How Families Can Save During Inflation
Rent. Insurance. Groceries. Gas. Prices are up. Way up.
Inflation is hitting families hard, and many are making adjustments to cut costs. In June, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Consumer Price Index Summary showed the “all items” index
– including food, energy, items, shelter and more – had increased 9.1%. Rent in Atlanta is up 16.2% from last year. Atlanta Parent talked to experts and moms about what they’re changing. Use these tips to start rethinking your money habits. Small changes can make a big difference!
Hit the road less.
Try to combine as many errands as possible, so you’re using your car and gas less.
“We’re more conscious of gas,” says Maria Smith, a mom of four and the writer behind Mamalicious Maria. “We’ve combined lots of trips in the last few months, so we might hang out for an hour in between, because we don’t want to drive back home.”
Consider carpooling to work or running weekend errands with a friend to split costs.
“I’m lucky; I purchased a plug-in hybrid vehicle in 2020 before the pandemic hit. My husband drives an older model truck that guzzles gas, and he works from home, so we’ve been sharing my car to run errands to cut back on gas,” says Meghan Cooper, an Acworth mom of two and editor-in-chief at JaMonkey.
Vary your shopping.
Your grocery shopping can get you stuck in a rut. Head to a different store to check out their deals.
Amelia Ramirez, mom of two in Peachtree Corners, shops at different places, depending on her family’s needs: the Buford Highway Farmers Market and Aldi for in-season produce, Costco for bulk goods, The Fresh Market for their different meat specials, Kroger for their sales and Trader Joe’s for treats.
She’s also found Costco’s gas prices to be the best. Consider a warehouse club membership to Costco or BJ’s, as it could help your family save on both groceries and gas.
Go with a plan.
“On Sundays, I map out for a week what we’re going to eat, so I know exactly what I need,” says Erica Key, mom of two and the founder of Eating with Erica. “Most people go to the grocery store when they’re hungry; they grab a bunch of hoopla, and they have to go back, because they didn’t know what they needed. Know what you’re making for the week, and make a list.”
“Grocery prices continue to really eat into people’s wallets. While we can’t control prices, we can control how we spend our money. How you shop matters so much,” says Clark Howard, consumer expert and founder of clark.com. “I wait to buy regular household staples until they are on sale. We can substitute what we eat based on what’s going on with prices in the marketplace. We buy brand names in the United States, but rethink this in a time when every dollar counts. You find, over time, which alternative brands and store brands are good and which ones are not worth it.”
Check weekly sales ads and grocery store’s apps to determine which items are on sale. “I rely on digital coupons, weekly sales and reward apps, like Fetch, to earn money back,” says Kimberly Stroh, mom of three and writer at Savvy Mama Lifestyle.
Think about what you really need. Gypsy Savage, a Brookhaven mom of three, is aiming to bring groceries down to $200 per week, so she is redefining her necessities. “Go without. I love a splash of Oatly’s Oatmilk in my coffee, but I don’t need it, so I just splurge on oatmilk as a treat every now and then,” she says.
Some shoppers might get easily distracted by items, even if they’re shopping sales. “Stock up on sale items, but only if you’re already at the store,” Savage recommends. When you’re stocking up, know what items will keep. Key will often buy three packages of meats and poultry – one for the fridge, freezer and deep freezer. Ramirez freezes string cheese and shredded cheese.
Make your pantry work for you.
“Strategizing meal prepping and food storage has been helping me,” Ramirez says. “If I have a string of meals planned and prepped, I am more successful in not buying duplicates or having food waste, which allows me to stretch my budget to build up my pantry with different spices and other essentials. I try to make things from scratch as much as I can, like bread, baked goods, pickled vegetables.”
Siobhán Alvarez, a mom of two (with one on the way!) and the mom behind Mimosas & Motherhood, has worked to slim down her family’s grocery budget and spends about $100 a week on groceries by using coupons, sales, rewards apps, weekly mailers and the Sunday newspaper. “Items like peanut butter, canned vegetables, dry beans, rice and sauces last for a long time in the pantry. Plus, having pantry staples on hand means you can repurpose meals into new things. For example, if you cook a pot roast on Sunday, you can use BBQ sauce to make pulled meat sandwiches another night, and salsa with canned corn and beans to create the filling for enchiladas on a third night.”
Check out Super Cook; you can input the various ingredients you have at home to find matching recipes.
Buy real foods.
Key saves money buying pounds of carrots, kiwis or strawberries, which are usually cheaper than buying pre-cut fruits and veggies. Savage makes her own guacamole, hummus and bread. “The prepackaged and convenient foods tend to be more expensive,” she says. “Opt for carrots, apples, strawberries, celery and peanut butter over the convenient snacks, like pouches, yogurt sticks and veggie straws.”
Split it up.
“When it comes to meat, we purchased whole animals, like pigs and cows, with other members of our family,” says Cooper. “We split the cost, and each gets the cuts we like. We don’t do it often, but it does help.”
Pay attention to how much you eat out.
Designate one day a week as a no-spend day. Reducing the amount you eat out by just one meal a month can make a difference.
Also, consider other ways your family can satisfy a craving without going to a restaurant. “If we want pizza, we’ll pick up some from Publix to get what they want in an economical way,” Smith says.
When you do eat out, make sure you’re getting rewarded for it. Smith always makes sure to scan her app at Chick-fil-A. Many restaurants have apps where you can build up points to redeem free food later.
Make your indulgences work for you. Cooper’s family splurges when they eat out. “Because of this, we joined Uber One to bring the fees down and to get the special offers,” she says. Also, check weekly ads or websites for coupons and deals.
Recreate what you love.
Bring what you love about the restaurant home to you. Rethink cooking at home – it doesn’t have to be boring. “If you go to a restaurant and there’s a special dish you like, ask the chef for the recipe,” Key suggests. “Look at restaurants’ blogs for replicating recipes at home. A lot of chefs have amazing cookbooks. Add a new menu item at your skill level to switch it up. The next time you’re making chicken, try two different sides or season it differently.”
Things to Do
Find the fun in free.
Take advantage of free things, suggests Miranda Chamberlain, a Sugar Hill mom of two. Her family loves visiting the library. “I got passes to the Center for Puppetry Arts and the Chattahoochee Nature Center through the library. There were also activity sheets, coloring pages, games and more for my kids to explore. This is our go-to place when it’s too hot outside, but we need an activity.” They also love splash pads, free museum days and the Mall of Georgia’s indoor playground and carousel.
Become a member.
If there’s an attraction your family loves to visit, consider buying a membership, which is often cheaper than purchasing admission for multiple trips. “Membership to the Interactive Neighborhood for Kids in Gainesville has been amazing,” Chamberlain says. “The annual cost is reasonable for a family of four, and it has more than paid for itself with the number of times we go. We also have a reciprocal membership with the Children’s Museum of Atlanta, so we get half-off admission there.”
Change the way you entertain.
Hilda Brucker, editor and publisher at Atlanta on the Cheap, suggests finding cheaper alternatives, like SeaQuest instead of Georgia Aquarium or a Gwinnett Stripers game instead of the Atlanta Braves. If there’s a venue your family loves, make sure to get on the mailing list, so you don’t miss any offers or free days.
Sometimes it pays to wait until the last minute.
Cooper suggests waiting to plan fall trips. “I think the prices will come down after the mad dash to do things calms down when school is back in session,” she says.
“If you haven’t gotten a reservation for hotels, flights or car rentals early, keep checking. Especially for hotels, a lot of places a day or two before, their rates will fall because of cancellation policies. If you look on the apps, there are always more rooms available versus going to third-party places, and when you book directly from the hotel, you get points,” Smith says.
Look at your options.
“Hotel rooms or suites designed for larger families have become so expensive,” Stroh says. “We like to save money by booking a vacation home rental instead. It gives our family the space we need and amenities without paying hotel prices. Having a full kitchen on hand helps us save money on food, too.”
Consider what would really be a dealbreaker for your fun. What are your must-dos?
“We found a great deal at Spring Break because we were patient and watched the VRBO listings. It wasn’t beach view, but it was close enough and saved us a ton of money,” Savage says. “Utilize all the free perks – the beach, the local parks, the pool at the place you’re staying. Avoid spending money on the touristy attractions, like parasailing and swimming with the dolphins.”
Consider staying close to home.
“With the way gas prices are reaching record highs, and airlines are charging an arm and leg for flights – if they aren’t canceling your flight – I recommend staying somewhere close,” Cooper suggests. “We all need a change in scenery after being home so much during the pandemic. Check out National and State Parks and reconnect with nature. Go camping to save on hotel rooms or glamping in a yurt if you need a little AC during hot months.”
Thinking about money matters can be overwhelming. So, start with small, easy things to do. Figure out how much money you have available every month, determine small ways to save, and commit to sticking to it!
Create a plan.
“A lot of people are feeling out of control right now,” says Howard. “Creating and maintaining a budget is one of the best things you can do to eliminate stress about money. It’s not about obsessing over a budget. Instead, it’s about assessing where you are with the money coming in and going out. Once your budget is created, you can start to think through your spending. It’s about organizing your thoughts and actions, so you can start to feel in control of the money in your life.”
Alvarez suggests sitting down with your expenses from the last three to six months. “You need to have an accurate picture of what your family income looks like, as well as a real snapshot of how you’re spending your money each month.”
Reevaluate your monthly expenses.
Monthly costs can add up, whether they’re wants or necessities. Savage recommends shopping around, even on the expenses you already have. “We called our cable company to make sure we had the lowest rate possible; same with gas and electric rates.”
Her family also looked into their subscriptions. “We got rid of some expenses that aren’t needed, like a carwash subscription. We dropped Audible and use the library’s system. We dropped a gym membership and fell in love with running right out the front door.”
Reframe your thinking.
Scared of being known as a cheapskate? Focused too much on all the things you can’t do? Try to remain positive. Find joy in the money you’re saving and what that will mean for you and your kids’ futures. Think about the way you’re being more earth-conscious – creating less food waste and buying fewer clothes are better for the environment! Remember, these changes don’t have to be forever.
Honesty is the best policy.
It can often feel embarrassing to talk about money, but many families are readjusting right now. Being honest with your family and friends may lead to new but still fun experiences – maybe you gather for a potluck instead of going out to eat, or you hold a clothing swap instead of going shopping. You can also find alternatives that work for everyone’s budget. Start a babysitting co-op with neighbors or friends to save money and still get time for yourself or a date night.
Involve the Kids
Don’t be afraid to talk to your kids about finances.
Make it a family affair.
Recently, Smith’s oldest started babysitting, jumpstarting a family savings challenge. “We realized all the kids weren’t saving on a regular basis. We hadn’t really taught them that, so we decided it’s going to be a rule now that 20% of what you earn goes in savings. We got the three oldest the Greenlight debit cards, so they can put money into savings on their own.”
Key framed savings for her 14-year-old daughter as an investment: “You pay yourself first. It’s okay to treat yourself, but if you don’t have the magic number in savings, maybe don’t treat yourself yet.”
Break it down.
Explain money in a kid-friendly way, Smith suggests. “Help them understand how much things cost in their terms: If something costs $100, and you’re babysitting at $12 an hour, you’d have to work eight and a half hours to earn dinner.”
Stroh noticed at age 7 it was easier to talk about wants and needs. “That’s when our kids truly understood ‘wants vs. needs.’ That lesson ties in so well with money; it’s easy to combine both topics.”
Don’t be afraid to talk to your kids about money.
“As an African American family, it is much more important to instill these financial values into our kids, because we don’t necessarily come from these generations of wealth. We didn’t have parents who could give us this information,” Smith says. “We’re just a generation past Jim Crow, which I think people forget sometimes.” In 2019, the average Black household had $142,330 compared with $980,549 for the average white household, according to the Center for American Progress.