piggy bankIt's the financial equivalent of being stuck between a rock and a hard place: How can you build your family's savings when you're barely making ends meet as it is? Or when you're struggling to get out of debt?

Theoretically I should have two college funds going right now, one for each of my kids ... but I figure it's probably more important that they're fed and clothed in the meantime.

(The electric bill is a priority too, as I can't imagine doing homework by candlelight would do much for their academic future, either.)

If you're like me and getting your family's finances under control feels like an overwhelming, if not impossible, task -- take heart. And take one step at a time. 

Here are a few easy ways to get started ...

1. Get in the habit of tracking your household spending. Most of us think we know how much we spend every day/week/month ... but take a look at your bank and credit card statements and you might be surprised. For a real eye-opener, try jotting down every dollar you spend for a week (and what you spent it on). Unnecessary spending patterns will be super-obvious! Don't beat yourself up -- make small changes based on your observations and you'll be amazed at the difference.

2. Scout out secret savings. Pull out all those monthly bills -- Internet, phone, auto insurance -- and call that customer service number. You might not know this (I didn't until recently), but simply asking for a better rate can actually GET you a better rate. It's true! (Sneaky tip: If the service rep doesn't offer to extend any new customer deals or promotions, mention that you're thinking of switching to a different company. It really works!)

3. Update your 401(k) contribution rate. Again, if you're like me, you probably did the auto-enroll thing when you started working with your company. Problem is, your rate is probably too low to get the maximum match. Ask someone in HR to help you switch to the qualifying rate.

See, none of those tips are too terrifying, right?

Do you have a savings account for your family? Any advice to share?


Image via Ken Teegardin/Flickr