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CRUNCH TIME!

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The word recession is creeping its way into the nation's news, but are we prepared to get by on less? Learn to restructure your family's way of living in order to be more cost-effective.

The cost of having kids can make parents question their sanity about starting a family. However, there are many ways to keep costs down without eating up your time or sacrificing your family’s quality of life. By following these cost-cutting tips, you can begin to build your savings and learn to live a more streamlined lifestyle.

Feeding the Crew

Feeding your family is perhaps one of the biggest expenses, and therefore, one of the best places to save. Coupon clipping can bring substantial savings – provided you use coupons only for items you’d purchase anyway. Coupons can be a hassle, however. Cut your grocery bill by at least one-third by buying only on-sale. Each week, flip through your store flier, then stock up with a four-to-six week supply of the items on sale.

Also, avoid wholesale food clubs. When comparing prices, the savings are usually minimal, and can’t begin to compare to grocery store sale prices. Always compare the price per ounce on different size packages. Contrary to popular belief, smaller packages are often the better deal.

Don’t let unanticipated fast food runs eat up your spare cash. Have paper plates and plenty of frozen meals to toss in the oven for emergency eat-and-run suppers.

Energy Efficiency

There are plenty of ways to cut overall energy use without sacrifice, so make the following part of your strategy. Run your dishwasher only when full, and use the no-heat or air-dry setting. Turn off the oven a few minutes before your meal is done cooking, and allow the heat already built up to finish the job. Wash all laundry in cold water, except for sheets and towels that need hot water to kill bacteria and odors.

Clean the lint filter on your dryer before each use, and don’t over dry clothes. Evaluate your lighting needs. Use the lowest watt bulb possible that still provides ample lighting. Keep your hot water heater between 115 to 120 degrees. Hotter temperatures are wasteful, unnecessary and can lead to scalding.

When purchasing new appliances, compare energy efficiency. Paying a little more for the more energy-efficient model can save you money in the end. Turn your computer off overnight and during long interruptions.

Family Fun

Having fun doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg or even cost anything at all. Make visiting your library a regular family activity. Libraries offer a wide variety of free entertainment including books and magazines, videos and DVDs, music CDs and cassettes, audio books, even computer games and software. If your library doesn’t carry an item you’re looking for, ask about its interlibrary loan program. Libraries often host special events for families each month, too.

Contact local, county and state parks for scheduled activities and programs, and don’t forget about paved biking and roller blade trails, hiking and nature walks, fishing, swimming, wildlife viewing and more.

Instead of taking your family to dinner or for fast food, pick up Chinese and head to the park. You’ll not only save, but eat healthier, too. Contact the science, natural history, and children’s museums in your area and ask if they’re one of the more than 200 members of the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) in the United States. If so, purchase an annual family membership, generally ranging between $60 and $80, which offers unlimited visits to all ASTC member museums. Then plan several day trips throughout the year for family science fun. Visit astc.org for details.

Finance Savvy

The following suggestions can bring big savings and make banking and loans work for you, not against you.

If you can’t double up on mortgage and loan payments, you can still save by breaking each monthly payment into two, and pay half of your monthly loan and mortgage payments a couple weeks early. Contact your loan institution and make sure early and partial payments will apply to your regular monthly installments and that interest will be adjusted accordingly.

Open a checking account at a credit union or bank that offers free accounts with no maintenance or check fees. Get rid of that ATM card that racks up fees for each use. Store your credit card. Carrying it on you can lead to impulse buying, and unless you’re disciplined enough to pay it off monthly, it will eat up spare cash on interest expense.

Auto Economizing

There are many ways to keep driving expenses down. Try these for starters. Increase the deductible on your collision to $1000, unless you’re accident prone, or have teen drivers. The cost difference can be significant. Avoid purchasing a brand new vehicle, and opt for a low mileage model only a year or two old. You’ll save a fortune on depreciation.

Dress for Less

Save on household and clothing expenses by trying these money saving ideas, and help to protect the environment, too. Hit end of the season sales and save 60 – 80 percent on kids’ clothing for the following school year. A one-size difference is usually a safe bet.

Visit resale shops for super savings on like-new children’s clothing. Catch the savings as families in all income brackets are doing today by hitting garage sales for family and household needs. You’ll find top-quality, top-condition items including toys, baby equipment, clothing and more, for next to nothing.

Kimberly Blaker is a mother and freelance writer.

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