Stop. Right there. I’m calling bullshit. I’ve heard this line far too many times and I’m here to tell you the cold hard truth: yes, you can! OK, maybe you can’t afford anything you want, but I can tell you 9 things right now that you think are necessary that really aren’t.
I’ve stayed home with my kids since the first one was born 11 years ago. It’s something i always planned on doing. We’ve had to sacrifice luxuries to make that happen, but it’s important enough to my husband and I that we did what it took to enable me to do so. Especially now that we decided to unschool our kids. Before you get ahead of yourself, no, my husband never had a spectacular job. In fact, lower-enlisted soldiers (as my husband used to be) actually get paid right around the poverty line. (Here is an article about that, if you’re interested.) We qualified for WIC (an American program that gives mothers formula and/or food for their children up until the age of 5) and could have received food stamps. The jobs he’s held since getting out of the Army have paid far less than what most Americans consider necessary for a family to live on a single income. So now that you know my qualifications for living on a tight budget, here’s my list of things you can eliminate from your budget that are actually unnecessary:
This is fairly straightforward. No, you don’t need a vacation. Not even a little one. Yes, it’s nice, but completely unnecessary. More people are realizing this and opting for “staycations“, where they stay at home and do fun things locally. However, this can add up to quite a bit of money also. I think the issue is that people are too stressed out on a daily basis and feel they need that week or two to recharge, so to speak.
Work on de-stressing all year long, and you won’t feel so strongly that you need a vacation. Do fun things throughout the year that are free, or nearly free. Check your local newspaper, community bulletin boards or websites, area Facebook groups, etc. Pick up brochures from the lobby of a motel or the library. Better yet, ask your friends for places to go that might be largely unadvertised. Here and here are lists of fun, mostly free things to do (hint: pick the free stuff).
Nope, not kidding. Believe it or not, you don’t need TV! Not at all. We haven’t had a TV in the house for 10 months now, and I don’t miss it one bit! Not only do I really not miss cable (which we’ve not had for years, besides one short stint last year), I don’t miss the mindless movies we used to watch. There are some good movies out there. Mostly older ones. The ones that actually inspire people to think. Sadly, most movies these days come nowhere close to fitting that bill. They are complete time-wasters. We do watch an occasional movie on the laptop, but it is very rare.
We would much rather play a board game, go for a walk, work in the garden, go to the park, or *gasp* just sit around and talk! Really, not having even the temptation to put on a DVD is amazing. It took some getting used to, and I admit I watched something on the laptop almost nightly for awhile in transition. But the habit is completely broken now, and it’s such a freeing feeling.
3. Eating out (including prepared food)
This one takes a lot more time and effort. It takes planning and preparation. And there will be times you falter, especially in the beginning. But add it up, even the rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, or the take n bake pizza, or the donuts. Everything. While you’re at it, add in all packaged foods. You won’t be able to nix all of these overnight. It’s taken us a few years to get to where we are. But it’s so very much worth the effort! We are so much healthier and homemade food tastes so much better! Even my 11 and 9 year olds are able to cook a lot of foods themselves now.
Start by eliminating going out to eat, since that’s the easiest to control. Buy used cookbooks or utilize online recipe sources and start cooking! The only way to learn is through trying. Then get really bold and pick something to make from scratch. I started with pancakes. I’m not talking about using a baking mix; I’m talking about using flour, milk, and eggs (and a few other ingredients). Then biscuits, brownies, cake…you name it! It might seem overwhelming at first, but it’s a skill that has to be learned. Once upon a time, people learned as children from their mothers and grandmothers. So don’t be too hard on yourself when you fail. Dust yourself off and try again. If you need more motivation than saving money, start researching the ingredients on the food packages in your pantry.
4. New clothes
Ok, so you’ll probably need new underwear and socks every now and then, although I have actually found those at thrift stores as well, new with tags! Most of the time, you don’t actually “need” more clothes at all. When you do, buy used!
I can almost guarantee you can find what you need at a thrift store, secondhand store, consignment store, yard sale, flea market, Craigslist, or other similar place. Even nice clothes for work or school! Yes, it takes a bit more time, but you can save incredible amounts of money. I got my toddler all the clothes she needed this summer for under $25. I bought myself some name-brand sneakers in like-new condition at a consignment store for $10. It can be done!
5. A second vehicle
A lot of you will balk at this suggestion, even more than the others. Having your own car equals independence somehow. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be this way! It’s possible that it won’t work in your situation, but hear me out. My husband and I have shared a vehicle for almost our entire marriage. Yes, it was less than optimal at times, but we made it work. This isn’t so easy if both of you are employed, but if only one of you is working, I don’t see many instances when it can’t be done.
Utilize public transportation in your area. Buy bikes for everyone (used, of course!). Better yet, walk! When a car really is a must, consider giving your spouse a ride to work and consolidating your errands into one day. Get a ride from a friend. Borrow a car from a family member. Wait until your spouse has a day off. Host a play date or book club at your house so you don’t have to go elsewhere.
6. New furniture or other household items
Like clothing, most everything can be bought used. No, you might not be able to have a specific color scheme. But what’s more important to you? Having your house look perfect, or saving a ton of money for things that are far more important to you?
Again, utilize local stores, yard sales, and websites to find the things you need. I’ve had great success posting wanted ads on local buy/sell groups (ex. “Wanted: washer and dryer, delivered to my house, will pay extra for your time and gas”). Tip: Don’t post a price limit on wanted ads, allow sellers to contact you with the price they are willing to sell it for and negotiate down from there if necessary. My rule of thumb for buying anything is to check all the local sources first, then if I really need it now, I will buy it new. You’d be surprised what you can actually live without, though! Another tip: keep a running list on your phone of things you need so that when you make a trip to a thrift store or pass by a yard sale, you know exactly what you’re looking for and don’t wind up passing up on something you need or buying something you don’t!
7. Lessons/sports for your kids
This is a difficult one for some people to give up. While some lessons can be quite enjoyable and beneficial for kids, I think that they often would rather be engaging in free play, or a fun (free!) family activity (as listed in #1).
Do things together as a family regularly. Check for free (or inexpensive) classes, clubs, or activities offered in your community. Some places to check are Home Depot, Michaels, the parks and recreation department of your city, your local library, etc. If your kids express a strong desire to participate in a more costly activity, you can at least buy used clothing and gear when possible, or consider having your kids earn part or all of the money needed by doing extra chores around the house. Which brings me to my next point…
Let’s face it, most of the time, parents either have stipulations about what kids are allowed to spend the money on (which means it’s not actually theirs anyway), or the kids spend it on crap. Besides, how does getting paid for no reason teach them any sort of lesson?
Housework that needs to be done because it’s effected by everyone shouldn’t be paid. (i.e. You use dishes; therefore, you help wash dishes.) Anything else should be optional. Come up with a list of housework that you think should be shared and figure out the best way to divvy it up. Then come up with a list of “extra” chores along with the dollar amount you’re willing to pay one of your kids to do it. They can use this money to buy all the things they want that you don’t feel the need to buy them. I like this idea:
9. Expensive cleaners/soaps and paper towels
I kid you not, I use water, white vinegar, and baking soda to clean most surfaces in my home. Most cleaners not only contain harsh chemicals, but are really unnecessary. The ones that are necessary have very inexpensive alternatives.
First, ditch the paper towels. No need to make the fancy ones you’ve seen on Pinterest, either. Buy a big pack of cheap washcloths, or better yet, find old washcloths at a thrift store! Or some big towels that you can cut up into squares. They can easily be thrown in the wash with other towels or jeans; or if you’re like me, you can throw everything in together!
For most messes, I use a spray bottle with half white vinegar, half water. I use this to mop with also. Floors, counters, walls, toilet, tub, sinks, stove, everything! Even the windows (I use a coffee filter or newspaper in place of paper towels for that). If you’re like me, you’ll worry that vinegar doesn’t actually kill germs. Here is an article to read about that. And if you think a sterile environment is what kids need, think again. Now, I do use bleach for some surfaces. Like after my kids poop in the tub (fun times). But mostly it’s just vinegar. If I’m trying to cut through grease or tough stains, I sprinkle some baking soda first, then spray vinegar and let it soak for awhile first.
For laundry, try this DIY stain remover. And try making your own laundry detergent, or use soap nuts.
Try using coconut oil as a moisturizer, which is especially nice because it has an SPF of about 8, and coupled with wearing a hat, using a sun umbrella, and just not staying in the sun too long, coconut oil can help you avoid toxic sunscreen. You can even make a sugar scrub with coconut oil to use in place of expensive body wash.
I could go on and on about natural, homemade alternatives to harsh chemical cleaners and hygiene products. Suffice to say, you’ll save a ton of money and be healthier for it!
If you have any of your own money-saving tips, please share them in the comments!