My husband and I were married the day after college graduation in 2006 with a budget of $2000 for every last wedding/honeymoon thing. I come from a low-income single parent family, and my husband’s family was in the throes of dealing with his mother’s cancer. Our families didn’t have much money to give, so we didn’t even ask. We made it work and had a lovely ceremony because of donated time and talents from the wonderful people in our lives.
Having Hope in the Lean Years
Just a year later, we found out we were expecting baby #1, and I knew I would want to stop working outside the home, but we were already stretched thin financially. I checked out every book I could find (thank you library!) on the topics of making money from home, saving money, budgeting, and raising children frugally. Then I spent my pregnancy making plans.
Just before baby was born, we moved out of our apartment and into a transitional housing facility for homeless families to act as the Resident Managers. We lived rent-free in exchange for being the eyes and ears of the home, and teaching life skills classes to the residents. It was a wonderful arrangement, and I learned as much as I taught about getting through tough financial times.
Our budget during those years was completely spoken for with zero wiggle room. We had no entertainment budget, no clothing budget, not even a budget for baby. Even Christmas and birthday money from grandparents went toward paying off student loans or saving for car repairs. We became a one-car family, I got free cloth diapers from Craigslist, hand-me-down baby clothes from friends at church, and I breastfed.
For entertainment, we walked to the library or train station (it had a great old caboose parked outside) every nice day. I started writing to record our experiences and share recipes and other things I learned. Much of that is in my new book Dinner at Home. When we added baby number two, we had to get even more creative. We switched to family cloth and cloth feminine products, cloth in the kitchen, stopped buying anything disposable like tissues or plastic lunch bags and plastic wrap, and I started babysitting for extra income.
The strategies outlined above that we used to get through those lean years really fell into two different categories:
Living Simply – I entered married life with a big sense of entitlement despite being raised with less than many. In my inexperience I expected that if I made the “right” choices for our family, prosperity would rain down on us. I was often jealous of families a little further ahead than us, and judged others harshly when they seemed to spend money frivolously. At the root of both of those sinful emotions was a prideful desire for immediate gratification.
God just doesn’t often work that way, does He?
Instead of allowing me the temporary pleasure of a life of ease, He forced me into a slower, more intentional lifestyle. Simple Living is a popular blog post and book topic for a reason – it’s a lot harder to come back from excess than to maintain a life free from it.
If you are going through tough times and looking forward to the days when your earnings cover more than your basic expenses, please take the time to think through (and even write down) the many blessings of a restricted income – more nights in together, less laundry to wash, less clutter to organize, deeper appreciation of the belongings you do own, etc.
Saving Creatively - I learned during those years that not spending money really is sometimes as efficient as making extra.
Living as resident managers allowed us to not pay rent. Owning one car saved us from gas and insurance. It also saved us from a harried pace of life that may have taken a toll on my health as a new mother. Not eating out cut our grocery bill in half. Working from home saved us the expense of childcare, formula (or breast-pumping gear), and more gas. We also chose not to pay for television or cell phone plans, but used the internet and a pay-as-you-go phone in conjunction with Skype instead. We even skipped coffee!!
When it seems like you are at a crossroads where more income is the only solution, take another hard look at what you are currently paying for and ask yourself if it’s worth the expense.
Thinking through every decision was tiring, but there were definitely benefits. And we didn’t have to maintain that strict budget forever. Our family of six is now enjoying the rewards of being serious about our money as we are living very comfortably with no educational or consumer debt.
I can’t promise the same for you, of course, but I can say with confidence that it’s a good place to start. It’s even a good place to stay, if necessary. While I am thankful for the additional resources we have these days, and try to use them wisely, I know that if we ever need to cut back again, we’ll have the tools and experience to do it! That security was absolutely worth it all!
>>>Psst! You can get a copy of Anjanette’s book, Dinner At Home, here as a part of this awesome bundle – but hurry, it ends today!
If you’d like to know more about how to have hope in the lean years, save money, make meal times easier, stop getting angry with your children and countless other topics, click the pretty pink button below!
Anjanette Barr is wife to a librarian, and a mother to four wonderful children. She lives in Juneau Alaska where she spends her time writing, reading great books, homeschooling, and hiking Juneau’s extensive trail system. She can be found online at AnjanetteBarr.com