The Frugal Family, Metro Parent Magazine

The Frugal Family

Tips for Surviving Tough Economic Times

By Vanessa Anthony

As we all hold our breath for what the stock and housing markets will do next, the price of nearly everything continues to rise, and it’s becoming harder and harder for the average family to make ends meet. That’s why we’ve come up with some money saving tips to keep your family flourishing during these tough economic times. And it turns out that doing what’s good for your bottom line can be great for the environment and your family too!

Your home

If you’re always stressed out about the rent, mortgage or utility bills, your home is not a haven. Here are a few ways to dial the worry and the cost down.

  • Curb your energy costs by having the kids help with fun games like “Light Patrol” that ensure lights are off in rooms that are not in use
  • Unplug any electrical device that’s not being used. Any outlet that has something plugged into it is using electricity, whether the device is on or not.
  • Line dry clothes. In the winter, you can use an indoor clothes rack. It can save you lots in energy costs and keep your clothes looking newer longer.
  • Weatherize your home. Talk to your local utility about weatherization incentives that can help you to save more on your bill and ask about a free energy audit. Oregon residents can check this site for more information:
  • Whether you own or you’re renting it pays to re-evaluate your housing situation. Smaller living spaces cost less to furnish, heat and maintain.

Your car

Remember that by reducing your driving time each week you’ll save money in fuel and maintenance.

  • Add up what you’ve paid for parking and gas in the last month. Would a Tri-Met pass cost less and give you more time to read?
  • Look into carpooling, walking or cycling to work.
  • Consider working from home. Is there flexibility in your workplace? Could your job be done remotely some or all of your work days?
  • Driving the speed limit or a little less can save big dough. According to, “Aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration and braking) wastes gas. It can lower your gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds and by 5 percent around town… You can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.24 per gallon for gas.”
  • Monitor the lowest gas prices in town by going to When you’re in the neighborhood, fill up at the lower cost stations.
  • If you’re driving a gas guzzler, think again. Trading in unnecessarily large vehicles for smaller ones will save lots of money in fuel.


We all know eating at home is cheaper than eating out but here are a few other ways you can save on food bills.

  • Avoid buying processed or prepared foods. The more you’re willing to “do it yourself” the less your out-of-pocket cost will be – and the healthier your family will be, too. Plus cooking a meal and baking bread with the kids can be great fun!
  • Listen to the Coupon Mom. She’s been featured on Good Morning America, The Today Show, CNN and Oprah with her money saving tips to cut your grocery bill in half. Visit and download founder Stephanie Nelson’s free e-book filled with tips and then check out the free coupons and samples.
  • Get fresh fruit for free by visiting and volunteering to help pick the fruit from one of the city’s urban fruit trees. They register fruit and nut trees around the city, coordinate harvesting parties, and offer workshops in pruning and fruit preservation.
  • Or plant your own garden and grow fresh fruits and veggies. Kids love to get their hands dirty; it’s great fun and a wonderful sense of accomplishment when they get to pick and eat what they’ve grown. Don’t know how to get started? Try PCC’s Urban Farming-Permaculture class – held on a working farm with instructor Connie Vandyke.
  • Portland’s Community Garden program is another great way to get involved in growing your own food – while creating community.

Clothing and household items

  • Buy second-hand furniture, household items and clothes, especially for babies and small youngsters. Because children outgrow their clothes so quickly, many of these items will be gently worn, and look brand new.
  • Use cloth diapers and wash them yourself – less in landfills and more in your pocket.
  • Visit and sign up for the kids’ swap. Parents bring their kids old clothes and swap them (for free!) with the next size they need. Swaps are held every other month.
  • Scout out free items and bartered services at Check these first thing in the morning for your best chance at great free stuff.

Northeast Portland mom, Debbie Welch, uses a three-pronged approach, “I use PDX swap because kids grow out of stuff so quickly and it’s free. I’ve also begun a toy trade with the other moms in my mommy and baby group and I sell some of my used baby clothes. All of this helps me to feel better about any new purchases I make because overall I’m keeping costs down.”


The key with entertainment is to find no or low cost fun for stay-at-home entertainment as well as for family outings.

  • For at-home entertainment, think of your library as your one-stop book store, video shop and music emporium. Especially if you plan ahead and put holds on those items you want, you can save a ton of money by utilizing your library’s many free services. (You’re paying for them anyway, through your taxes!)
  • Forget paying full price if you decide to go out to the movies. Not only is Portland ripe with second-run theaters but some theaters cater to families. McMenamins ( offers Mommy Matinees during the week (where those with small babies can see adult content movies and let their little ones fuss without fear of repercussions) and Family matinees on weekends (movies made for the whole family to share.) The Academy Theater ( offers second run movies on the cheap for the whole family and even provides babysitting for those who want a little grown-up time.
  • Look to nature. The Portland area is replete with parks – by some estimates, over 700 within the metropolitan region. That means plenty of free fun for you and your kiddies to explore including rose gardens, duck ponds, water fountains and much more.
  • Visit Portland’s many libraries and farmers’ markets for free fun like story times, plays, face painting and music.
  • Visit the area’s free (or almost free) museums. We’ve compiled an inventory of the best deals on the region’s family attractions. Check them out here!
  • Check Metro Parent’s comprehensive online family calendar for dozens of ideas of free or low cost outings for the family.
  • Consider buying a family membership at those attractions that your family visits frequently. Beaverton mom, Lacey Ferrero swears by her zoo pass. “The pass more than pays for itself. We take our boys all the time. They love it and never seem to tire of visiting the animals.” (Metro Parent is giving away two memberships to OMSI and Portland Children’s Museum. Visit our Contest page for details.)

Consider a “Staycation”

We live in an incredibly beautiful part of the world! When it’s time for your family’s next vacation, consider exploring close to home. Instead of flying or driving long distances, play tourist in Portland or take a close-to-home trip to the beach, the mountains or the gorge. You’ll be showing your kids a good time while giving them a life-long “sense of place.”

Vanessa Anthony is a Portland freelance writer and mother.

The Frugal Family, Metro Parent Magazine