Living on $13,000 or Less: How We Did It (Part 7)

The frugal kitchen list this family used to live on less than $13,000.

This series is based on how our family of 3 ½ made it through the first year of grad school living on less than $13,000 without any federal aid for housing, medical care, or food. I tried a lot of things and failed at a lot of things, but also found success and confidence through that time. I learned that sheer guts can see you through.

This is part 7 of the Living on $13,000 or Less series, if you missed the beginning click on through to read: (part 1) Storm’s a Brewin’.


Welcome to the practical half of living on 13,000 or less! I bet a bunch of you thought I wasn’t going to tell HOW we did it, huh. Now that we have some background as to why we lived this way I can get on with the how.

First off I want to say this is not meant to get into a supermom competition as to who can do the most or live on the least. If you’ve lived on less please leave some tips in the comments! If $13,000 sounds just too crazy a number to shoot for, then don’t.

To quote Tony Horton, ‘just do your best and forget the rest’.


One of the most helpful things I did for myself was to hang a list in the kitchen-a blank list. This was specifically for me to jot down any money saving ideas I had while going through out my day. I knew creativity would come overtime, little by little, so I gave myself a place to record when inspiration struck.

Here’s what I came up with:


1. Drink more water

  • Aside from milk, which we lessened our intake of, the hubster and I only drank water. With Sunny I actually upped her milk consumption in my efforts to wean her, but overall our family was spending less on drinks.
  • This also meant we didn’t buy any wine, beer, or coffee. Neither the hubster nor I drank any of these so it wasn’t a sacrifice to stick to water. I know for some people this would have been agony and brought on all sorts of migraines-just do what works for you. I’m just trying to be as detailed as possible in case it helps someone gain a better perspective.
  • We also gave up juice and soft drinks, which was a bit harder. They were already a once in a while thing so it was like saying no to them for a while longer.
  • Water is the best thing for you-so why not!? If anything this probably helped us stay healthy.


2. Less Cheese

This was killer for us. We’re huge cheese fans! Ok, maybe just me, the hubster actually does have really healthy habits-but man oh man I love me some cheese.

  • We only used cheese as a garnish on tacos, chili, or to bulk up a salad. Our house no longer served: cheese sandwiches, cheese quesadillas, or alfredo. Since we started dating, chicken alfredo had become my signature ‘I love you’ meal. It was definitely the hardest meal to give up but I had to cut where it hurt to make this new budget work. So we said goodbye to those early habits and started something new.
  • When we did buy cheese it was in blocks, on sale with a coupon. We then shredded the blocks by hand and tossed them in the freezer to extend its shelf life.


3. Farewell to Condiments

  • I quickly realized that condiments are a fast way to not only add calories but a larger price tag to a meal. So I went through our staple meals and figured out what condiments we used regularly and which were a once in a while thing.
  • Then I went through the fridge and checked the expiration dates on condiments, any that were expired I tossed. If we had a backup in the pantry then I replaced it, if not we went without. Going through this exercise gave me a pretty good idea of which ones we weren’t using as often. When any of the non-essential condiments were used up I didn’t replace them.
  • After a while we gave up soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, steak sauce, and to my dismay dill relish. We also decided to extend this to no cream cheese (and thus no bagels-sniff, sniff), no sour cream, and no salsa. The hubster’s favorite snack was and still is salsa with tortilla chips, so while it was hard on him it meant we could also buy a whole lot less chips.
  • We almost cut out salad dressing, but we figured out that spray dressing was much more economical than the traditional pour dressing. The first time we tried spray dressing I kept track of how many salads it worked on and it turned out we could eat 50% more salads with the spray dressing than we could with the pour dressings. Yay for moist and flavored salads instead of dry lettuce leaves!
  • This unfortunately meant I had to say goodbye to ranch as it is not available in spray variations. While we may not have had the ingredients to make ranch from scratch I did learn to make several vinaigrettes over that time. They tasted better than the spray but were also much cheaper than anything at the store.


4. Bake your own bread

This is a pennies on the dollar solution. It costs way less to make your own bread than to buy it. I only did it a couple of times though as I was a tired pregnant mom. Like many things I mention in this series I didn’t do it all at the same time.


To avoid making this post into a novel we’ll break here and pick up with the second half of my frugal kitchen list next week.


So what do you think, have any of you tried some of these ideas? How big a difference did they make for your family?


Want more from the ‘Living on $13,000 or Less’ series? Check these out!



Update: You can now click through here to read the rest of this series published posts.