Military Life

Budgeting Tips for Families & Households on a Budget

New adventures, new us, new travels, new memories, a new approach to budgeting tips for families!

Working out a military family finance plan may turn out to be a hassle (as everything in our lives tends to get a tad bit more complicated), and we’ve been doing a good job so far.

You see how I said “a good job”? Well, I wanted to work on getting it great for more than one reason.

The biggest reason is that I wanted to have more control of the funds in our budget is:

  • Investing in better quality food,
  • Having more family travels (you can make them less expensive, but they put a burden on a budget of a family of four),
  • Teaching my kids how to be smart with money.

Read about my even bigger project as of lately – making the biggest list of military discounts!

So, here are some kickstarter tips that my family is planning on implementing over the coming weeks and making the most out of our financial situation:



1. Pay off debt.

If you’re reeling from the weight of credit card bills, student loans or other debt, a budget can help you see how to dig your way out. Always allot enough money to pay more than the minimum payment due.

Depending on the seriousness of your debt problem, you may want to get help from a credit counseling agency. Some credit counselors are unscrupulous, though, and you’ve got to be careful not to sink even deeper into debt after seeking such help.

You can check counselors’ credentials and be connected to agencies that have made a commitment to certain professional and ethical standards.

Read also: Managing The Emotional Effects Of Being In Debt

Read also: 6 Ways To Get Out Of Debt

2. Give yourself a buffer.

What’s the most you ever spent on your utility bill? Build that highest number into your monthly budget. Also, build in set amounts for emergencies and for “mad money” you can spend any way you want.

With those contingencies covered, you’ll feel more comfortable investing a designated amount monthly – something everybody should do in some way, shape or form on a regular basis, even if the investment allotment is small.

Read also: A Comprehensive Guide To Conserving Energy At Home

3. Have a goal.

Whatever your goal may be – a home purchase, a remodeling project, an exotic vacation – it can help you find the discipline you need to squirrel away money by a certain deadline. Reflect on a goal you truly want to meet and resolve to do it.

Read also: Tips For Inexpensive Family Travel

4. Document and Track Your Expenses

This is often an eye-opening task. Many of us have no idea how much of our money is being burnt upon frivolous expenses. For this reason, it is extremely important to consistently monitor and put on record how and where your money is being spent.

Without knowing this, you’ll never be able to recognize where you’re overspending and where you can afford to cut back. It’s important to be very diligent with this, down to the dollar if possible.

Many times we will overlook the smaller expenses, like that morning coffee and donut, and these various small purchases are often the unnoticed culprit. So at least for the first few months of trying to establish a budget, document every expense.

Try getting an old notebook that you don’t use anymore or use one of the many smartphone apps available if you prefer. This way, you can systematically identify and cut unnecessary expenses if you see that, for example, a 3rd of your income goes to eating out or forgotten snacking.

Read also: The Lending Mag

5. Gift giving

Set realistic budgets for each of the gift-giving occasions you have over the year (Valentine’s Day, Easter, anniversaries, birthdays, baby showers, Christmas, etc.) and add them up. Don’t forget to add in expenses for gift tags, wrap, postage (both for orders and for shipping to the recipient).

Then add up the total and divide it by twelve. This is the amount you will need to put into your savings account each month to cover these expenses. Track the savings and expenses on a spreadsheet to ensure you don’t overspend. This may result in a little less money in your wallet each month, but it means you will have the cash when you need it and you won’t be paying off your gifts with interest for months to come.

Read more about gift giving tips on

6. Discount Does Not Equal Saving

A fellow blogger, Alli, shared a smart one – don’t be fooled into thinking you’ve saved money just because it’s on sale! You can check out her equally great piece on saving money here.

7. Change Where You Shop

Looking at lower cost grocery stores like Aldi, Save-a-lot, and Lidle, shopping at thrift stores for clothes and pawn shops for household goods will save you a ton of money on things we’re used to lazily paying full price for. It takes a little extra time but it’s worth it if you’re trying to lower your spending, share Jen from – she and her family managed to pay off 78k on average income.

Read more about thrift store shopping at

8. Use Unconventional Methods

From fee Walmart Gift cards to actual ways to getting free money, you can actually find so many (somewhat weird) methods to make and save. My friend Todd at is all about how you can save more through unconventional methods. They’ve published ways on how to save on groceries, online shopping, and much more!

9. Be Decisive

Successful people (and debt-free people) act fast and decisively. They do not waver in their decisions because they truly believe that what they are saying is right, shares Edwin from

10. 401k loan is Still a Loan!

Gary from The Dollar Stretcher shares that many people think that a 401k loan is like borrowing money without cost. After all aren’t you just paying the interest to yourself? While there are advantages to borrowing from your 401k there are costs as well. The first cost is that the lower interest rate that you like as a borrower means that your 401k account is growing at a slower rate. And that effect is multiplied by the time you retire. So the $1000 you save in interest costs today could cost you $2k or more when you retire.

A more immediate risk occurs if you can’t pay back the loan. Any money that you don’t pay back is subject to an early withdrawal penalty (10% if you’re not 59 1/2) and will be added to your taxable income.

One final risk is that if you should leave your job (quit, be fired or laid-off) the entire loan is due at once!

11. Do You Really Need That New Thing?

Before you buy anything, ask yourself if you really need it. If you determine that you do need it, can you buy it used? If so, then buy it. If you don’t really need it, wait a while before making the purchase as you may forget about it after a while and realize you can live without it, as shared by Pam from

12. Make it fun!

When my wife and I were getting out of debt, we were on a super tight budget. We would have date nights where the goal was to see how little we could spend. It was actually a lot of fun. We missed those dates so much that we’ve done it since we became debt-free. Budgeting can be fun if you know your end goal, Kalen of shares.

13. Planning is the key!

Glenda from Expatpetitemom shares that the best thing about planning especially with the month-long groceries, packed lunch or snack for your kids to school is that you have the great chance of scoring lower prices or promotions. Not to mention great discounts when buying in bulk. You will be focused only what you really need or buy as you already come up with a plan or a list. Honestly, and I know you will agree to this, last minute trips to the groceries or just buying the thing when you need them can be more expensive when you factor in the unexpected elements such as gas, time, or other mishaps when unplanned.

14. NEVER pay full price!

Always look to see if there is a discount code online (my fav website to find them is Retail Me Not)
or an offer like 10% off or free shipping, if you sign up for the company newsletter – shares Nicole from Bless their Hearts Mom. For example, I recently used a 30% off coupon at Kohls, on top of their sale price, AND had a free shipping code, which brought the price down from $16 plus $6 shipping for a dance skirt for my daughter down to $6. But don’t use a coupon or sale code as a REASON to shop if you’re on a budget- use it to SAVE you money on what you ALREADY
were buying, otherwise, you’re killing your budget!

15. Stop Dining Out

Just cutting back on Starbucks trips alone can save a bundle of money, and meal planning or always having your family’s favorite staple food items on hand to make homemade dinners will save you from having to stop off for fast food or Jamba Juice after soccer practice. Speaking of Jamba Juice, if you always have frozen fruit on hand, there are countless delicious smoothie recipes online and you will save money whipping up your own smoothies at home (and it’s fun)! Another tip: when I make dinners I typically stretch the meal into the next day’s school lunch. So if I make pasta, I get out to lunch containers at the same time and fill those to pop into the kids’ Planetbox the next morning. In a way, it’s like getting two meals for one. Also, cutting back on sweets and juice can save some dough. If your family must have juice, consider filling 1/4 of the glass with juice and the rest with water––diluting it is healthier and makes it last longer.

– Beth from Petite Planet.

16. Don’t Be Afraid Of A Budget Plan

When I first set out on my journey to get healthy and lose over 100 lbs and the recently diagnosed Type 2 Diabetes, I knew that whatever weight loss method I chose – it would have to be for life.  For me, that meant no exercise, as I knew I wouldn’t keep it up for life.  That’s how I was able to lose over 100 lbs, Type 2 Diabetes, and keep it off for over 7 years.

It’s the same thing with a family budget.  Don’t shoot to save $50k in 6 months.  Make sure you make realistic, easy to hit goals, that you can maintain.  Budgeting doesn’t have to be scary and there are a variety of ways to do it.  Choose the best method for you and dig in.  You can do it!

– Dian from Grocery Shop For Free.

17. Stop using credit and debit cards for small purchases!

Instead, set a monthly limit for those spontaneous treats for the kids, afternoon lattes and other goodies. It stops overspending on incidentals and also lets you better evaluate how much money you might be able to cut back in little ways to add more to your savings!
– Kathryn from

18. Try out a spending fast

My biggest tip for living on a budget is to try out a spending fast. Where for any amount of time you simply don’t buy anything extraneous! While we built our home I put myself on a personal spending freeze (for about 6 months and counting) with the exception of buying refills of makeup and it was so eye-opening. To see how little I really needed to be spending, how much of my purchases were just out of boredom or to treat myself, and how I can be confident at that party even if I don’t buy a new top for it. It might sound silly but it was a huge wake-up call for me and will forever change how I spend money!
– Emily from Small Fry.

19. What Do You Need?

We have a large family (2 adults and 6 kids) on only one income, so keeping track of expenses is something that has been very useful for us. One thing that we’ve done is just change our spending mindset from a “what can we cut?” to “what do we need?”. When we first created our budget, instead of looking at all the things that we were spending on and figuring out what we could cut, we started at $0 and only added the things that we felt were NECESSITIES. At the end of our experience, we still had money left over for savings. Knowing that we had stuck with necessities made it a lot easier to stick to our budget and also leave some money leftover for fun things!
– Dan from

20.  Don’t buy, make it!

If you need bed sheets, pillows, curtains, washcloths, shopping bags, or tablecloths, make them from fabric that is sewn. There are many tutorials on Pinterest that you can use to learn to make them. Of course, it won’t be difficult, because it only involves straight stitches, without complicated patterns. You only need to buy fabric and other materials. This has made you save more than 100% of the money you use to buy fabric.
– Maria Magdalena from Marcellina Maria.

21. Be You (aka Ignore the Joneses)

Often, it is the comparison trap that has us running out to buy something or do something that isn’t necessary.  Cultivate your own family culture with things that truly matter to the unique individuals in your home.  Everything from music lessons to sports teams, from toys to vacations needs to be looked at objectively to decide if those things reflect your family’s culture, or are they a better fit for the Joneses.  Get comfortable with who you are, and own it!  It will make financial decisions so much easier!
– Amy Roberts from

22. Have an Emergency Fund.

Living on a budget might seem like this is almost impossible to do, but with the other tips included and from experience I know it is. Emergency funds are there for when you suddenly find you or your kid in the emergency room, or your car breaks down and you need to get to work. By having an emergency fund, you avoid going further into debt when the unexpected happens.
– Adelina from Home Maid Simple.

23. Budgeting Is A Lot Like Dieting

Budgeting is somewhat like dieting. It’s not about going crazy with some fad diet that only lets you eat celery. Instead it’s more about making lots of smart daily choices that gradually change your mindset and then that changes the outcome. Like avoiding a big monthly gym payment by taking advantage of free resources like YouTube videos or walking in the park. Then if you fall off the wagon, you aren’t stuck paying useless bills.
– Adrian G from

24. Use Deal Sites For Christmas Shopping!

Buying birthday gifts and Christmas gifts when you are on a budget is hard!  That is why you should follow deal sites and pick up great deals on clothing, toys and other items all through the year when there is a great buy!  I always have my gift closet stocked with all the great deals that I find and it is never a strain on my budget!!!

25. Always research your purchases

We have this nifty, accessible resource called the internet – use it! Before making any purchases, do your research. Are you able to find it at a more affordable rate? Perhaps a lucky sale? An internet search can take a few minutes and save you a lot of money.

I never make a purchase until I follow these steps:

  1. Read reviews – make sure the item is worth the cost
  2. Compare prices
  3. Find coupons or discounts
  4. Look into second-hand sales – you never know what you could find

– Ronnie from Home Life Abroad.

26. Use LEDs

Replacing old incandescent light bulbs with energy-saving LEDs is an immediate way to start saving money. That’s because LEDs are more than 10 times as efficient as incandescents, so they’ll start cutting how much energy you use as soon as you flip the switch. Another great reason to use is LEDs is because they last so long – up to 10 years, depending on the light fixture. Sure LEDs cost a little more money up front, but you’ll make it back in lower utility bills in no time at all.

– Diane from Big Green Purse.

27. Cut Your Electric Bill In Half

By simply shopping around you can reduce your electric bill in one phone call. Thus cutting down on your monthly expenses. But there are also some incredibly easy ways to cut down on your electric bill buy just doing a few things around your home. You can read more about it here.

– Amy from Mainly Homemade

28. Balancing The Kids’ Allowances

My kids are getting to the ages where they want to have some of their own money to save and purchase things they desire. I know there are varying views on the parenting strategy of giving an allowance, but I think, like most parenting practices, it just requires balance. Offering an allowance without any responsibilities or providing too much of an allowance may result in entitlement or other unwanted consequences. But, not offering an allowance to a child at all may impede authentic learning and valuable practice in the essential skills of money management. I’ve found that finding a balance between these extremes, by offering an age-appropriate allowance tied to extra chores beyond the child’s set family responsibilities, works best for us. And using an app the kids can collaborate through helps this easily-distracted mama keep track of it all.
– Krissy from B-Inspired Mama.

29. Shop around

No matter what you are looking to purchase – new shoes or your next family vacation, always compare the prices and look for alternatives. For example, if you are looking for new shoes for your kids, check online stores like Amazon. Different colors of the same model often vary in price tremendously. Why pay 60 USD for a pair of blue shoes when you can get the brown ones for 25 USD… The same rule applies for flight tickets, for example. Check alternative airports, cheaper airlines, or maybe less popular departure times. We never purchase anything on an impulse; it always pays off to shop around first.
– Jurga from Full Suitcase.

30. Get the kids involved!

It’s never too early to teach your kids about money and budgeting. Don’t set up a budget for your child; let her work through this task herself. The budget process is an invaluable experience. If you tell her what she’s got to spend on this or that, she’ll never learn how to make smart money decisions on her own. It’s especially important to teach teenagers about budgeting. Use our free budgeting worksheet to get them started:
– Katie from

31. Buy a Deep Freezer

There are examples where investing anywhere from $50 to $500 upfront can save you big in the future. The first is buying a deep freezer. If you live in an apartment or move a lot, then consider buying a small, cube deep freezer, which you can often get for around $100. If you have more space then you might invest in a larger freezer (or two as in my case). The freezer allows you to buy whole organic chickens, part of a cow, organic dairy when it’s on sale, and load up on frozen fruit when its in season. Buying the whole animal and buying in the season will pay off quickly and allows you to buy better quality food when its the most affordable.
– Manda from The Green Mama

32. Plan your meals based on foods that are on sale

A great way to save on the groceries is to plan your meals based on foods that are on sale. Also, make sure to stock up on foods and non-perishables when they go on sale!
– Shannon from Redhead Mom.

33. Don’t eat out all the time

It’s easy with kids but then you end up spending more on food that month than expected. So meal plan on Sunday and shop for ingredients so you know you will cook at home and then designate one night a week to go out to eat or do take out. Your wallet will thank you!
– Chrissy from

34. Have Your Kids Pitch In!

As a kids’ cooking teacher online, I find that families save money when their kids can pitch in! Simple things like buying whole carrots that the kids can cut instead of baby carrots saves 50 cents a pound (which in our family adds up to $75/year!) and bigger budget lines like not eating out a few times a month because the family is sharing responsibility can really make an impact. Try our free knife skills and safety class for kids to get your family started on saving – and building life skills that will impact your kids’ health for decades to come!
– Katie Kimball, Kids Cook Real Food

35. Save Your Change

One of the easiest ways to save money is to keep the change whenever you pay in cash. I always round up to the nearest dollar and set aside the difference in change. You’d be surprised how quickly it adds up. Plus, ask your bank if they have a program that automatically does this for your checking account. Many national banks have programs that transfer the difference in change to a savings account for you.
-Kimberly from

36. Time is money!

… and if you want to SAVE some, you might have to spend it first. Once I started planning my budget I realized that the time I spend cleaning my house and doing various chores would be much better spent If I started writing my blogs and doing freelance work instead, cause I would actually earn more.

If you put it down on paper, it is clear what you needed to do – hire help!
The math is pretty simple – if I hire a cleaning housekeeper and I pay them $10.97 per hour (which is the median pay rate for this profession in the US, according to and I earn $16 per hour as a blogger, (also median according to, I will earn 5.03$ per hour. To be honest, this is five bucks more in comparison to 0 an hour I would earn if I did the cleaning myself.
It might sound crazy, but it is actually pretty logical. It’s all about seeing your time as your most valuable resource.
– Barbara from

37. Try a zero-based budget!

There are more than a few budgeting philosophies out there, but quite honestly most people I’ve had the chance to discuss budgeting with treat budgeting as if it’s really just about restricting how much you spend. While discipline is an essential ingredient, budgeting money you “hope” you’ll have never works for the long run. When you budget your actual spendable money only, you’ll immediately see where you stand.

A zero-based budget means you budget every dollar you have, and fill your priority “must haves” spending first. The first step is to identify your spending patterns, and then identify where your money is going by priority. Hint: paying your car loan is going to be a must have priority, vs catching the new “Star Wars” at the theater. When you’re putting the money you actually have towards your must haves first, you’ll find you’re far less likely to find yourself short on those must haves every month.
– John from

38. Consider Downsizing

There are many benefits to downsizing. There’s less work to do, an opportunity to finally get organized, less maintenance, and less stress. On top of that, you will ultimately save money and often make some in the process.

If you can’t purge everything, consider a storage unit for the extra, personal belongings you simply can’t part with. It will ultimately be cheaper to pay your monthly storage bill than for a physically larger living space that requires more cleaning and maintenance. You will benefit from your new and improved quality of life.
– Christine from

39. Check Your Accounts Regularly

You need to look at your accounts on at least a weekly basis (if not more often). It’s tempting to leave them to the end of the month or near payday but more often than not there is a payment or expense that we don’t recognize and you can spend more time figuring out what it is rather than working on the rest of your accounts.
– Katy from Flipping Heck

40. Save by Selling!

As a mom of two, I’m always on a budget. As you can probably imagine, children are constantly outgrowing clothing and other gadgets. Selling gently use items to local consignment shops is a great way to save money. I also encourage parents to join social media groups where they can swap items and share other ways to save.
– Stacy-Ann from Weather Anchor Mama.

41. Entertain the kids with nature

No need to rush out for expensive games to keep kids busy in the holidays when there is so much to be enjoyed in nature. From Den building in the woods to nature crafts and games. For examples, here’s a fun nature piñata game that you might like to check out.
– Fiona from Coombe Mill.

42. Barter. Partner. Trade.

Find someone that can add value to your life so that you don’t have to break the bank getting what you need. You certainly have a way to contribute. Why not improve the value of your life and the value that’s in your pocket, by teaming up with someone and helping two folks at once?
– Jill Salzman from The Founding Moms

43. Start Growing Food!

My family saves money by growing as much food as we can in our garden and sourcing what we can’t grow from local farmers, whenever possible. For instance, this fall, I was able to purchase large quantities of storage crops (potatoes, winter squash, turnips, carrots, beets, parsnips) at wholesale prices, and fill the trunk of my car with apples from a nearby orchard for $50. We store the food in our basement or root cellar and it lasts for most of the winter, forming the foundation of many hearty stews and soups.

– Teri from Homestead Honey.

44. Use coupons and cash back on every purchase

If you’re strategic, you can save money on every single purchase you make! When shopping for groceries, try using the Checkout 51 app, which rewards you with cash back for buying certain products. Just open the app and take a picture of your receipt. For online shopping, get an account with Ebates, where you’re rewarded with up to 10% cash back on every purchase, and use RetailMeNot to find additional coupons. Finally, use a cash back or points credit card for all your shopping. You MUST be disciplined in treating the card like cash and paying your bill each month to avoid interest, but the reward can be up to 3% back on everything you purchase! You can learn more in our guide here.
– Ted from Thrifty Nomads

45. Spend less money than you make

If you don’t spend what you have wisely, you won’t be able to control a large amount of money wisely. Why is spending less money so important? Spending less money is important because money truly doesn’t last long when we get a hold of it, then when we get older and need to buy something we won’t be able to buy the things that we need, because we didn’t spend our money wisely when we were younger. And if you’re asking yourself, ”how do I save more money?” There always is a way to save money,  just look at your budget and see what you can cut back on and see if you can buy the things you need cheaper. Another way to save money is to wait for what you want. You don’t need something instantly to make you feel ecstatic, and what you can do is put money to the side and buy the things you want at a later time.

– Casey from

Want to add a great family finance tip to this list? Feel free to reach out!

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