When I met my husband, my debt became our debt. Neither of us had ever worked within a budget, and since we were able to meet our bills each month, we didn’t think we needed one.
Although it would have made life MUCH easier, we didn’t magically wake up one day and decide to cut back on our bills. There was no mortgage down payment to save for or even a vacation planned. In fact, it wasn’t until we found out we were pregnant with our first baby that we actually did anything about all the money we owed!
With the possibility of staying home with the baby, we took our first step towards becoming debt-free: Attempting to live on just my husband’s income. We figured it would be good practice if the day really did come when we were no longer a two-income family.
Trimming the fat
We first cut unnecessary expenses like cable and eating out, and then reduced everything else we possibly could, like all the extra minutes we weren’t using on our cell phone plan.
Small things like limiting the tanks of gas per paycheck and swapping our trash cans for the smallest size made began to add up, but the savings account wasn’t going up and debt wasn’t going down as quickly as we had hoped.
Then one day we thought of one simple edit to our spending habits that ultimately changed our lives forever: We created a grocery budget. Finally, those little changes AND a firm grocery budget allowed to officially declare that we cut our spending by 50%.
Contrary to what many think, that first step didn’t require rocket science. We simply tallied up what we spent the month before and made a promise not to go over that for the next month.
Then each month going forward, we aimed to shave just $20 off the total. If you can believe it, those two changes saved us over $700 each month! And that was just for the two of us!
As time went on, being wiser with our grocery spending leaked into other areas of our lives too. We started weighing our needs versus wants in terms of stuff, and we learned to find value and entertainment from experiences and time spent together instead of the things we owned.
We eventually learned how to live within our means, and although the cost of diapers made it a bit more difficult, God’s grace allowed us to make ends meet every month and put a little bit extra in savings.
Winning with coupons
While awaiting for baby #2’s arrival in January 2009, I took it up on myself to learn how to coupon. I read blogs where women weren’t paying for diapers or wipes… or shampoo or toothpaste or just about any other toiletry you could think of.
Living on a budget means being creative with your resources. And with just six months until I had two kids in diapers, I was all ears on learning how to not pay for them!
I shared with my husband the plan to get diapers for free and the impact the drugstore game could have on our overall budget. He fully supported me and knowing I can’t turn down a challenge, he dared me to do it all for less than $300.
I took him up on his offer and in just three months, we had stocked enough toiletries and diapers to get us through half a year. Then I took the savings game to grocery stores and began stocking the pantry. Between sales and coupons, I was able to fit boxes and cans into every inch of cabinet space I could find in our tiny 800 sqft apartment. Meanwhile, we took the money we saved and put it towards our debt.
For the next year, life was good. Working within a budget meant our spending was purposeful. We lived simply and worked diligently at building our savings account.
Food, not boxes
Until one day, my husband rocked the boat. He took a look inside the cabinets of our kitchen – the tangible rewards of my couponing efforts – and said to me, “Honey, I don’t feel like we’re eating food. I feel like we’re eating boxes.”
And so began our journey to eat real food on a budget!
Our grocery budget is currently $330/month for four people. While we try to eat mostly organic produce and pastured meat and dairy, my kitchen is far from perfect. One baby step at a time, I’m learning what real food is and what it isn’t. I share my grocery shopping trips every month for budget accountability and I meal plan to make the most of the foods we buy. I’ve also learned to repurpose failed meals and the secret to getting seven meals out of one whole chicken – all in an effort to save a few dollars.
Of course, it’s so easy to look back and see it all with rose-colored glasses, as if it was a breeze without any arguments or tough decisions along the way. But we all know that’s not how it happens in real life.
Those lessons in restraint, balance and self-control in the kitchen were hard. If it weren’t for the original need to cut back on unnecessary food expenses, we probably would be in the same boat we were eight years ago – spending more money than we were earning with nothing but a bit fat mound of debt to show for it. Fortunately, we’re now debt-free and enjoying the creativity that living a frugal life requires.
If you are unsure of where to get started, first take a look at these great money saving tips Nina has shared. Then consider popping on over to Crumbs to learn more about eating real food on a real budget.
How has eating within your means impacted your life?