How our family lived on $13,000 during graduate school-without food stamps, medicare, or subsidized housing.
This is part 15 of the Living on $13,000 or Less series. Click through if you missed earlier posts.
It takes money to get money
That’s a phrase I do not often agree with. I believe in happening to life, not reacting to it. It’s far more fun to create awesome solutions than just grumble on the couch. But…there is something to be said for money helping you get more money. Having a financial buffer allows you to avoid crisis and use your money more effectively.
When you have a buffer, sales and coupons are tools you can wait for—not happy coincidences. They become a normal way of buying, not something you hope matches up with this week’s shopping list. You need a second pair of jeans before the first is completely threadbare? Getting them on sale is more likely when you have a little extra. Unfortunately most of us don’t have the money to buy a little extra, of anything. Typically we’re treading water, living from paycheck to paycheck-paying full price for our immediate needs because we have to.
Coupons and sales go in cycles, putting the best prices in one department at a time. Since no one lives solely on sour cream and goat cheese one week and green beans the next, we end up paying full price for the majority of our list. To truly take advantage of sales and consistently impact your budget, you need the flexibility that comes when your needs are already taken care of. You need a stock pile of food and other necessities so you can wait for sales and buy supplies ahead of your need. Maybe that’s why the average couponer’s income is $70,000 annually. Yowza! I know we could use that kind of income!
Instead of grumbling about our lack of financial cushion, I decided to make one. At first it was to use coupons and sales to save little by little. Any extra gained was used to buy more sale items and help our food stock pile. While happy with our progress, I felt there was more we could do. I remembered one of my dad’s (many) story’s. It was about my dad’s friend, we’ll call him Steve.
Steve’s family didn’t have much but they taught him the value of work. When Steve earned money he didn’t go blow it on candy, instead he’d buy tools. Steve learned the more tools he had the more income he could earn. He used his money as an investment in himself.
By the time my dad’s friend had graduated from high school, Steve had a garage full of tools and a handyman business that included underwater welding. Steve gave up pleasures of the now to support his family and also afford a college education.
Since I didn’t have a way to earn money I looked for ways to pinch, usually temporarily, and then use that cash to buy a money saving tool. My first big success came from making baby food by hand. Yes, I mean it—no blender, no nothin’-just a spoon, bowl, sieve, and a whole lot of elbow grease. I did that for a couple of months, saving all that unused grocery budget for a baby bullet. It took a lot of work, initially, but I was eventually able to buy my tool. 🙂 A tool that was saving us big bucks every month with minimal effort.
I plan to do this soon with making our own yogurt. We go through at least $40 worth of yogurt a month. $40 also happens to be a yogurt makers price tag. With just an extra ½ gallon of milk and one tub of greek yogurt, we can make our own yogurt in a crockpot or oven. One month of that and we can get an actual yogurt maker, allowing us to easily make yogurt for pennies on the dollar. We’d be saving $40 a month!
Once you have a little more cash flow it’s easier to help yourself save. The Christmas before grad school we saved all the cash gifts we received and bought an upright freezer. Now we have the capacity to buy a lot of meat when it goes on sale and store freezer meals. Total budget saver for those ‘too tired to cook’ nights. If you look for ways to buy money saving tools it’s pretty amazing what you can do!
Cutting isn’t enough
After cutting all we could, creating buffers, and using money more effectively (buying tools) it still wasn’t enough. So I started using rewards programs. I mostly did Pamper’s Village and Swagbucks—both of which contributed to our Christmas. I did Pamper’s because I saw a steady stream of free codes, I didn’t go out searching for codes or even buy their diapers (please don’t tell on me), the codes showed up in my routine blog reading.
Swagbucks just looked easy. I figured it couldn’t hurt to use a different search engine, you just search like normal and during the day you get points towards gift cards. Easy peasy. I didn’t go whole hog and spend a lot of time on these. I found a way to get more from my normal activities and stuck with that.
We also searched the house for things to sell on Craig’s list. The hubster got rid of some nostalgic items including World of Warcraft 3, and I gave up a portable dishwasher. Not only did we get some much needed cash but more space in our apartment too!
Don’t busy your life away
There are a lot of different ways to apply these ideas. Just remember life is a balance for everyone, and your time is worth a lot! Look for ways to save time and money-find what works for you. We are all different so let’s be realistic and give ourselves grace when we don’t live up to our view of perfection. I’ll leave you with Kevin Flynn’s definition of perfection.
“The thing about perfection is that it’s unknowable. It’s impossible but it’s also right in front of us, all the time.”
We may not be torn from our families by a perfection seeking program but I like the thought that our everyday lives have more meaning than we know and its imperfection is part of the wonder. Just remember to happen to life and you can’t go too wrong.
What’s your favorite money saving tool?
Want more from the ‘Living on $13,000 or Less’ series? Check these out!
This is part 15 of the Living on $13,000 or Less series. Click through here to read the rest of this series published posts.