In two months we will be completely debt free including our vehicle and home. And by God's grace we have done this on Nathan's income of $32,000 a year.
If you know our family then you know we are cheap. Here are a few examples to express the extent of our cheapness: 1982 recliners $12 at auction, dishwasher (with dings and missing pieces) $100, 99.9% of our clothing is used and most were given to us. We love a bargain and enjoy shopping around for days, months even years before we make a purchase. I say all of this because I realize that not everyone is so cheap. So some of the things that have worked for us may not work for you, but the point is finding what will work.
We decided early on in our marriage that living with the lots of stuff is not worth living with the stress of debt.
The Three Most Important Steps Towards Living Financially Light
1. Pray and Know God's Word-God will speak to you and guide you but you have to be in prayer over your finances. Know what God has to say about money and debt. He is very specific and very timely for our generation.
2. Obedience to God's Calling-God will give you specific direction when it comes to your finances, but you have to be listening and willing to act (or not act in many cases). The Holy Spirit will give you the power to make hard decisions and obey. And the best thing is that God will bless you for your obedience in more profound ways than you can imagine.
3. Give Your Money Away-Tithing 10% of God's money makes you more respectful with the 90% you get to keep. I am going to list many choices we have made to become debt free but without the grace of God it is very, very difficult. There have been many times that paper, pen and calculator said one thing but God amazed us with his divine intervention.
The Big Stuff
Housing-Renting can sometimes be a good option for living light (especially if you choose a small space that will lower your other bills). But in our situation we decided to make an investment with our home. We bought a great home with 13 acres at a great deal. We knew that we would be able to sell the land at a great price if we needed to. When we started praying about me becoming a stay at home mom we were lead to sell the land and pay of a huge chunk of our mortgage. We also made extra payments with tax returns and larger payments whenever possible so that we could be freed from home debt.
Vehicles-When Nathan and I were married we both owned our own vehicles which was a great way to keep us on track. We did purchase a brand new vehicle at 0% interest and used savings to pay it off (since it was a 0% loan we kept our money in our account to draw interest and made payments each month from that account until it was paid off). Future vehicles will be paid for in full and we will probably never buy new again.
Food & Eating Out
I believe that food (especially eating out) can be the number one contributor to debt. Since it's food, something we need, we can easily convince ourselves that it is a reasonable purchase. And the little things add up fast (not just on our wallets but on our backsides too).
Coupons & Sales-I do use coupons but I am nowhere near a coupon queen. Since I usually purchase generic, store brands, items on sale and fresh products I rarely have a coupon. I do make a list and stick to it, rarely making impulse purchases.
Meal Planning-The single best thing we do to save money on food is to purchase only what we will eat. And my strategy is to purchase a little less than what I think we will need. Here is my reasoning on that: we almost always have some sort of interuption from our dinner plans during the week (meeting, working outside until late, being invited to eat with someone else) and then that food is wasted. So by limiting what I buy at the store we always have enough, but not too much. There are few things I love more than a near empty fridge or pantry.
We eat the same things most of the time. For breakfast we have fruit smoothies and a puff. For lunch we have a sandwich with some fresh fruit. And for dinner we have meat (chicken, beef, turkey), fresh/frozen/canned fruit, a vegetable and sliced bread. We keep it simple and it helps us to eat healthier and on a tight budget. I tend to stay away from complex recipes and casaroles which can increase cost, have higher calories and take longer to prepare.
Eating Out-We like to eat out so we do. But very rarely and just the two of us most of the time. When we have gone out to eat in the past at a sit down restaurant as a family we normally find ourselves wondering what we were thinking. The kids don't appreciate it and we do not get to talk When we do take the kids out to eat we focus on what they really want. They are more than happy to have a healthy snack at home and just french fries or ice cream when we go out.
Gifts & Holidays
Birthdays-we ask family and friends to bring gently used gifts to our children on their birthdays. And we do one special gift for them. We also keep decorations and food to a minimum.
Christmas-we purchase three gifts (representing the gifts given to Jesus Christ by the three wise men) for each child and they are usually gently used items. Since we do not purchase toys during the year we save these purchases for Christmas. We have also condensed our gift giving list to our children and a few family and friends children. Our christmas budget is $300 and we stick to it.
Holiday Decorating-I am definately a Mary and not a Martha so we keep the decorating very simple. If you saw our Chrsitmas tree (house plant) last year you know what I mean. We want to keep the "holidays" from taking over our life. Christmas is Jesus Birthday, Easter is a celebration of Jesus resurrection and Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks.
Buy Low & Sell High-The items that I purchase are almost always used and I get them at a great price. When the kids outgrow them I sell them for more than the purchase price. So we are continually making a little extra money on our clothes. I use the extra $ to supplement birthdays and Christmas.
Purchases-I purchase our clothing from ebay, Lil' Angels Attic consignment sale, Diaper Swappers, Goodwill and a few friends that let me have first dibs at their great stuff.
When we are given clothing I love it, use it and pass it on. God is good on his promises and when you give you will receive.
Cloth Diapers-we use cloth diapers which I purchase gently used from Diaper Swappers. When we outgrow a size I trade or sell them for more and almost always make money on my diapers. So instead of paying for diapers we are making money.
Other Financial Drains
Vacations-When we take vacations as a family we think realistically at what our day will look like. Waking up and getting everyone out the door and getting back for naps does not leave us a lot of time to enjoy theme parks or other costly activities. So we try to take trips that have tons of free things to do within a short drive from our hotel. State Parks are our favorite places to stay. They have great accommodations, amazing food (many use local products), free activities on site and are in locations that offer free tours and activities. And they are also very family friendly. Stay-cations are also great ideas for those with older children and a tight budget.
Impulse Purchases-We avoid making impulse purchases by holding each other accountable, selling something else first and researching the lowest price. A lot of the time we realize that we do not even need the item to begin with.
Making Extra Income
Saving-Our slogan is Saving a $ is better than Making a $!
Hard Work-God has blessed us with an eagerness to work hard and the perfect outlets to do that. Nathan grows fruits and vegetables to sell at the local farmers market and I have been able to make supplemental income through my work as a freelance floral designer.
God's Blessings-When we need extra income God provides the way. We have to be listening to his calling and willing to act, but he makes it possible.
All of these things have been on my mind a lot lately as we have been discussing living lighter and considering a move towards compact living. We want to challenge ourselves even further and resist commercialism as much as possible. Our biggest incentive is teaching our children what is most valuable in life. And that material possessions are not what make us rich. Jesus and Paul are perfect examples of being substantially blessed but financially poor. I'll be sharing more of this journey in future posts.
Other notes on living with less...
Real Food on a Budget
The Frugal Family
The Frugal Baby