This post is from a fellow frugal-minded sister, Kate. She blogs over at Modern Alternative Mama. Kate and I have similar thoughts about living free from the bondage of debt, so I asked her to share a bit today about how she was able to make it living on a tight budget. Thanks, Kate!
Six years ago, my husband and I were newlyweds. He was just out of college, working an entry level job (at the company where he still works) and I was still in college. In addition to Ben’s entry level job, he also worked three days a week – two evenings and all day Saturday – as a salesman at his college job, a local computer store. I worked one day a week as a private music teacher.
We had to work all of those hours. We just didn’t make much money, and we had a lot of expenses (like a 4-bedroom house that we really did not need at that time). For the first several months, we simply used credit cards to get by, and let our debt get out of control. But in May, 2007, we sat down and decided it was time to do some Dave Ramsey reading together, and get serious about our budget.
Those first few months, before Ben got a promotion and a decent raise were incredibly frustrating. Our house payment was over 50% of our take home pay. Our debt payments comprised another significant percentage. We cut our expenses to the bone – no eating out, no more cable, no new clothes, nothing – and we still literally did not make enough money on paper to pay our basic expenses – housing, transportation, and food. I cried a lot when we wrote our budget and we fought.
Six years later and things are very different. They’re different because of the choices we made back in May 2007. We decided that despite our lack of money, that we would stop using credit and instead, pay off our debt. We paid off the majority of it within a year, when we were not making much more money than we had been then – we made roughly the national average (and we had a new baby in the middle of this). We were able to do this and live more comfortably despite that it appeared that we just did not make enough money. Are you curious how we did it?
We prayed a lot. There was literally no earthly way that we could make our budget work the way it was. So we prayed for the money to somehow work out. Maybe the bills would be due at slightly different times so we could cover them, or maybe there would be sales at the grocery store and I’d save there. Most of the time, it worked out and we had a little money leftover, but we had absolutely no idea how it happened. “Paper” said it wasn’t possible. God made it possible.
This sounds counter-intuitive, I’m sure. When you don’t have any money, you’re going to give away more of it? But trust me. God makes amazing things happen when you trust Him. We always had more money at the end of the month when we tithed than when we didn’t, and there were lots and lots of people we talked to who had the same experience. God blesses those who are faithful. Don’t ask me to explain how it all works, math-wise…because it really isn’t an Earthly thing. It’s a God thing.
Re-examine your expenses
I know, based on the readers here at Stacy Makes Cents, that most of you are already into the ultra-frugal, and are counter-cultural in your definition of what is “necessary.” But still, we all have our blind spots. Maybe there’s something on your list that you really don’t need or which you can wait on or find another way to get. Does your child need to go to preschool this year, or could you do some activities at home? (If you’re wanting an activity, some churches have a free weekly “preschool” time the kids can get involved in, and there’s always Sunday school and play groups.) Do you need a cell phone? Do you need the internet? I can’t make those decisions for you, but you should take a hard look at your expenses to see where you might be able to cut. We chose to cut our cable and home phone, but we kept our internet, because I was able to make more money freelance writing than our bill cost, so it was worth it to us.
In our culture, we really have a strong “entitlement” feeling. We feel we need to have two (relatively nice) cars, a nice home, smart phones, and a vacation every year. I challenge everyone to realign their priorities with what God considers “necessary” and become grateful for what we have. Maybe that will mean scaling back to one car, selling your home in favor of an apartment or smaller home, going back to a “dumb” phone or not having a cell phone at all, or giving up on vacations. I read a blog of a family of 11 who live in a 1200 square foot home. When many families feel 2000 square feet is too small for their family of 4…we have a lot of thinking to do! As Dave Ramsey says, “Live like no one else…so you can live like no one else!”
There may also be neat ways to save on the basics. Our car insurance company offers a discount if we pay 6 months at a time. They also began offering a discount if we “proved” we were safe drivers. You might examine your grocery budget and see if bulk buying or growing a garden could save. You might even see if you could barter certain skills or items for others – perhaps you crochet blanket for a friend and she brings you extras from her garden. There are all kinds of creative ways to save some money.
Sell extra stuff
Every time I walk through my house (even now), I wonder, “Why do I have so much stuff?!” We took anything people were willing to give us for free or cheap for a long time and now it’s just piled up! I’m tired of cleaning it, attempting to organize it, and generally dealing with it. I don’t need most of it. And I’m tired of the packrat, “Maybe I’ll need this sometime later…” mentality that has driven most of my life. Plus, some of that ‘junk’ that I don’t really need is worth something to someone! We have nice, with-tags clothes we’ve never worn – we could make $5 on those. We have boxes of decorations, board games (unopened), exercise equipment, and so on. By selling these items that you don’t need, you clear out your space, simplify your life, and make some extra money that can go towards your basic needs.
Make extra money
This may sometimes be necessary, if at all possible, to make ends meet. This is why Ben took the second job three days a week, on top of his full-time job. We needed that money for several months. Although it seems easier said than done, there are a lot of things you can do to earn money, even from home. There is babysitting, copyediting, selling homemade baked goods or hand-sewn or knitted items. There is even tutoring, building computers, and more. Any skill you have can be turned into a way to make money.
If you can’t find a way to make extra money and the budget is just not going to work, consider downsizing. Can you live with only one car? Can you sell at least one car and buy a $1000 junker car just to get you through the next couple of years? Can you move to a 2 or 3 bedroom apartment instead of a house?
We don’t like to do these things, because either we enjoy what we have, or we think that in the long run it will be more of a hassle to sell cars or move than it will be to just stay put. And maybe it will – if you’re anticipating a large expense ending soon, or someone is about to graduate from college and get a promotion – it’s probably better to stay put. But if there are no major changes on the horizon, then downsizing may be necessary to make finances work. As I mentioned, there are families that live in what we’d consider very small homes with very large families, and they make the space work for them. Others can, too.
These are my best tips for how to handle a meager and frustrating budget! It’s not an easy life, but when you’ve committed to living frugally and relying on the Lord for His blessings, it’s very doable, and can eventually bring you peace.
What are your tips for living on a stringent budget?
Kate is a work-at-home mom to (almost) 4 kids — Bekah, age 4.5; Daniel, age 3; Jacob, 1; and baby #4, due mid-March 2013. She is married to Ben, a wonderfully supportive husband! She blogs at Modern Alternative Mama, where she writes about natural health, real food, parenting, and all things “green.” She also recently launched Modern Alternative Kitchen, a site about traditional cooking, and is about to launch Modern Alternative Pregnancy. In her “free” time, she enjoys sewing, crafting, cooking, and playing with her children. Follow her on Facebook!