Lately I’ve been pondering afresh all the creative ways to save money. How could I not?
Our autumn began promisingly with two bustling jobs plus Fire Academy for Big Country, but everything came to a halt with a painful and debilitating knee sprain, and now here we are.
Waiting to heal, waiting to work, and trying to content ourselves for the time being with slowing down. Walking and stretching Big’s leg out in the misty early October weather, tinkering with small tiny house projects, brewing dandelion coffees for each other, and reading The Hobbit to the kids late into the evening.
So I return once more to the serenity prayer:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
It fosters contentment to be thankful for what we have been given. But it is also life-giving to realize just how much we can change in our lives, and how it begins in the heart.
This includes our financial life. Whether we’re motivated to give more generously, retire early, conquer student loan debt, or lift ourselves out of poverty, it is good to know that there are significant things we can do today to begin accomplishing these goals.
And it’s not about going from five coffee house cappuccinos down to two each week.
It’s not about clipping coupons to save money on packaged food . . . when it’s cheaper and healthier to buy whole foods and create simple meals from scratch.
It’s not about scrounging ketchup packets and plastic cutlery from fast food joints to use at home . . . when it’s cheaper and healthier to skip these places and keep snacks on hand when out and about.
It’s not about being “cheap” or antisocial when hanging out with friends . . . when it’s fully enough, fully meaningful to share a simple homecooked meal, listen intently and nod along to the telling of struggles, or help out with wily kids or a house project.
Really, it’s about a complete mindset transformation.
For those of us for whom working hard and living simply are still not enough . . .
For those of us serious about getting ahead and providing a firm foundation for our children and grandchildren . . .
. . . we must go beyond the standard advice of working hard, saving 10%, and skipping a coffee or meal out here and there.
If the tiny house adventure over the last year has taught us anything, it has been a boot camp course resulting in a recalibration of our standards for consumption.
We thought we were frugal before, but now we have an even better idea just how little we can squeak by with: space, heat, water, light, clothes, dishes, food, entertainment – our old standards have gone out the window, and for the best.
It hasn’t always been the most comfortable, but it’s more than livable. And the kids think their life is made, so who cares at the end of the day?
Our current monthly living expenses hover somewhere around $1200 for the five of us. We essentially live for free in the tiny house, without rent or mortgage, so this amount includes:
- Living ($685)
- groceries $600
- clothes & supplies $50
- cod liver oil supplement $35
- Transportation ($366)
- gas $200
- maintenance $100
- insurance $46
- truck registration $10
- trailer registration $10
- Utilities ($70)
- electric $25
- propane $15
- water/trash $12
- sawdust $10
- P.O. box $8
- Massage therapy credentials ($47)
- licenses $30
- insurance $17
These numbers represent our household expenses in normal, semi-frugal times. Since being temporarily out of work, the default for each category is now zero. Clothing is out. We’re slashing the grocery bill, eating down our stores and returning to simpler meals. Gas for the truck is difficult to scale back as we live so far out, though in the future, we look forward to living within town and taking advantage of bike trails and walking paths.
Outside of household expenses are:
- church offering
- ongoing small tiny house projects
- outliers like $300 firefighter boots
- paying the midwife, chiropractor, and dentist as needed
- $1092 student loan payments now out of deferment since Big had to leave Fire Academy . . . heavy but not insurmountable
- savings for the future: house, retirement, and setting the kids up in business and homes of their own.
So now we come to the why of frugality and the motivation to continually become wiser stewards of what we have been given. If household expenses balloon, there is no room in a budget for charity, for health, for home improvements, for surprises, or for aggressive debt payoff and investment.
The beauty of a small budget is, the less we can live on, the more options we have. When Big’s earnings increase in the future, we don’t have to adjust our lifestyle upward. No! Instead, we pocket the difference, pour it into debt payoff, then investments.
It is a blessing to face lean times with a hardiness, embracing the discipline and fortitude it requires. We know it will make us stronger, freer, and drive us on.