Making ends meet and putting something away for the future each month is a real challenge for virtually all Americans. Our consumption-driven culture makes saving socially difficult - or at least makes spending too easy.
Here are five tips to help you and your family get together on family finances:
Get the parents on the same page
Sit down with your spouse right away and make sure you share the same financial goals. You may find out that you're not on the same page. Together, you can fix that. Remember that your marriage is more important than money and seek a way to compromise so that you can get synchronized, making the messages you send the kids so much more consistent.
Have the kids help make decisions about their activities based on the budget
Kids these days are often highly programmed, running from soccer practice to music lessons and from there to Girl Scouts. Sit down with your children and show them how much each activity costs and how much is available for those activities and let them help make the decision about which activities stay and which go.
Set a savings goal, measure progress publicly and celebrate milestones
Together as a family, set goals for putting money into savings each month. Monitor progress. When you reach the goal and put the target amount - or more - into savings, celebrate in a fun but budget-appropriate way. Everyone in the family has an interest in spending money, but if everyone understands and shares a savings goal, you can shift the excitement from spending to saving.
Plan family activities together with the budget in mind
If you have just $20 for an evening's activity with the family, let the kids help decide how to make that a fun evening. Just a little creativity can make that into a splendid evening picnicking in the park or eating a pizza while watching a DVD.
Plan your family vacations together with a budget
Together, you can make choices between camping and staying in motels, amusement parks and beaches, long drives to faraway locations and quick trips to neglected nearby sites.
By involving your entire family in your financial goals, you can increase harmony and happiness in your home. A child told he can't do this or that fun thing because there isn't enough money, may be frustrated and angry. One who views herself as part of a team trying to save money for college and other goals will be excited about helping to do her part. Ideas for doing fun things on the cheap are likely to be improved by having more people involved in the planning, too. Your kids will think of things you never would and you may just have more fun yourself!