7 tips to stretch your family budget

Rare is the person today who isn't watching expenses. Here's how to get more bang for your buck:

1. Plan Your Meals. Take a moment to make menus and a shopping list for the week. Take advantage of coupons, sales, and bargains. This also helps you avoid those costly impulse purchases. 

2. Plant a Garden. Growing your own fresh herbs and vegetables saves you money, plus your food tastes better and you don't have to worry about pesticides. Even city dwellers can do this with patio planters and window boxes.

3. Shop Yard Sales and Thrift Stores. Why pay mall prices for children's clothes they'll soon outgrow or for a table, lamp, or bookcase for the family room. These things–and more–can be bought at bargain prices at yard sales, second-hand stores, and thrift shops. Have your own yard sale and turn basement, attic, and garage clutter into cash.

4. Bargain Hunt Constantly. Get into the habit of looking for the best deals on cosmetics, vitamins, clothes and new household items. Check newspaper ads, circulars, and online discounters. Opt into email programs to get special offers.

5. Buy Off-Season. From luggage to snow-blowers to homes, there are periods when far fewer people are looking to buy. These off-season and end-of-season times are when you can purchase at the best prices, although your selection may be limited.

6. Do It Yourself! There are lots of maintenance, repairs and upgrade jobs around the house you can do yourself and save money. Check online for directions to make your own cleaning solutions from nontoxic household products. 

7. Get Help. Keep your home neat by giving every family member a daily responsibility. Bring friends in for home improvement projects–putting up a deck can be done in a weekend with the help of a few friends. Use the internet to check prices and to see what bloggers are saying about where to find bargains.