Monday, February 8, 2016

5 Tips for Living a Frugal Life

Over the years, I have been asked how my husband and I have managed to live on (mostly) one income.  While choosing this lifestyle has not come without sacrifice, it has worked well for our family.  Here are some necessary steps that continue to help us live frugally:

1.  We paid off our debt, first.
When my husband and I were engaged, we took Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University course through our church (we highly recommend him and still follow many of his principles—check out his website). This is one of the most important steps we took, as it got us discussing finances and ensured we were on the same page before getting married.

I came into our marriage with $14,100.00 worth of debt that was comprised of a college loan, my Ford Escort and a credit card.  While that may not seem like a lot to some, we still worked hard to pay it off as quickly as possible.  We began what Ramsey refers to as the Debt Snowball in August of 2009, the month we got married.  We were both employed full-time and paid $800.00 a month towards our debt.  It took us 17 months to pay it off.  I cannot explain the peace that came once that weight was off of our shoulders, but it was well worth it.

As newlyweds, we lived in a modest, two-bedroom duplex.  Because the rent was cheap, we were able to chunk a good portion of our money to what we owed.  We knew buying a home would come eventually.

2.  We have a strict budget for groceries, and I make meal plans every week.
We are currently a family of four, and we budget $600.00 a month for groceries.  I know families of similar sizes that budget much more, and others that set aside less.  This amount works for us, and we strive to eat healthy food.  That means we buy a good amount of produce and fewer processed items.  Trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle is expensive!

When grocery shopping, we withdraw cash.  It is much easier to stay within your budget when you are holding tangible dollar bills.  There have been plenty of times that I have wanted to splurge on something but put it back on the shelf because I know we can't afford it that particular week.

In our modern world with sites like Pinterest and access to most things at the touch of a fingertip, finding recipes is easy.  I typically plan for a maximum of three meals per week (we are good leftover eaters).  I create my grocery lists based solely on what we will be consuming, and snacks for us.  I do not usually deviate from the list when at the store.  Side note:  crockpots and Rotisserie chickens are especially helpful!

This also means that we seldom eat out.  When we do, it is a welcome treat (and a separate budget line item).  Do we have moments that we go for the convenience of a meal?  Absolutely.  Especially now that we are expecting our third child (hello, frozen chicken nuggets and french fries!).  We just don't make it the norm.

3.  We bought a house we could afford on ONE income.
I'll write that one more time:  We bought a house we could afford on ONE income.  Could we have bought a bigger, nicer home?  Yes, but eventually we would have been living above our means and we would have accumulated debt all over again.  When my husband and I were engaged, we agreed that when it came time for us to have children, I would stay at home with them (at least during their most formative years).   We worked towards that end before our firstborn son arrived, a little after two years of marriage.

There is much peace in not ever having to think about my mortgage and whether or not we can afford it.

4.  We love hand me downs and believe in the barter system.
We never say no when hand me downs are offered to us.  If they don't work for whatever reason, we keep passing them along, or donate them to Goodwill (also a great place to find jeans for the children).  We have been so blessed by some of the most generous people in our community through hand me downs.  I never tire of receiving them, and I keep the cycle going by paying it forward when we are done with them.

Since resigning from my full-time teaching position in 2012, I have been giving piano lessons part-time from our home.  I average about 15 students per semester.  Every year, there are a few students whose parents cannot afford to pay the full monthly fee.  I have bartered piano lessons for help with gardening, babysitting and meals.  I have gained so much through these experiences, not to mention hardworking, dedicated students and families.  It is a joy to live life intentionally with others, even if it means that four out of five weeknights our home is full of people and noise.

5.  We tithe.
Of all the aforementioned tips that have helped us, this is the one that is most instrumental to our faith.  We tithe 10% of our income, which means we give that amount back to the Lord (whom we believe blesses us with all things) and live on 90% of our income.  "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.  Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it." -Malachi 3:10  This is the only place in the Bible that the Lord says we can test Him, and we feel that is significant.

We don't know what it's like to live on 100% of our income because we've never done it.  It has been our experience, however, that the Lord more than keeps His promises when you take Him at His word.

Has it always been easy?  No.  Do I sit around the house all day eating Bon-Bons?  I wish!  It is also important to note that it would be much harder for us to live this way if we lived anywhere else in the United States.  South Texas has a reputation for being the poorest region in our country, and it is.  The cost of living, therefore, is extremely affordable.  When I take a step back and look at the larger picture, I am continually reminded that we are rich in the things that matter.  When you have traveled the world and spent time in countries like China and Mexico, you see what real materialistic poverty looks like.  But that, my friends, is a whole other post...

Now I want to hear from you!  What are some money-saving practices that have helped you and your family (I am always a learner)?


  1. I love it! I did the same with paying down my 80k school debt, I threw every extra penny at my loans and had great satisfaction steadily knocking them out in 5 years. I didn't know of Dave R at the time but his plan is similar to what I did and being debt free is totally worth the small sacrifices. I would say some of my strengths are : 1. just saying no to Shopping. walmart/target, there is always something I would find I "needed", so I just avoid those stores Instead of spending days off of work shopping I try to replace it with outdoor activities (which are usually free) 2. embracing minimalist living (I like Marie Kondo's philosophy) 3. Analyzing my money looking at a budget. 4. Having a hubby on the same page... he always says to me when we are at a store "see anything you can't live without" he also is naturally Mr. minimalist. 5. For us living close to our work is important, we both bike to work and have one car My weaknesses/splurges: 1. I have yet to make a budget for food and eating out (although my hubby and I don't eat at fancy places) 2. amazon prime does get me on extra things.

    1. I love this, Megan! It's amazing that you paid off 80k in loans in five years! It definitely helps to have a spouse on the same page. I am not super familiar with Marie Kondo, but I will definitely look her up! Thank you so much for your tips. I always enjoy hearing from you!