Family Saving Center

For parents, back-to-school time means new routines and additional expenses. Families everywhere are switching gears from casual grill-outs and neighborhood potlucks to school lunches, after-school snacks, and time-crunch dinners. Here are some tips on how to make the transition a little bit easier on your schedule as well as on your budget.

Beating the Breakfast Rush

Get yourself up, showered and ready for the day before you wake the kids. This way, you can focus your attention on them when they need your help the most. To lighten your load, consider breakfast foods that school-age kids can prepare themselves with minimal supervision such as cereal, toaster pastries, yogurt, or instant oatmeal.

Save time by making a large batch of pancakes or waffles on the weekend or whenever you have extra time. Let them cool, layer them with wax paper, and store them in the freezer. They can go directly from the freezer to the toaster or microwave when you're ready to eat them. With a thin layer of honey or syrup, they can even be rolled up and eaten on the go.

Keeping Down Lunch Costs

If you decide to pack your child's lunch, look for ways to save. Opt for reusable items such as cloth napkins, "real" forks and spoons, and a lunchbox instead of plastic silverware and a brown paper bag. It's eco-friendly and will save you money over time. Invest in a good thermos that can be used to keep soups, pasta dishes or leftovers warm. Consider picking up a lunchbox at a thrift store or garage sale where you can pay a fraction of retail store price. You or your kids can embellish it with stickers, beads or other decorations to make it perfectly personalized.

Don't pack more than your child can or should eat in the lunch bag. Why throw away your hard-earned money by packing food that won't be eaten? You can minimize waste by involving your children in the lunch selection and preparation process as much as possible to ensure that food ends up in their stomachs and not the trash can.

Supermarket Savvy

Many office supply stores mark down items like pens and notebooks in anticipation of the new school year, but August is also the prime time for supermarkets to discount items like drink boxes, individually packaged snacks, and lunchbox items to get customers in the door. Don't forget to look online for coupons to pair with these sales in order to maximize your savings. When you find great deals, stockpile items that you know you will need in the future or that you need to replenish frequently, like cereals. The upfront investment may seem significant, but in the long run, you'll save money by not buying regularly priced items later.

Sometimes the best food deals aren't at the grocery store at all. Dollar stores stock name-brand snack foods and juices on a regular basis. Bakery outlets offer great deals on breads, snacks, and desserts. You can shop on their "bargain" days for the best deals. Warehouse clubs are great for buying in bulk; you can often freeze extra quantities for later use. Stick to your list and don't stray. Keep track of prices with a price book or spreadsheet so you can easily determine when items are priced at their lowest. Shop without the kids whenever possible. You can shop more efficiently and avoid the "Mom, can I have this, pretty please?" temptation that often leads to unnecessary spending.

Box Tops for Education

By printing coupons and saving on many of your kids' favorite products, you can also support their schools. Just look for the Box Tops for Education logo on cereals, snack foods, juice boxes, baking products, tissues, sandwich bags and more. Go to the Box Tops website to see a complete list of products including Cheerios®, Kix®, Yoplait® Go-GURT®, Pillsbury® Crescent Rolls, Betty Crocker® Cookie Mix, and Hamburger Helper® Skillet Meals. Each Box Top Coupon that you clip is worth $.10 to a participating school. Schools can use the cash to purchase everything from books and computers to playground equipment. Thus, being a smart shopper can make a difference for your community.

Ease Your Dinner Routine

No busy, frugal family should be without a slow cooker. It takes much of the work out of preparing inexpensive meals such as soups, stews, and casseroles. Set it to cook while you're at work or school, and you'll return home to a great-tasting meal. Because dishes are cooked slowly for a long time, you can save by using cheaper cuts of meat and using water instead of broth. In addition, a slow cooker consumes relatively little energy.

Treat your freezer as an extension of your pantry to help avoid takeout temptation. Stock it with ready-to-go meals for nights when you didn't plan ahead or simply don't have time to cook. Make double batches of the meals that your family loves and freeze half for later. You can also look for sales and coupons for ready-made freezer meals.

Plan Ahead

Before you go "off duty" and settle in for the night, prepare yourself for the day ahead. Get the dinner dishes washed and put away. Figure out what meals are on tomorrow's menu and do as much prep work ahead of time as possible. Even doing simple tasks such as setting the table for breakfast or programming the automatic timer on your coffee machine can help you avoid additional stress in the morning.

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