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The following excerpt is from Chapter 4 of Christina Spence's book Living Large on Less.

As you continue your travels along this lovely road towards big savings, you'll notice that you're not the only traveler. Who's that cute little person over there? Isn't that someone you (or your beloved) just happened to give birth to? And who's that hunk of manhood, or gorgeous specimen of womanhood moseying along? Lucky you, it's your significant other! You'll need your family to join in on this journey of savings with you if you want to reach your financial goals.

That's why this chapter is devoted to helping you get your family involved in your new living large on less plan. And, although pets can't help you save money, we'll also touch on how you can save on the essentials needed to keep your feathered, furry or finned friends happy and healthy, too.

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Working as a team for savings

Remember how Mary Poppins could turn anything - even a spoonful of vile medicine - into a wonderful game? Keep her strategy firmly in mind when you're establishing new saving habits for your family. How so? Make everything frugal a fantastic game and you'll have happy new frugalites hatching in your nest before you know it. Plus, as a bonus, you'll also be teaching your family that financial responsibility doesn't always have to be a chore - it's a necessity, but one that reaps huge dividends.

The Plan

Good intentions don't equal good results unless you have a plan of action to help you get there. A goal without a plan is like a meal without utensils—it might look temptingly good, but there's no way to get in there and enjoy all the benefits of what's set before you. Your family needs to know about this plan to save money in order for it to work.

You need to communicate to your family three basic aspects of your new spending patterns right from the outset:

1. Why you need to change your spending patterns as a family. Give as much information as is necessary. If your situation is dire, there's no need to scare everyone. Also, only provide information that kids can understand and won't be overwhelmed by. (Age appropriate information is important. Young children will only need to know that Mom and Dad want to save more money or pay off a few bills. Older kids can know more details if you're comfortable sharing them.)

2. What your current spending patterns have been. Armed with facts and figures from your B-4 budget (see chapter two), you can shed light on what's been good and bad about how the family has been spending money. Don't point fingers of blame at anyone; work at this as a team from the beginning to encourage your family to change for all the right reasons.

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3. How you're going to change. The way you spend—and account for that spending—as a family is going to completely change. Be as specific as possible, again taking into account the age of your children and what information they can rea-dily digest. Get feedback from your family members. You'll be amazed by how their input and involvement will change new budgeting habits into something the whole family considers a challenge to undertake instead of a burden. This is your plan for action, including spending challenges, budgets, etc. You'll create goals, such as saving for the kids' education or paying off a car loan, and create charts and progress reports so that family members can see at a glance how their work is paying off.

Families who are happily living large on less do one thing really well: communicate. They make goals as a family, then track their progress and talk about what went right and wrong along the way. They don't blame each other for their current financial situation, but rather go at this savings challenge as a team, all in it together. If your family doesn't consist of natural communicators, perhaps especially not about money, then some habits are going to have to change. In fact, budget consciousness may very well open more lines of communication within your family. Set a day each week to discuss how everyone did with the budget during the past week and to stay focused on longer-term goals, such as savings. Young children may not have much to contribute to the meeting, but this is a great time to update everyone on the progress you are making toward your goals. Kids can stay for the update and then you and your spouse can discuss spending in detail after you let the kids leave the meeting.

The real cost of a two-income family

Two incomes don't necessarily mean a larger bank account for the family when you consider additional costs associated with full-time work. To gauge if one of your incomes is helping your family's bottom line, take your income and then subtract the following costs to see what you're really bringing home each month.

• Childcare costs. This one is a biggie. Childcare costs constitute the largest spending category for working parents. If you'd like an alternative to daycare, make a list of people you trust to take care of your children and approach them with a plan to see if they could care for your kids. Or approach your employer to see if options such as flexible schedules, telecommuting or job sharing are available. If flexible schedules are possible, try to overlap your spouse's schedule and yours as much as possible, so childcare costs are kept at a minimum. Unless your job pays well, childcare costs alone might prevent you from returning to work full-time.

• Clothing costs. If you're working in any sort of office environment, the price of clothing will be higher compared to more casual work, but you can save by utilizing the money saving tips in chapter eight.

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• Dining out and lunches. Try your best to brown-bag and take last night's leftovers for lunch if there's a microwave available for reheating. Otherwise, these meals out will cost you big bucks over time. Add these costs to your list.

• Transportation. It might be extra gas money to get you back and forth every day. Or, it might be a public transportation pass or parking charges once you arrive at work. Add on any additional transport costs to your overall list of expenses.

If you've discovered that your income after additional costs barely exists, consider benefit packages including medical insurance and retirement plans and then discuss if it makes sense for both of you to work. This will obviously need to be a well thought out decision, but having the facts at hand might make it an easier decision overall. Cold hard numbers can take the emotional impact off almost any major decision a family needs to make. You might also find you can get just as much financial benefit from working only part-time (less childcare needs and fewer lunches out), if your family really needs the secondary income.

Savings Ideas for New Parents

That adorable little bundle of babyhood in your arms is enough to melt any heart, especially yours. Unfortunately, your finances may be melting just as fast at the additional strain of baby-related costs. Here are a few savings tips from moms in the know. Keep in mind that frugality is more about what you don't buy, rather than what you do purchase—a frugal mind-set means getting by with less. Advertisers work overtime to get new parents (or grandparents) to spend on unnecessary stuff. What babies really need is unconditional love, warmth and comfort, food to fill their tummies, and some clothing and diapers.

• Clothing. Infants and toddlers grow out of clothes lightning fast! Plus their clothes go through some serious wear and tear with spills, stains and frequent laundering. So, be open to secondhand clothing—either at secondhand shops or by receiving hand-me-downs from friends and family. Secondhand is an especially nice option for special-occasion outfits that will be worn only once or twice. As soon as your child outgrows an outfit, do one of four things with it:

  1. Put it in storage for a younger sibling if you plan to have more children.
  2. Give it to a friend or family member for her child.
  3. Take it to a consignment shop for resale.
  4. Put it aside for a garage sale. If you plan to have a garage sale, try to have one every year. The clothes, toys, furniture and other baby accessories will still be in style, so you will get more money for them and they will sell faster.

• Diapers. Some parents swear by cloth diapers and insist that they're better for the environment and for the baby. And they can be easier on the pocketbook. But, be forewarned that they also mean a lot of additional work—extra laundry duty, for one. If you're going the route of disposable diapers, it's more important than ever to learn to shop the sales. A great sale price (plus a money-saving coupon—which often can be found on a manufacturer's Web site) can easily save you 30–40 percent off the regular retail cost. Many moms also say that it's a newcomer's mistake to fall for the "pricier-the-diaper-the-better" mentality. Try some of the less expensive versions and save 40 percent right there and then. This is one product that might be far less to purchase when buying in bulk. Visit your local big box stores (such as Costco in the U.S.) and compare the price per diaper versus buying at the supermarket or drugstore.

• Food. If breastfeeding is a viable option for you, pursue it. It's the most natural way to feed your baby, and you'll save money on formula. Once your baby can begin eating solids, you can save money by making your own baby food. Homemade baby food is incredibly simple because babies just need good, pure puréed food to fill their little bellies. Puréed cooked veggies or fruit can be stored in ice cube trays and frozen for quick pop-out meals at a minute's notice. (Or whenever your baby's lungs make it known that he or she is hungry now.) Be sure to consult your baby's pediatrician for proper nutrition guidelines and instructions on what your baby's digestive tract can handle as the child continues to grow.

• Necessities (and accessories). A baby shower is a fantastic way for new parents to get the necessities and accessories they need to welcome their child home. Grandmothers-to-be, aunts-to-be and friends are often very eager to host a shower for the new mommy. If you are having a shower, be sure to register for gifts. The benefits of registering are three-fold: First your guests can select from gifts you truly want and need; second, it reduces the odds of receiving multiples of the same product; and third, many stores offer the registered parents a 10 percent discount on any unpurchased items left on the registry after the event.

Junior savers: Teaching kids the value of money

This world is filled with all the wrong kinds of money consciousness for kids. They seem to think that money from Mom or Dad just appears out of thin air whenever it's needed—for the latest brand-name shoes, video game consoles, cell phones or laptops. This ain't the '50s anymore, sweetheart! (Or even the '90s, come to think of it.) Kids' dream purchases now are just as likely to cost hundreds of dollars as the twenty bucks it probably cost your parents to keep you satisfied.

Teaching kids to be financially responsible is not only important now—for your own sanity and budget—but also later on. Responsible kids and teens grow into adults who know their way around a bank statement. Kids who learn early on how to budget, save and shop carefully (not emotionally) will be less likely to incur huge amounts of debt and financial worries later. So, it's a true win-win situation with far reaching benefits for everyone.

Twelve Tips to Teach Money Skills to Kids

The following tips will help your children become financially aware early on in life. Maybe you're just learning some of these principles for the first time, too, never having had a parent who taught you money management skills. If so, you know better than anyone how much you wish you'd known this stuff earlier on, so don't hesitate to teach it to your kids! They need to know about money, especially in this money-mad world. Adjust and tweak the tips—like you do your budget—to come up with more ideas that will work well for your children's personalities and learning styles.

1. You walk the walk. Telling your kids to stay within their budget (their weekly allowance or part-time income) won't have a lot of merit if you don't do the same yourself. Make sure you walk the walk as far as money is concerned, and take your own finances as seriously as you expect them to. Be a role model they can look up to.

2. Don't overwhelm them. While helping your kids learn new money management skills, you don't need to bore them with long lectures. You'll have much greater success by approaching it more casually and naturally—talk to your kids at the grocery store while you're choosing your purchases. Ask them which product they think is the better bargain. Or, while shopping for clothes, get them to help you find a good deal for the money—not always the very cheapest item, but a good quality garment for a fair price. Look through newspaper advertisements together before you go shopping so you know which stores have the best prices. Teach kids money lessons as they come up, not forcefully.

3. Start early. As soon as your children are old enough to understand the concept of paying money for things they'd like to own, give them small allowances of their own. Teach them from a very young age that they have to use their own money to get some of the things they want. Starting at about three or four years of age seems to work for most families, even if that allowance is only a dollar or two a week. An allowance teaches kids on many levels. They learn to save. They learn the value of a dollar. As the parent, you are responsible for setting the allowance. Use your budget to determine how much you can afford to pay in allowance per month. Then divide that figure evenly over the weeks and pay the allowance on a weekly basis. For young kids, even fifty cents a week will seem like a lot of money to them.

4. Earning extra. Kids shouldn't feel they're helping out around the house only to get paid. But, after the regular household chores are done, you can reward your kids for helping out with extra chores. Settle on a price with your child before he or she starts working. Fair's fair, after all.

5. Teach them to save. Savings are invaluable. Teach your kids early on to save a portion of their weekly allowance—from 10 to 20 percent or even more if they want to—into a piggy bank or into a savings account of their very own. They'll learn the joy of saving when they see the digits in the account grow and grow. Impress upon them that savings are just that, money saved away for important future expenses, not a fund to be dipped into for impulse purchases. When your child gets his first job, help him open a checking account. Teach him how to balance a checkbook and be sure he does so on a regular basis.

6. Anti-snobbery laws. Teach your kids that cool stuff doesn't always have to come shiny and new in a plastic package from the store. Secondhand stuff is very cool, and kids who learn that early on also learn to stretch their dollars further. Teach kids that character and values are more important then appearances and possessions. Be sure they know their identity isn't shaped by what they own, but by what they do. You have to set the example here. If they see you valuing brand-names and expensive things, they will value them as well. If you are content with what you have, they will be, too.

7. Back to school madness. Reduce the cost of school supplies by carefully planning ahead. Large retailers lure customers with ultra bargains called loss leaders. Retailers are willing to lose money on these items, because they're pretty sure that once you're in the store you'll spend on other things. If you plan carefully and stock up on these necessities, and shop all the loss leaders at the different retailers, you'll supply your kids for less than you thought possible. And make sure to buy extras, otherwise come mid-term, you'll find yourself with a needy student and school supplies back up to premium prices. Also, make a list before you head out shopping, and tell your kids what essentials and extras you're willing to buy for them and which ones you'll expect them to contribute some of their allowance towards.

8. Teach them about advertising. Kids watch TV more than ever. Recent statistics show that the only activity they do more of is sleeping. Add to that the advertising strewn across the Internet, and you have a lot of advertisers aiming to get your kids' attention and their money. Teach your children that advertisers are paid to tempt people to buy stuff from cheeseburgers to video games, from candy to condos. Take time to teach them the difference between what's shown on the screen and what's real.

9. Make them pay for it themselves. Parents are obviously responsible for providing shelter, clothing and food for their offspring. But what about the pricey new gadget that everyone at school has and that your son is just begging for? If it's not an essential and it's out of your budget, then your kids will have to learn to save up and pay for it themselves. They'll also learn at the same time how much work goes into making a purchase over and above the necessities of life. Also, set budgets for the necessities and let the children supplement the budget if they insist on name brands and designer clothes. For example, if you plan to only spend twenty-five dollars on a pair of jeans, but your daughter wants a sixty-dollar pair, make her pay the additional thirty-five dollars. If your child doesn't have the extra money, she will have to wear the less expensive pair you buy or go without the jeans until she can save up for the more expensive pair.

10. List pros and cons. When your kids are eager to buy something special, teach them how to make a pros and cons list to help with their decision making. List all the reasons for and against this particular expenditure. Once they see in writing how much money the need and how long they'll need to save in order to buy their dream item, it might suddenly seem less essential.

11. Part-time jobs. Younger kids can apply for their own paper route, a way that many successful business people began earning incomes of their own. Once in their mid to late teens, kids can look to fast-food joints or retail shops for part-time jobs to help supplement the allowance money you provide. It's great experience and teaches kids valuable lessons in responsibility.

12. Charge rent. No, your four year old doesn't have to pay rent. But, your children ages eighteen and over do! Set a reasonable amount that they can contribute towards that roof over their heads. This teaches them how to be financially independent and prepares them for when they move out on their own. If you don't want to take their money, you can put their rent money aside in a special account and return it to them when they move into a place of their own. They could use the money for furnishings or a down payment or a security deposit.

Now, let's be fair. When kids are taught the true value of money, it's very helpful, but kids are kids. (Even some of us grown-ups revert to childish ways now and again! Ahem …)

Kids need to have some fun along the way. Balance out all this new responsibility with fun activities that will show them that a frugal life isn't boring.

Twenty Low-Cost Activities for Kids

Here are some fun, low- or no-cost activities for kids, plus extra space for you to write down more ideas of your own, once you've been bitten by the inspiration bug. Delve into your own memory banks and retrieve the precious memories that matter most to you—time spent with family, getting to know your best friends, parties, vacations, etc. These activities will show your kids that having fun does not have to come with a substantial price tag.

1. Lemonade stand. This is an entrepreneurial adventure that can earn them a little extra income. Very handy for when they want to purchase something that you can't afford.

2. Go fly a kite. A wonderful activity for kids of all ages. You can purchase a basic kite for about ten bucks and it'll provide mornings and afternoons filled with fun. Or, you can construct your own kites with fishing line, small dowel rods, plastic trash bags and ribbons.

3. Camping in the backyard. Do you have no time or inclination to go out and camp in the great outdoors? (And possibly encounter bears? Yikes!) Instead, try that favorite family activity in your own backyard. Or, if the weather isn't cooperating, take your good intentions indoors and set up a fort or tent where it's warm and cozy and safe. And, blessedly bug free.

4. Garage sale or thrift shopping. Now, here's some shopping that isn't so cash exhaustive. Teach kids that shopping can be fun when they have earned money to spend and when there's a legitimate need for a certain item. Your daughter needs some new (or new to her) jeans? Take her shopping and give her a challenge to get the nicest ones she can find at the thrift shop for what your budget allows. Shop garage sales to find unique items to decorate your kids' rooms.

5. Fun in the kitchen. Kids love to get creative in the kitchen. If they're really little and the idea of letting them loose in the kitchen fills you with dread, provide a foundation for them to have fun with—let them decorate cupcakes or oversized cookies that you've already baked. Kids also love making candies (pouring chocolate into molds is great fun when you peel away the mold to reveal the intricate design left behind) or making homemade bread and buns.

6. Treasure hunts. A particular favorite of my childhood, this is a kids' dream come true! Create a treasure map where each location holds a clue to the next location, and the end of the course has a hidden treasure.

7. Make pizza. This is a dual-purpose task. Not only does it keep your child entertained, but it also provides a meal for the family. Try a dessert pizza: regular pizza dough topped with sweet stuff instead of savory. Caramel or chocolate sauce or pie filling constitutes the sweet pizza sauce and add dessert toppings like coconut flakes, candies, chocolate shreds, dried fruit, nuts and marshmallows.

8. Emerging photographer. Digital cameras can be relatively inexpensive, making one worthwhile even for the junior frugalites in your home. If they show any interest in photography, a camera might make an ideal gift for them. There are sturdier cameras available now for little kids, able to withstand the rough and tumble treatment kids put it through. Encourage their creativity by going on photography jaunts, and then frame their best photos. An even less expensive option is to let the kids use your camera if they're old enough to be responsible with it.

9. Pretty in paint. Painting can bring out the creative genius in your child. And painting isn't only for budding artistes. Paint furniture and décor items to help your kids transform their room into a showpiece of their own personal style.

10. Find natural treasures. Challenge your kids to find an amazing treasure outdoors. It could be an especially beautiful leaf or a tiny ladybug. These finds can be the basis of a research project—search online or at the library to find out what kind of leaf it is they found or how ladybugs help us control pests.

11. Find a treasure indoors. Kids love to see old pictures of their parents, relatives and friends, especially those funny ones that were taken before the kids were born. Or, find an old memory in the house, tucked away in the unlikely form of a piece of furniture or an old sweater. This is a fun challenge that can end up taking many forms and creates bonding time with your child.

12. Make a gift for someone else. Create a jar of homemade hot cocoa mix (there are loads of free recipes for this on the Internet) or whip up chocolate chip cookies for a neighbor or friend. "Just because" gifts are often the most cherished, and your kids see what their generosity can accomplish—pure joy for someone else.

13. Make an imagination box. Let the kids help fill it with crafty items that inspire creativity and then pull it out when the kids are bored.

14. Make it yourself. Bubbles, clay, paints, papier-mâché projects, frozen treats. Crafty stuff doesn't need to be of the scrapbooking or knitting variety; instead it can entail making fun stuff instead of buying it. Homemade bubbles, for instance, are a combination of dishwashing liquid and water and a makeshift bubble blowing wand. Homemade clay (think Play-Doh) has been a frugal favorite for decades and is just as good as store bought. Plus, the kids get to make their own dough before they mold it into something spectacular—a two-for-one creative activity.

15. Toilet paper gone wild. What kind of "outfit" can your kids create with TP? And what kind of fun mess can they create while they're at it? A great rainy day activity that guarantees loads of giggles. And, at the price of just one toilet paper roll, it's budget friendly.

16. Science experiments. Discover cool scientific experiments online that use common household ingredients as the base and teach your kids some scientific facts for low cost.

17. Green thumbs start young. If you have any outdoor space, or a few pots out on the balcony, let your kids grow their own plants. Take seeds from store-bought produce and grow a plant from them. Plant citrus seeds or pineapple tops to create new plants. An especially fun and fast project is to chop off the greens of green onions and then replant the bulb in soil. Within a few days you'll have brand-new baby onions sprouting. Kids will love the quick results that they can eat.

18. Water, water everywhere. Add a sprinkler or a hose-drenched length of plastic to slide on out in the backyard for instant entertainment. Don't go overboard, or you'll see the costly end results on your next water utility bill.

19. Write a letter, poem or story. Writing is one of the best ways to vent one's emotions, no matter what those emotions happen to be. Ask your kids to write you a story; help get them started with a fun theme or a character that you want them to develop.

20. No-cost activity jar. Brainstorm more ideas with your kids and write them down on pieces of colorful paper. Toss all of the ideas into an oversized jar and let the kids reach in and randomly choose what their activity will be.

Money-conscious pet care

Pet owners know that their pets are an important part of the family. Their unconditional love and those adorable eyes staring up at us are enough to keep us forever devoted. But, pet care can be pricey, a fact that many pet owners have experienced. Here, then, are some useful ways to reduce the overall cost of taking care of the family's friend, while keeping them healthy at the same time.


Good, healthy food for your pets keeps them nourished and energized from the inside out. So, the cheapest brand of pet food just won't do. Instead, aim to find quality food that is also reasonably priced. Ask your pet's vet for a suggestion and do some research of your own to come up with a good middle-ground selection.

Some pet lovers swear by making their own pet food. Even though that sounds rather labor-intensive, it's really not. Good pet food, especially for dogs, all boils down to good quality protein—meat! The ingredients for making dog food, then, are really quite simple, but you will need to understand what to put together and how. This way you also get the benefit of knowing exactly what ingredients go into the food your pet is ingesting, a luxury most of us don't have when relying on commercial mixes. Ask your vet if he or she recommends homemade food because your pup has specific nutritional requirements to be met, and many commercial foods are specifically formulated to meet these. Your vet will also be able to recommend recipes if you choose to make your own food. If you find your own recipe, run it by your vet before you make it and feed it to your pet to ensure that none of the ingredients are harmful and that the recipe is nutritionally sound.

If you're not excited about experimenting with homemade pet food production, rely instead on coupons and sales. Coupons for dog and cat food are common, and if you use high-value coupons during good sales, you can easily come away with your pet's preferred food for up to 60 percent off the regular prices. Stock up when these opportunities occur, so that you're well supplied until another sale arrives. Regularly check the pet food manufacturer's Web site for coupons. (Even without the coupons, waiting for good sales is the time to stock the pantry with pet food.) This money-saving technique also applies to other pet care essentials, such as cat litter and doggy treats.

Do-It-Yourself Pet Toys

No matter how much I spend on toys for my two cats, it's inevitable that the true winner is the aluminum foil ball that I scrunch together. That or the good old-fashioned cat favorite of a ball of yarn pleases them more than any fancy toy. So, don't feel guilty if you don't spend a mint on entertaining gadgets for your pets, because it seems that they usually show us up by preferring the basics anyway.

Try entertaining your pet with these:

• Cat toys: Cat fishing pole. This toy is worth its weight in gold (or in the minds of my cats, worth its weight in catnip). It is a simple plastic pole with a length of elasticized string and a plastic ball with jingly bells inside attached at the end of the string. My cats went bonkers for this toy! You can easily make this toy yourself with a dowel rod, some elastic, yarn or string, and a firmly attached ball. Balls of aluminum foil and yarn are great fun for cats, as are newspapers and cardboard boxes.

• Dog toys: Purchase Frisbees at dollar stores or garage sales. Or find them for free at trade shows and vendor booths. Take a walk to your neighborhood tennis courts when they are empty and you can pick up any stray balls left behind for free. Tie an old blanket or towel in a knot and use it as a tug toy. Taking the frugal theme to an extreme, consider good old sticks to play fetch with. When you think of the times your dogs are the happiest, the toys are usually the old stand-bys, not the posh and polished versions.

• Toys for birds: I have it on good authority that birds go wacky for a nice, shiny mirror. Make sure the mirror is in good shape and safe, so that their pointy beaks won't be able to wreak havoc. Like any pet, birds have their own unique preferences, and sometimes are just as happy with some cardboard cutouts tied onto a length of string.

Watch the joyful expressions on your pets' faces and you'll see that they don't mind at all that their toys were snagged on the cheap. They'll never know that they were so friendly to the budget anyway. To them, fun doesn't come with a high price tag.

Veterinarian's Bills and Pet Insurance

We've already discussed how beloved our pets are to us. They love us simply and unconditionally—even when we're sprawled out on the couch battling a nasty cold, or when we're just not in peak form (such as before that first cup of java in the morning). So, of course their health is of vital concern to us pet lovers, but unfortunately the health of our pets also can come at a high premium.

Pet insurance can either be viewed as extravagant or, if you'd be willing to pay any price to keep your pet healthy, vital. Pet insurance helps you to cover the high costs of medical procedures for your pet that occur due to illness or accidents. If your pet requires emergency veterinary care, the attached bill can quickly escalate into thousands of dollars. Pet insurance can cost under ten dollars a month (but can be upwards of forty dollars for older pets), so for pet owners, it might be a logical way of handling these unexpected emergencies. Keep in mind, however, that pet insurance usually doesn't cover routine visits to the vet.

Keep your pets healthy by feeding them nutritious food, giving them regular exercise and grooming them regularly. Also, keep up with their vaccines and medication for heartworm and fleas. Don't overfeed them or feed them people food; it may be hard to resist that begging face, but they will be much healthier if you do.

More Ways to Save Money on Your Pets

1. Not necessarily a pet sitter. A trusted neighbor, friend or family member will likely not mind looking in on your pet while you're away. You can return the favor for them in the future when they travel.

2. Pass by trendy pet stores. The adorable displays of toys and gourmet foods come with a hefty price tag. Shop for food, toys and accessories at big-box stores or discount stores to save big. If you love the look of glamorous accessories, make them yourself. You'd be amazed what you can create with a few rhinestones and fabric paint. Try your hand at sewing your own pet bed.

3. Baking soda means no odor. For years, I've sprinkled some in my cats' litter box every time I change their litter, and it helps greatly. It naturally helps to overcome odor issues, without a fake flowery scent trying to mask it. Also use baking soda to sprinkle on the carpets if you have a little eau de pet scent going on in your home. Sprinkle it on, let it sit for fifteen minutes and then vacuum the baking soda and smells away.) Baking soda is way cheaper than any specialty pet odor control product.

4. Vinegar for flea control. Even though it sounds unlikely, pouring a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in your dog's water dish will help to naturally repel fleas. You can also combine one part apple cider vinegar to one part water and use as a natural flea repellent spray on your dog's fur.

5. Dog and cat shampoo - baking soda! Again, the good old box of white stuff comes in incredibly handy. Take a handful and scrub it through your pet's fur (which has already been wet with water). Give them a scrub, and then rinse thoroughly. After they've dried, give them a good brushing for a gorgeous coat worthy of many medals. The baking soda will also help remove any lingering "wet dog" odors.

6. Selecting a vet. Obviously, you want a veterinarian who is compassionate and kind, but you'll also want to compare fees and costs because these can vary greatly. Ask your friends who they take their pets to for a good referral. If there's a veterinary university near your home, check into taking your pet there for excellent treatment.

7. Prevent accidents before they happen. Especially if you have kittens or puppies in the house, you'll want to look at the house as if a baby were crawling around. Common household products, cleaners or even innocent plants can cause your pet harm. Do your research and prevent an unnecessary vet visit and pain and suffering for your pet. Keep your cats indoors and keep your dogs on a leash or fenced in so they can't run into traffic.

8. Get pet's meds online. Routine medications like flea treatments and heartworm pills cost far less if you order them online. Remember that generic medications are the same as their costlier brand-name counterparts, so don't feel guilty about purchasing them.

9. Groom at home. Simple grooming tasks such as baths, brushing and clipping claws are easily performed at home. But be careful when you clip your pets' claws. If you mistakenly cut into the quick of the nails, it will cause them a lot of pain.

10. That's a lotta litter. Buy bulk boxes of low-dust cat litter for less at big-box stores. Instead of purchasing scented varieties (which can aggravate and irritate your cats' lungs), sprinkle in some baking soda every time you change the litter.

Each member contributes a vital part to your family's dynamics and energy. Their assistance and enthusiasm for your new frugal lifestyle, will give you the encouragement you need to keep on track, too.

Spending challenge

1. The family that spends (time) together saves together. Make a list of fun activities that everyone in the family will enjoy that are either free or very low cost. Whoever comes up with the most imaginative ideas should win a no-cost prize such as getting to decide which movie the family will watch or receiving a "freedom pass" from chores for a day.

2. Feed another family. Saving allows you the freedom to help others. When there are good sales at the supermarket (especially when matched with a coupon), get a few items to take to the local food bank. It's an invaluable real-life lesson for children and adults alike. Your careful spending will give you a little extra cash that you can use to benefit other people beyond your family.

3. One month of reduced pet spending. For one month, cut back on non-essential pets' expenses. (Nothing vital like vet visits, please; we want our furry friends kept healthy.) Some ways you can chop spending include grooming your pet yourself or making homemade treats instead of the gourmet ones you usually buy. Keep track of how much you saved.

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