Money Saving Tips for Families

Joel Gibson's Top 24 simple ways for families to save on groceries, tech, mobile plans, streaming and dental bills.

I believe the children are our future, as Whitney Houston sang, I really do. But they don’t come cheap, do they?

My own little treasures, now aged 10 and 12, are already eating me under the table. And then there are the growing bills for dentists, devices, entertainment and sporting gear to cover.

It costs an average of about $170 a week to raise a child in Australia, according to a 2018 government study. That’ll cost you $160,000 by the time they turn 18.

But that research was based on low-paid families, and it was a few years ago, so we can assume that the cost is higher now - and higher still for middle-income families.

So what can families do to provide for our little darlings without sending ourselves broke?

1. Ask the grocery-saving experts: The average household spends over $12,000 a year on groceries, says the ABS. I reckon we spend that amount just feeding the kids alone at my house!

I’ve written an entire guide to saving on your grocery bills elsewhere on the amaysim website so click here to see all my supermarket savings hacks.

But if you want the short version, who better to ask than a mum of 11? Sydney mother Heather McIntyre, who buys 45L of milk a week, was interviewed for her grocery shopping tips by the Daily Telegraph.

2. Bulk-buy where possible: Heather uses a bulk-buy warehouse called ABCOE in Penrith, NSW, but others around Australia include Costco and Campbells Wholesale. The bigger your family, the more value you can get from bulk-buying as most of their packaging is bigger than regular supermarkets. But even if you have a small family, bulk-buying non-perishable items such as cleaning products, tinned food and frozen food can save you plenty.

3. Substitute for pricier items: Heather also subtitutes high-priced items such as eggs with flaxseed meal when baking, and avoids buying too much meat when prices are too high - opting instead for cheaper chicken or tinned fish.

4. Don’t shop with kids: If you can, leave them with a friend or shop while they’re at school. Shopping with kids usually leads to pester power, impulse buys and bigger grocery bills at the end of the day.

5. Don’t shop when hungry: Or guess what will happen?

6. And never, ever shop with hungry kids: This goes without saying...

7. Don’t be THAT parent: Once they hit double figures, the pester power starts to shift from lollies and chocolates, to mobile phones and tablets. All it takes is one parent at the school to give their 10- or 11-year-old a phone and all of a sudden every other parent is being told that “everyone else has one”. Don’t be that parent. 10-year-olds don’t need mobile phones.

8. Don’t pay top dollar for a mobile phone: This is a tough decision for parents and an extra expense, but fortunately there are some ways to save on the tween and teen telco bills when the time comes and they finally wear you down. When it comes to phones, give them an old one of yours if possible.

9. Be careful buying on Gumtree: You won’t have that same protection if you just buy a second-hand phone on Gumtree.

10. Get the right amount of data for you: The average Australian mobile customer uses around 15GB of data a month, according to the industry watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. So why pay for 100GB of you’re only using a fraction of it?

11. Teens need even less data: It may seem as though tweens and teens spend a lot of time staring at their phones, but the research suggests they use less data than we do. Adults aged 18-44 use around 30 per cent more data than 16-17-year-olds, Telsyte’s Australian Mobile Services Market Study 2022 found.

12. And tweens need less again: Younger kids use less again, Telsyte estimates, because parents are paying the bills and keep a closer eye on their spend. So what are the options for your child’s first telco plan?

13. Separate SIMs are often cheaper: A different pre-paid SIM for each member of the family will usually work out cheaper than a family plan. It might also work better for some families - for example, where one or both parents have a mobile plan provided by their employer.

14. Be data-smart: In my experience, tweens only need the most basic, entry-level plans for starters as they tend to mostly use WhatsApp to text each other and share photos and videos. When they’re home, make sure they have wifi activated on their phones so they’re using your family’s (often unlimited) data available via the wifi network, not the limited data on their mobile plans.

15. Long expiry plans might be the cheapest option of all: These are often your cheapest option, because you’re effectively ‘bulk-buying’ your kids’ data, just like in the groceries tips above. Long expiry plans last 6 months or a year and they tend to offer the best bang-for-buck. (Amaysim, for example, offers 165GB for $200 with occasional discounts - giving you the equivalent of around 13GB a month for about $17 - and sometimes better.)

16. Share a music streaming subscription: Here’s one area where it pays to be a family! Streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music offer family plans for $19/month with up to 6 people allowed to access them, which works out much cheaper than several individual subscriptions at $12/month each.

17. Don’t pay for multiple TV streamers either: When it comes to TV and movie streaming services, you should only be paying for one subscription there too - they allow for multiple profiles and simultaneous streams in the same household.

18. It’s ok to share with non-family members too, sometimes: The streaming services think in terms of “households” living together, whether you’re a family or share-house or hippy commune!

19. And you can even use your login away from home in some circumstances: Subscriptions are limited to one per household, but there’s a grey area - for example, when you go travelling or a family lives in two different locations. Netflix says: “If you are moving within your current country, you can continue to enjoy the same Netflix experience without making any changes.”

20. Here’s an interesting factoid about health insurance: it costs the same for a family of three as it does for a family of 12! ‘Family’ policies cost the same, no matter how many kids you have - so the value for money gets better as your family gets bigger.

21. But watch your annual limits: Of course, you might have an annual family limit for dental or optometry claims that will get maxed out much quicker for bigger families, so do beware of that.

22. Why not shop around for plans with the best family benefits? Ask a comparison service such as Compare the Market or Compare Club, for example, which funds have the best dental limits for families.

23. Try extras-only: Even if you can’t afford or don’t want a hospital policy (they’re the ones that cover you for treatments in a private hospital), it might be worthwhile looking into an ‘extras policy’ for your family. These cover allied health treatments OUTSIDE hospital such as dental, physio, optometry and so on. Some health funds have their own dental centres, or they cover a free check-up once a year.

24. Do the maths: If the cost of the family extras policy works out cheaper than taking all your little darlings to the dentist once a year, you’ll be ahead from the outset - and you’ll also have some cover if anyone needs any physio, glasses or a remedial massage.

Joel Gibson is amaysim’s “Money-Saver in Residence” for 2022. He’s a money-saving expert who wrote the book KILL BILLS! He shares his best tips and hacks regularly at the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Today Show, 2GB, 4BC and ABC Radio.

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