When Clark and I first decided that I was going to stay home, he didn’t have a job. He had just graduated from college and I had been our sole provider for two years. But I desperately wanted to stay home with Charlee so we began trying to figure out how we could financially make that possible. Four years later, we are entering into our first year of feeling like we can breathe a little, where finances aren’t quite so tight, and we might even be able to splurge some. But before those number-crunching days are too far behind me, I thought I’d offer some encouragement and advice to those currently in the throes of (or just considering) a one-income household.
Disclaimer: I wanted to stay home because it was right for me. In no way do I think that it is the best way or only way to raise children. I occasionally think I might want to go back to work, and then I envision getting myself and all three children dressed and out the door by 7 am … and look down at my pajamas I’m still rocking at 3 pm and decide that it’s altogether impossible. All hail to working moms. Y’all are amazing. I also realize that my situation is very different than others’. We don’t have thousands of dollars in student debt or medical bills to worry about. Some people literally can’t afford to stay home.
However, if you are wanting to stay home but are nervous about making ends meet or if you already do but are barely scraping by (solidarity, sister), here are a few tips and tricks from someone who has lived on one income all 7 years of marriage.
Let’s start by getting a few realities out of the way. I had to come to grips with a few things early on (and pretty much every day since), some of which are really hard and some very relieving.
I will not have the cutest _______. Fill in the blank. Clothes. House. Kids’ clothes. Decor. Hairstyle. When I feel myself “needing” something that I can’t afford, I have to remind myself, “In this season, I will not have the cutest _____. And that’s okay.” Sometimes it feels really important (because Pinterest) but if staying at home is more important, some of those things just can’t be.
I am going to have to make some sacrifices. Not just me, but everyone. I am going to have to cook a lot, paint my own nails, buy less presents for Christmas, cut out some “major wants” from our budget. Everyone will still survive. And, dare I say, learn a few valuable lessons along the way.
In the grand scheme, I am pretty rich. It’s really, really easy to look around and think, “everyone has so much more than us”. And lament over all the things we are sacrificing. But I mean, let’s be honest. This article could probably be renamed “First World Problems” because the things we are giving up, are usually not food.
This is (most likely) the poorest we will ever be. Barring outliers, most people make more money the older and more experienced they get. So, you might have to make a few sacrifices right now, but it won’t be like this forever.
So now that we’ve gotten those basic principles out of the way, let’s get to it. I have wracked my brain to think of all the ways I’ve cut costs the past few years.
1. Drink water. Don’t buy juice, coke, wine, beer, lemonade, tea. I know, I know. It sounds cray, but this is one of the biggest ways I have saved at the grocery store. Drink water. Not only is it healthy, it’s cheap.
2. Buy in bulk. I use Amazon Prime Subscribe and Save. I buy all my non-perishables through them — diapers, wipes, ziplocs, trash bags, toothbrushes, face wash, shampoo, soap, detergent, etc. — and have them shipped to me whenever I need more. You get 15% off your entire order if you order 5+ items (20% off diapers and wipes). Yes, there is a Prime yearly subscription, but if I cut out cable (we’ll get to that in a minute), the Prime shows and movies more than make it worth it. Try the Amazon Prime 30-Day Free Trial.
3. Use cash back for holidays. I know Dave Ramsey would not approve, but we buy everything on credit cards that have rewards programs. Two years ago, I didn’t pay for a single Christmas present. We had accrued enough points to cover all of them. Last year, we used them to go on a trip for our anniversary. BUT, that being said…
4. Never pay interest (if at all possible). We pay cash for everything. Pay your credit cards in full every month. When we remodeled our home, we paid cash. When we bought our cars, we paid cash. When we bought a new couch, we paid cash. If you don’t have enough money to buy something, don’t buy it.
5. Buy necessities for holidays. My mom told me this trick. At Christmas, use stocking stuffers to buy things your kids already need — socks, underwear, pacifiers, sippy cups — things you would have bought them anyway. Wam, bam. Two birds. One stone. Merry Christmas.
6. Use gifted money for splurges. This is my chance to splurge on myself. Two years ago, I used my Christmas money to restock my closet. Last year, I used it to redecorate my daughters’ room. This way, nobody questions how much money I am spending and whether or not we can afford it. It’s basically free, right?
7. Do hair care on the cheap. Master Cuts and Family Cuts, y’all. Haters gonna hate, but they do good work. Also, box color. In 5 years, you can spend $150 on a haircut & color. But today is not that day. I promise, you will look stunning with your $15 ‘do.
8. Cut the (cable) cord. It didn’t take us long to realize cable is freaking expensive. Here’s our solution:
– pay for wireless only
– get a streaming device (we have used AppleTV and FireTV and loved both)
– subscribe to Amazon Prime and/or Netflix and/or Hulu (we do Prime and Netflix)
– get an antenna for local channels
9. Get rid of stuff. I am always amazed at how much stuff we have. Every time we move (once a year, duh), I end up with boxes and boxes of giveaway items. I’ve made some pretty good #cashmoney at places like Swap.com, Craigslist, and Facebook, but there are also the VarageSale and LetGo apps where I have bought stuff… and speaking of….
10. Shop second-hand. Here’s the problem. I want my house to look like a high-end magazine. Here’s the second problem … I’m not savvy enough to figure out how to make my house look high-end on my low-end budget. My budget is an antique/shabby-chic/distressed-look budget. So, that’s my style… because that’s my budget. Second-hand shops (specifically the ones mentioned above) are a great place to find home decor. And did you know, a can of spray paint can work wonders.
11. Make a budget. Budget is not a bad word. It’s actually very freeing to be on a budget. Bought a new shirt? Don’t worry hubs! I have a $25 clothing budget this month so I’m actually under budget. No arguing. No accusing. Everybody wins. And guess what? There’s an app for that. Mint.com is the bomb.com. This website/app will allow you to import all credit cards and bank accounts so that you can see all your expenses in one place. You can then create budgets and categorize each expense so that you know how much you are spending on each category each month. It’s also super convenient during tax season to have everything categorized and searchable. If not for any other reason, make a budget so that you can see what you spend most of your money on.
12. Don’t stop giving. Budget tithing and giving first. There’s no better way to be reminded of how much we actually have and how faithful God is than by giving sacrificially. Buy gifts for needy children before your own for Christmas. Sponsor a Compassion child. It’s amazing how much further your money goes when you steward it well. There is no better way to live by faith, than by trusting that God will take care of you if you take care of his people.
I am by no means an expert. I still spend an exorbitant amount on groceries, and I have just given up. I don’t understand coupons. They make me feel stupid and angry.
However, I hope these are helpful. And, please, if you have ways that you save money, I would love to hear them! I am always interested in how other people cut costs! Happy budgeting!