Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on Living on the Cheap.
Young families have it rough. Parents might still be paying off student loans, while they try to save for a first (or forever) home and pay for preschool or child care.
Many are climbing the corporate ladder, working their way up to those bigger salaries, or starting a new business that has yet to see returns. Money is tight, and a frugal lifestyle is needed to get all the bills paid without going into debt.
Take heart — frugal living does not have to be painful. In fact, young families may find many rewards to living within their means, including developing the discipline needed to save for great life experiences and paying off the debts that weigh them down.
Starting early with frugal habits will put you in a better financial position as you near retirement; learning to prioritize the important things will bring happiness for years to come.
Strengthen your money-saving muscle with these 10 frugal living tips for young (or any!) families.
1. How to save on clothes
Now that you’re a family, you have more people to clothe. Parents will discover how quickly little kids outgrow their clothes or get them ripped or stained. Your clothes may not last as long, accumulating stains from spit-up to spilled tomato sauce.
A frugal lifestyle demands that you embrace a minimalist wardrobe, buy new clothes on sale or get over your dislike of used clothes.
ThredUp is the posh way to shop for top-quality used clothing online that will definitely fit your budget. You can find low prices on designer brands, clothing with tags still attached and all kinds of accessories.
The site is fun to browse and has price points and categories to narrow down your search. I took a quick peek and found a J.Crew dress for $4.99 (originally $158) and a Gap skirt for $14.99 (originally $50). They also have shoes, maternity clothes, plus sizes, and lots of accessories.
Thrift shops and online buy/sell/swap groups are other good places to score pre-owned clothing at a discount. Consignment sales and shops are great for adult and kids’ clothes, too. Lucky hunters can find deals on unworn clothes or brand names if they take the time to look.
Plus, you can sell your old clothes (like those suits that don’t fit post-baby), and you can earn cash to save or spend on a new-to-you wardrobe.
2. How to save on groceries
Frugal families don’t shop at Whole Foods. They seek out discount supermarkets, like the European-style Aldi and Lidl, for cheap produce and pantry staples and don’t quibble over fancy brands.
They also plan their meals and write out a list of exactly which items they need to buy this week. Stick to that list because impulse buys can add up. Even better, those veggies won’t go bad in the crisper drawer because they are all necessary for a particular meal.
Some frugal folks love to use coupons to save money at the supermarket. Others have figured out ways to save money on food without using coupons, such as searching for sales and only buying produce in season.
If you’re really struggling to keep your grocery budget in check, an old but effective tip is to get the cash equivalent of your monthly grocery budget and put it in an envelope.
There is something about being able to visualize your cash that will help you become very selective in how you spend at the store. In the end, if there’s money left in your envelope, reward yourself with a reasonable dinner out or add it to your money for next month and buy a treat you don’t get very often.
Discover more hacks to cut your grocery bill in half with our advice.
3. How to save on TV shows and movies
Cutting the cable cord may sting at first, but many frugal families find there are cheaper ways to watch shows and movies at home. Many streaming services offer free trials, and you can even find some services that let you stream movies and shows completely free.
Little kids can find free cartoons on YouTube and PBS Kids.
Find out more with our ultimate guide to saving money by cutting cable.
4. How to save on cellphone service
Google’s cellphone plan is all the rage for offering a budget-friendly cellphone experience, and it’s expanded to include iPhones, though there are limitations.
Google Fi’s basic plan starts at $17 per month per person and offers data in convenient blocks for $10 per GB. You might not have the range of phone choices you’re used to, but you can find something that works in order to save on your monthly bills.
In addition, you can reduce smartphone data costs by changing a few of your browsing habits.
5. How to save on everyday shopping
The key to living within your means is to only buy things that are absolutely necessary, and, when you do make a purchase, make sure you buy it on sale or get money back.
If you’re not sure what’s essential and what’s not, consider doing a no-spend challenge to get back to basics.
One way to save at the store is by using a free shopping app like Ibotta or Rakuten. They let you earn a little bit of cash back when you shop at more than 2,500 popular stores. The shopping opportunities are almost endless.
Think major retailers like Amazon, Old Navy, Groupon, Kohl’s, Petco, Macy’s and AT&T, to name a very small sample. Check out our story on the best shopping apps to save money for more ways to save.
6. How to save on health care costs
If you don’t mind a religious-based alternative to health care, consider a health care-sharing ministry. They are NOT health insurance, but they can lower the pain of health insurance costs if you qualify.
The most inclusive health ministries are Liberty HealthShare and Medi-Share. Both have limitations on preexisting conditions, but they also offer to phase you in after a certain number of months as a member if those conditions become asymptomatic.
You pay a monthly fee and are responsible for $1,500 to $10,000 in bills up front (depending on your plan) before the remainder of your bills are paid for by the ministry.
Save even more money on health care with our tips.
7. How to save on fitness
Frugal families will need to say no to those pricey Pelotons, but that doesn’t mean they have to give up on their fitness goals. Walking, running and hiking are all free ways to work out (provided you have the correct footwear) and can be done with little kids in tow in strollers or baby carriers.
Working out at home can be affordable with the right fitness apps and a few affordable pieces of equipment. It lets time-crunched working parents get in some exercise while the baby naps or on a weekend, without having to drive to the gym or find child care.
If you like to work out in a gym, see if your office has a fitness center you can use for free or if your company offers a fitness reimbursement benefit.
If not, definitely do a thorough price comparison when looking for a cheaper gym membership, and keep your ear out for specials that would allow you to renegotiate a lower monthly fee or switch gyms annually to get the best rates.
Find more cheap ways to get fit.
8. How to save on toys
It’s so easy to spend hundreds of dollars on toys and other stuff for kids.
Blocks and trains and dolls and activity centers help build their brains and improve their fine and gross motor skills — not to mention keep them occupied while you cook dinner or do laundry.
Frugal living tip: Kids don’t need so much stuff! They’re equally happy playing with cardboard boxes and pots and pans from the kitchen as they are with the latest electronic toy craze.
Stop overspending on your kids, and you’ll find your budget is happier and the kids are not worse off. There are also plenty of toys and games you can make on your own.
If you do want mass-produced toys for your family, hit up consignment sales for amazing deals on used kids’ stuff. You can find sets of train tracks, Little People playsets, Barbies, Exersaucers and all the cars, trucks and planes you can carry.
Some consignment sales even have slashed-price hours or days at the end of the selling period where you can save even more on remaining merchandise.
9. How to save on restaurants
Eating out is expensive, and is a luxury many young families can’t afford. However, dining out can be part of a frugal lifestyle if you budget for it and employ money-saving strategies to get more bang for your buck.
Be smart when choosing which day you go out to eat. Many restaurants let kids eat free on certain days, and offer freebies on your birthday or anniversary. Some also give coupons and free food to members of their loyalty program or those who sign up online or download their app.
See all of Living on the Cheap’s tips for saving money while dining out.
10. How to save more money
The best way to save money is not to spend it in the first place. Better yet, if you can, invest it in ways that will allow your bank account to grow.
If you’re new to investing and can’t tell a mutual fund from a 401(k), follow these tips to get started with investing.
You’ll also want to start saving for your little one’s education. Yes, you should be thinking about college while you’re nursing a babe in arms! Invest in a 529 plan (or ask the grandparents to contribute to one), and find other ways to start putting away money for future education payments.
And don’t forget to look into tax deductions you can get now as a parent. You can get tax credits for your dependent children to offset child care costs, allowing you to save that money and not hand it over to the IRS.