by Janny Jackson
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As you may already know, my husband and I have been living on one income since we brought our firstborn home 9 years ago. For the majority of those 9 years we lived SOLELY on just my husband’s income, meaning ALL bills and purchases were made with just that income and the tax return we received for the year. In the past 7 years we have also experienced two moves across the country and 3 different houses, as well as adding 2 more children to our family.
I know what you’re thinking. That’s just not possible nowadays. And to that I say, it just seems like it’s not possible.
Do we live solely off of just one income now? Yes and no. The majority of our bills and expenses are covered by my husband’s full-time income. If we had to survive with just that, we could make it happen. BUT, now that my kids are older and don’t depend on me as much (like a nursing babe for example) I have taken advantage of local opportunities to make a couple dollars here and there, as well as having been trained to do taxes seasonally. My income is no where near something that we can live off of, it’s merely supplemental; money that I can put towards ordering pizza instead of cooking, or fixing that one thing that really needs to be fixed, or a thrift store trip (for books, duh).
Here are a few tried and true ways I have learned to save money over the years for our family of 5.
Track Your Expenses
I had a couple conversations recently with some friends about finances and when I told them that I know where every single cent of our money goes they looked at me like I had two heads. I am aware that this is not the norm in our society. Now that it is possible to look at an app to check on bank accounts a lot of people don’t take the additional step to track their expenses, which can lead to mistakes such as overdrafts and the feeling of “I don’t know where all my money went.’
We live in a society that is very consumeristic and swipe-happy. Budgets aren’t often used, and the pressure to keep up with those around us is sky high. When you use an inexpensive account tracker and sit down to physically write out your income, what your monthly bills are, and what you have remaining for groceries, gas, etc., it really forces you to create a budget and prioritize needs vs. wants. When you can stick to a monthly budget and prioritize your spending you can eventually get to the point that you are able to save and create a safety net for unexpected expenses and emergencies that are bound to happen, as well as the wants.
Say NO To Debt
Is all debt bad debt? I think the answer varies depending on who you ask. My opinion is that if you can afford the debt then it is not a bad thing to have (such as financing a big purchase like furniture and then paying it off before the interest kicks in), and can help your credit score in the long run. For my family the only debt we have is our house mortgage.
Credit cards are a controversial topic. A lot of people avoid them like the plague. Others use their credit cards as a debit card and pay it off at the end of the month. And some use credit cards for the benefits and rewards, or for security reasons, or to build their credit score. Only you can determine if using a credit card is a good financial decision for you and your family.
When you have a limited income, or are looking to cut back on spending, one of the first things you should do is put the credit card away to avoid frivolous and mind numbing spending. It can be so easy to say “I’ll pay it off later” while you continue to swipe and the balance continues to grow to where eventually it is out of control. Swiping a debit card instead of a credit card and seeing your balance deplete after each purchase really makes you think more about where you want your money to be going to and if that purchase is worth it.
I have a confession. Though I am good at keeping us out of debt and saving as much as we can, I have not been great at budgeting. We have a set amount of expenses throughout the year that I dread having to pay every time, because I have not been saving up for them in advance. I have recently discovered the sinking funds technique, and it’s just in time for the upcoming new year.
Sinking funds have you list out all of the expenses you want to save up for over time that will allow you to pay for those expenses from that savings you created. Every pay day, or monthly, you set aside an amount you designate to go towards that specific fund. Things like large insurance payments that are due once a year, or HOA fees if yearly, or a vacation you want to take, or even creating a savings account for car maintenance.
Anything that is a large expense, that you do not have money for after paying the bills, is something you can create a sinking funds savings for and save for it over time. I am really excited to start using this method to help really refine our finances and give every dollar a purpose.
Shop In Bulk
This is something I learned from watching my mother. It’s something that I just do naturally now. I tend to think weeks ahead when it comes to buying groceries and necessities instead of just a couple days or one week ahead. We were not some of those people that panicked for toilet paper during the pandemic because we were all stocked up!
One of the main things I stock up on and buy in bulk is meats. It’s one of the biggest grocery expenses for us, and also one of the things that goes quickly since I cook regularly to avoid spending money on eating out. Buying things you use regularly like condiments, seasonings, baking products, rice, eggs, etc. in bulk helps to save money as those items often are at a bulk pricing and help you avoid buying products in small batches which will add up over time.
Paper products such as toilet paper and paper towels are also great things to buy in bulk since they get used regularly. When we had babies I always bought diapers and wipes in bulk at a warehouse store like Sam’s Club.
Buying in bulk should help prevent those last minute trips to the store when you are all of a sudden running low on something, and saves you money over time.
Oh the thrill of the hunt! I am not much of a shopper, but when I need something for the kids, house, or even school items I always try my hardest to thrift those items, to an extent of course. Most do not buy used undergarments, for example. Everyone will have their limits on what they are okay buying used vs buying new.
When it comes to my kids, Once Upon A Child is my favorite place to take our gently used clothing, shoes, and books to sell in exchange for either cash or store credit towards another purchase. I have a storage bin in my garage for things to sell and another for donating, and as I clean out the kid’s clothes and other items I will place them in one of those bins. When they are full I sell or donate. Most of the time I can find gently used clothes in the kid’s next sizes at OUAC, but it can be hit or miss.
I find great books at my local Goodwill, a lot of the times brand new or very gently used, for only about $1 each! That’s a lot of fun to search through and find books that I know the kids will enjoy.
The Salvation Army in my area has a lot of great furniture.
Other local thrift stores I’ve been too have had great deals on kids toys.
FB Marketplace is my go to for everything I can’t find in my local thrift stores. A lot of the times I can find a great deal on something I may need for homeschool, furniture, or even appliances and electronics. It can be tricky to sift through the posts and actually get to the point of a meet up and exchange. As always, you want to do so with caution and with utmost safety.
I have also seen others purchase refurbished electronics like desktops and printers from places like Amazon and Best Buy.
There are SO MANY ways and avenues to find the things you need or want without having to spend the full amount you normally would if you were to buy brand new. If you want to cut costs, searching for thrifted items is worth the effort and you’ll find it is so much fun when you can say you got a good deal!
Couponing is an entire world in itself. I’m not kidding! Do a quick search in YouTube and you will see how vast it truly is. Those “extreme couponers” you’ve heard about could be your next door neighbor. Once you start to research and do a couple practice runs it becomes addicting. It does require patience as there is a learning curve, but once you get the hang of it you can stock your shelves with a lot of your mostly used household items for free or cheap! And, lucky for us, we have experienced couponers literally in the palms of our hands to help guide us through it all.
I have learned to coupon mostly at my local drugstores, CVS and Walgreens, as well as Dollar General. The stores you can coupon at will be specific to your area. If you have the time, patience, and enjoy a challenge, couponing will save you loads of money and help you to cut back on expenses for products you will need to buy anyway.
Use Money Saving Apps
This is a fun one. And it doesn’t require you to do anything but download a couple apps on your phone.
On the app Telegram I follow Coupon With Kayla and Save With Sydney. They post daily deals from (including but not limited to) Amazon, Walmart, Woot, and even sales at clothing stores like Old Navy or makeup deals at Ulta. It can seem a bit overwhelming and can drain your pocketbook quickly if you are not careful about the deals you take advantage of. I have gotten MANY things like packing cubes, and roller skates, and even vitamins, and gifts like cheap Lego sets and roller skates at super low prices thanks to them and the deals they find, and of course everything is brand new! I’ve seen deals for shoes, facial products, car parts, luggage, baby items, etc. If you are looking for it, you will come across a deal for it at some point.
The apps Fetch and Ibotta allow you to earn rewards towards purchases you have already made. All you have to do is scan your receipt, or link your store account, and start racking up points and/or money. I have used both of these apps for a couple years. Through Ibotta I have earned over $100 cash back, meaning they deposited it into my account, and through Fetch I have redeemed points enough times to have ‘purchased’ over $65 in gift cards to places like Home Depot and Amazon.
These are the easiest ways to save money, with purchases you have already made, and from the comfort of your home. Use my codes below to sign up when you download the app and we will both be rewarded!
Do It Yourself
My all time favorite way to save money, even more than thrifting, is to figure out how to do something myself. In the world that we live in now it is SO EASY to outsource everything. Hate grocery shopping? Sign up for a delivery service. Don’t want to do your own lawn? Hire it out! Need to have your car washed? Just pay for a quick car wash!
Sure it’s only a couple dollars here and there, but the more things you outsource the quicker it adds up.
When my husband and I first got married we literally did not know how to do anything handy, including hanging something on the wall. Over the years we have learned to take things into our own hands and take care of the things that a lot of people pay to have others do, including but not limited to, painting, car oil changes and replacing parts, house repairs, appliance repairs, flooring install, lawn care, gardening, house cleaning, grocery shopping, and so much more. Did you see the home projects we have completed in our home so far? We’ve turned a coat closet into a homeschool closet, made over my son’s room into a Lego themed room, and gave my daughter the most darling princess room.
When you have a very limited income and don’t have the funds to hire jobs out you are forced to learn about the items that you surround yourself with and figure out how to do the upkeep on your own.
Thanks to technology, again, you can pretty much figure out how to do anything from the internet. And of course, the more you do something the better you will get. Your lawn won’t look perfect the first time you do it, but the more you do it the better you’ll get. Your painting will suck at first. But the more you do it, the straighter your lines will be. And there is the thrill and satisfaction of knowing you fixed something yourself that gives you so much pride in yourself and your home.
As a parent and homeschool mom, there are always learning opportunities in these things. Our kids get to see us struggle through it and come out a better and more resourceful person. It helps to teach perseverance and independence, and (if you allow it) gives your kids the opportunities to work for money to buy their wants, and to gain skills as kids that they can carry on into adulthood.
Money comes and goes, and no matter how much we have we should all be good stewards of our money and learn how to manage it well. If we haven’t been taught to steward our money well, we need to learn now and take the opportunity to teach our children how to be good stewards of theirs, so that they are set up for success for when they are adults and have their own families.
What is your favorite money saving hack? Tell us below, and as always, thanks for being here!