For those on tight budgets worried about a summer without pay, the choices are tough, but obvious: Cut expenses, boost income
Dear New Frugal You,
I have two daughters in the grade school where I have obtained work as an educational assistant. I’m concerned about this summer. Not only will I not have work during the summer, but if I found a part-time job, I’d need to find some type of day care for my girls. We really can’t afford the loss of income. We’re just squeaking by now. Any ideas? — Natalia
You’re not alone. Every two-income family with younger children faces the same dilemma. Who’s going to watch the children when school is out? In your case, it’s complicated by the fact that you’re off during the summer, too. So what’s a frugal parent to do?
You have two potential paths to a solution. One would be to find a way to earn income at home while you watch your kids. The other would be to find outside work and an outside sitter for the girls.
Let’s begin with the idea of earning money at home while you watch your children. If you can meet the appropriate legal and licensing hurdles, the simplest solution might be to take in a few extra children and run a minicamp at home. Other parents are looking for day care, and you have experience in providing it at school. It could be a logical match.
Look for skills you have that can be exercised at home and other people will pay for. Could you tutor? Teach computer skills? Provide any service to two-income families? Don’t be afraid to get creative. You might be surprised how much you could earn by dog-sitting while people are on vacation.
You mentioned “we,” so I’m going to assume you have a spouse or partner. If that’s indeed the case, then it’s possible you could find part-time work while your mate is at home to watch the children. Part-time evening work or a morning paper route come to mind.
Find out whether your spouse can shift work hours — maybe going to a four-day workweek of 10-hour days? I know, I know, not many bosses will go for this, but it’s worth asking about. That arrangement would leave your spouse home three days while you work.
You can also reduce the budget squeeze by keeping expenses down. If you work outside the home, the cost of day care is major. Search out low-cost, reliable options. Many nonprofit organizations have special summer programs. Don’t forget to find out if they’re looking for employees. You might be able to take your girls with you to work this summer, too!
Look for other areas to cut expenses. Staying home provides some opportunities you don’t have when you work all day. For instance, mealtimes for two-income families are especially hard. It’s easy to use takeout, fast food and restaurants. Eating home cooking will reduce your expenses. Cutting coupons, meal planning and brown-bagging could save even more.
The idea is to look at staying at home as if it is your job. Be aggressive in considering ways to turn your time into savings. Find repair jobs you can do yourself instead of calling a repair service. Do all the maintenance you can yourself that might reduce expenses later.
Also, if possible, try to keep any big bills from coming due during the summer months. For instance, if you pay your auto insurance bill every six months, make sure that the bills come due in May and November. Anything that you can do to shift expenses away from the summer will help.
No matter what you do, you’ll probably find that there’s a budget squeeze during the summer. During the school year, you’re getting free day care and full-time work. That’s not true during the summer months.
It may be that the best you can do is minimize the damage that summer does to your budget. Many families that have predictable times without income will average their income for the year and budget expenses based on that amount. During the high-income months, they’ll bank the extra income for the leaner times. That might be something to consider for next year.
Natalia, you’re in a tough place, especially since your budget is already tight. But don’t stress on this. It could be a wonderful opportunity to work with your daughters this summer or to find a new part-time source of income that you can continue year-round.
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