Be ResourcefulEconomic challenges may involve cutting back on spending, relocating to a more affordable living situation, or taking on additional jobs. As you adjust to new situations, you and your family can find new ways to meet your material and emotional needs and spend quality time together.
Maintain and Create RoutinesChildren are comforted by knowing what to expect throughout the day, especially during times of financial change.
Try to keep to simple routines, such as reading a book to your preschooler before bedtime or playing a board game after dinner.
If you cannot keep old routines, create new ones. For example, if you are no longer able to greet your children in the morning because you need to be out looking for work, take time each night to share stories from your day.
Everyone Can Pitch InYou can help empower the members of your family by giving each of them a special job to do. Together, create a list of jobs that your children can do to help out.
For young children, do activities such as helping with the laundry by putting all the socks together in pairs, putting away toys, or putting napkins at everyone’s place before a meal.
For older children, do activities such as getting the mail, making the bed, or sweeping the floor. Each day, mark their jobs for the day by putting a different-colored paper clip or sticky note by each child’s job on the list.
Keep in mind that children should still be children. It is important to balance their time helping the family with playtime activities or quiet time.
Having Fun TogetherEven though times may be tough, you can keep having fun together. It will help lift everyone’s spirits and, just as important, will help create happy memories. Here are some low and no-cost ideas:
If you can no longer go to the amusement park or arcade, turn your home into an adventure land.
• Create an obstacle course. See how fast each member of your family can hop from pillow to pillow, toss three beans into a plastic cup, and then sing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”
• Have your own science fair. Conduct “what sinks/what floats” experiments in the tub or sink. Build a boat out of aluminum foil and see how much cargo (e.g. small blocks, plastic spoons, or other small waterproof items). Fold newspapers or old mail to see if you can get them to glide through the air.
• Host a game night. Invite friends and family to join you. Ask everyone to bring a game to share. Make a big bowl of popcorn, listen to your favorite songs, and play away!
• Look for free events. Consult the Internet, your local newspaper, or library bulletin board. You might discover free outdoor concerts and plays.• Go on a nature scavenger hunt. How many different leaves can you collect? You might take a trip to your local library to find a book about trees to identify each leaf. Can you find any four-legged creatures outside? Can you spot any insects? Search for rocks that will write like chalk. Is your neighborhood parks department offering any free family activities that you could attend?
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Use your family’s challenges as a chance to expose your children to and include them in money-saving practices.
Starting a Family BankEvery day, place spare coins in a jar that you’ve labeled “Family Bank.” Together you might fill your jar with money you earn from recycling bottles and cans, from holding a yard sale or an Internet auction. When you've collected enough, use your family bank money for a fun family activity or for something the family really needs.
Made from Scratch!Creating your own homemade toys saves money, which can really add up and be a lot of fun.
• Make your own presents. If your children are attending a birthday party, talk together about how they might make a present. Perhaps they can decorate a birthday T-shirt or make a bookmark, journal, or scrapbook.
• Make homemade music. A pot and a wooden spoon make a great drum. Cover one end of a paper-towel tube; fill it halfway with uncooked rice and cover the other end. You’ll have a rain stick! An empty salt or oatmeal container, filled with paperclips and pebbles, makes a maraca. Shake, shake, shake!
• Reusable materials can make towers, robots, cars, or anything your and your children’s imaginations can invent! Use paper-towel tubes, empty cereal boxes, and clean, empty milk cartons as building blocks. Ask children how they can use those materials to make a car and racetrack, a dollhouse, or a creature.
Q&A with Jean Chatzky
Q: Are there any ways we could make our children feel as if they can help?
A: Sure there are. This is a great time to teach your children lessons of economizing. Make saving money a family project. For example, maybe your family can turn off the lights more often. Another idea is to have leftovers for dinner once or twice a week. Plan a neighborhood tag sale or community market with your family and decide what to do with the money together. If your children are old enough, they could baby-sit to earn some money. You don’t want to put the burden on the children, but allowing them to feel as if they can help is a valuable lesson.
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Getting the Essentials
When money is tight, it is vital to pay close attention to your spending. Try some of these ideas and see how, with little effort, you can scale back.
Keep a pen and paper handy in the kitchen so that you can list the items that you’ll need to buy at the grocery store. This list will help you avoid making unnecessary or impulse purchases. It will also help you avoid going to the store spontaneously or returning to the store to get something you’ve forgotten.
Clip coupons. You’ll find great cost-cutting coupons in the newspaper, the mail, and even at the store. You can also check out the Internet for money-saving deals and coupons for items that your family uses regularly.
Freeze leftovers. Instead of throwing away unused portions, freeze them and warm them up and serve them another day.
Create a lending club. Find a group of friends to share music, books, videos, clothes, and even toys. Your children will be thrilled by the new things that come into their lives. They can even help choose a special toy or book that they’d like to lend to a friend.
Try taking a public bus or train, riding a bike, or even walking when you need to travel a short distance. You could also share a ride; team up with others and start a carpool.
Q&A with Jean Chatzky
Q: What steps can help me make a financial plan or a budget for my family?
A: The most important first steps involve following the money. You need to know what you have coming in, what you have going out and where it’s going. So on the computer or with pencil and paper if you’d prefer, create a log that tracks your money. And start writing down what you are spending your money on. Once you do this for a week, you will have the start of a road map that shows you where your money is going today. Then you can start making choices about where you want your money to go. You can stop spending as much on eating out, or entertainment, and start saving a little more or using the extra money to pay down credit card debt. In general, a household budget should be allocated like this:
35% of income: Housing – including insurance, taxes, care and maintenance of the house
15%: Transportation – including car payment, gas, parking, insurance, maintenance
15%: Other debt repayment – including credit cards and student loans
10%: Savings for emergencies and long-term goals
25%: Everything else – including food, clothing, entertainment, travel, gifts and other life expenses.
Q: What other money-saving tips do you have so that we can stretch our reduced income?
A: Reevaluate monthly bills. If you haven’t called your cell phone company, your cable company, your internet provider and asked for a better deal, it’s time to do so. Eliminate extra channels or services you don’t really need.
Lower interest rates. Refinancing your debts to pay them off at lower interest rates–sometimes as simple as calling your credit card company and asking for a better deal–enables you to lower your interest charges. Look into reducing your rates on student loans, car loans, and mortgages. If you are unable to pay your bills due to your reduced income, let your lender know immediately. They understand that people are struggling and are often willing to help.
Q: Should I save for college for my children or retirement?
A: In good financial times, of course, you want to try to do both. But saving for retirement takes precedence over saving for college. Why? Because there is financial aid for college in the form of grants and student loans. There is no financial aid for retirement.
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On the Job Hunt
Update your resume regularly so it includes simple and easy-to-read information about your most recent job, volunteer work, or newly acquired skills.
Try to be flexible when thinking about the types of jobs or positions to pursue. Consider jobs that are different from previous positions or that use your skill set in a different way.
Network, network, network! Use tools to connect with other people. Consider sending your resume and cover letter to your personal contacts who may know of possible job openings.
Be patient and persistent when job hunting. Remember, job hunting takes time, so try to stay positive and confident in your knowledge and skills.
Q&A with Jean Chatzky
Q: What are some tips or strategies to help me find work?
A: Cast a very wide net. It’s not enough to just search online or just send resumes. You want to get in touch with everyone you know or might possibly have connections that could help you. Also, don’t get stuck on the ultimate job. If you are looking to put food on the table, it’s important to get a paying job, rather than to wait for the right move for your career.
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Special To-Do List for Relocations
Moving from one place to another can be a tricky transition. Your children might be concerned about whether they may keep their toys and clothes. If the family is moving to a smaller space, they might wonder what it will be like to share a room. Young children might even think that you are not taking them with you! On the other hand, children may be resilient, taking cues from you on how to feel about living in a different place. You can help them with some simple strategies:
Before you move, continue your children’s routines as much as possible. Around the time of the move, try to give children an opportunity to say goodbye to their extended family, close friends, or important adults in their lives. Also, give your children the job of packing their own backpacks or tote bags with special items such as a blanket, toys, favorite books, pajamas, and a few video games. They’ll feel good about being an important part of your family team.
If you will be moving to a smaller space, have a yard or community sale of those items that you no longer need or that won’t fit into your new place. Start with clothes, toys, or furniture that your family has outgrown.
Once you get where you are going, involve everyone by unpacking together as a family and then taking a tour of your neighborhood. To help children adjust–and if they need to share a room or a bathroom–help them choose a place to call their own where they can keep their favorite things, such as some blocks, books, or board games.
While getting settled, your children may have trouble accepting unfamiliar people or events. Let them know that this is OK. Try simple statements such as, “Everyone has feelings, just like you.” To help them adjust, point out things about the new place that are similar to your previous place. Then help them understand and appreciate the things that are different.
If you are in a temporary living situation, such as a shelter, a motel, or a friend’s home, and need more information about your children’s education while you are in transition, call the National Center for Home Location helpline at: 1-800-308-2145.
Q&A with Jean Chatzky
Q: How long should we try to keep the house when no income is coming in?
A: That depends on the rest of your financial situation. But it is important to understand when holding onto a house is going to rob you of the rest of your financial security. Although it is fine to use your emergency savings to tide you through a layoff–that is what emergency savings are for–it is not okay to raid your retirement accounts, to rack up additional debt on your credit cards or additional mortgage debt, and to take money from relatives who truly can’t afford it. If you have equity in a home, it can be a lifeline to get you through a tough time. By selling it and renting something less expensive, you can tide yourself over considerably longer.
Q: What is a short sale?
A: A short sale is when the bank approves you selling your home for less than you owe on the mortgage, letting you off the hook for the rest of the debt. You may be taxed, as income, on the money not repaid.
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