This is part of an ongoing series about how to trim the budget of the average American. As this series focuses on such broad-based tips, some will work for you and some will not. You’re invited to mention in the comments the tips that you found to be the most useful for inclusion in a comprehensive budget trimming guide at the conclusion of this series.
Housing – household operations – $984
Household operations? Think housecleaning services, nannies, babysitters, child care, and the like – services people pay for to keep their household running efficiently.
Quite often, these expenses are purchased in order to buy time for other things, like leisure or spending time with family – and that’s understandable. However, there are still many ways to peel back a bit more on the average household operations budget.
Make sure you’re actually utilizing the time you’re saving. If you’re paying for a housecleaning service just so you can sit around each evening and do nothing at all, you might want to reconsider your choices, particularly if you’re swimming in debt. Household services are fine if you actually need the time for something positive and productive in your life, but if you’re not utilizing that time, it’s probably time to reconsider the whole thing.
Cut back on housecleaning services and see if it makes a difference. If you pay for a housecleaner, reduce the frequency of the visits and see if it makes any sort of impact on your life. You might find that with just a bit of casual picking up, you don’t really need that much time from the housekeeper, thus saving you money.
Buy services in cooperation with your neighbors. A few houses on our block negotiated with a lawn treatment service in order to get a reduced rate for all of them. If you utilize services that people you know also use, look into negotiating for a better group rate for all of you. This particularly works well if you’re a new customer or if you overlap geographically in a way that’s convenient.
Look for opportunities for a more flexible working schedule. A more flexible working schedule allows you to rely on childcare and other services less, directly saving you money. Look for telecommuting opportunities, alternate work schedules, and so on.
Start a babysitting co-op. In order to reduce babysitting costs, several families in our area have a babysitting co-op. One weekend evening (often, it’s Fridays) on a rotating basis, one of the sets of parents offers free babysitting for all of the other parents in the co-op, giving those parents a date night or an evening to take care of other business. The babysitting service rotates through all of the families, and each week, all families always have the option of using the service provided by another family. This saves on “date night” babysitting costs for all of the families involved.
Alternately, start a direct babysitting exchange. Another family I know has a direct exchange with another family. One Saturday a month, they watch the children of their partner family. Another Saturday a month, that partner family watches their children. This gives both sets of parents one free weekend day to take care of projects or spend time together without the children – and it’s free. This is often much better than hiring a babysitter each month for a full day.
Try doing things for yourself. Instead of hiring a lawn treatment service, I got a small fertilizing and seeding cart and learned how to do it myself. I just spread seed and dry compost in the spring and more dry compost in the fall using my spreader. It takes about an hour and just replaces my exercise session for the day – and there’s no service fee nor no cost for the fertilizer.
Always shop around. Sometimes, the service you want for the price you want isn’t available when you want it, so you wind up with your second choice (paying more or receiving a lower-quality product). If you find yourself in that situation, always put yourself on the waiting list, then switch when the opportunity comes around. Just because there isn’t a slot for you right now doesn’t mean there won’t be, and you can often improve your “bang for the buck” by being patient and switching when there’s an opportunity.
I want your help! In the comments, please let me know which of the tips you find most useful for trimming these costs. I’ll include the top choices in a comprehensive budget trimming guide at the conclusion of the series.