12 habits of phenomenally frugal families

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Families with young children often feel financially squeezed from every direction: monthly mortgage or rent payments, food, clothes, activities, college and retirement savings -- the list is endless. So how do frugal families manage to keep up with all those demands while still living within their means? These ideas from our Frugal Shopper bloggers, including Karen Cordaway, Lisa Koivu, Jon Lal, Joshua Rodriguez, Amber Sager, Michelle Stinson Ross, John Schmoll, Jennifer Saranow Schultz and Susan Yoo-Lee, offer plenty of creative strategies.

1. Take advantage of online deals.

Shopping online lets you easily compare prices and read customer reviews without paying for gas or parking. It also helps reduce the temptations that come from walking past a shelf of items you didn't plan to buy. A quick Web search before your purchase will also direct you to any available coupons or free shipping discounts, and sometimes you can click through a cash back shopping site to save even more.

2. Learn how to say 'no' to kids' requests.

Before heading to the grocery store with your kids, have an open discussion about what you will and won't be buying, and what they are free to purchase with their savings. That way, you'll be more likely to avoid tantrums in the checkout line. You might also want to choose one item in advance that they are allowed to purchase.

3. Minimize spending on the family pet.

Instead of taking your dog or cat to the groomer, you can bathe your pet yourself, and the process will also make you aware of any issues with fleas or ticks. Buying pet supplies in bulk, exchanging pet care services with friends and investing in preventive care like vaccines will also help reduce the cost of your family's favorite furry friend.

4. Spend less on personal care products.

You can spend less at the drugstore without compromising your beauty routine if you stick with brands that still offer top-notch performance, despite their lower price tag. Drugstore brands have improved in recent years, so you can purchase quality mascara and foundations that don't carry a fancy brand name. Signing up for store newsletters and alerts can also help you snag deals.

5. Make learning about money fun.

An array of board games aim to make it easier for parents to teach kids about money topics. Favorites include Lakeshore Learning's The Allowance Game, Pay Day and Cashflow for Kids by Robert Kiyosaki. You can have many enjoyable (and informative) game nights at home for less than the cost of a dinner out with one of these board games.

6. Pay less for the family car.

If you plan to take out a car loan to finance your auto purchase, then you should consider shopping around for rates before you even head to the dealership. That will give you more leverage when you consider the dealership's financing terms. Buying a new car that's just one year old can also lead to significant discounts, since dealers want to make room for newer models.

7. Romance your partner with cheap dates.

Mom and Dad have to have fun, too, right? The good news is that they can still go on romantic dates without blowing through little Johnny's college savings account. Options include visiting a downtown food truck instead of an upscale restaurant, taking a walk together or just hanging out at home. Renting a movie on Redbox is much less than the price of a movie ticket, after all.

8. Plan your purchases by season.

Discounts on shopping categories, from clothing to outdoor grills, tends to be very seasonal. In July, for example, you'll find big discounts on jeans, furniture (since new lines come out in August), home décor and outdoor items like grills. Stores also usually offer major discounts on holiday-themed items, like Halloween costumes, right after the holiday passes, so you can stock up for next year.

9. Reuse and repurpose clothes and toys.

Older dresses can turn into swimsuit cover-ups for young girls, and old toddler toys can sometimes become playthings for dogs and cats. You can also save by buying clothes a size or two too big for your child so he grows into the outfits. Drawstring waists and adjustable straps also help make it easier to extend the life of kids' clothing.

10. Take advantage of free community events.

Free time can easily lead to overspending if you aren't careful. That's why story time events at libraries, community music performances and other local entertainment options can come in handy. You can even create your own entertainment with a child-led theater performance in your own living room based on a favorite book.

11. Read together (and get deals on books).

If you have an e-reader, then you can rent books (both adult and children's) from the library. Amazon also offers thousands of free Kindle books, and if you have an Amazon Prime membership, you have access to even more titles. BookLending.com, Project Gutenberg and Planet Publish also offer other e-book options.

12. Get creative with phone plans.

If you're willing to go with one of the lesser-known service providers, then you can likely pay less for your phone plan each month. While a standard plan might set you back around $160 a month, cheaper offerings include deals from FreedomPop, Republic Wireless, Zact, Ting and Page Plus Cellular. One of them might meet your needs while trimming your expenses.



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