Our first year of marriage, our combined income was literally less than $20,000. Our tax return makes me smile. Peter’s job was often slow, and I quit my minimum-wage job after three months when I found out I was pregnant. (Respect to mamas who work through pregnancy, but, as a particularly irresponsible 19-year-old, I had to focus on figuring out how to be an adult during those months before baby.) Since then, we’ve made it off a single income. We never missed a bill, we ate real and healthy food (no ramen or dollar-menu meals), and we didn’t accrue any debt. The government repeatedly recommended we get on food stamps, and we declined (though I will say we accepted Medicaid that first year for my maternity and birth fees, and we are very grateful for that!)
God provided in some truly miraculous ways---such as when a customer gave us a vacuum cleaner right when we needed one, or a “charity discount” fully paid for an ER bill, or a neighbor’s relatives brought garbage bags full of baby clothes---but the main way God provided for us was through frugal living and the ability to work (see Deuteronomy 8:18.) Since Peter started his business and it’s grown, we have been able to raise our standard of living some---cheese is no longer considered a budgetary indulgence, ha!---but I would like to share some of our tips for frugality that got us through our poorer times, as well as some frugality tips I’ve figured out now that we can afford some more luxuries, such as vacations. You won’t hear anything about extreme couponing, Dave Ramsey, multi-level marketing, or “sowing seeds of faith”, because we didn’t do any of those things. We never even wrote up a budget.
This will be split into several posts. First I will share one big principle and then offer some tips from that. This first principle applies mainly to what you can afford.
Maybe you’re used to always having new stuff and you don’t even want to think about the germs crawling around pre-owned items.
If you’re trying to live frugally, you need to let go of feeling like you deserve a high standard of living. It’s quite liberating to say “no” to a daily $5 coffee budget so you can climb out of debt or say “yes” to something like getting married sooner than you thought you could afford. Or traveling. Or giving to others.
Peter and I decided in that first year that we would buy only what we needed, and if there was something we wanted (even if it was just a T-shirt or a Chickfila sandwich) we would discuss it with each other first and decide if it was a wise purchase. That might seem like we obsessed over money, but I don’t think we did, because very quickly we were able to see that we could get along just fine without indulging our “wants” and we didn’t have to consult each other much at all because we simply desired less stuff.
From this principle flows some tips:
-You do not need an entertainment budget. At all.
Yes, I said it, you can get along just fine without Netflix or Spotify or Disney passes. Look at your expenditures and consider what you can cut.
Instead? Visit parks, go on walks, play board games, have people over.
-Rent movies from the library. They have, like, anything you could want to watch, and it’s all free. In my county you can even request items online and they will hold them for you at your chosen library branch.
-Speaking of the library, they also offer free Wifi and computer use. If you can let go of having Wifi and/or your smartphone, consider it!
-Amazon Prime- - -which I recommend regardless of your income- - -has an enormous selection of free and desirable Prime Music to listen to in the Amazon Music app as well as movies and TV shows to watch on Prime Instant Video. Netflix and Spotify subscriptions, in my opinion, can be nixed and rarely missed as long as you have Amazon Prime.
-If you want to treat yourself to Starbucks every now and then, save your spare change and go to a Coinstar machine. Oftentimes they give you the option of receiving a Starbucks gift certificate instead of cash, in which case you don’t have to pay any processing fees and you get 100% of the credit for your coins. They usually have other appealing retail options available for gift cards as well.
Consider the emptiness of trend-following.
Of course there's a place for being presentable, but true beauty is inward, and it's exhausting trying to look cool.
-Try to buy timeless clothes that will still be wearable a year from now. This doesn’t mean you should buy the cheapest clothes you can find; find clothes that will last you a long long time, in quality and in style. Target has good clearance and we like to frequent consignment shops.
-I recently discovered thredUP, an online consignment shop that has pretty fair prices anyway, but if you sign up through someone’s link (feel free to use mine!) they get $20, and if someone signs up through your link, you get $20! No scams or minimum purchases. So far I’ve racked up $100 in free clothes (and spent about $45 total of my own money) and I’ve loved the quality of all the items I received.
Shop at yard sales.
You do not need to buy new furniture, decorations, housewares, clothes, toys, books, games, or gear. You can find amazing deals at yard sales. Plus it's super fun. :)
-In Florida, April and October (and the surrounding months) are the prime time for yard sales.
-Don’t waste time driving around to every sale you see, but I recommend planning ahead and choose to visit only community yard sales or sales that are selling items you’re looking for. (We get a weekly ad called The Flyer that notifies us of yard sales, but you can also check Craigslist. Look up “Neighborhood sale” or “Community sale”.) It’s worth it driving a bit of a distance to visit neighborhoods with 20 or more sales all in one place.
-If there aren’t any good community yard sales going on, use an app such as Yard Sale Treasure Map, which compiles all the Craigslist yard sale ads onto a convenient map for you.
-Keep an ongoing list of what you need, and share need lists with friends or family who go yard-saling so they can look out for those items for you. Make sure you get to the sales right at opening; usually after 11 you’ll have a harder time finding things you need (though the sellers will probably have lowered their prices by then.)
-The more you go shopping, the more you’ll see what prices are reasonable. Don’t be afraid to haggle if you feel like a price is not yard-sale-appropriate. I try to get at least 70% off the retail value for used items. Some people in rich neighborhoods have clearly never been to a yard sale themselves, so they have no clue what to charge for their items.
This is the biggest one: eating out will silently destroy your bank account.
-Driving through somewhere might feel like you’re getting more food than you could prepare at home, but that’s really not true, especially since you usually end up buying a soda or little extras to try to make up for the poor quality of the entree. Once I calculated how much it cost to make a whole-wheat pizza for Peter and I that was topped with pineapple, onions, and turkey bacon. Counting electricity and every imaginable expense involved, the pizzas came up to about 80 cents total, for both of us, with leftovers. As appealing as a $5 Hot-n-Ready is, it can’t beat 80 cents for real food.
-If you’re in a financial crisis or trying to get out of debt, avoid going to restaurants until you can truly afford them. Suggest to your friends that you eat a picnic after church or go to someone’s house to prepare food instead. Chances are, your friends might be trying to save money too, but nobody wants to admit how much eating out will set you back.
The next post will have more on eating and how to save money if you are able to go to restaurants! Leave comments with tips, disagreements, or how these tips have helped you!
Photo by 401(K) 2012 on Flickr
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My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a rad guy, and raising three little people ages 1,3, and 5...and I'm now expecting my fourth. I like chartreuse, calligraphy, Coke Icees, childbirth, crocs, Studio C, and...alliteration.
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Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today