Raising a child with special needs can really strain your budget. Maybe your child needs a weighted vest or a swing chair that medical insurance doesn’t cover. Or perhaps you pay for respite care every few weeks. Regardless of the added expenses, you can learn to stretch your money by following a few simple tips.
First, acknowledge that you probably spend money on “feel-good” items. Whether they are for yourself, or your child, it’s common to impulse buy when you are stressed and need a quick pick-me-up. Everyone knows there are certain things in life that are necessities: food, clothing, shelter, transportation and medical care. But stopping at the music store on a whim and buying new CDs doesn’t fit into this category. Before you buy anything, ask yourself, “Do I need it, or do I want it?” Start recognizing your “feel-good” spending, and try to find other ways to get quick stress relief.
Have you taken a good look at your day-to-day expenses? Consider the couple who felt they couldn’t make ends meet. After reviewing their expenses and their day-to-day routine, they realized they were spending $300/month at a gourmet coffee shop. It boiled down to each of them ordering a large gourmet coffee every day. Each coffee cost approximately $5. Because it became such a part of their routine, they never realized what they were actually spending.
Make sure you pay your bills on time. Paying a late charge is the same as handing over free money. If you have a lot of medical bills, be sure to ask if you can make payment arrangements and then try to pay off the lowest amounts first. If possible, make a partial payment at the doctor’s office the day of the visit to avoid getting hit with the entire bill later in the month.
You might also consider negotiating a settlement payoff amount with hospitals and larger health care provider practices. If you’ve been making payments on time, and you can afford to make a larger one-time payment, see if you can negotiate a smaller pay-off amount. It’s also worth your while to find out if the hospital has a charity fund that would be willing to help you pay off your higher medical debts.
Don’t write a check and hope that it won’t clear until you’ve deposited more money into your account. Every overdraft has the potential of costing you $25 or more. If you are consistently miscalculating your checkbook and bouncing checks, find out if your bank offers overdraft protection. Speaking of banks, check your statement. How much is your bank charging you for monthly fees? Is it worth checking and comparing other banks? Compare ATM fees.
Use your credit cards for emergencies only. It sounds drastic, but try keeping them in the freezer, frozen in a block of ice. Unthaw only in case of an emergency. Start paying off the balances while not charging any additional purchases. Take a look at the interest rate for your credit cards. Call the credit card companies and negotiate a lower rate.
Take a look at your mortgage. Is your interest rate high compared to today’s rate? Would it benefit you to refinance? Depending on the rate, this could result in significant savings.
If you rent from a property management company or other third-party entity, consider renting from a private owner. Privately rented housing can cost less because the owner doesn’t have to pay fees to have the property managed.
When was the last time you reviewed your homeowner’s and auto insurance? If you’ve never filed a claim, you might think about higher deductibles. It may also benefit you to shop around.
If you pay for your own prescriptions, call around to several pharmacies to get the lowest price. Also, speak to your health care provider about pharmaceutical programs that help with your medication costs.
How much are you paying for long distance phone service? How about your cable and/or Internet service? This is an area where special promotions or all-in-one deals are always popping up and is worth your while to do some comparison shopping.
The oldest and most common tip is never, ever go to the grocery store hungry. It paves the way for impulse buying. But here are some other ideas that may help decrease your food bill by up to 25 percent:
- Write a list and stick to it.
- Clip those coupons, but only for the items you would normally buy.
- Go alone. Don’t take the kids – they’ll tend to increase your bill!
- Know your prices. Just because it’s a warehouse or discount store doesn’t mean the prices are cheaper.
- Plan your weekly meals and/or food needs ahead of time.
- Avoid buying prepared food. Double your recipes and freeze the second batch.
- Avoid fast food. Sit down and add up the cost of ingredients it takes to make a dinner for four people, as opposed to buying it at the drive-thru. The same holds true for restaurants.
Child care is a huge expense. If you have child care expenses, consider asking your employer if you can work flex-time, or arrange your work schedule to alternate with your spouse so that your child will spend fewer hours in day care. If it’s a situation where you need to have intermittent child care, rather than pay a sitter, consider organizing or joining a baby-sitting co-op.
What should you do if you’ve done it all and still can’t make ends meet? Here are some suggestions:
- Contact your creditors and mortgage company immediately to attempt to work out a payment plan.
- Consider taking a second job.
- Contact your local township/county to see what benefits are available.
Most importantly, don’t stick your head in the sand. Unless you receive an unexpected inheritance or win the lottery, your problems won’t go away. The time and effort you invest now will be well worth it down the road.