I remember when our purse strings were tied extra tight and we could barely breath because collectors were calling over medical bills and we had student loans on forbearance. I couldn't go get a job because we had two small kids at home (one was the reason for the medical bills) and Micah's hours didn't really work with me getting a job with opposite hours.
Staying home and living on one income is often hard. It means sacrificing some luxuries that come with two incomes. It means we've never been on a "real" vacation - we always visit our families and stay at their homes - but we are making great memories. It means we have to choose between certain activities, or no activities at all, because we simply don't have the funds. It sometimes means eating every last scrap of food in the house to make it to the next payday.
But it also means I've been there for every thing. I've rarely missed a milestone - and when I did it was because I was getting a much needed break! I can go to every appointment without dealing with other schedules. I can go to class parties or on field trips. I don't need to think about my own sick leave policy if one of the kids needs to stay home from school. And on school breaks or snow days I'm already at the house to take care of them.
So we struggled a bit. Quite a bit. But we also learned quite a bit. We were doing some things right way back when but we also were doing lots of things wrong! Thankfully God is faithful and provided as we remained faithful. He provided in all sorts of ways that didn't always put money in the bank account, but always kept us from needing more. Slowly but surely we got out of that hole and have been working to make smart financial choices since then.
My Favorite Frugal Living Tips
1. Make Do or Do Without
Back in our grandparents and great grandparents younger years they didn't run out to the store and buy a whole new pack of socks if one got a hole. They knew how to darn socks. They made do with what they had.
If you have your eye on something new, or if you think something needs to be replaced, can you make do for the time being until you've saved the money? And what about doing without. We don't need everything we think we do. People will have you think that you need to buy more buckets and containers in order to get organized but perhaps less stuff is a better option. And as nice as new towels would look, is there actually anything wrong with your current towels?
2. Borrow, don't Buy
Hosting a birthday party? Rather than buying a whole bunch of supplies why not ask around and see if anyone has a few platters, cake stands, or serving bowls you can use. Not only do you save money, you can also save yourself storage space! Going to a wedding? Ask a friend to borrow a dress, purse, or accessories. No need to spend money and clutter up your closet with items that won't get used over and over. Make sure to offer a big thank you when you return the items in the same condition you received them in.
3. Swap with Friends
This has become one of my favorite things to do! A bunch of us get together with clothes our kids have outgrown and we all go through and pick what we want. Not only is it a chance to get together with friends but we all save some cash plus the givers clear out some space in their homes. We've also swapped baby items as people have new babies and swap back as the kids age. There have been several items making the rounds for quite some time!
You could set up a bigger swap with friends and participants could get tickets for each item they bring in. Each ticket can be used to pick out a new item. I've only done one of these but as long as things are organized fairly well it is a smooth process.
4. Shop Second Hand
Oh man do we love thrift stores! I think we've only bought one coat brand new in our nine years of being parents and even that one was on super clearance. Coats and snow pants are the type of items that typically get only a little use before being outgrown so you can find some in great condition at thrift stores - especially in the small sizes.
But we don't only find snow gear at thrift stores. We've found cast iron pans, loads of clothes, costumes, and even some furniture in great condition. The only hard part about thrifting is that there is no guarantee for when and if you will find an item. Best advice? Keep a running wish list of sorts in your phone or another place that you will have with you at all times. This way each time you go you know what you are looking for without needing to rack your brain.
5. Shop Sales & Clearance
Did you know there are certain times of the year that specific items go on sale? In January, for instance, is a great time to get deals on fitness equipment, storage items, and linens.
Check out this post from Centsible Life that has a huge list of what to buy when based on sale cycles. Do yourself a favor and wait to buy until the item is on sale!
Most of the gifts we buy for the kids are items we find on clearance throughout the year. For instance, we know that Target marks down toys in January and July. We try to buy at least some of the gifts for the kids at that point. Same with Christmas pjs - we wait until February or so and find them at Kohl's marked down significantly!
This Target receipt? Buying Halloween costumes on clearance at 90% off! We got six or eight costumes in various sizes that the kids were excited about to use for the next year. At $2-5 each for brand new costumes we couldn't go to the thrift store and get a better deal!
6. Ask for Gift Cards for Gifts
While I appreciate any gift someone chooses to give me, I frequently list gift cards for places I enjoy on my list. Why? Because then I can save up for an item that I have my eye on or indulge in something that I wouldn't otherwise have the funds to enjoy. I typically go for new clothes and fun coffee drinks :D We usually get a few restaurant or movie theatre gift cards for birthdays and Christmas and it allows Micah and I to enjoy a few extra dates during the year without breaking our budget.
Have a large expense coming up? Ask for gift cards for a gift so you can add to your savings fund. This year for Christmas my parents gifted us some money to put towards house projects and this is going to be a huge help in getting things done!
7. Combine Gift Cards with Coupons
Gift cards are great but combining them with coupons means they can go even further! I tend to save my coffee gift cards for times when the store is offering half price drinks or buy one, get one drinks. Many restaurants offer coupons when you sign up for their email list. We love Ruby Tuesday's salad bar and they frequently send out coupons for $5 off a $15 purchase meaning we can go get a healthy meal out for less than $20 - that's a pretty cheap date!
8. Seek Out Free Activities
Now that Facebook is around it's so incredibly easy to find free activities in the area! Check out places like the park board, library, and schools for free community events. Even stores like Toys R Us and Target offer free events for kids on occasion! We have attended nearly every LEGO build event that Toys R Us has offered and it's always a fun time!
9. Cut Subscriptions
We live in a subscription world. Streaming services, meal plans, delivery services, phones, internet, SO MANY! What could you do without? If you have Netflix, could you do without cable? What about a lower priced phone plan? Maybe lessen the frequency that your StitchFix or Blue Apron is delivered. Does everyone in your home have a cell phone? Cut your landline and buy a prepaid phone to keep at home for emergencies.
10. Meal Plan
I will never stop preaching about meal planning. I've got about 10 years experience under my belt and I can tell you how wasteful we were in the first years of our marriage when we didn't meal plan. Constant trips to the store, no idea what to eat, and loads of money down the drain. Need some help? Join my Meal Planning Facebook group to share ideas and get tips!
11. Keep Meals Simple
Meals do not need to be crazy elaborate, despite what pinterest and some food bloggers might tell you. Noodles with sauce and a veggie are perfectly acceptable! It's okay to only add in variety on occasion and stick to what works. Some of our favorite meals can be thrown together in less than 30 minutes - veggie stir fry, tacos, quesadillas, and baked omelettes. Keep making meals that use similar ingredients so you aren't wasting food and buying loads of different things.
12. Cook From Scratch
I didn't really cook when we got married. I knew how to make a few things but we mostly bought packaged items like burger patties, boxed dinners, canned items, and rice or noodle sides. It worked okay for just the two of us but we could have saved so much money if we cooked from scratch instead. Once we started having kids I expanded my cooking skills and now there is very little we don't make from scratch. In fact, there are only a handful of items that I don't bother making from scratch these days.
13. Stock Up on Staples
What items do you use over and over again? Toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and laundry detergent are the first that come to mind, but also food items like rice, noodles, cheese, and frozen veggies are basics in our home. I try to buy these in bulk and/or on sale whenever I find a good deal.
Now that we've tried Zaycon Fresh, I will definitely be stocking up on boneless, skinless chicken breasts whenever they have a good sale. The first time we ordered we paid $1.59/lb but the second time was only $0.99/lb! That's half the price that we were paying at Sam's Club. If you have the funds in your budget to buy in bulk then do it! We even split our Zaycon Fresh order with friends so we didn't have to shell out as much cash at one time.
14. Freezer Cooking
Freezer meals tend to be a go-to in prep for a baby but I've found that having ready to go meals or meal components in the freezer saves us bunches of bucks on our grocery bill! I like the components better than full meals so I make items like refried beans, pizza sauce, and enchilada sauce and freeze them in these awesome freezer deli containers. I can make huge batches of pantry items that we always need and pay the same as what I'd pay for one or two cans in the store.
15. Make Cleaning Supplies
I'll admit that I fell off this bandwagon quite a long time ago but I used to do it frequently. The one item I don't recommend making from scratch is homemade laundry detergent. I love Stacy from Humorous Homemaking and when she shared this video I realized this was probably why our towels always felt like they had a film on them. We stopped immediately!
Erin Odom shares several ideas for cleaning products in her book You Can Stay Home with Your Kids and most are made with everyday items or items that don't cost much at all. And most use the same exact items in various amounts meaning you can make multiple cleaning products and only buy a couple items!
16. Use Rewards Programs
This won't keep you from spending money in the same way some of these other hacks will but it could help put money back in your pocket if you do it correctly! For instance, there are grocery rewards programs that give you points or cash back for purchases - my five favorite are in this post. There are also other programs that reward you for interacting with their app or website like Swagbucks and Acheivement. We can even earn gift cards by tracking our healthy choices with our health insurance - it's one of our favorite ways to pay for Christmas!
17. Keep Heater or A/C Set Lower
This can make a significant difference in your heating and cooling bills depending on just how much hotter or cooler you keep your home. During the winter, instead of cranking the heat all the way up to 72, try 70 or 68 and wear a sweater or sweatshirt.
We have individual heaters in each room and for as long as possible, we only turn on a couple - the lower living room and the kitchen - because heat rises. Next we turn on the kids bedrooms so they don't freeze while they sleep. We keep a few extra throw blankets in the living room so we can cuddle on the couch. I also try to do a little baking on extra cold days (we frequently see temps in the negative double digits here) to warm up the house - plus yummy homemade treats!
In the summer it's more tempting to crank the a/c because it's much more difficult to cool down than it is to warm up. We only have a wall unit in our house but we have fans running to blow that cool air around. If you have central air try keeping the temp at 72-75 so it isn't constantly working as hard as possible. Keep lots of ice water on hand and open up the windows at night if possible to help bring in natural cool air. I know this isn't possible everywhere (I'm looking at you down south and out west!) but a few degrees can make a big difference! Oh, and don't be tempted to take a cold shower - it can make the air feel warmer once you get out!
18. Use the Library
I can't imagine a world without a library. It breaks my heart! I adore reading but I can't afford to buy every book I want to read, nor would I want to - can you imagine the clutter! I only own about twenty books - all the Harry Potter Books, Chronicles of Narnia, Time Windows (a favorite from childhood), several Bibles, and a couple others. I do have books that I get for launch teams and book reviews but I usually pass those on to friends when I'm done.
But the library is my happy place. I can read as much as I want and it only costs me money when I forget to renew on time and rack up fines. But I'm happy to pay those fines if it means the library continues! And not only books, but movies, audio books, and video games. We were able to lower our Netflix plan because we've been using the library for more and more movie rentals. Plus we can make use of Overdrive and Hoopla for digital loans with our library card. Amazing!
19. Home Hair Cuts
Since we've been married I've always cut Micah's hair - that's 12.5 years so far of money we've saved on hair cuts! We also have four boys - all of whom have only had hair cuts from me. We purchased a decent hair trimming kit on Amazon along with a pair of hair shears, and I do it all in the living room. Is it perfect? Nope. Can I do the latest fashion? Not really. But it's good enough that it saves us the $6-12 that even the discount places charge. Multiply that times five males every three to four months? That's a good chunk of change!
If you need some ideas on how to start this tutorial from Frugal Fun 4 Boys has some great pictures to help.
We also use the kit for giving our dog her hair cuts as well which means we save about $40 per grooming session!
20. Keep Things Simple
We've let social media convince us that we need a themed party for everything, the newest gadget when it comes out, and must constantly buy in order to make life the best. NOPE. Yes, there are times when a new purchase is necessary, but if the birthday only consists of a special meal and dessert that are homemade and not picture perfect, your child will survive - and be thankful! That new gadget may not be as incredible as the hype makes it out to be.
I waited two or three years after first hearing about the Instant Pot to get one - and mine was a Christmas gift from my parents because I was still saving up to someday purchase mine. I do love it, A LOT, but I would survive without it. Although I'm not sure I'd want to because I really do love it.
21. It's Okay to Choose Quality
Choosing the cheap option isn't always the best choice! Yes, it may cost you less up front but if you are needing to buy the same item multiple times because it continues to break it's not saving you any money. There are times when paying more, but not an unreasonable amount, is actually the more financially responsible choice. A quality item will outlast that cheap item and cost you less in the long run.
22. Allow Small Splurges
You know when you go on a diet and you have been sacrificing for so long that when you come face to face with a giant chocolate cake you just eat the whole dang thing because you feel deprived, even if you don't care about chocolate? Yeah, that's what can happen without small splurges.
Many a budgets have been busted because someone went on a spending spree after holding the purse strings far too tight for too long. If you are saving a decent amount each month, try giving yourself a bit of a "blow money" budget so you know you are allowed to spend on something that could be frivolous. But if buying a fun coffee drink once a month means you stay on budget, isn't it worth it?
Frugal living doesn't need to be living in squalor. To me it means being a good steward of the resources you have and using them as wisely as possible.
Staying at home with your kids can seem like a far off or unreachable dream for some families. That second income is needed to make ends meet and the chance of being in a place of financial stability is less than none.
My sweet friends, there is hope! If you have a dream of staying at home with your kids I want to encourage you to check out Erin Odom's new book, You Can Stay Home With Your Kids: 100 Tips, Tricks, and Ways to Make It Work on a Budget. I've only shared a few of my favorite tips from my own life in this post but this book is filled with so many more - including ways to increase your income to make staying at home possible.
I have been so blessed by this book and wish I could buy it for every new mom or friend that dreams of leaving the working world behind so she can be home with her babies. I wish I had had this book a decade ago when I first began my stay at home mom journey. We could have saved so much money and frustration! But I'm thankful that God provided during those years and now I can share my ideas - and Erin's ideas - with you!
Can't order the book? Put it on your birthday or Christmas list or ask your library to purchase a copy! I think I ask the library to purchase a couple dozen books every year because I want to make sure I get to read them.