Until I met Viking, I was a single mom. I was also raised by a single mom, and her single mom. I’ve moved around a lot, but I spent more years in a trailer park than in houses or apartment complexes. Right or wrong, I do consider thrift to be a virtue. Over the years I’ve gotten increasingly better at “tightening the belt.”
- You can’t have everything, certainly not all at once.
- Save if at all possible. If you can pay all of your bills each month, it’s possible. Save the largest amount of your tax return that you can.
- Try to avoid developing addictions. Cigarettes, booze, & money spent supporting habits is waste. And often bad for your health.
- Live BELOW your means. If you can afford $900/month rent but only if you don’t save anything, live in a $700/month home and save $200.
- Remember hard times happen and the next disaster is around the corner, so to the best of your ability, save in good times to soften the impact.
- If you buy X, put off buying Y.
- Thrift stores – they exist! While I’d caution against going solely this route with preteens and teens at increased risk of social ostracization for having the “wrong” clothes, younger kids and adults (especially stay- and work-at-home adults) can get the bulk of their clothing second-hand.
- Let your friends know what’s going on. People can be amazingly compassionate. I got two winter coats from a Christian Twitter friend in Kentucky, hand-me-down jeans from a fellow disabled atheist mom in California, and brand new clothes for my son from an amazing childfree friend from Kansas who identifies as “spiritual.” The friends who stick by you in hard times are the best friends life could give you. Letting your friends know where you’re hurting gives them the opportunity to show you the kindness you need.
- Don’t be too proud to beg. If the tire blows out on the car you need to get to work, to earn the money to pay for the repair, ask a friend for a short-term loan or ask a family member to help. If you belong to a religious congregation, it’s possible your fellowship has a hardship fund set aside for member emergencies, so ask your clergy member. If you need food stamps, apply and at least see if you qualify. Go to food pantries if you have the transportation means.
- Use credit cards wisely. A technique I came up with at 18 works really well for me. Get an envelope and label it for the billing period and which card it is. As you make purchases, keep hyper-vigilant track of the amounts. At the end of each night, tally your spending and then put that exact amount or more in cash in the envelope. Literally set aside the money you are going to use to pay your credit card bill at the end of the month, so you never carry a balance from regular spending.
- If at all possible, do have at least one credit card and use it as described above. This will gradually improve or restore your credit rating (showing you have a continual track record of paying things on time) and over time it will increase your credit limit. When your next unexpected disaster arrives, like a medical emergency or sudden car repair, a good credit rating and high credit limit will help you deal with the disaster a lot faster.
- If your credit cards are all already overdue – try to pay the minimum on each every month, and pick the one with the lowest balance to try to pay off entirely first. If this isn’t possible, try calling each creditor and making a payment plan.
- Negotiate medical debt. If you’re uninsured and go to the emergency room, you’ll learn that an aspirin “costs” $40. Call the billing department and haggle down every item you can to a reasonable amount. HealthcareBlueBook.com is a great resource for knowing how much is too much.
- Learn to cook. Really. Do it. My family eats for under $300 a month. That’s about $10 a day for a family of three – eating more than once a day. (The Kid eats five times a day on the weekends, including snacks. We parents eat closer to one or two meals a day.)
- Buy a water filtration system and stop buying drinks. When we really started to examine where our money was going, we realized a whopping 40% of our grocery budget was going to soft drinks, teas, and juices.
- Shop like it’s the 1950s. Mixing cocoa powder and sugar is really easy, and a lot cheaper than buying a boxed mix of brownies. To the extent you can, buy ingredients rather than prepackaged foods. There are fantastic free recipes all over the internet that even bad beginner cooks can follow. (I like AllRecipes.com personally.)
- Be reasonable about holidays and gifts. Recognizing that we live in poverty, my fiancee and I get each other one annual Christmas/birthday/anniversary present. We also cook a good family meal at home rather than going out to a restaurant. The Kid gets birthday and Christmas gifts aplenty. We’re the grown-ups; we can delay our gratification. At the same time…
- Treat yourself. A life of constant deprivation and self-denial causes depression. Every once in awhile you simply must buy something for yourself because doing so releases all kinds of fantastic endorphins. Just make sure you’ll continue to get pleasure out of it for a long time to come. Several months ago my fiancee surprised me by buying a stuff pack for a video game I adore and play weekly. He’d set a tracker on it and waited for it to go on a very low sale. Every once in awhile, we buy our son a Matchbox car for 99 cents. You don’t have to spend a lot, but a little “non-essential” spending is, in its own way, essential after all.
- If you have more than enough to live comfortably and save for your future and emergencies, give to those who don’t. Be one of those amazing friends who stands by in hard times.
These are smart tips. I’m so impressed that you are able to feed your family on so little money! Could you share some recipes? No one ever taught me to cook and I feel lost when looking at real, whole foods.
Viking & I are planning on starting a cooking blog once we get our recipes perfected, but I’ll say stir-fries are a pretty easy place to start, especially if you invest in a $15-20 rice cooker. How many people are you trying to feed? If it’s a large number, I’ve found Mormon cooking blogs have a lot of very filling recipes using mostly canned goods like cream of chicken soup (which you can also make yourself out of corn starch, flour and chicken stock.)
I like the thrift store tip. We furnished our home mostly from thrift stores.
I’ll add that people can get second-hand items for free from Freecycle.org (furniture, clothes, diapers, random stuff) and for free or cheap from Craigslist.
There is a second-hand website for just about everything (I love gear trade for camping and sports equipment) so there’s little need to go to specialty stores.
OH! This isn’t really money advice, but don’t buy from Salvation Army thrift stores or otherwise give them money. They’re a fundie Christian org that is anti-gay and anti-choice.
I like ARC thrift stores the best. Their money goes to help people with developmental disabilities.
July, you are right. I learned that recently. I have found since a good charity in my town which works mainly with Hispanic and immigrant population. In addition to the clothing and food aid, they run some terrific education programs to help immigrants with their English, American history, civil rights, etc, kids with their classes… There are very good alternatives to the Salvation Army.
All good advice. I was raised by a single parent, and while we weren’t destitute we weren’t very well off.We used a lot of your ideas. And with no health insurance the docs who treated minor childhood illnesses cut their fees and often dispensed free “salesmen samples” in lieu of expensive prescriptions. (My Mom still had no insurance when she died and her last hospital stay was $6,000. While settling her estate I was contacted by the hospital- they said if I could pay quickly they’d cut the bill by 50%! So there ARE ways to cut medical expenses.)
Fabulous advice. Having grown up poor as well, I assumed everyone knew this kind of thing. I looked aghast at my husband the first time he wanted to buy drinks at the store, but realize that for him that’s one of those instances of treating himself. Needless to say, though, I’m the one that grew up poor, not him. And I’m the one handling the finances (which probably pisses his fundy parents off, but who gives a fuck).
Angie, some of your rules made me smile. My dad used to say many of the same things. In particular the “live a bit below your possibilities” thing. And he indeed managed to be quite a bon vivant while following that rule. I follow basically all of them and feel less like a Martian knowing that more people have the same take.
For the “treat yourself “one, something that works really well for me and I actually enjoy is saving for specific things. If I want to treat myself with something out of the ordinary, I start saving a bit specifically for that (and, of course, I also track prices). It is doubly rewarding when you finally manage to put the money together and get yourself whatever it is.
About medical expenses… things should not be that way. It took me two years living here before fully understanding that the US does not have a public health system or any valid substitute for it. I had never met anybody who got into financial trouble for getting sick until I moved here and, again, it simply does not seem right.