With the tight economy, families are becoming aware of the need to save, budget and consider all expenditures more carefully than ever. There are dozens of ways for today's households to cut potentially hundreds of dollars out of our monthly operating expenses, by planning, shopping and spending smarter than you might do right now.

In my home, my husband and I agreed to be fiscally responsible, live within our means, and save a little each month too. Once we decided on a household budget, I became the Chief Financial Officer of my household, and have made it my "business" to make sure we spend our hard earned income as carefully as possible. It's much easier to save money than to earn it, so my philosophy is to spend wisely and cut corners where possible.

Here are some of the ideas we have implemented for budgeting, saving and shopping smart.

Track Monthly Spending

$40 a month at Starbucks? (that's $480 a year!) For the next month or two, save all your receipts or keep a running list of expenditures in your wallet. If you're computer savvy, you might want to do this using the home budgeting program Quicken. You might be surprised to see all the places your money goes. $40 a month at Starbucks? (that's $480 a year!) $65 a month on cell phone and texting fees? (that's $780 a year) Take out meals twice a week? (That can be $1,000 a year or more!) See if some obvious places to cut back become clear.

If you spent $1,500 last month on household items, try to spend 10% less, $1,350, this month. My trick is to use cash only. We withdraw each month only what we will spend. I find it much easier to monitor my spending this way than by using by credit cards. As my cash runs low, I become more and more careful with what's left.

After I first started this system, it only took me a few months to figure out how to really cut corners in my monthly budget and still meet all my household needs. Using this system, you kind of force yourself to weigh whether each purchase is absolutely necessary. You'll be much more likely to buy things on sale and make more economical spending choices.

Saving at the Grocery Store

Make a plan of all the meals your family will eat and use that as a basis for your grocery list. Bring your plan with you to the supermarket; it will help you avoid purchasing items you don't need. This will help you buy only those items you'll use for the coming week. Many people decide their weekly menu in the store or buy groceries "in case" they make this or that for dinner. This is a super money waster as many of those items wind up staying in your freezer or pantry unused for months. Instead, develop a list of the top 30 meals you make and let your children participate in choosing the lunches and dinners they'll want for the coming week. They'll be less likely to decline to eat your tuna casserole if they selected the menu themselves and you'll probably be more efficient in the supermarket, too.

Avoid prepared foods. Frozen pizzas and pie shells, ready-made kugels, packaged cookies and juice boxes, pre-packaged salads and bakery cakes are handy and quick but they cost a fortune. Really, the cost of the ingredients to make your own kugel or pie crust is so little. It does take time however, so make these items in large quantities and freeze them. A food processor can help you grate a lot of potatoes for kugel and mix up enough dough for six pie shells in no time.

My baked goods are way more wholesome than anything I can buy The first time making these items is the slowest—with practice, you can make all kinds of yummy, fun foods fast. Your own "prepared food" can still be available to you in your freezer once you've begun to stock up.

In my house, cooking ahead is a fun activity I do with my kids. For example, we make several weeks worth of challahs (I used to spend $10/week at the bakery—$520 a year!) cakes and chocolate chip cookies together on Sunday mornings. I know my baked goods are way more wholesome than anything I can buy in a store or bakery, and my children enjoy the mommy-time of making these things with me.

Compare Prices

Learn which household items are cheapest at which stores and stock up—especially when something goes on sale. For example I find Wal-Mart has the best prices on several items I use. I have a list of the things I normally purchase there: OTC medicines, diapers, laundry detergent and paper towels. I do the same with other stores—but I try to be organized enough to go only once per month. This saves me at least $50 a month (that's $600 a year!), over buying all those items at my local grocery or drug store.

Buy Reduced-Price Items

Day old bread and bagels can save you up to 50%. If you know you'll eat it immediately or toast it, then buy day-olds instead of fresh. Deli ends and reduced-price produce also save money. You can make a fantastic chef's salad or deli-roll for Shabbat using deli ends. I usually buy these items for immediate use, since they often don't have the same shelf-life as regular priced foods. They taste just as yummy, however.

Try to make two or three cheap meals a week. Meals made from leftovers or from using up stock in your pantry can save you a lot each week. There are also many wholesome and tasty meals we make that are also inexpensive. We may eat leftover cholent in wraps (like burritos), mushroom-barley soup, macaroni-and-cheese, homemade lentil "veggie" burgers, chicken pot pie, tuna casserole or quiche.

We cut back on meat intensive meals like meat loaf, chicken breasts and hamburgers. Heavier meat meals are saved for Shabbat and holidays and the occasional barbeque, meal out or treat. Instead when we eat meat during the week, we try to spread out the meat in a sauce, soup, or casserole-style meal.

Learn about Using Frozen Vegetables

Frozen vegetables are even cheaper than fresh and are just as good in most recipesMany fresh and frozen vegetables need to be checked for insect infestation before eating. Lettuce and broccoli are good examples. Many kosher households buy pre-checked lettuces in a bag, which makes the unit price for a pound of lettuce 3-4 times higher than buying a fresh, un-checked head of lettuce.

Checking your own lettuce and broccoli isn't that complicated, but you must learn to do it properly. Visit the Star K (or another reliable kashrut agency) web site at www.star-k.org to learn how to check your favorite fresh veggies for infestation.

Frozen vegetables are even cheaper than fresh and are just as good in most recipes. Due to how they are processed for freezing, many frozen vegetables do not even need a kosher certification on the package. But, you must learn under which conditions this applies. Again, please check with the Star-K or your local rabbi or kashrut agency to learn more about the kosher status of frozen veggies.

Cut Back on Disposables

Okay, I never cut out using disposable diapers, but I have cut back on usage of disposable plates, cups and foil pans. They have a place—when you have a lot of guests, bring home a new baby, or after a "hard day at the office," it's certainly worth the ease of cleanup to use disposables. However if life is normal, take the extra time to wash your dishes and save money on the disposables.

Stock Up on Sale Items

Once you begin comparing prices, you'll learn the best deal for pantry items like ketchup or flour. When those items go on sale, buy three months' worth or more. Then, when you finish your ketchup, you can "shop" from your pantry—knowing you're getting this item at the most economical price possible. Grocery sales seem to be cyclical and popular food items will go on sale several times a year.

Can Living by a Budget Contribute to a More Peaceful Home?

You bet! It's important to mention the shalom bayit (peaceful home) and educational angles to implementing a household budgeting program. First the educational side: your children should know there is a beauty to humbleness. They should know the difference between needing something and wanting something. Sure, they need a new pair of sneakers, but they don't need three pairs of them, or a $150 pair of sneakers either. That's something they want. Children should earn a little of their own money and learn how to spend it for some of their "wants."

My children have learned about earning and saving money For example, I feel my kids do need to have Legos in the house. They are a great toy and encourage fine motor skills and creativity, and I have bought a lot of it. However, if my children want various Lego sets to build special ships or cars, well those are "wants" they can save up for. With a little guidance from me and my husband, my children have learned about earning and saving money and now they don't jump to buy the first Lego set they see. They like me to comparison shop with them so they can find the best price for the set they've decided they'd like the most.

Children can also be taught to appreciate a treat that Mommy bakes for them since it contains more love than a store-bought cookie. You can tell your children, "I baked these blueberry muffins because I love you and want you to have a fresh, healthy snack in your lunch." Your children can be made to feel like part of a team trying to help the family economize.

You need to teach children financial concepts when they are young, so that they last a lifetime. Children can learn that economizing is not about deprivation, but buying store-brand shampoo instead of brand-name. It's about making the most of what G‑d has given us instead of wasting it on the most-expensive backpack brand, when any quality backpack will do.

In our house, we value spending money on Jewish education (private school tuition!) and on having nice clothes, food and toys for Shabbat and the Jewish holidays. Those are the areas in which we teach our children that it's important to spend.

On the shalom bayit side, when your husband sees that you're trying to make the most of your household income, he will feel like you are really on his side, financially. Sometimes we wives don't realize how much it weighs on our husbands, psychologically, to earn enough to provide for the family (even if you both work!). Show him you're on his team by economizing on household spending as much as possible. Tell him you know he works hard and that you want to stretch all your family's hard-earned dollars as far as possible.

If you decide on a household budget and implement it together, your sense of teamwork and enjoyment of working toward a common goal can be very fun and rewarding for your marriage.

One more shalom bayit note: If your husband loves a certain store-bought cookie or prepared food—don't cut those items from the shopping list. It's worth the extra few dollars to keep your husband's treats in the house. Your goal isn't deprivation, your goal should be to spend smarter in a way that works for the whole family.

For the truly budget-minded, you should read The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn. She raised six kids for under $200 a month. In her humorous style, she shares ideas of why and how to save in every area of running your home; and most of her ideas can be adapted to fit a Jewish (kosher) lifestyle.

Finally, once you start, you'll keep noticing ways to cut back and economize. You'll likely begin to enjoy the challenge of stretching your household budget and breathe a little easier about clothing and feeding your family despite the current economic downturn.