The Dollar Stretcher
by Gary Foreman
Dear Dollar Stretcher, I stayed home as a parent until my youngest started 1st grade. We happily survived on one income. Now I am an educational assistant in the same school system, same hours, same days off, as my two daughters. We have grown accustomed to my paycheck appearing every two weeks. This will end when school stops. So my question is: do you have any tips on how to handle the summer months? (more time at home, less money) Curious As to How the Summer Will Go
Curious has a lot of company. Many mothers arrange their work schedules so that they can be home with their children when school is not in session. And for those who are able to take the entire summer off, getting through those months without accumulating credit card debt is always an issue. Let's see if we can't suggest some methods to help Curious survive the summer.
The most obvious answer for Curious is to earn some extra income during the summer. Creating at-home work for just a few months is challenging, but not impossible. The first opportunities to consider would be those that use the skills she applies working at school. One possibility would be to take in other kids during the day. Curious could probably find some mothers who will continue to work during the summer and need a daycare option for just the summer months. Naturally she'd need to consider the appropriate safety and legal issues.
Another strategy would be for Curious to adjust her income so that it's level throughout all twelve months of the year. She can total the amount that she'll earn during the school year and only allow herself to spend 1/12th each month. The extra during the working months could be set aside in a separate savings account.
By the time summer arrives Curious would be able to pay herself out of the saving account. Just like she was getting a payroll check. Unfortunately, it's too late to start for this summer. But if she'll begin the program at the beginning of the next school year she'll be in better shape a year from now.
She can consider ways to control expenses. The first step is to shift her expenses to the winter months wherever possible. Her goal should be to actually spend less when she's not working. She must avoid any payments that can't be covered by her husband's pay alone.
One strategy is to prepay bills before the summer. Curious can either pay the bills in advance or simply set money aside for summer bills. She might find it very liberating to know that the car payments for July and August are already handled when she begins her summer break.
She'll also want to save ahead for known summer expenses. If a vacation is planned the money should be accumulated during the school year. The same for any day camps or day trips that are planned.
This late in the school year Curious will need to concentrate on things that she can do to reduce spending this summer. She has an opportunity to use the time that's not spent working to 'manage' her household expenses. If Curious considers saving money at home as if it were a job, she can actually save significant amounts.
If she doesn't believe it she might want to visit the library and read "Miserly Moms" by Joni McCoy. A former purchasing agent, Joni found that she was actually ahead financially by applying her skills at home rather than at the workplace.
Groceries are an excellent place to start. Convenience foods save time but are expensive. Cooking from 'scratch' can reduce a grocery bills big time. Curious could also take on some home repair projects (like painting) that might require a professional if left to a busier time of the year. It's also a good time to review auto, home and life insurance policies to make sure that you're getting the best rates.
Curious and the kids need to recognize that more time doesn't necessarily have to mean more expenses. Free time should be just that: free. Every minute doesn't need to be filled with paid amusements.
In fact, until recently people were expected to entertain themselves when work, school or chores weren't consuming their time. That means looking for creative ways to find free entertainment. Depending on their interests, they can use libraries, museums, athletics and other activities to have a great time. She'll need to search out ideas from the local paper and other sources. But she'll have the time to do that.
Can Curious make this work? Sure! But her family will need to look at it as a twelve month challenge. Not just a summertime problem. Here's to a wonderful summer for Curious and her daughters!
Gary Foreman is a former Certified Financial Planner and purchasing manager. He currently edits The Dollar Stretcher http://www.stretcher.com/save.htm website.
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