Living on $13,000 or Less: The First Hurdle (Part 2)

How a family of 3 (with 1 on the way) 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.

This series is 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.

If you missed part 1 of Living on $13,000 or Less, read it here.



Luckily before I really started to go into a never ending cycle of hysterics over our $75 food budget I discovered the Lord had already provided a way for us.

A few months before all this mess started to come out I had stumbled on a Facebook post about a friend buying new Disney movies for less than $5. Impressed I asked how she found deals like that and she replied back with a long list of blogs she followed. The sugar plum of the bunch was (and still is)


Research, research, research

I started following 10 or so of the blogs but found that Crystal Paine’s was indeed the best blog. It had the best deals and avoided putting scams on her site as well, which is why I recommend her blog so often. I can be confident that her deals are authentic and won’t hurt anyone I funnel to her site.

Once I knew how dire our financial straits were going to be I started to follow her blog religiously and hopped on anything that was free or near free, of which there were a ton-who knew!? After I gained some more confidence in my own ability to match sales with coupons we started to see a little more light at the end of the tunnel.

*I still feel a bit of a novice in this realm so I encourage you to check out as my expertise lie in the creative realm of crafting, creating frugal recipes, upcycling, and sewing.


Preparation pays

In addition to already following Crystal’s blog we already had a month’s worth of food in our kitchen. I grew up in a family that always had some extra food around as an emergency precaution (i.e. unemployment, or a major power outage–with the store shelves cleared).

We found it saved money and time during the good times, as well as obliterating the need to run out to the store for last minute dinner items. Having this little buffer in my own home allowed us a little more freedom to buy more sale items and utilize our small grad school budget to the best advantage.


Somethin Outta Nothin

The real surprise for me was how often I found creative solutions for our needs. We started building things we needed out of materials already on hand. Old diaper boxes became canned goods rotation devices, plastic mesh netting (like onion or popsicle bags) became a bath toy holder or a dish scrubber, upcycling became our new way of life.

So much so that it’s the inspiration behind my blog’s name, I feel like I was literally making ‘somethin outta nothin’. I also relate the name with the learning process of making ourselves into more than we currently are.

I gained a stronger testimony of our Heavenly Father’s love and how he did indeed have us prepared for this new challenge. I truly believe that if you learn to trust the lord, research, and try exercising your own creative muscles -bringing the results before the lord, anything is possible.

There were many miracles along the way including: buying a 2 month’s supply of meat on sale and it lasting us 5 months, finding a month’s rent on our doorstep, and discovering several student programs that were invaluable.


A supportive network

One of these programs was a free clothing exchange. Our spouse association had a program worked out with a local children’s clothing consignment shop.

Members of our spouse association would pick up donations the shop couldn’t use and every few months or so we’d all bring our donations together for a free clothing exchange. This is how we got most of our clothing during school, without it we would never have been able to live on so little.

Another helpful thing was just joining the spouse association for our graduate program. It had an upfront cost of $20 or so but was more than worth it as it tapped me into a network of friends. We’d exchange recipes, deals we found, and also created play groups and evening activities.

It was a great blessing in all realms and especially in stress management. Also if I hadn’t joined the spouse association I would never have known about the free clothing exchange. Having a support system where everyone else was going through the same tough time was invaluable.

In addition to couponing, upcycling, and taking advantage of student programs I started scouring the Internet for really frugal recipes and researching what protein sources are the most cost effective. By Thanksgiving we started to see the fruits of our labors as we would be able to afford food AND rent in December. Doing Christmas presents however was going to be really tight…


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