Milwaukee PBS’s Tip$ for Tough Times

Practical Advice for Parents and their Children

When our families go through difficult financial periods, it is easy to want to throw up our hands and give up. But hang in there! It’s at these challenging times when important lessons are learned. We have to look for changes we can make to get us through the hard times into better times. Often the changes are just common sense alternatives that will make us stronger and smarter…making the most of the resources we have.

Here are some common sense tips for taking control so families can meet their “needs” and make some choices about the “wants” that are not essential. In short: a “need” is something you have to have and a “want” is something you would like to have.

Common Sense Tip$

1. Make a Family Budget
Know what you have coming in and what you have going out and where it’s going. Write it down! Here are the percentages that work for most household budgets:

  • 35% of income goes for housing (including insurance, taxes, maintenance)
  • 15% of income goes for transportation (car payment, gas, parking, insurance, maintenance)
  • 15% of income goes for other debt repayment (credit cards and student loans)
  • 10% of income goes for savings for emergencies and long-term goals
  • 25% of income goes for everything else (food, clothing, medicine, entertainment, and other life expenses.

2. Know the Difference Between “Needs” and “Wants”
You need a roof over your head, enough food and water to maintain health, basic health care and hygiene products and clothing to be comfortable and appropriately dressed. Education could well be next in the list of things you need. Generally, the more education you have, the better your job will be, and the more money you will earn to meet your needs as well as your wants. Things that go beyond these essentials—a big house, name-brand clothes, fancy foods and drinks, a new car etc. are all “wants.” Too often we take care of our “wants” and neglect our “needs.

3. Adapt to Economic Challenges
Economic challenges may mean taking extra jobs, cutting back on spending, moving to a more affordable living situation…“making do with what you have.” Here are simple things you can do right now to help you redirect your financial focus:

  • Lower interest rates. Refinance your debts to pay them at a lower interest rate.
  • Stop eating out.
  • Pack your own lunch.
  • Stop going to movies. Borrow tapes and DVD’s from the public library.
  • Cancel your cable service.
  • Stop text messaging.
  • Choose between a landline or a cell phone.
  • Make coffee at home. Use a thermos.
  • Bring your own snack foods. Don’t use vending machines.
  • Repair clothes instead of replacing them.
  • Shop second-hand stores and yard sales.
  • Exchange clothes with friends.
  • Only buy clothes you can wash.
  • Cancel your magazine subscriptions—your library has magazines you can read.
  • Go to free concerts and events instead of paid events.
  • Listen to the radio instead of buying CDs or songs.
  • Scale back or cut vacations.
  • Do your own manicures and hair.
  • Have leftovers for dinner once or twice a week
  • Have a yard sale and sell what you no longer need or want.
  • Shop with a list. Avoid impulse shopping.
  • Switch to store brands rather than big name brands.
  • Buy, prepare and eat healthy foods that are under $1.00 per serving such as rice, oatmeal, potatoes, eggs, popcorn, apples, watermelon, garbanzo beans, pinto beans, bananas, kiwis, cantaloupe, carrots, lentils, grapefruit, nuts, cabbage.
  • Shop without a cart, use a basket.
  • Shop sales and use coupons.
  • Shop at discounters and consignment shops.
  • Water down fruit juice to cut back on sugar content and cut cost.
  • Soft drinks (sodas) are expensive and are hard on your health. Drink water instead.
  • Use lunch boxes and washable containers instead of paper bags and plastic.
  • Beware of the “payday loan.”
  • Watch your speed. Gas mileage decreases once the speed gauge starts going past 60 mph.
  • Avoid idling your car. If you are going to be waiting awhile, turn off the engine.
  • Properly inflating your tires improves gas mileage.
  • Walk or ride your bike instead of taking the car, when possible.
  • Don’t use credit cards. Pay cash.
  • Start a family bank for things the family needs—or wants— if needs are met
  • From every dollar—save a dime.
  • If you have to choose between saving for your retirement or your children’s college education—choose saving for retirement. (There is no financial aid for retirement.)
  • Don’t wait for someone to bail you out.
  • Take an honest job that will bring in some money. Don’t wait for your dream job.
  • Make your own greeting cards and presents.
  • Reuse/recycle items to make simple toys. Be creative!
  • Recycle greeting cards. Use the front panel as a postcard.
  • Don’t spend money to save money if you don’t “need” the product.
  • Avoid “retail therapy.” Shopping may make you feel good, but the bills won’t.
  • Manage stress through exercise and fresh-air walks. (You don’t need a gym membership.)
  • Get enough sleep.

4. Prioritize

  • Maintain vital services (rent, mortgage, heat, light, water)
  • Pay the ones with the highest interest rates.
  • Pay the ones that cost the most to postpone (repossession or disconnect/reconnect)
  • Pay those that may be vigorously collected.

5. Provide Structure for Children
A lot of things may be changing for your family. Try to eat together as a family, enjoy bedtime stories and go on walks together, just as you always have when times were better.

6. Divide the Chores
But don’t expect them to become little adults weighed down by responsibilities. Allow them to talk and express their concerns. Reassure them that everyone in the family is working together to make things ok. Reassure them that you love them-- and that will never change.

7. Count your blessings!
Be grateful for your family and the things you have.

If you have some TIP$ FOR TOUGH TIMES that you would like to share, please send them to Milwaukee PBS’s Marketing and Community Engagement Manager, Julie Hill Lehr at