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5 ways to budget for a family on a single income

I'm the mom pushing the double stroller and desperately clinging to the leash of a yellow lab. Or you can find me dancing to oldies with my 1 and 3 year old. Otherwise I'm dating my husband or furiously typing and reading whilst drinkin...

How to stretch your single income budget for the whole family

Being a stay-at-home parent is a sacrifice. It is a lifestyle, and with it comes certain financial choices that must be made on a daily basis in order to ensure your family remains out of debt and maintains a respectable line of credit.

More: How to combat feeling isolated as a stay-at-home mom

It's hard when you are in the day-to-day to manage exactly how you're going to afford kids on one income. Many stay-at-home parents are on a very frugal budget and not living as the trophy wife with a nanny, daily lattes and manicures. Navigating the stay-at-home role is tough, and I developed a few tips and tricks to stay afloat and maintain our lifestyle of keeping the kids out of day care. Here are the top five ways our family saves money and stays out of debt:

1. Plan ahead for dinner

Especially with young children, it is extremely difficult most days to get dinner on the table. There are so many variables, including personal exhaustion, that lend to reaching for the takeout menu once again and racking up more money on the credit card. When the kids are cranky, the house is a mess and the day is not over yet, it is almost impossible to make a healthy and budget-friendly dinner without planning ahead.

The key is to sit down and plan out dinners for the next five days. I then make a grocery list based on these dinners and other meals. I've even made a cute menu with chalkboard paint in my kitchen, so in the throes of tantrums and afternoon caffeine lows, I can see that on Tuesday I planned to make enchiladas, and I know I have the ingredients for them and what I need to do.

2. Make a shopping list, and stick to it

The biggest way to rack up extra dollars on your credit card is to go the the grocery store, kids in tow, with no list. Who knows what will end up in your cart and what will be forgotten? If you're disciplined about sticking to your list, you will cut out impulse purchases, buying unhealthy food and instead create a game plan for getting you in and out of the store. It's surprising how quickly each impulse item bought on sale can add up.

More: Why we should be supporting moms who are doing their best

3. Make date night affordable

I don't know about you, but sometimes I think I should pick up a babysitting job on the side. Then I realize I have two small kids and I don't have time. Babysitters are expensive. It costs a lot to pay one on top of the cost of dinner and a movie. But date nights are amazing, and nights out are essential to my happiness, as well as to the health of my marriage. To make date nights affordable, use your resources! Find other parents or families with kids and set up a plan where you watch their kids for a night when they go out, and then they watch yours. They will thank you for saving them money as well. Bonus: The kids have fun with their friends.

4. Share clothes

I seriously have not bought clothes for my kids from retail stores in months. My kids are 1 and 3 years old, and they grow so fast. Having a community of other parents who have young ones is so amazing. When kids are toddlers and preschoolers, they grow out of sizes within months — as babies, sometimes weeks. Why would you go to the mall and spend hundreds of dollars on new clothes? I have received many excellent condition hand-me-downs for my kids, and some shoes and clothes I have bought secondhand or from other stay-at-home parents selling them.

5. Make some easy cash and declutter at the same time

Those clothes I bought secondhand? They were only worn for a couple months. So what happens to the snowsuit my kids wore one time, the cute dress for a special occasion or those shoes my daughter grew out of before I knew it? I sell them. It's easy to find Facebook groups that have online garage or yard sales. You're done having kids? Sell that baby gear for cheap and make some extra cash. You can also find some inexpensive things you may need. Also, it's good for the environment to reuse the items with much more life in them. I made $50 on the last sale of clothes my daughter outgrew, and I paid for a much needed salon trip with cash.

Being a stay-at-home parent is hard, let alone dealing with the financial challenges it brings. Surround yourself with like-minded parents, and financial choices will be easier. The only way finances on one income are not so intimidating is if you take it one day at a time, one choice at a time. You have the power to keep your finances in control and maintain excellent credit.

More: Improve your finances in six weeks with these simple goals

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