Living on one income is difficult, there's just no getting around that fact. It takes discipline, sacrifice, and a lot of prayer! Here are 10 of the best tips we've learned over the past 20 years to help stretch your budget as far as you possibly can.
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Tip #1 - Learn to be content
Some believe that being content just comes naturally, particularly if you are a Christian. The truth is it doesn’t. Contentment is something that must be learned and deliberately chosen on a daily basis.
Paul said in his letter to the Philippians, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”
(Philippians 4:11 - emphasis mine)
Contentment requires a healthy dose of patience, trusting God with everything, and choosing to stop comparing ourselves with others. None of those things come naturally.
We chased money for years. Always trying to make more and more believing that if we could just reach a certain amount we could finally be happy. What we found is that the cliché is true…the more you make, the more you spend. No matter how many raises or bonuses came we always thought we “needed” more.
What we truly needed was contentment.
Rick Warren said,
“I don't know why but God has chosen money to be the acid test of our faith. We spend our entire lives trying to make it, earn it, save it, spend it, and use it. So God chooses to use finances as the acid test of how much you trust Him. He wants us to come to him and ask when we have a need and learn to be content, that our happiness isn't dependent on how much or how little we've got. If you don't learn contentment, you'll never be happy. You'll always want more.”
I have found that to be very true.
Tip # 2 - Don’t shop
I have never been a big shopper, but I know people who shop just to have something to do, to meet some emotional need, or simply because it’s habit.
Meeting tip #1 will help with this considerably. When we’re content with what we have and don’t compare ourselves with others we don’t constantly want more and more.
Anytime I feel that I need to shop for something I go through the following steps:
- Is this something that I really NEED, or something that I WANT. There is a difference!
- Do I have something already that will fill this need?
- If I must buy it, I will hold off for a specific number of days, typically determined by the cost. The higher the cost, the longer I wait.
- During this waiting period, I research how I can get the lowest possible price on the item.
- Once I find the lowest possible price, I go back through questions 1 and 2.
Sometimes, by the time I get to the end of my waiting period I discover that I either really didn’t need what I was trying to buy, or I found something else to meet the need. The key is changing our thinking from “instant gratification” to “I can be patient and really think about this.”
Tip # 3 - Make do with what you have
This is somewhat of an extension of tip #2 and something that my great-grandmother taught me when I was a little girl. Having been through the Great Depression she was a master of making do with what she had.
In this age of “DIY” and “upcycling” it’s easier than ever to put this into practice.
Getting tired of that dresser? Repaint it!
Not liking that throw pillow so much anymore? Recover it!
Wardrobe feeling boring? Use what you have to make new outfits.
Not feeling fuzzy about how your living room looks? Get creative with stuff you already own.
If you’re not familiar with Pinterest it's upcycling heaven. Just do a search for whatever you want to remake, redo, repaint, recover, or reinvent and you’ll have more ideas than you can shake a stick at.
Tip # 4 - Tune out the ads
We are constantly bombarded with the message that in order to be “in” we need the biggest, best, most expensive, newest, greatest everything.
Don’t fall for it!
I have found that since we cut the cable, and thus the commercials, I struggle with this MUCH less. I also stay away from magazines, store sale flyers (with the exception of grocery stores), catalogs, and radio commercials.
I don’t need the latest and greatest iPhone. The one I have works just fine, and it’s paid for. Sure it can be annoying sometimes, and I'm sure there are upgrades and improvements that can make life a little easier, but those things are not necessary, they are merely convenient.
The same applies to cars. So what if your car is sixteen years old? If it runs well, gets you from point A to point B and is already paid for then you're golden!
Learning to be content also helps. Noticing a pattern here?
Tip # 5 - Stop buying expensive gifts
This one is really hard for me because I love to give gifts. My wallet doesn’t always match my intentions, however. I am not of the “oh just buy anything, it’s the thought that counts” party and likely never will be. I want very much for gifts to mean something to the recipient and show that I truly care about them enough to put some thought into their gift rather than just buying whatever happens to catch my eye in the store.
I’ve learned to be more creative over the years and come up with inexpensive ways to give special and meaningful gifts.
This usually means that a lot of time must go into the making and/or finding of things.
I learned to knit so that I could make washcloths and scarves for friends and family one year.
I learned to handmake and bind books so that I could make individual journals for my friends.
I learned some basic sewing skills to make tote bags and bookmarks for gifts.
These things didn’t cost me a great deal of money, just a bit of time and effort.
I also shop yard sales, thrift stores, and flea markets for things that I think friends and family would enjoy. There are so many things that people sell that aren’t even removed from the original packaging. Most of the time you can buy them for just a few dollars.
Tip # 6 - Stay off the road!
There are some people that are just constantly on the road and that wastes an insane amount of gas. Gas costs money, and all that running around quickly busts the budget.
Spend some time thinking about all the times you hop in your car to go somewhere.
What are you spending the most time doing? Is it errands? Making trips to the grocery store? Running kids to and from events?
Now think about how you can cut down on those trips.
Instead of going to the grocery store multiple times each week, make a meal plan for the week and a grocery list. You’ll make one trip to the store instead of four! Depending on how far away your grocery store is this could save you hundreds of dollars per year.
Don’t run errands the moment something pops in your mind, make a list in your planner, on the fridge or in your cell phone so that you can run those errands while you’re out running the kids around.
If you just don’t like sitting in the house think of things you can do that don't require driving, like going for a walk or sitting on the porch or patio and listening to the sounds of nature while you sip a cup of coffee or tea.
Tip # 7 - Don’t eat out all the time
This one is tough. We are busy people, and sometimes there are days that I just don’t feel like cooking. I get burned out with cooking and cleaning and just being in the house.
I want the convenience of going to a restaurant where I can sit down at a table, order what I want and let someone else clean up the mess when we’re done.
In 2009 I had this bright idea to go through our bank statements for the year and categorize our spending. I really don’t remember what possessed me to do such a time-consuming thing, but I did. Quite frankly, it was the most eye-opening project I’ve done where money is concerned.
That year alone we spent a whopping $7k just on eating out!
Yes, you read that right….seven-thousand dollars.
Let’s face it, eating out costs a LOT of money. Especially when you’re trying to feed a family. A simple hamburger meal at a fast food restaurant can quickly add up to $30 or more. Which is insane, by the way.
We do still budget $40 per month for eating out. We can stretch that over several meals if we are careful where we eat. For example, we can go to Denny’s on a night when the kids eat free and get out for $10 or $12, including the tip. Or we can save that $40 for one really nice dinner each month.
But what about lunch when you work? When you only have about 30 minutes to eat your options are rather limited. If you don’t have access to a break room full of conveniences like a microwave and fridge, options become even more limited. It’s just easier and more convenient to grab something at the local drive-thru and scarf it down while driving back to work.
Even limited options are options though.
YouTube has tons of videos to help you meal prep for lunch all week. If you’re more of the Pinterest type, there are lots of helpful pins over there as well. When all else fails, a simple salad and sandwich is a filling and budget-friendly lunch.
Taking your lunch instead of eating out can save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars each year.
The important thing is to make sure you have money to budget for eating out, and then stick to it! When that money is gone, it’s gone.
Tip # 8 - Speaking of budgets, make one.... Immediately
There was a time that we lived paycheck to paycheck. I was constantly balancing the checkbook and making sure that every penny we spent was written down immediately so that we didn’t spend more than we had.
I was always stressed about money, and I was always looking for ways to make more and more money. Money owned me. It ran my life.
When we started making a monthly budget this year all of that stress disappeared.
It really is helpful to know exactly what you have, where it’s supposed to go, and how much you have left over.
When there’s extra money, we have a plan for what to do with it instead of just blowing it.
When there’s not enough money, we know where we can “borrow” from without going into debt or freaking out about how to pay for it.Setting a realistic budget and sticking to it will change your life. Click To Tweet
Tip # 9 - Maintain your car
This is another one of those convenience categories. Man, we spend so much money for convenience, don’t we?
The truth is, it’s rather simple to maintain your own vehicle and you’ll save a ton of money each year.
The average oil change costs more than $50 these days! That is outrageous. You’re paying a lot of money for the convenience of not having to do it yourself. The truth is, changing your oil is easy, and the cost of oil itself and the filter is usually around $20-$25.
Not sure that you can handle it? Just go watch a few videos on how to change your oil. I think you’ll be surprised how easy it is. You are literally paying someone $30+ to save 10-15 minutes of your time.
And then there’s washing and vacuuming your car. In our town, there are 3 full-service car washes in a 2 mile stretch of road. None of these places charge less than $15 for a simple car wash. It can cost upwards of $100 for the full-service wash, dry and vacuum. INSANE!
We think we’re saving ourselves time by going to these places, but they are always packed. That means you’ll be waiting for an average of 20-30 minutes in line just to get your car cleaned. Is that really saving time?
If you have a garden hose, a bucket and a cloth you can wash your own car in about 15 minutes. Drag your vacuum outside with an extension cord and you can vacuum it in about 10 minutes, depending on the size of your car. You’ve just cleaned your car in the amount of time you would have waited in line and saved yourself at least $20.
If you don’t have access to a garden hose, then at least hit the self-service car wash. You’ll have to feed quarters into the machine but if you work fast you can save yourself $10-$15. And you’ll still be done in less time than you would have sat in line.
Tip # 10 - Grocery shop with a list
This was a game changer for me. Not only did it keep me from impulse buying half of aisle 5, it had the unexpected benefit of squashing the constant “can we buy this” from the kids.
Once a week I sit down and create our meal plan for the week. I determine what our breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert and snack choices will be for the week. I don’t really assign anything to a specific day, just a general outline of what’s available to cook and eat that week.
I always try to plan our meals around what I already have in the house first. Then I make a grocery list to fill in the ingredients that I don’t have on hand.
Since I buy a lot of meat in bulk and keep it on hand I typically start there. At present, I have about 20 lbs of diced chicken breast in the freezer that I got from my last food co-op order. A lot of our meals this week will be made with chicken. I can make soups, casseroles, chicken salad sandwiches, chicken alfredo, tossed salad with sautéed chicken, chicken stir-fry….you get the picture.
I decide what I want to make, write everything down on a list, add in other things we’ll need like paper supplies, toiletries, etc. and take my list shopping. If it’s not on that list, it doesn’t get bought. Period. No exceptions.
One bit of advice here. Don’t get tunnel vision to the point that you never look at things that aren’t on your list. I am so guilty of this! When I hit the grocery store I am on a mission to get in, get what I need, and get out as quickly and efficiently as possible. As a result, I miss out on a lot of great deals from markdowns and never notice new items that are on the shelves.
I have learned to stop and look around from time to time. I still don’t buy things that aren’t on my list unless it’s a crazy good markdown, but at least noticing new things means that I will recall them the next time I’m making a grocery list.
There are so many other ways to stretch your budget, but these are the ones that we have successfully used over the years to make our money go as far as it can.
What are your best tips for stretching a dollar? Please share and we’ll learn from each other!
This post may contain some affiliate links for your convenience, which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link I will earn a small commission. This helps me keep my blog up and running without costing you a penny more! Click here to read my full disclosure policy.!