Report reveals families on a financial knife-edge

Parents are mired by financial worries, debts, and spending. It’s no wonder they spend so much time worrying

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Families worry about money

British families are working too hard, being paid to little, and are worrying endlessly about everything from how they are going to make ends meet to whether they are spending enough time with the kids or doing a good enough job in bringing them up.

A new study by Nationwide set out to discover what the average British family was like - and unearthed a seething mass of worries, as parents crumble under pressure from work, home, and their finances.

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The average family apparently has two children, a pet dog, and an income of £29,688 a year. Out of that they need to pay the mortgage on their three-bedroom house, and cover the running costs of their Ford Focus - as well as paying the bills

After all that, they have an average of £183 a week of disposable income - which works out as £46 a week. In reality, however, parents say they spend most of their money on bills, entertaining the kids and paying school and childcare costs - leaving them an average of £30 week per household to cover everything from hobbies to little luxuries.

Childcare is a bit of a killer - costing around £2,000 on average a year. School costs also swallow up another £800 on things like uniform and clubs. Entertaining the kids, meanwhile, sets them back £558 a year.

They also need to find the cash for an average of two holidays a year - one in the UK and one abroad. The kinds of sums involved are not inconsiderable - as almost one in three families spend 10% of their income on holidays.

The average family has managed to put away £8,000 in savings. However, at the same time, they owe £1,618 on credit cards, £1,325 in personal loans, £1,496 in student loans, £896 in car finance and £500 to their parents. It means that once their non-mortgage debts are covered, they actually have a little over £2,000 in savings. On the other side of the equation they have an average mortgage of £164,695.

Worried

Unsurprisingly, 41% of them are worried about money: it's the biggest worry for 41% of parents. The figures make it perfectly clear why: bringing up a family is alarmingly expensive, and the costs involved mean most parents are spending everything they earn each month - and a bit more. Some two in five wish they had saved more, and a quarter wish they earned more. It means over time they are building up debts, and that unexpected costs could bring them to breaking point.

Financially this is an alarming picture. Families aren't expecting the moon on a stick, they just want simple things for their family: to pay the bills, cover childcare costs, and offer the kids things anyone should be able to expect from their childhood - like the chance to join a football club or go to Brownies. However, in doing so, they are putting their finances on a knife edge - spending almost every penny every month on the essentials.

The concern is that it would only take something small - like a car breakdown, or plumbing problem to push the family over the edge - adding more interest payments to their expenses, and ensuring they spend more than they earn every month.

It means that the average family may need to take another look at their household finances. They may need to sacrifice some of the things they consider essentials - like the second holiday. Alternatively, they may need to shop around for everything from household bills to groceries and phone packages, to knock 10% off their costs, and put them more firmly in the black.

Stop worrying

The problem is that this kind of thing takes planning and prioritising, and parents are distracted by the other worries of family life. They work an average of 30 hours a week, and then spend another 18 doing chores around the house, so they worry that they don't have enough time left over to spend with one another. On average they spend six hours a week on quality time together.

It means they are worried about what kind of a job they are doing of bringing the kids up. Around a third worry whether they are spending enough time together as a family, and another third are worrying about whether the children are happy. Around a third of women also worry that they aren't doing a decent job of parenting.

The answer, therefore, may be that parents need to give themselves a break. They need to stop holding themselves to impossible standards of parenting - where somehow they find an extra hour a day to turn their children into well-rounded, well-balanced mini-geniuses. Instead, they can park the kids in front of the TV for half an hour a week, spend the time sorting out their finances, turn interest on debts into interest on savings, and get a bit of financial breathing space.

Without all these money worries, they could end up with a happier family all round.