The amount of food my 8-year-old son consumes can be obscene. The other day at lunch, he ate not one but three PB&J’s then asked for fruit and—I kid you not—an hour later was hungry again. And that was just one meal. Not to mention he has two younger sisters who are constantly asking for snacks.
The grocery bill in our household can top the $300 mark each week just trying to keep up with these growing children. So I look for other ways to save money when it comes to snacks, entertainment and travel.
I also, thankfully, have a wonderful tribe of fellow mothers whom I call friends. We’re easily able to relate on this daily struggle of making choices on where the money is spent to maximize the household income.
Saving Money on Food, Snacks and More Snacks
It can be tempting to stop at fast-food restaurants when you’re running around, but it’s healthier for your children and your budget to pack snacks that they can much on while in the car or at extracurricular activities.
The No. 1 thing I do before leaving the house is pile as many snacks as I can into what used to be a cooler my husband and I used pre-kids for a 6-pack of beer we would carry down to the creek on relaxing afternoons. Those days no longer exist. Now that bag’s zipper is broken from stuffing large quantities of granola bars, bananas, apple slices, etc. into the bag.
Packing snacks for our busy afternoons of running to dance, swimming lessons and soccer practice allows me to skip a stop at a fast-food joint or convenience store to try and fill up the kids between meals. This also keeps my expenses in check because I’ve purchased this food, and it’s part of my weekly budget.
Have a plan
Each week, I make a list before I head to the grocery store for that week’s snacks and nightly meals. It cuts down on cost and time because I come with a plan and make this trip only once per week to avoid the aimless roam. If I run out of milk or bread, I just ask the husband to grab it on his way home.
I asked my mom friends what they do to save money on food.
Utilize Amazon Pantry: My friend Kristen Jordan recommends Amazon Pantry for snacks. “Depending on the location, some grocery stores are more expensive, and this way the snacks are delivered right to my house,” says Kristen.
Share meals: Eating out can get super expensive. Look for restaurants that offer deals where kids eat free. Some of my friends just let their little ones eat off their plate. “The meals at restaurants are so large that they usually can all share two meals,” says Sarah Byrd, mother of three. “We don’t take our kids to fancy places because they enjoy kid food just as much as expensive food.”
Pack food when you travel: Sarah is quite the car traveler with her three kids and literally takes a suitcase of food with her: “I always buy individual cereal boxes and pick up milk when we get to our destination. It’s easy to grab bread and lunch meats.”
Find Discounts on Activities
A day out at an amusement park or zoo can quickly get expensive. Look for discounts on admission and source savings advice from blogs before you get to the gate.
A fun day out with the kids can seriously add up. Nowadays, a trip to the zoo can easily be a $50 venture—and that’s not even counting the food to feed the animals or the train ride around the zoo.
Look for online deals: Check out the website of the place before you go. “If we’re going somewhere that requires tickets to something, such as the zoo or amusement park, I always look up tickets online and search for deals,” says Brittani Scheefer, mother of two. “There is almost always a discount out there somewhere.
If you can’t find a discount, call and ask.
“If I can’t find a coupon online, I call the company and say that I was really hoping to find a coupon but didn’t see any online,” says Sarah. “I ask if they have one to share with me, and usually I can get 10 to 15% off.”
Find blogs for advice: Blogs can offer great tips on ways to save money or get the biggest bang for your buck. “One of my favorites is Disney Parks Mom Panel,” says Brittani. “It offered advice that saved me money and gave me new ideas on where to take my kids who are 3 and under.”
Go Cheap on Travel
Don’t opt for an expensive hotel. When traveling with kids, you’re not going to spend much time in the room, and your children likely won’t be bothered by simple, affordable lodging.
Traveling with kids can be tough, whether it’s in the car or by plane. I personally think it gets even harder when it comes to staying in a hotel room. You know the lasting memories are not made there, so why spend the big bucks on the place you want to spend the least amount of time in?
Find discounted hotels: Always ask for the AAA or AARP discounts. “I don’t have either, but my mom does, and I give her number if needed but usually don’t need the number,” says Sarah. Also, always check RetailMeNot for hotel offers before booking.
Get free breakfast: Look for hotels that offer a free continental breakfast. “My kids love cheap hotels because of that,” says Sarah. “Why introduce them to the Ritz when they think the Holiday Inn is just as cool.” Or find a room that offers a small kitchen to have breakfast in before you head out.
Rent your baby gear: Small kids require a lot of things like cribs, booster seats and, of course, toys. But hauling all that gear can make travel stressful for parents. Try a baby gear rental company like Babierge or Baby’s Away. The cost might wind up about even when you consider that bringing those items on an airplane would require extra fees. “It’s a huge stress reliever, and when you are already packing so much, it’s one less thing to think about,” says Kristen.
Use travel points: If you or your spouse travel a lot for work, points can be your key to saving on flights, hotels and rental cars. “My husband only travels Southwest, and we use the Southwest credit card,” says Brittani. “Between the two, we obtain Companion Pass status, which means I can fly for free, and the points get our son a ticket for free. Biggest bang for your buck for flights.”
As parents, we do what we have to do to get by sometimes.
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