How smart moms can save over $1,000 a year

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The world doesn't need another coupon book. That was part of the thinking behind author Kimberly Palmer's decision to write "Smart Mom, Rich Mom: How to Build Wealth While Raising a Family." Palmer, who also is the author of "Generation Earn" and "The Economy of You," couldn't help but notice that a lot of the personal finance books aimed at moms seemed to be mostly about couponing and shopping smarter at the grocery store.

"That's so minor," she says. "I wanted to write a book that would look at the bigger picture."

SEE ALSO: 12 Shopping Tricks to Keep You Under Budget.

Palmer, after all, spent nine years as an editor at U.S. News & World Report, editing and writing personal finance articles that examined the bigger picture. She is also a mom (her daughter, Kareena, is 6; her son, Neal, is 3). Palmer, who is now an editor at AARP, spoke with U.S. News about her book and how mothers – and, really, all parents and people – could be managing their money more efficiently. Her responses have been edited:

Obviously, the hope is that readers will learn a lot from the book. But what did you learn?

Soon after I started writing the book, I realized I was doing a bunch of things wrong. It's actually still really common in two-parent households, where the moms and dads are married, that the husband is the one who manages the money. It sounds so 1950s, but we as moms have to make sure we're actively co-managing the money. After all, at some point, you might get a divorce, and statistics show that women tend to outlive men, and so I realized it was really wrong that I was letting my husband manage all of our finance accounts. So I changed that and got organized, and I opened a 529 account, which I wish I had done when my kids were first born.

One message in the book is that you can make your money go a lot further if, as you did, you get involved with your finances and start acting like the CFO of your household budget. What is an example of a change you can make that can really add up?

The three main areas where we spend the most money in our budgets are generally food, housing and transportation, and I think the easiest place to trim your expenses is in food. And one small shift that helped us save $1,200 a year is that instead of our Friday-night tradition of ordering two large pizzas, we started making our own pizzas, which is much more fun anyway. It was costing us $30 for those Friday-night pizzas, but when you make your own pizza, it's $3 for the dough and a couple of dollars for the cheese. That was one little habit shift that made a big difference, and the broader concept is that cooking at home is almost always going to be less expensive than eating out.

SEE ALSO: 10 Fun, Frugal Ways to Spend Your Free Time.

Where else might you look to save money?

Many of us leave money on the table by forgetting to sign up for workplace benefits or even worse, signing up but then failing to file the necessary paperwork. One example is flex spending. Many employers offer flex spending accounts for health care, child care and transportation costs, so you can set money aside on a pretax basis and use it to pay for those expenses. You just have to be sure to use up that money or you lose it – and file any required paperwork. Another example with health insurance is taking the time to follow up on erroneously rejected claims. Insurance companies make mistakes, too, and if you think you are owed money, it can pay to follow up ... and when you have kids, you're often going to the doctor, and so I've made it a point to follow up whenever my claims are rejected. One year, I saved $600 by doing that.

So pizza and following up on rejected claims could theoretically save you $1,800 a year. What advice would you give a mom who wants to invest?

RELATED: Worst cities for saving money

16 PHOTOS
The Worst Cities for Saving Money
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The Worst Cities for Saving Money

15. Sacramento, Calif.

  • Population: 485,199
  • Median income: $50,013
  • Unemployment rate: 5.5%
  • Median home listing price: $530,000
  • Median monthly rent: $1,395
  • Average gas price: $2.223
  • Average cost of groceries: $42.94
  • Sales tax: 8.5%

The capital of California is more affordable than most of the states' major cities. But that doesn’t make it an ideal place for savers. Home prices still are high, and the median income in Sacramento is lower than the national median income of $53,482, leaving residents without a lot of wiggle room in their budgets to set aside money in savings.

Photo credit: Andrew Zarivny/Shutterstock.com

14. Bakersfield, Calif.

  • Population: 368,759
  • Median income: $56,842
  • Unemployment rate: 10.2%
  • Median home listing price: $245,000
  • Median monthly rent: $1,395
  • Average gas price: $2.35
  • Average cost of groceries: $35.68
  • Sales tax: 7.5%

The unemployment rate in Bakersfield is the second highest among the worst cities for savers. However, the median income of those who are employed is higher than many of the other cities on this list. Housing costs also are more affordable, which is why Bakersfield ranks lower than most of the other California cities that are the worst places for savers.

Photo credit: Gary C. Tognoni/Shutterstock.com

13. San Jose, Calif.

  • Population: 1,015,785
  • Median income: $83,787
  • Unemployment rate: 3.8%
  • Median home listing price: $725,000
  • Median monthly rent: $3,300
  • Average gas price: $2.38
  • Average cost of groceries: $40.95
  • Sales tax: 8.75%

The median home listing price in San Jose is the second highest among the worst cities to save. It’s also one of America’s most expensive rental markets, according to CNN. But a high median income — as a result of its booming tech industry — helps offset the high housing costs somewhat and doesn’t make it quite as hard to save as other places on this list.

Photo credit: Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz/Shutterstock.com

12. Long Beach, Calif.

  • Population: 473,577
  • Median income: $52,944
  • Unemployment rate: 5.4%
  • Median home listing price: $479,950
  • Median monthly rent: $2,197
  • Average gas price: $2.567
  • Average cost of groceries: $36.58
  • Sales tax: 9%

This city on the Pacific Coast is a slightly better city for savers than neighboring Los Angeles. But the median income in Long Beach isn’t high enough to offset high housing costs, leaving residents with little left over to save.

Photo credit: Jon Bilous/Shutterstock.com

11. Stockton, Calif.

  • Population: 302,389
  • Median income: $45,347
  • Unemployment rate: 8.8%
  • Median home listing price: $ 239,450
  • Median monthly rent: $1,300
  • Average gas price: $2.21
  • Average cost of groceries: $45.33
  • Sales tax: 9%

Stockton has two big strikes against it for savers: a median income that’s well below the national median income and a high unemployment rate. The city itself filed for bankruptcy in 2012 because fiscal mismanagement left it unable to pay its workers and fund the pensions of former city employees, according to Reuters. It emerged from bankruptcy in 2015.

Photo credit: Terrance Emerson/Shutterstock.com

10. San Diego

  • Population: 1,381,069
  • Median income: $65,753
  • Unemployment rate: 4.7%
  • Median home listing price: $589,900
  • Median monthly rent: $2,850
  • Average gas price: $2.488
  • Average cost of groceries: $37.79
  • Sales tax: 8%

National Geographic Traveler magazine selected San Diego as one of the best destinations in the world. It’s certainly a nice place to visit, but it can be a tough place to live if you’re trying to save money. Although the median income in San Diego tops the national median, high housing costs can make it difficult to have money left over to save.

Photo credit: Dancestrokes/Shutterstock.com

9. Fresno, Calif.

  • Population: 515,986
  • Median income: $41,455
  • Unemployment rate: 10.3%
  • Median home listing price: $219,900
  • Median monthly rent: $1,250
  • Average gas price: $2.314
  • Average cost of groceries: $33.95
  • Sales tax: 8.23%

The largest city in California’s Central Valley has the lowest house list price and lowest median rent in GOBankingRates' ranking of worst cities for savers. In fact, housing costs are lower here than half of the best cities for savers. The unemployment rate, however, is the highest of all cities on this list. The lower housing costs aren't enough to offset other expenses, so it's still hard to save money in this city.

Photo credit: Tupungato/Shutterstock.com

8. Miami

8. Miami

  • Population: 430,332
  • Median income: $30,858
  • Unemployment rate: 5%
  • Median home listing price: $459,000
  • Median monthly rent: $2,500
  • Average gas price: $1.874
  • Average cost of groceries: $39.06
  • Sales tax: 7%

Miami has the lowest median income on this list of worst cities for saving money, which means it’s harder for the city’s residents to afford the high cost of living there. On the plus side, though, Florida has no state income tax. And the 7 percent sales tax rate in Miami is the lowest among the worst cities for savers.

Photo credit: PHOTOSVIT/Shutterstock.com

7. Santa Ana, Calif.

  • Population: 334,909
  • Median income: $52,519
  • Unemployment rate: 5.4%
  • Median home listing price: $430,000
  • Median monthly rent: $2,598
  • Average gas price: $2.545
  • Average cost of groceries: $40.42
  • Sales tax: 8%

Forbes named Santa Ana one of the coolest cities in America in 2014 based on a ranking of entertainment and recreational amenities, diverse population and foodie culture. But that cool factor comes with a high cost. The median home list price and monthly rent — as well as average grocery and gas costs — are high, and the median income in Santa Ana is slightly below the national median, all of which can make it a tough place to save money.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Davel5957

6. New York, N.Y.

  • Population: 8,491,079
  • Median income: $52,737
  • Unemployment rate: 4.4%
  • Median home listing price: $699,000
  • Median monthly rent: $2,700
  • Average gas price: $1.984
  • Average cost of groceries: $46.17
  • Sales tax: 8.88%

Frank Sinatra was right when he sang the following line about living in New York: “If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere.” If you can manage to save money while living in this city with its exorbitantly high cost of living, then, yes, you can probably find a way to save in most other cities. Not only is it hard to save in New York because housing costs and daily expenses are high, but the median income is below the national median.

Photo credit: Atanas Bezov/Shutterstock.com

5. Anaheim, Calif.

  • Population: 346,997
  • Median income: $59,707
  • Unemployment rate: 5.4%
  • Median home listing price: $535,000
  • Median monthly rent: $2,500
  • Average gas price: $2.545
  • Average cost of groceries: $47.72
  • Sales tax: 8%

Anaheim is home to Disneyland Resort, which is great for visiting, but the city might not be the best place to call home if you want to save money. This city near Los Angeles rivals its bigger neighbor when it comes to a high cost of living. But a higher median income and lower housing costs keep Anaheim from being ranked as high as LA on this list of worst places to live if you’re trying to save money.

Photo credit: Juan Camilo Bernal/Shutterstock.com

4. Irvine, Calif.

  • Population: 248,531
  • Median income: $91,999
  • Unemployment rate: 5.4%
  • Median home listing price: $847,922
  • Median monthly rent: $3,400
  • Average gas price: $2.545
  • Average cost of groceries: $44.67
  • Sales tax: 8%

Irvine is an affluent city in Southern California that has the highest median income of the 15 worst places for saving money. The city has been included in several "best places to live" lists in recent years because of its strong economy, well-regarded schools, and, as a planned community, thousands of acres of green space. But high home listing prices, rent, and daily expenses such as gas and groceries can take a big bite out of the big salaries in Irvine, leaving little money to save.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Davel5957

3. Oakland, Calif.

  • Population: 413,775
  • Median income: $52,962
  • Unemployment rate: 3.9%
  • Median home listing price: $480,000
  • Median monthly rent: $4,650
  • Average gas price: $2.373
  • Average cost of groceries: $53.43
  • Sales tax: 9.5%

For years, Oakland has been considered the cheaper alternative to San Francisco. However, it’s by no means a cheap place to live relative to other cities in the U.S. In fact, rent prices in Oakland increased more in 2015 than any other major city — including San Francisco — according to the 2015 Zumper National Rent Report. Considering the median income here is lower than the national median, residents have little left over to stash into savings after covering high housing costs and daily expenses.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Davel5957

2. Los Angeles

  • Population: 3,928,864
  • Median income: $49,682
  • Unemployment rate: 5.4%
  • Median home listing price: $650,000
  • Median monthly rent: $3,950
  • Average gas price: $2.567
  • Average cost of groceries: $39.01
  • Sales tax: 9%

For the second year in a row, California’s largest city lands in the second spot on GOBankingRates' list of worst places to live for saving money. LA is considered the worst major city for housing affordability, according to a report by Southern California Public Radio. Although places such as San Francisco have higher rents and home listing prices, median income in Los Angeles is lower, making it harder to cover the high cost of living and leaving little room in household budgets to save.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Sean Pavone

1. San Francisco

  • Population: 852,469
  • Median income: $78,378
  • Unemployment rate: 3.9%
  • Median home listing price: $998,000
  • Median monthly rent: $4,650
  • Average gas price: $2.516
  • Average cost of groceries: $58.76
  • Sales tax: 8.75%

San Francisco retains its No.1 spot on this list of worst places to live if you’re trying to save money. Known for being one of the most expensive areas in the U.S., the City by the Bay has the highest median home listing price, highest median rent and highest average cost of groceries on this list. With such high housing costs and daily expenses, a median income of $78,378 doesn’t go far in San Francisco.

Photo credit: iStock.com/Lenin RzSz

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In addition to the often-talked-about strategy of signing up for a 401(k) through your workplace to gain any matching benefits, you also want to be sure to consider a 529 account for college savings. Again, it comes with tax advantages, so that can help you accrue wealth to pay for college. If you automate monthly deposits into the account, it also makes it easier to stick with a disciplined saving and investing strategy. As far as choosing investments, a simple approach often works best for busy parents: selecting a low-fee target-date fund for your retirement year for retirement investments and a target-date fund based on graduation year for your college savings. That way, money is put into funds that automatically become more conservative as you approach the date you need the funds, and they are kept in diverse investments with exposure to a wide swath of the market.

SEE ALSO: 9 Ways to Invest on a Small Budget.

Obviously, there are single dads juggling work, parenting and housework. But given that many moms are time-starved, doing the lion's share of cooking, cleaning and parenting while often holding down a job, do you have any tips for those who find it hard to make time to look for ways to save or invest?

What can help a lot is investing the time to get super organized before you start trying to save money or make any new financial decisions. I go with a paper-based approach. I have a binder and file folders and all of my paperwork, from insurance papers to the mortgage, and customer service numbers that you'll likely have to call – they're all in there. If you're organized, it's so much easier later when you're making those financial decisions ... and if you have a partner, and especially if some of these decisions require both of you, if you can both block off an hour or two a week where your kids can watch a movie or something, and you can have adult time to concentrate, that helps. We like doing that on Sunday afternoons. It's hard to multitask when managing money. And make sure you get your kids on board with some of these things. Children are so receptive for learning this stuff. I'll sit my daughter down and tell her we need to start saving water, and she'll get on board with that and make sure the faucets aren't being left on. It's a great way to teach them about money – and save money.

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