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Living on a Tight Budget

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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!

Image by Molly DG

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?

Image by Public Domain Photos


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.

Image by merfam

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.

Consider downsizing

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 and family

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!

Comment Policy: I love hearing your thoughts and input on what I write. Since I write about what works at my house, what pleases my handsome hubby and darling children; I'm sure we'll disagree sometimes. In those cases, do what's right for you and yours. As with any form of communication, please only post comments that move the discussion in a positive direction.


  1. This was so encouraging. Right now we feel as though we are drowning…chronic medical conditions in two of our 6 children are killing us financially. Thank you for offering advice without being condescending to those of us who haven’t been as wise managing our finances.

    BTW, as we feel scrunched in our 2000 sq ft home with 8 of us, do you have the link to the blog about the family of 11 in a 1200 sq. ft home? I have a feeling I could learn a great deal from that mama!

  2. Thank you for this. My husband and I are newlyweds with debts that make our perfectly decent $45K income insufficient to cover basic monthly bills, often resorting to a credit card to fill in the gaps so we can buy groceries and gas. We’re also struggling with his unemployment and praying that he gets an income that can cover our bills before our baby is born next year. In the meantime, we don’t know what to do except go further into credit card debt – something I hate and stresses me out horribly to do, plus obviously it just makes the problem worse, but what can we do? We just hope our income will increase soon, but that seems so pie-in-the-sky given my husband’s job situation that I pray we don’t lose hope.

  3. I’ve signed “The Compact” and agreed not to buy anything NEW for a year. I either make it myself, find it used, or make do without. So far, so good. This is also helping to declutter my home! Even in my job where I had to provide plates and cups for clients to use at “snack-time” I bought used stuff from the thrift store instead of buying paper plates and cups that get used once and have to be paid for over and over – good for the budget and for the environment.

  4. Good post for those new to the frugal lifestyle. I had to chuckle though, at the question, “do you need the internet?” Following this or any other blog could prove difficult without the internet, lol! :)

  5. What a great post! We made 14k our first year married, but we thrived thanks to working together and following Dave. Thanks for the inspiration!

  6. this is a really good article.

    I have seen how tithing has saved us every year. On paper it makes no sense how we are able to live the way we do with the income we have. But God always makes a way.

    Right now we are wrestling with what direction to take (like many in the country). We are praying and waiting.

  7. TeresaAngelina says:

    Thank you Kate; this was very helpful. I am a member of our strata council and recently took a closer look at our financial statements (we’re about to have a special assessment…need a new roof…oh yeah…) and wondered why I never did a personal budget based on an accrual expense sheet before. It has been helpful. I am fiddling with it for the last quarter of 2012 and oh my is that a wake up call! Its all well and good to look only at the month but wait til you see what is coming down the pike or how you have (or in my case, have not) been keeping to your budget,and instant wake up call. **Stacey, just so you know; you’re wonderful. :)

  8. Rita O'Dwyer says:

    I know in the past you’ve mentioned that people have taken verbal pot shots at you, but I want you to know that most of us appreciate your advice and common sense. As an affluent society, we seem to want more and more constantly. I know in my case, I have bought things that I wanted and thought I needed, only to find out that I had so much stuff that I struggled to find a place for it or regretted having to spend the time and effort to take care of it. Right now, I’m struggling to let go of some of my stuff. Thanks for sharing your fugal ideas and wise advice. Atta girl!

  9. This is very similar to the way my family has lived over the last few years. We have literally on paper been negative and yet somehow make it with God’s help. One thing we have done since we haven’t felt like we could tithe financially, is we tithe our time and other belongings. We try to give as much of our time as we can back to God instead of working a 2nd job. We are involved with several ministries, coordinate functions and ministries, etc. Instead of selling items we donate them to the church for fundraisers and rummage sales.

  10. I just love all of your ideas (I have to admit I am quite obsessed!) and am trying very hard to also make similar changes in our eating and spending habits. I would like a little guidance on what you consider trusted sources for researching specific dangers in food, disposable products, etc. Example, in the mama cloth blog you listed all of the various dangerous things in kotex, which I never even thought of……where do you do your research? This is by no means a question of your facts, but hopefully a lead for somewhere I can start doing my own fact checking.
    Thanks for putting together such honest, practical articles!
    Have a great day!

  11. Hello, just letting you know that the HTML markup of your link to the Facebook page, , doesn’t work right.
    <3 Thank you for your tips! I just signed up on a freelance site to try and earn a couple bucks doin' what I love, editing! :)

  12. Emily Spencer says:

    What a fantastic post! I’m a stay-at-home mommy and my husband has a wonderful job, but it doesn’t pay very much. We are right at or below the poverty line, but we are incredibly blessed that our house, electricity, water, and internet are part of my husband’s salary so even though we don’t make very much, we don’t have any of those expenses. We have one, paid-off vehicle (and no plans to get another one any time soon) and my husband has a work truck. We are about to cancel our cable because it’s too expensive and we hardly watch it. We absolutely believe that my place is in our home so we are about to launch our own business. I’m excited and nervous, but we firmly believe God is directing us and will bless our decision. My husband is a very talented woodworker and makes crosses, bracelets, even desks and beds, etc. I will run the business side. We live on a very tight budget, but as I just told my husband last night, “I’d rather be happy than rich”.

  13. I would love to tithe first, but if I do it then I have nothing left after paying bills. I have consolidated credit cards and only use for emergencies now, I can only get $25 in the savings account a month as it is that will take forever to get the $1000, and then the 3-6 months of my salary. I am wondering if I should refinance my car payment to bring it down since I still owe 4 years on it. I know I have been a poor steward of the money I made and realize it now that I took a better job that pays less, but better insurance and retirement in addition to the other perks have made it worth it.

    • I can’t tell you how God multiplies our income when we are obedient to bring back a portion to Him first, but I know He does for us and I know He does for so many others. I can’t remember a single person who ever began tithing and ever regretted it. Even if the math didn’t work, God did. I would ask you to prayerfully consider every aspect of your budget and then ask God to show you either 1) how to make tithing work or 2) to give you the faith to try it anyway and see what happens. If you’re a believer, I’m confident this step of obedience will be blessed.

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  15. Glennie says:

    Was lead to this site tonight….God speaks to us in many ways and your article hit home.

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