If you’re like most moms on a budget, you like to know where your money is going each month. You don’t have unlimited financial resources to meet your obligations. Most of us have to follow some sort of a budget, whether it’s down to the penny or by tracking categories loosely. So how can moms on a budget save money?
Fortunately, for most things we spend money on, there’s a wide spectrum of costs associated with those things. Gone are the days when the store brand of breakfast cereal tasted like cardboard or the generic version of medications didn’t cut it.
Top 30 savings tips for moms on a budget
Whether it’s finding cheaper kinds of entertainment for you (and your kids), cutting down your grocery bills, or energy-saving suggestions for your home, you’ll probably find more than a few of these ideas that’ll work for you.
1. Meal plan
Ask anyone one of the quickest ways to lower your grocery bills, and they’ll probably bring up the idea of meal planning. I admit I’m not great at this myself. But I definitely notice my food shopping getting more out of hand when I haven’t thought ahead for the week’s meals.
Even if basic ingredients and food items increase in price, you can keep your grocery costs in check by planning most of your menus in advance. There are plenty of meal-planning apps like Mealime and Paprika to choose from. Also, many have very good free versions, so you don’t need to spend any money.
Creating your shopping list from a meal plan can help you to avoid buying unnecessary items, which saves money for other financial priorities.
2. Shop online for groceries
It’s so easy to overbuy on groceries without a list. But even armed with a list, going physically into the supermarket might lead you to put a lot more in your cart than you’d planned. Sure, you might use some of those impulse purchases anyway, but I bet a few of them will be wasted money.
My family has always used a free online grocery pickup service, and we still love this method. I save my most frequent purchases in my account on the store website, which makes reordering staples a breeze. Shopping online can help you avoid the issue of wandering the aisles at the grocery store and seeing those attractive displays designed to catch your eye.
Of course, you still need to be careful about impulse purchases when shopping online, but it can definitely help reduce those if you do it right! If you have awesome self-control and can stick to your list while shopping in person, great!
But maybe you’re like me and have a much easier time following the grocery list by shopping online. Plus, you get to skip the in-store crowds!
3. Plan for snacks
Just like you do with meal planning, always be prepared for when the munchies will strike. Whether for you or your kids, it’s a good idea to keep a few non-perishable snacks on hand. For example, in your purse or glove compartment.
Anytime you travel, even if it’s just a short distance, convenient snacks can help you avoid sudden drive-thru stops for greasy fast food. Filling your reusable water bottle at home can save you a ton on bottled water when you’re on the go.
4. Use coupons and cash-back apps
Good old coupons are still alive and well, helping moms on a budget everywhere. You can find coupons online nowadays, or even cut them out of the newspaper like you used to do. Try Groupon for discounts on activities and events.
Cashback apps are another way to save money (technically, to get it returned to you). Ibotta and Rakuten are a couple of the best-known cash-back programs that can reward you with real money for spending on a variety of things you need to buy anyway.
5. Cook and eat at home
Most moms on a budget already know that cooking and eating most of your meals at home can save huge amounts of money. Restaurant dining is almost always more expensive than dining at home, even if you buy the highest-quality ingredients. I know my family enjoys a meal out now and then, but we keep it infrequent enough that we still see that as a treat.
It’s not our everyday habit. We also try to pack a picnic for daylong excursions. This both saves us money and helps us appreciate special restaurant occasions all the more! (Plus, it’s often healthier food than our typical restaurant choices would be.)
6. Use a large freezer
If you have one (and the space for it), an extra freezer has money-saving potential for moms on a budget. This makes it easier if you notice a certain item at a low sale price and want to stock up. You can freeze foods you buy at a discount.
Plus, a chest freezer can enable you to prepare freezer meals in advance. This will help you avoid takeout on those hurried school nights.
7. Shop thrift stores
Thrift stores, garage sales, Buy Nothing groups, and Facebook Marketplace are a few of the ways to save money and help you stay on budget. Whenever you or others in your family need new clothes, these are awesome places to try first.
You can still buy new items sometimes, but using these more frugal options will save you a lot of cash. Plus, thrifting can be a fun activity in itself!
8. Buy high-quality items
This is a tricky one. For some items of clothing and other things, you may actually be able to keep more money in your pocket by spending more up-front. However, try to avoid the trap of thinking everything you buy should be the best because you think it’ll last forever. The same goes for higher price points - they don't necessarily indicate higher quality.
Certain products and clothing items may be somewhat timeless, like a black dress you can wear for any occasion. But trendy items that you might not use in a year or two, you don’t need to spend a fortune to buy.
9. Try a clothes-buying ban
Frustrated with how many clothes are bursting out of your dresser and closet? After purging what you don’t need, why not try a clothes-buying ban? For three months, six months, or even a year, the decision to stop buying new clothing could save you a bunch.
Maybe you’re majorly into clothing and fashion, and this type of rule sounds stifling. But a temporary pause on clothing purchases or another no-spend challenge could provide many benefits. You might reset your priorities, appreciate the clothes you already have, and of course, save money.
10. Set a budget for non-essentials
For clothing and any other items that you don’t actually need to buy regularly, you can make that a line item in your budget. That’s the beauty of budgeting: it can help you feel you have the freedom to shop as long as you stay within your parameters. The beauty of budgeting for your luxuries is that it’s totally personalized.
You don’t need to feel guilty about spending money you’ve earmarked for the things you love. After all, moms on a budget still need to have fun and enjoy things that cost money once in a while! But having a budget for whatever matters most to you keeps you financially secure.
11. Enjoy free activities
When it comes to entertainment, spending $100 on concert tickets is unnecessary. Maybe that's in your budget, but if you look around, you’ll probably find dozens of free activities in your town or community. The Chamber of Commerce, parks and recreation department, and other local organizations are great places to start finding free stuff to do.
Concerts in the park, trail hikes, and free admission days at local museums and attractions are often available. If you’re used to spending money every weekend on fun things to do on your own or with your family, look around. You’ll see there is no shortage of free fun to enjoy.
12. Cut your subscriptions
How much are you really using your Netflix subscription? Or any of the other on-demand streaming services that people can choose from these days? You might actually get a ton of use from Disney+ or other subscription services, but even then, you can try going without them to save money.
Most of these services are easy to cancel or just suspend temporarily, so you can always restart in a few months if you find your family missing them. It’s also possible you’ll discover you spend more time doing other fun family night activities without all the screen distractions.
13. Use your library
The library is truly a magical place. I’m serious. There are thousands of books, audiobooks, magazines, movies, video games, and activities available at the public library at no cost to you. Whether you take advantage of kids’ movie afternoons in the library or simply check out books and movies to your heart’s content, the library is a huge money-saver for moms on a budget.
Of course, support your favorite authors whenever buying their books fits into the budget. But it would be a shame to miss out on the huge amount of free knowledge available through your library. Books are essential whether it's for self-improvement or just for fun.
14. Get into nature
Nature offers endless ways to keep moms on a budget (and their kids) busy and active. Biking, hiking, and walking are very accessible just about anywhere. Plus, there are research-proven benefits of spending time in natural green spaces. It can reduce the risk of stress-related issues, like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic pain, and obesity.
15. Buy used cars
For moms on a budget, driving used cars is one big way to save money. Since brand-new cars depreciate so quickly (Carfax reports that most lose 20% of their value in the first year), it stands to reason that buying cars that are a few years old can save you thousands of dollars.
You can check Consumer Reports or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for ratings on the safest used vehicles so that you won’t stress about that aspect.
16. Stay close to home
This tip can apply to your vacations and longer trips. Staying closer to home helps moms on a budget maximize their funds. Instead of flying, see whether you can drive. Instead of driving eight hours away, try to find a great place within an hour or two of your home.
Reducing the distance, you drive will save you not only the cost of fuel but also reduce wear and tear on your vehicle, helping you to stretch out the life of your car.
17. Batch driving trips
Another way to reduce your transportation expenses is to batch errands and short driving trips. Instead of driving into town multiple times per day or week, try your hand at planning your weekly errands.
If you live ten miles from most places you frequent, and you make that trip five times a week, that’s 100 miles round-trip for the week. So by planning in advance to reduce your trips down to just one or two, you’ll reduce mileage, time, and cost.
18. Cancel the gym membership
Is taking care of your physical health essential? Absolutely! And if there’s really no alternative for you, the gym may be a worthy expense.
However, consider how much you’re using your membership and whether the gym is really the best use of your funds. Gym memberships just aren't always necessary or worth the money.
Moms on a budget can get plenty of great workouts for free simply by being a bit creative. For example, exercising outdoors could be a great option. Walking, cycling or running can fit just about any budget.
19. Discover YouTube for fitness
YouTube is a treasure trove of free exercise videos for everyone. I’ve never taken an in-studio yoga class, but I’ve done hundreds of yoga practices from home via my favorite YouTube pal's channel.
While some of us really come alive in a public gym setting, plenty of us thrive when we can squeeze in a workout from the convenience of home - for free!
You might also find an online personal trainer for a reasonable fee if you’re someone who needs the encouragement of another person to help reach your fitness goals.
20. Use health and fitness employer benefits
Maybe you work for an employer that offers discounts on gym memberships or even has a gym on-site. Moms on a budget, if you’re not taking advantage of the health benefits your employer offers, why not start now?
Gym memberships can be expensive, but if you’re fortunate enough to work somewhere that cares about your health, that’s a great perk to enjoy.
21. Buy used exercise equipment
Exercise equipment can be a wonderful thing to buy used or refurbished. Check up on the safety of older items like treadmills or ellipticals, of course. Try Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and yard sales when you want to purchase exercise equipment.
Dumbbells, exercise bands, and fitness equipment may be available at massive discounts if you’re patient (and have a bit of luck).
22. Set your thermostat lower or higher
Keeping your home closer to the actual temperature lowers your utility bills for sure. This may require a period of adjustment (and possibly changing the way you dress at home), but the savings are worth it.
Moms on a budget can save by turning the thermostat a few degrees cooler in the winter and a few degrees warmer in the summer.
To give you an idea of your potential savings, the Department of Energy estimates you can save up to 10% annually on heating and cooling by adjusting your thermostat setting by 7-10 degrees Fahrenheit for 8 hours each day.
23. Maintain your appliances
Spending a bit of time and possibly money each year on the upkeep of major appliances and other equipment in your home will save money in the long run. Be sure to change air filters as recommended.
Also, have a professional perform regular maintenance checks on things like your HVAC system to ensure safety and maximum efficiency. Things work better and last longer when they're maintained properly.
24. Decrease appliance usage
Another utility bill reduction tactic is to use your electrical appliances less frequently or during off-peak hours. Be like Grandma and line-dry your laundry outdoors, if possible. Open windows to let air and light in when appropriate to help with circulation and/or temperature.
You can try running appliances such as the washing machine and dishwasher during less popular times of the day. Your electric company may break this down by peak hours, partial peak, and off-peak hours, so shoot for off-peak times when possible.
(If your appliance has a “delay” setting, this is a great way to use off-peak times. Set it for several hours in advance before going to bed, and it’ll run while you sleep and save you cash.)
25. Use a surge protector
Plug your electronics into a surge protector instead of directly into the wall outlet. This is meant to help protect your computer, phone, and other important electronic items from power surges that can cause damage. They may lower your electric bill, too, if you turn them off when not in use.
26. Set a gift budget
Holidays and special occasions can turn into highly fraught situations, especially if people disagree on the types and costs of gifts for the occasion. Try to set a gift spending budget for yourself in advance to make these situations more comfortable.
Having a gift budget, such as $20 per niece and nephew at the holidays, or $100 for wedding gifts, can help you stay on track. If family members or friends suggest a gift-giving tradition that might derail your budget, you may need to have a conversation about that.
Gift budgets can help a lot within your immediate family as well. Of course, most moms on a budget will also set a gift-giving budget for themselves and their kids. At a certain age, your kids might even appreciate knowing the amount of the gift budget. This can help develop their financial literacy skills as well.
27. Don’t give in to spending pressure
When people pressure you to spend money, remember your budget and your reasons for setting it up as you have. It’s not their finances, after all. If friends or family try to tempt you to buy something too expensive or something that isn’t a priority, stand your ground.
You may encounter some resistance when it affects other people. If you choose not to participate in secret office gift exchanges or refuse to share in extravagant group activity costs (such as for a bridal party), you may offend some people. But you might need to say no to prioritize your goals.
28. Seek out frugal friends
It’s also important to spend time with other budget-minded people who encourage you on your financial path. We tend to often imitate the people we are with the most. So it’s worthwhile to seek out other moms who manage their finances well.
That doesn’t mean shunning those who earn or spend more (or less!) than you. Simply be mindful of which friends help you move forward in your financial goals versus pulling you away from them. Frugal friends can create the right kind of peer pressure you need.
29. DIY whatever you can
Do-it-yourself videos and how-to articles are great resources when you need to avoid spending a lot of money. It’s empowering to figure out how to make something yourself, rather than taking the easy route of swiping your credit card. Decorations, simple furniture, greeting cards, gourmet desserts...there’s almost no limit to what you can learn to do or make on your own.
Don’t forget about car maintenance tasks, painting the kitchen cabinets, and all kinds of fixes around your home. Moms on a budget can use their skills (or learn new ones) to save a boatload of money.
30. Make do with what you have (Essential for moms on a budget)
A core principle of saving money is that you can often make do with what you have, rather than buying anything at all. Often this strategy is overlooked because it’s so simple!
Maybe you can go through the back of your closet to discover a long-forgotten outfit that’s perfect for a night out. Or you can upcycle some of your current clothing to save money too! Perhaps you love this new cooking gadget you notice on Instagram, but you really could get along fine with your current kitchen equipment.
Whatever the item you’re longing to buy, consider whether it’s a need or a want. Then, even when it’s technically a need, a quick home inventory could reveal that you already have something that’ll work fine.
The more I do this, the easier it becomes. The mindset of pausing before buying something, even if it’s from the dollar aisle at Target, becomes second nature, and I can stop buying stuff I don’t need.
These top tips will help moms on a budget
You may not have to use all of these money-saving ideas but even incorporating a few of them into your life could make a big difference. Moms on a budget don’t have to always sacrifice; in fact, many of these tips can help you find greater joy and contentment each day.
Learn more about frugal living and building wealth with our free financial courses and worksheets! For more great money tips, be sure to follow Clever Girl Finance on Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook!