Money-saving gems for working moms
Working moms. Aren't all moms workers?
Moms must keep up with growing bodies and minds, juggle
the family budget which includes such incidentals as lunch money,
picture money, field-trip fees and schooling costs, plus keep the
home humming along -- every day.
"Stretched for time" takes on a new meaning
when a mom also works outside the home. With such a busy schedule,
it's tough finding the time to balance the checkbook, let alone
come up with ways to stretch the family budget.
In honor of all you moms who pull double-duty by working
outside the home as well as inside, we consulted some experts to
offer tips to help you spend less and play more.
Where the money goes
Before you can budget, you need to know where the money is
"The top five expenses for working families are
housing, child care, health insurance, food and clothing,"
says Linda Smith, executive director of the National Association
of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies (NACCRRA), in Washington,
Child care, ranked the second-highest cost, consumes
an average 9 percent of America's working families' monthly income,
according to a 2003 study released by the Urban Institute.
The harsh reality is that the cost of child care is
directly related to its quality.
"Parents have less money when their children
are young, and that's when the costs for care are so high,"
says Smith. "Even so, this is not the place to cut corners.
Our children are an important investment. We know that 90 percent
of the brain's development takes place before age 5."
What's a mom to do?
Examine carefully all your options. Weigh safety, kindness
and professional attitudes of caregivers, ratio of children to teachers
and the happiness factor when making your decision. Visit several
centers before placing your child. Do your research and be flexible
to maximize savings.
Talk to local experts
Find and talk to your local child-care specialists. ChildCareAware
is a nonprofit initiative that helps parents find quality care in
their communities. This organization will help you sort out your
options, from the cost to the quality. Plus, they'll help determine
whether you qualify for government subsidies or other financial
grants if your income is borderline.
Talk to your employer
Many companies offer a flexible spending account for dependent
care. Flexible spending accounts allow you to deduct up to $5,000
in pretax dollars annually from your paychecks. You can withdraw
this money to pay for licensed child-care expenses.
Your employer may have a partnership with a day-care
facility that provides discounted rates to its employees. Again,
quality before cost savings! Make sure you're comfortable with your
More employers are offering flexible scheduling. Ask
about flexible hours, job-sharing or telecommuting. Arrange your
work schedule to alternate with your spouse's or relative's to reduce
the amount of time your child will have to spend in daycare.
Do you know a co-worker with similar backgrounds and
parenting styles? Perhaps you can split the cost of home child care.
Take the pre-K initiative
If your public school district offers a half-day pre-K program
for 4-year-olds, enroll your child. It's free and reduces child-care
costs to half-day rates.
Another pre-K initiative, Head Start, offers early
learning child-care for 100-percent poverty level and special-needs
children. They often have a working collaboration with child-care
facilities for additional hours.
And, now for Mom
Working moms need to shed the aprons and casual wear when heading
off to the office. Here are a few tricks for economizing without
Go pro, not trendy
Stretch your clothing budget by concentrating on a professional
style, not trendy, recommends Joi Gordon, chief executive director
of Dress for Success, a nonprofit organization based in New York
that helps women move into the work force.
Simple is best. Concentrate on basic colors, such
as blue, black and gray, she says. Basic colors go a long way and
can be easily interchanged with different blouses to create diverse
outfits. Stay away from the extremely fashionable styles that limit
how many times and how many ways you can wear them.
Don't over accessorize, Gordon says. It's a waste
of money trying to match accessories to all your outfits.
Put on the spritz, not the ritz
Dry cleaning costs add up quickly. So put the silks in the
back of the closet, and move your wash-and-wears upfront.
When your clothes are wrinkled, hang them on a shower
rod, spritz them with a fine mist of hot water and they'll be wrinkle-free
in the morning.
Got a spot? Remove it yourself. North
Carolina State University's Web site offers general hints for
removing spots and stains, and recommends products that work.
Shop with a mission
Make a grocery list and an errand list before heading out to
shop. The trick is to do both grocery shopping and errands on the
same day. That way you don't have the time to browse, salivating
over all the cool stuff you really don't need.
Keep track of every dollar you spend. If you want
to cut costs, first you need to know exactly what you are spending.
Then, identify the "wants" and the "needs."
Limit your wants and take care of the family's needs.
Start holiday shopping early and spread it out over
a few months instead of a few days. If your state offers "tax-free"
shopping days during the summer -- get a jump on birthday and holiday
Always send in for the rebate on a purchase whether
it's $2 or $50. It all adds up.
Maximize your benefits
If you and your husband are offered medical benefits through
your employers, evaluate the coverage and the costs offered to see
where you can cut expenses by putting the whole family on one of
the plans. You'll want to consider cost, plan design and the doctors
in the plan before making your decision.
Employers save money when you choose to refuse a health
benefit. See if they will give you cash back if you show that you're
covered under your spouse's plan.
Most moms race around town running the family carpool. Gas
prices are climbing, so any way to cut
back on fuel means money back in your pocket.
Keep your engine well maintained and your tires at
the proper pressure to save on fuel costs. Combine errands into
a single trip and use the family's most fuel-efficient car when
doing extensive driving. Compare prices at different gas stations;
pump the gas yourself; and use the lowest octane possible for your
gas-saver calculator to see if you can save by driving to a
cheaper gas station.
Don't stop talking
Cancel your long-distance phone service. Instead, use a prepaid
phone card, readily available at most any major retail establishment.
For example, Sam's Club offers prepaid cards for as low as 3.47
cents per minute. Or, if chatting on the phone with family and friends
far away is important to you, switch your long-distance service
to a cell phone with real nationwide minutes. Just remember to track
the minutes used, as the over-the -limit costs are very expensive.
Frequent libraries instead of bookstores
Everyone needs to kick back and delve into a good book, but
you don't have to spend a bundle. If books are your bag, a fancy
bookstore is a dangerous place to be. They're expensive and encourage
impulse spending. Instead read the unread books spilling off your
bookshelves, search used bookstores or garage sales and visit your
Form book clubs with friends, co-workers and relatives
to recycle your books.
Playtime for mom
Go to the matinees of first-run movies. You'll still get the
big-screen experience but at a significant savings.
Try out a dollar theater, a local film festival or
even a drive-in. To really save, rent movies. Better yet, check
out your local public library for free movies to borrow or work
as a volunteer at a local fair or festival -- you'll get in free.
Do lunch. Go to the lovely French bistro or seafood
café that you've been longing to check out. Lunch menus usually
offer the same entrees as dinner, just smaller portions and a smaller
Another cost-cutting palate pleaser: Dine out
during the week, rather than the weekends. It's usually cheaper.