5 tips to balancing the family budget

You might not have had to balance the family budget before separation, but once you're down to a single income juggling child support and household bills, it's easy to fall behind. Below are some simple tips to get you back on track.

1. Complete a budget planner
There are several free online planning tools out there and one of the better versions is the Money Smart budget planner, which also has an excel spreadsheet you can download. Once you input your income and all your expenses, you will see what's left over for food and entertainment.

2. Give the kids an entertainment allowance
The impact of the kids hearing you always say, 'No, we can't afford it' can take it's toll over time, especially if it's only been since you separated. 'No' is fine, and if we didn't say it every time they asked for something, we'd all be down a big debt hole very quickly. After you've done your budget, work out what you can allocate to their weekly entertainment fund. Even if it's $20, they can then choose how it's spent ... ice creams, dollar shop toys or knick-knacks, lollies, take-away or school canteen. Put it in a jar on the kitchen bench and you'd be amazed at how little they'll want to spend it once they see how their choices affect the balance. Not only will you stop feeling guilty at saying no all the time, you will be teaching your children to manage their budget too – perfect!

3. Plan your meals
Every week I felt like I was throwing out heaps of old food from the fridge, the morbid-looking cauliflower, the cloudy tinned fruit, the slimy sliced ham. Here I was worrying about my budget but clearly throwing money down the drain! Once I started a weekly meal planner I dropped my food bill by 30%. I had to get in the habit of cooking snacks again as the packet food for the lunch boxes was taking a chunk out of the budget. The kids even pitch in to help cook the muffins, 5-ingredient cookies,  brownies, muesli slices and cakes. The packet mixes are still cheaper than the pre-bought options if you're worried about following a recipe from scratch.

4. Take advantage of free events
Your local council usually provides a large amount of free events for families held in its libraries and local parks or public spaces. Also city art galleries, museums and theatres regularly host free activities and events to take advantage of. 

5. Reduce your utility bills
It was ingrained in me from a young age when dad used to yell out 'turn off the lights; do you think we own shares in an electricity company?', or 'Get out of the shower, you've been in too long!'. So while my electricity and water bills have been relatively low, friends are paying huge quarterly costs. The biggest culprit is the air-conditioner for cooling and heating, but there are lots of little things you can do to save on costs and in turn being a little eco too! Choice rounded up the top five things you can do.

If you want to go the whole hog, here are 75 super frugal living tips to to cut household expenses.