

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Several cities that I’ve visited have a “free day” where museums, art galleries, and the like are free on a certain day each month. In Seattle, we had free first Thursdays, and here in Ireland they have free first Wednesdays. If you visit any of the sites participating in the “free day” on their specified day, admission is totally free. Can’t beat that!

8. Budget For Special Activities

IMG_3227There will always be one or two things that are really important to splurge on. Maybe it’s dinner at a Michelin Star restaurant or visiting an over-priced theme park. Decide what your “splurge” is, and budget that in ahead of time. After all of the money you’ve already saved, you won’t feel *quite* so guilty about consuming $200 worth of duck confit. After all, this is a vacation!