How I Save Money With Kids…

Break open the champagne! Time to celebrate back-to-school with a long blog post! 🙂

I’m sure you’re all wondering, how in the world I put X amount of dollars in investments each month with 4 kids and one more on the way? Everywhere you go, they tell you kids are expensive. However, saving with kids is not rocket science, it’s just different.

Here’s how I approach it (from a Canadian perspective… sorry fellow American readers!)

Try to keep in mind, as anyone who has balanced a budget before, we all know income must equal expenses. Budgets don’t balance themselves. So, we can approach saving with kids from an offensive (earn more) or defensive (spend less) strategy.

I’ve done my best to summarize my approach in 5 points. I don’t do each one perfectly, nor do I have the expectation that others do things this way either.

1 Move

Yes. I said it. Move.

Don’t hate me.

If you choose to live and work in the urban area, you will have to accept that there is a price to be paid.

Let’s face it. Canadian cities are expensive. I love them. They’re hip, cool and exciting. Many shops are open 24 hrs (I used to do my grocery shopping at 4 o’clock in the morning when I had 3 kids).  But after we had our third, we realized Canadian cities are not as kid friendly as we’d like to believe. My tandem stroller won’t fit into my favourite shops and it’s unrealistic to expect my kids to, uh… not be kids.

I had to accept Canadian cities are for single people, or couples without kids. And if you have kids in the city, you’re going to have to pay extra, a lot extra and deal with a higher proportion of people who think children are the devil’s spawn (they are free to hold these opinions!). But that’s life…

So we moved. We moved back to my husband’s hometown. We paid $80k for a tiny fixer-upper on 23,000 square feet of land, in a village with only a dépanneur (corner store), friperie (second hand store) and an ATM machine. No gas station or grocery store. If you do drive the 15 to 20 km to the nearest grocery store, it closes at 10 p.m. on weekdays and 6 p.m. on weekends. Oh, in our town there is no Tim Hortons either.

Granted, we pay more for my husband to commute to the nearest suburb but its not as much as the housing we paid in the city, and we pay cheaper gas prices too.

Side note – Cities are normally built with a dense urban centre and rural rings around it. Suburbs are the first ring. The towns of 3000 – 8000 inhabitants are in the second ring (30 – 60 minute drive to the city) . And the third and fourth  rings are the towns of 0 – 1000 inhabitants, i.e. very very far from the urban centre. That’s where we live.

Also, town living was a huge adjustment for me the city girl. I can’t haphazardly offend people (ex. honk my car horn at drivers who don’t stop at stop signs), thinking to myself “Who cares! I’ll never see them again.” I will see them again, they live in my town. Can you tell? I have a strong character. However, in all honesty, it took me a good 2 and 1/2 years to adjust.

But, you know what’s great? Most people who live in the country are simple people. So, you don’t have to impress or compete with them. Just thought I’d throw that out there.

As well, small towns in Canada want families. Almost 50% of my town’s population is kids. Some will even pay your first year of property tax (like some towns in the Beauce region), subsidize your child’s sports activities and provide low cost or even free summer camp. Our town gives us $50 or $100 (I can’t remember) per kid for sports activities, and we only paid $140 per week of summer camp for 2 kids including before and after care! Woot woot! A nice little luxury for this mom.

Sometimes $80k houses require lots of hard work.

2 Emergency Account

It’s gonna’ rain. When? I don’t know. But it’s gonna’ rain.

Each pay, we put 10% into a savings account. It’s usually over $1k, but it’s enough to cover any surprises.

However, and there is a BIG however, not everything is an emergency . Christmas? Christmas is not a surprise. It comes every year on the same day. Birthdays are not a surprise either. Nor is ‘back-to-school’ time. It’s coming, at the same time every year. It just takes a little forethought and practice.

Oh, and babies? They normally take 9 months to incubate. So, in our case it doesn’t fit into the emergency category unless there are major unforeseen complications.

3 Keep Monthly Costs Low

Besides our low mortgage payment, we do our best not to carry monthly costs like car payments or those buy-now-pay-later schemes for furniture or appliances. We can’t make our budget work if we are carrying around multiple fixed costs of $300+ a month.

Some things we buy used and other things we buy new. Washer and dryer? Used. Cars? Used. Shoes? New. Mattresses? New. Clothes? A mix, some hand-me-downs, some used and a new outfit for school and at Christmas.

We have internet, but no cable tv. We watch YouTube and use Chromecast. My kids… play outside. I am allowed to hang my washing outside, unlike some city neighbourhoods I’ve lived in where it was ‘interdit’. But, I don’t hang my laundry. I’m lazy. And think dryers are a great invention! Our house is heated with wood. (You should see me going to get wood in 4ft of snow, and super pregnant. It’s kinda’ funny.)

3.1 Food…

Oh yes, food prices in Canada and the ubiquitous winter inflation. The price of some food items, aka fruit and vegetables go up each winter (remember $10 cauliflower?). Food is the largest section of our budget. More than our mortgage. And well, my first tip would be don’t buy food at the dépanneur. 

Other then that, keep it simple.

I feed a hungry man. When he does hard labour he can easily consume over 4000+ calories in a day. So, simple for us means meat. Yep, we eat meat. (Sorry vegans!) If we want to save, we cut back in the treat area or make it at home. And soon, it will be cheaper for our family to buy a whole cow, pig or lamb rather than buy it at the nearest suburban Costco.

Dinner? Roast chicken and baby potatoes and sliced cucumbers. Sausages, sliced peppers and some kind of carb.

Breakfast? Steak, eggs or oatmeal. Sometimes we make crepes on Saturday for the kids. If we buy cereal, we can easily go through 3 bags of milk in a day and a half! Burning a whole in our wallet. Our cereal habit is slowly changing.

You get the idea. Don’t over complicate your life. Eat like your grandma.

Sometimes we get free fruit and vegetables from our neighbours who have impressive gardens and cannot consume everything they grow. Once, a family friend of my husband asked us to stop by their farm and pick up several boxes of fancy-schmancy lettuce, part of an order cancelled by a big grocery buyer in the city. Don’t mind ugly carrots? You can get them by the truck load during harvest time. Same with bags of onions. Last year, I didn’t know what to do with all those free onions I got.

I’m sure we could save more money by having an extensive vegetable garden, bees or chickens on our property. We have the space for it, but not right now.

4 Enjoy the Little Luxuries

My husband and I enjoy little luxuries that we once had to give up when we were paying for our son’s medical expenses.

Like grabbing a coffee from Tim Hortons, hiring a babysitter. Which is way easier to do in the countryside. I have a larger pool of mature teenagers to choose from. Or, subscribing to a newspaper and reading it beside the wood-burning stove without interruption (not really, this is a dream. I wish it was without interruption).

Sometimes it’s healthy to deny yourself the little things so you can appreciate them more when you do indulge.

5 Live on One Income

This is honestly the hardest suggestion. Pretend like the second income doesn’t exist and save it. This can only be done if you make sacrifices in other areas. If you can’t live on one income, try to live on one and a half or one and three quarters, and save the other portion.

Since I live in Canada, we receive the Canada child benefit and Quebec child benefit. However, we do not consider either of these to be 100% disposable income to be included in our budget. We learned this the hard way. With each changing government, income changes, and aging children – the amount goes up and down like a roller coaster. (And god forbid you don’t get your taxes in on time, you won’t see that money until Christmas –  if your lucky!)

Do what works for you. We do a mix, where some of the money I receive is saved and some goes for the kids.

Anyways, this money is deposited in a separate account and not in our regular chequing account.

If I can’t see it… I can’t spend it.

As a side note, I will always remember this commentary from Elizabeth Warren about the two income trap. You can see a clip about it here.

Basically, if my husband gets injured or loses his job, I can go back to work. And rather than us having to cut our budget in half, my new salary could replace most of his income almost dollar for dollar. We wouldn’t feel the pain too badly.

So that’s it.

Kids

The only way the above suggestions work, is if you are willing to be flexible and make changes. My dad’s motto was “max-flex,” or maximum flexibility. 

That’s all the advice I have.

I am truly of the belief that kids are not an impediment to living a good life. They add too it! 🙂

Happy Investing,
Heather

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