Challenge your property tax bill if you think it's too high. The National Taxpayers Union estimates that as much as 60% of taxable property in the United States is over-assessed.

Additionally, make your home as energy efficient as you can. That means everything from replacing old and inefficient furnaces and water heaters to bolstering insulation.

Finally, give some thought to moving to a less-expensive place to live. That could mean a smaller house across town -- or in a completely different part of the country. Look into areas where housing prices (and property taxes) may be a bit more manageable. regularly releases statistics on existing-home sales by state.

Tax tips

Make as much as possible of your housing costs tax-deductible. Interest and real-estate taxes are deductible. Use your home equity to finance other expenditures. The interest on debt of up to $100,000 secured by the equity in your house is tax-deductible. It doesn't matter what you use the money for.

Consider a home office. Now, you can qualify for a home office even if you do only managerial duties or simple record-keeping there. Prior to 1999, it had to be where you actually performed the activities of your job.

If you have a home office, you can deduct the percentage you use for business from your housing costs. These include interest, taxes, insurance, utilities, landscaping, depreciation and the cost of any furniture or equipment you use in your home office.

How much will your family spend?*
Pretax income/ageTotalHousingFoodTrans.ClothingHealthCare/schoolMisc.
Less than $56,670
Through age 2$8,570$2,960$1,110$990$630$590$1,870$420
3 to 58,6302,9601,2101,0305005601,760610
6 to 88,3302,9601,6401,140560620780630
9 to 119,0402,9601,8901,1405706701,190620
12 to 149,4502,9602,0401,2506401,020810690
15 to 179,4502,9602,0301,380720950830580
$56,670 to $98,120
Through age 2$11,700$3,890$1,340$1,420$740$790$2,630$880
3 to 511,7303,8901,4301,4706007502,5101,080
6 to 811,6503,8902,0101,5706708801,5401,090
9 to 1112,4203,8902,2901,5806909401,9401,090
12 to 1413,0903,8902,4701,6808201,3201,7501,160
15 to 1713,5303,8902,4501,8108801,2402,2101,040
More than $98,120
Through age 2$19,410$7,030$1,820$2,160$1,030$920$4,680$1,770
3 to 519,4107,0301,9102,2008708704,5601,970
6 to 819,3807,0302,5202,3009501,0103,5901,980
9 to 1120,2307,0302,8502,3109901,0803,9901,980
12 to 1421,5107,0303,0502,4101,1501,5104,3102,050
15 to 1723,1807,0303,0402,5501,2601,4305,9401,930
*Estimates of expenditures on the younger child in a two-child, two-parent family. To estimate expenses for anonly child, multiply the figure by 1.25. To estimate expenses for each of three children, multiply by 0.78.


Cost through age 17: $29,760 to $45,570

This accounts for 12% to 19% of the overall expense (families at lower incomes spend a higher percentage on food).

What you can do

Set strict limits on the more discretionary forms of food spending. For example, tell your children they can spend no more than $7 a week on fast food. That alone may save a couple hundred of dollars a year.

Use the Web to shop for bargains.

There are -- literally -- thousands of shopping-related Web sites, and many of them now allow you to compare costs among similar items. Here's a simple trick that really works: When you're searching for a specific item, go to one of the search engines and type in that item and the word "discount." You'll be amazed at what you'll find.

Consider joining a warehouse club such as Costco, BJ's or Sam's Club. They're not suited to everyday shopping, but they let you stock up on certain items in quantity, often at substantial savings. Look to these places for items such as soda, canned and dried goods, and other sorts of nonperishables. If you lack adequate storage space, divide your bulk goodies among neighbors and friends.

Wholesale food services, which sell meat, noodles, fish and other groceries in bulk, will deliver to your door. Not only can you plan meals well in advance, but shoppers also can save close to 50% off conventional grocery store prices, although you still have to go to the store to buy fruits, vegetables and other items.

Tax tips

If you're self-employed, you can deduct 50% of your meals and entertainment, if business-related. If your children refer clients or customers to you, you can deduct the cost of taking them to a restaurant if business is discussed.

If self-employed, you also can deduct the cost of food for a business party. Make a separate shopping trip and keep records of your business guests and the business discussed.

If your children are old enough to work for you and are required to be on the business premises and available for work during lunch, then the cost of that lunch (if available to all employees) is deductible to you and tax-free to your children! Again, proper record-keeping is paramount here, as is the rule of reason.


Cost through age 17: $20,790 to $41,790

Transportation can eat 11% to 13% of the total. This includes the purchase and finance charges of vehicles, repair and fuel expenses and insurance.

What you can do

Avoid buying a new car. Estimates hold that the value of a new car drops by as much as 40% in the first two years of ownership. Instead, look into a used car such as a relatively new model that's coming off of a one- or two-year lease. It's likely to be in good shape, it may have some of its original warranty in place and, best of all, it should be available at a huge discount off its original price.

After you've found the car, don't forget to shop for the best insurance rates. The cost of auto insurance can vary by several hundred dollars for the exact same level of coverage.

Tax tips

If your children work for you and use your car for business purposes, then the business percentage (business miles over total miles) of your gas, insurance, repairs, interest, maintenance, registration, depreciation, tolls and parking are all deductible. Alternatively, you can deduct your mileage -- set at 50 cents a mile for business travel in 2010 -- plus tolls, parking and interest expense for your car.