Living on Less Than $28,000 A Year: How our family of six survives (and even thrives) on an income that is less than half the national median income, and what the government calls “below the poverty line” (less than $29,990 annually) for our family size.
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Every parent knows that there are two things that just don’t mix: baby diapers and swimming pools.
What is the one area of the budget that can expand like a diaper in a swimming pool?
Don’t get me wrong, eating is one of my top priorities and I am absolutely not telling you to stop eating. What I will tell you is that we look at food differently in our home: there is necessity food and entertainment food.
Necessity Food– What our bodies need to function properly each day:
*Some form of protein
*A little grain
*A little fat
For the sake of discussion I will boil it down to these simple elements. The amount we need is determined by our activity level and metabolism. (This is not a discussion about nutrition, so please don’t flood me with comments about the latest research on what we need to eat. :))
Entertainment Food-Food we like to eat, but we don’t need:
*The 10:00 a.m. coffee break doughnut
*The 10:00 p.m. t.v. watching munchies
*The midafternoon “Mom, I’m bored. What’s in the fridge?” search
*Popcorn at the theater
*Friday night pizza delivery
*Saturday night dinner out
If our family has any confusion on the difference between necessity food and entertainment food, we either eat a lot of potatoes for the next week or something doesn’t get paid. Friday night pizza delivery sounds wonderful after a busy week, but not so wonderful on Monday morning when the power bill is due.
In our house, we buy necessity food first because we have decided that we don’t want to trade something temporary (food) for something eternal (my ability to stay home and raise our children). For our family, spending too much on entertainment food means I have to get a job.
Having said that, you should know that we do not sit around at home eating beans and rice (although we do occasionally eat beans and rice). I plan my meals around the sale items each week and we enjoy delicious food like Steak Fajitas, BBQ Pork, Garlic Shrimp Radiatore, and Ranch Chicken Casserole.
My husband and I have a weekly date night, we just don’t eat dinner out very often (read our cheap date ideas here). If ice cream is on sale we may have dessert that week, but it comes out of entertainment money (leftover after we put aside bill money), not the grocery budget. If we receive birthday money and we have a Living Social discount, we may go out to eat as a family. Eating out and having dessert are not the norm, however.
Remember my little blurb about being non-judgmental in part one of this series? Still applies.
If eating out is an important part of your life, please continue to do so. Just make sure that you can actually afford it and make the choice consciously. Realize that by “eating” that money you can’t spend it on something else.
If you have lots of money but wonder where it all goes, take a look at how much money you spent on eating out last month.
If you don’t make very much money, or you would like to do more with the money you have, stay tuned for a new post in this series when I will reveal several practical ways we save on the food budget.
Feel free to leave a comment, but please remember to play nicely. 🙂
next post: A Look At Our Paycheck This Week
Click here to read other posts in this series.
The Peaceful Mom says
Thanks Elise! I still have to keep an eye on that area of the budget because it is so easy to let it balloon. Thanks for taking the time to comment. 🙂
I have been following your blog for a while, but I just want to say that I love this post. It hits so close to home for us. Once we started to really look at our food budget we were able to cut back so much more! Our pocketbook and our waistlines have benefited, too!
I’ve been reading from post one of these series and I can’t stop thinking of the possibilities of saving a lot of money by following simple rules. The eating out is a gigantic problem in this house. And what I love the most is that you save without having to eat unhealthy food. I really appreciate you posting your way of doing this. It sounds perfect for my family so far. Thanks!
Kimberlee Stokes says
Hi Juliana! I agree with you that a few basic life principles can help you to save a ton of money. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. 🙂
That’s our culprit 🙁 We eat out. Which makes what I bring home almost unfeelable. It seems that we will eat through any extra money that’s in our accounts!
I have enjoyed reading this series, and it’s such an encouragement to see someone else choosing to life frugally in today’s economy. My husband really enjoys eating out, and I really enjoy saving money by cooking at home. So we had to devise a compromise! I use restaurants.com to help me get 5, 10, 25, and 50 dollar gift certificates to local resturants in my area. Through out the year restaurants.com will offer a discounts on these certificates so I will pay 5 dollars (or less) for a 25 dollar gift certificate.
How it works:
Usually the certificate requires to spend a certain amount. For example on a 25.00 gift certificate you have to spend 37.50. And then the cost of my certificate was 5.00. So 37.50-25.00 is 12.50 plus 5.00 is 17.50. So my total cost is 17.50, a total savings of 20.00!!!
Using resturants.com my husband and I also get to try out new places and not have to worry about the cost of our meal. We have also gotten to go to some very expensive resturants that we would never have been able to afford with out the discount. Hopfully someone else will be able to enjoy these as much as we have.
Great idea Sarah! We have used Living Social to get great restaurant deals as well. Gotta keep the hubby happy, right? 🙂
I just found your blog through Pinterest and I am truly wowed. I’ve found great ideas and wish I had know some of this when I was a young single Mom. I haven’t read everything on your blog yet, but a great idea I did with my children and their friends was to have a Friday game night at home. Everyone had to choose pick a game from our game closet, or bring one from home. I made huge batches of popcorn and bought pizza dough and made my own pizza sauce from my home grown tomatoes and got cheap pepperoni and veggies from the garden. Everyone made their own pizza. As the kids got older, they would bring snack food. Drinks were water or homemade sweet tea. Everyone enjoyed it and a side bonus came around when a few of the parents offered to take my 4 children off my hands on a Saturday night as a thank you for taking their children off their hands every Friday night! I learned more about my children and their friends every Friday night than I would have in a thousand weeknights! And – we all had a so much of a blast that some of the parents started showing up to play around. 🙂
That is a really fantastic idea Charlene! What a great way to get to know your kids’ friends. Thank you so much for taking the time to share. 🙂
Denee V. says
I am new to this and you are amazing. So THANKFUL!!!!
First of all I love your blog! I also have a great entertainment idea for moms or women in general that is free. I don’t want to leave men out they could have a men’s book club or sports club too :)I go to a book club once a month. It is hosted at different members houses and we do a food theme with the book and each bring a dish to enjoy. It is fun and only costs a bit of gas and whatever food item you put together. You can look for the book at the library or borrow from a friend. It is a fun time! Also check your local library for free family fun events.
GREAT idea Amber! Thanks for sharing. 🙂
Thank you very much for your blog Kimberlee. My husband and I are a dual military couple. We had our first child a year ago, and I am three months away from becoming a stay at home mom. We are both very nervous about cutting down to a single income, but we know that God will provide, and that it will be worth it to raise our children. Your blog has given me some great ideas and I have more confidence than ever. Thank you again!
Thanks so much for taking the time to let me know Sarah! It’s challenging but so worth it. 🙂
Kimberlee, your meal planning ideas are helping me in my household. Thanks so much for your tips and advice!
I am so glad. Thanks for letting me know Laura!
My husband was the “let’s go out to eat’ king here, but not very often if we compare to friends an family. These last nine months we ate out once (using DH’s “fun$ he worked extra for this summer) We only spent $20 bucks, but that amount isn’t in any other part of the budget. Last night we did September “Big” shopping and I was actually so nervous about staying within budget (I loath having to put stuff back I can’t afford! PRIDE!) I decided to forgo several “not needed after all” items. Since I was under budget $35, And we were so hungry we grabbed burgers and didn’t have to worry or feel guilty. Eating out is still not only a luxury, but an activity I don’t really want to do most days. We finally, after years of shopping for food in the “I get what I WANT” we shopped and got what we needed and nothing more. We will be well fed this month into October and we are in budget. The DH was so amazed. He said, as we rolled out of the store,”I love the new leaf we’ve turned” I do too!
Way to go Barbara!
I just discovered your series and am having the time of my life! While I don’t have a husband or family yet, I’m a poor graduate student who is determined to be a recovering spendaholic 🙂 Thank you for all of this. I am getting so much information that hadn’t occurred to me. And your terminology is right up my alley of thinking.
I am so glad Carissa, speaking from one recovering spendaholic to another. 🙂
Dessert ideas…make your own!
This afternoon we are making homemade strawberry ice cream/gelatto in our ice cream maker (which I got for free). This weekend we are making popsicles.
Thanks for sharing your tips on saving money. Some I have already implemented and I’m learning a few new ones from you (as well as feeling better to hear how others are thinking the same things I am)
Love your posts… so glad I found your site! Both my husband and I work, but I long to stay home with our kids….I believe we could live on just one income, it has just been hard to actually make the lifestyle change. It has been great to get some additional tips from you, helps me to know we could make it happen…. Now just to get my husband on board to consider chips and beer as “entertainment” lol 🙂
Well, there is the “keep hubby happy” factor to consider–LOL!
Thank you so much for writing this up. I work with people to help them budget and get on track but your write up here is just so perfect and through. I have already sent your blog to quite a few people in trouble. I hope they can feel inspired to make things work and begin to feel some freedom and desire that the future is not so bleak. You are an inspiration!
I am so glad Leah! Thank you for taking the time to let me know you were encouraged (and thanks for sharing the blog).
I love this series. I hope to implement some of these ideas into our food budget but I know that I am going to face resistance. I have 3 teenagers and they are always hungry. We eat out every Saturday night and have gotten very frugal at it (using discount cards and coupons or just sharing meals). Its also a time to reconnect and relax. I don’t know if they are going to buy the “entertainment” vs. “needed” food. = /
That’s a great tradition Debbie. If I were you I would probably keep doing that and just find other ways to cut the food budget (cheaper meals during the week, buying sale items, etc.).
Maybe you could get rid of your cable and Internet? Or your cell phones and just have a home phone where you can be reached that way your kids can have dessert or enjoy something fun instead of having to be so frugal??
We don’t have cable and we need the internet for my blog. We tried a month without it and I used more money driving to places with free internet than we spend on the bill. My kids have lots of fun, we just choose how we do it. We don’t have ice cream every day or eat out a lot, but when we do we really appreciate it.
kids have tons of fun watching movies at home or making a blanket tent, playing in the sprinkler it doesnt cost tons of money to entertain my 4 kids, and my parents didnt play or entertain us ever! but we always had ice cream or something else for dessert and when a kid grows up they are not going to say im sure glad i got my ice cream growing up theyre going to wonder how come they are over weight.
Growing up we made dessert once a week. After we did chores (farm), us girls had to help clean house. After that we made a dessert. I still love to bake, but am not really fond of junk food. My kids might love to eat junk food daily, but by eating healthy I hope to instill in them a love for people not food. Erica, not to be snotty, but what is fun about eating junk…normally it just makes me crabby, and feel kind of unhealthy…blah. I would rather run around and play with my kiddos…you know, make memories. Not fat cells.
Thank you soooo much for this post. I found your blog via pinterest tonight and have read a lot so far. I kept wondering why there is always so much month at the end of the money… and there’s only two of us. We eat out wayyyy too much, never use coupons and spend about $50 or more every time we do go out. (which is at least once a week.) I think I’ve got a lot more reading and application to do.
You are very welcome Melissa. We like eating out too, but the key is to plan to eat out and have a budget for it that you can afford. Good luck!
Eating out kicks our budgetary behinds. I have got to get on track with meal planning and grocery shopping. I like your idea of shopping weekly on a certain day using the ads to plan your meals. I shop the ads, but haven’t mastered meal planning or a schedule yet. That will be my goal starting this week 🙂
I just found your blog on Pinterest. I’m a full time student so my fiance and I live on a very tight income. I started couponing and am shocked at how much I save! Couponing can take a lot of time but the savings are totally worth it. All of my friends know I am a couponer and are usually happy to hand over their leftover inserts and I usually buy 1 or 2 papers a week. There are also coupon blogs out there that can help with coupon match ups for your stores. I have a little bit of a stock pile but it is nothing like you sometimes see on TV. It helps me to know that if we don’t have extra grocery money one month we have enough to get through the week.
Joy Parrott says
I really appreciate your sharing so many good ideas with so many folks, including me! Thanks much!
You are very welcome Joy. 🙂
Thank you for the awesome ideas! I just totally had a lightbulb moment!! We have an annual income of over $85k. We have no credit cards, and virtually no debt besides the house. However we send about $1100/month on groceries (including diapers, cleaning supplies, etc). But my husband and I are always left at the end of the month saying “how do we spend so much on food!! and how in the world do people make it when they make under $40k?” it has never occured to me that there is a difference between entertainment food and necessary food. It has always just been FOOD. I will always shop and look at my grocery bill differently. Thanks for the great advice!
You are so welcome Kelly. Many times it is just one small change in the way we think that can make a big difference. Blessings!
I keep reading these posts and thinking, “How does she know my life?!” Hahaha! My husband is the only one working in our house, because we’re in a college town with much fewer jobs than students looking for employment, and he’s only part-time with minimum wage. It will be difficult to implement these rules in our house, but I think we can do it! It will relieve so much stress for both of us!
Just take baby steps. Trying to change everything at once could backfire. 🙂
I found your blog on pintrest and I am soooo glad I found it! I am a SAHM of 2 and it is TIGHT! My husband and I never thought we could make it work on one income until I was laid off 2 years ago. We are trusting God to provide our NEEDS, but sometimes it’s hard to not be envious of others that eat out constantly, have huge homes and lots of play toys (boats etc). I know the sacrifices we make are worth it, it’s just hard some times. Reading your blog has been a great encouragement to me, thank you!! Also, from a previous post, I always pray about everything, but it never occurred to me to pray about where to find clothes! I don’t have very many nice clothes and I have some birthday money I plan on spending on clothes, I’ll be praying about where to shop 🙂
I’d love to hear what God provides for you Jessina. 🙂
I have always had nerves on bill paying day trying to make is stretch. Over these 23 years I have learned that God does provide each and every month for what we need. We have three children now and I stayed at home for the past 16 years. It has worked. Sometimes I have bought what we needed carefully, but then the item would appear or get passed my way. God still is teaching me to trust and be patient. Not only is he teaching me to continue to sort wants from needs (which is harder with teenaged children), but also to wait on the timing. Sometimes He already had it taken care of. P.S. second hand clothes my be old, but if you buy classic at Goodwills or secondhand store, they were made better and with better fabric than the clothes in stores now.
I am really enjoying your articles. I have never thought of eating out as entertainment…..you have opened my eyes! Thanks!
You are very welcome Kim. 🙂
Janet Bavido says
My son Ethan was 20 when he helped a friend of ours move some furniture. Afterward, our friend took him out to Sonic and got him a milkshake. Ethan had never had a milkshake before, and didn’t even know what flavors they came in. Our friend was aghast and said something about it to me later. I told him, “Try making or buying milkshakes for a family of 10, and then tell me if you’re surprised he’s never had one!” $$$
food as entertainment is a perfect example I am frugal and having trouble explianing to grandma that pop is not in my budget… She said I have gas and need it to burp and I can not get her to understand it is not in the budget for now…. However there are 6 2 liters of generic pop she could drink…She is diabetic and eats what ever she wants… she cleaned out a 1/2 cocunut cake lol.. see what i am working with
I wish the internet was around when my husband and I were first married and then had our children. Blogs like yours would have saved us tons of money and stress!!! I guess better late than never and the money lessons we are passing on to our children. Maybe they won’t have to struggle as much as we did. Thanks for the help!
Well Kimberly, pretty much everything on the site has been learned the hard way–LOL! I just hope someone else can benefit from my stupidity. 🙂
im a single mom living with another single mom. we are both a little spend happy (she definitly more than me) so we have set up a “rent account” we get paid 2x a month and from each check i put $300 into that account. the check we recieve right before the 1st of the month she gives me her $600 and with my $300 there is rent. the $300 from the other check in the month goes toward utilities. it doesnt matter how much they are i put $100 towards gas, water and electric and usually have a balance forward on the gas and water. that way if there is ever a month (like summer time in az!!) that something (electric from the a/c) is more than $100 i dont have to worry about not paying the gas or water (because there is already a balance forward there) and i can use the extra money toward the electric. it has made my stress level decrease sooo much having that little bit of a buffer on those accounts and its already paid to the company so i dont have to worry about seeing “extra” money and spending it!! thank you so much for sharing your money saving strategies!!
Great idea Nikki!
“Friday night pizza delivery sounds wonderful after a busy week, but not so wonderful on Monday morning when the power bill is due.”
When I read this, I teared up. I have SO MUCH trouble saying no to myself when it comes to food that I want. Thank you for this series and the support you are providing me! <3
You are very welcome Diana. 🙂
I’ve quoted that to my friends already since reading this this morning. I too have a really hard time with that. It’s so simply said and easy to remember. I will use it to remind myself when I want to order something. Knocks the pleasure haze out of me and I can see clearly 🙂
I’m glad that you are setting limits on the posts, making everyone play nice. One of my favorite frugal bloggers quit posting because of all the mean comments and I miss her.
We eat out about 10 times a year. Each one of us gets to go for our birthdays and then I have occasional mom’s nights out.
That’s too bad that a blogger quit because of comments. I try not to take things personally, but it’s hard sometimes. It’s fine to have a different opinion, but there is no reason to be uncivil just because you disagree.
By the way, I’m all for mom’s night out. 🙂
Thank you so much for this series. We are a dual-income family, but I recently changed to a part time status, rather than full time. I love being at home with my children more, but this has meant we have had to make a few adjustments…the primary one being that we cannot eat out as often as we had become accustomed (“It’s supper time, honey, what do you want to eat?” “I don’t know, let’s go to xx restaurant because it’s so much easier.”) We’re still adjusting, and I’m thankful to read your journey!
You are very welcome Elizabeth. I just want to encourage other people that they can do it. 🙂
OMGoodness! I have done just that; kept track for a month and figured out how much money was “wasted” on fast food! While it’s tough to cook for one—since I learned how to cook from my grandmother (who had a family of 5 and worked in a school cafeteria), there must be SOMETHING I can do so that I’m not eating the same meal for the entire week. If you ever run across any “eating for one or two” type blogs that would help, I’d be really excited to see them! 🙂 <3
Have you thought about using my ground beef plan here and my chicken plan here? You basically buy meat on sale and then prepare it ahead of time for the freezer. You can use it to make quick meals without eating exactly the same thing every day. Let me know what you think.
Jennifer, I am there with you! I cooked for my family of 5 when I still at home and I have a hard time not cooking that much because then it all goes to waste because I’m tired of eating the same meal. That’s when I get bored with cooking and order out. That’s something I need to cut back on… the eating out.
Have you tried making foods that freeze well? You can continue to cook the way you are used to, but divide what you can’t use that day into cheap plastic storage boxes that hold the amount you usually eat at a meal. Say you make a standard 9×13 pan of lasagna. Take out what you want that day, and freeze the rest in individual portions. You can make something different for dinner tomorrow, but now you have a some easy dinners in the freezer for those days you just don’t feel like cooking. This also helps with being able to take advantage of food sales, since you don’t have to get through it all before it goes bad.
My MIL brought over ice cream and some chocolate covered ice cream treats-we NEVER buy things like this because we have to make sure we can have enough grocery money at the end of the month for fruit and milk for the kids etc. So funny how we prioritize wants and needs differently on a budget.
I just found your blog and am REALLY enjoying this series. I became a stay-at-home-mom almost a year ago and my husband and I have been working hard at staying within our budget. We’ve used a lot of your tips, especially dealing with food. I plan our meals for the week, make my grocery list, and as you said, unless something is on sale, I only buy what we need.
Thank you so much for these articles. They have inspired me to save. We just learned that we have to pay $4400 to the IRS for 2011 taxes. What a surprise! Now, we must budget to avoid the same thing for this year.
We are both retired. I will be following all of your advice. I am also a paper and pencil person.
Thanks for your inspiration!!
Crystal Brothers says
I completely agree!!! I have people ask me all the time about budget tips and when I tell them to nix the eating out (or at least cut it to once a week instead of 12)…and cut out unnecessary (and unhealthy) foods like sweets, pop/soda/whatever you call it!, and chips…it’s not an option.
Those foods are SPLURGES in our house…they are treats, and only when they are deeply on sale or if there is extra money somewhere.
Also, I see you talk a lot about getting bills, so I thought I’d share what my husband and I do. He gets paid twice a month on the 15th and 30th. Most of our bills actually come out around the first. So, if I didn’t “finagle” we would end up with 1150 or so coming out in necessary bills when we only get paid about 1100…not gonna work. So, what I did was to sit down and make a very detailed monthly budget, with every single expense (dave ramsey style) and all the money budgeted. I did this so that I could control when things are paid more so that the expenses are more balanced. I moved some things around so that some bills actually get paid early. I have most things auto deducted at the “right” date, but when we get paid, I sit down with the check book and document everything, so that we know that money is gone…but the bill is already paid as well, so there is never an instance of getting a bill that we don’t have money for. I know you do a similar thing with your surprise expense spreadsheet thing, but just thought I would throw that out there. It has helped us a lot.
Thanks. I love the idea of deducting it from your checkbook before the bill is paid. It occurred to me that I haven’t used a checkbook (or checks) in years. I think it would be a simple thing for me to go back to that little book and write things down every time I schedule a bill payment or use my debit card. Looking at that amount (the $ I actually have available to spend) rather than calling my bank and checking my actually balance before making an impulse purchase, should help quite a bit
Thank you so much for writing this series! We are also a single income family (by choice so my husband could stay home to raise the kids), and now that they are grown he is disabled and cannot work. My job has recently taken huge wage cuts and we are having trouble with the bills. Food is our nemesis! We try very hard to eat healthy and want to eat organic, but it’s just so expensive. We’re vegetarian, which saves us on meat costs, but my old recipes often call for ingredients that we just can’t afford anymore. Can’t wait to read more of your tips!
Aimee, have you tried starting a little garden for yourself? I was overwhelmed by organic food prices and was able to cut my summer food budget by at least 1/4 by starting my own garden. There are some plants that will grow just about anywhere, and many that grow very well in pots, if you don’t have the land/desire to dig up a plot. The library and internet both have lots of books and articles on how to garden organically and frugally. Virtually any type of container can be used to grow something in (make sure to drill a drain hole), and all organic(carbon based) foods except for fats can be put directly onto plants as a fertilizer, or into a small container or pile to break down, just be sure to keep it reasonably moist and warm. Also, you may want to look for substitute options for your recipes, here is a great website for common items: http://allrecipes.com/howto/common-ingredient-substitutions/
I wish you and your husband the best of luck!
Reply to Rachel:
Thanks for sharing! I am sometimes surprised at how expensive spices can cost. have already bookmarked that substitutions page.
Stacy Anderson says
For spices, you can also purchase them from a local co-op. They are very inexpensive that way, and you can purchase them in smaller amounts, since they are sold from a bulk container.
I can’t wait to dive further into your menu plans! We spend a bit more on food because of my daughter’s diet (GFCF), but we still try and get back to basics as much as possible.
My daughter is also gluten free, but not dairy free.
Jessica P says
I was reading through the comments just now. I like the idea of going out to eat Christmas Eve as a special treat. Our family usually does appetizers/snacks on Christmas Eve. Then we go out for hot chocolate and drive around to look at Christmas lights. It’s a fun and special tradition!
Jessica P says
You are so right – the food budget can definitely expand if you let it! I love, love to eat out! BUT we are now on a budget (we do an envelope system – put our weekly grocery allowance in the envelope and once it’s gone that’s it). Doing a budget made me realize how much we were spending eating out. It also made me realize how much futher my money goes towards eating at home. A sit-down restaurant meal for me and my husband is say $25. But for $25 bucks I can buy several meals, not just one, at the grocery store!!
I love, love, love the designation of eating out and “junk” food as entertainment instead of groceries. We have been eating out a lot and spend at least $8/day at the 7-Eleven! The insanity has to stop. I’m going to look back over the last 2 months and see how much exactly we have spent on entertainment food. I know our “grocery” budget has at times exceeded $1000 for just the 2 of us for one month!! Outrageous, I know. Definitely time to reign in the food entertainment budget! Thanks for your perspective on this.
You are welcome Samantha!
i like how you include treats and snacks you buy at the grocery store as entertainment. right now, those things are included in my regular grocery budget, but i think it might be good to re-categorize them under dining and entertainment :).
cynthia pitman says
I raised 6 children in a 950 square foot house we do have a large yard.I had 5 girls and one son. We have 1 bathroom. I also had a daycare with 12 children and I homeschooled my children. I raised happy Christian children. You do what works and add a lot of love.
We are a family of nine and we feel the same way about eating out. We often pack the cooler with waters and snacks before heading out. We save eating out for date night and Christmas Eve(with the kids). We use our free rewards we get from our Discover card(Free because we pay off our balance every month) and from going through a site called my points, But even though they are free we still split a meal and never get dessert. It’s more about time together with out the kids then the food it’s self. We also will buy dessert at the grocery store instead of out way cheaper. We also occasionally eat out when kids eat free but they are getting to old for the children’s menu now. 🙁
That is funny Carey. We eat out as a family on Christmas Eve too. Love that tradition!
I’m so glad I saw this today! My husband’s number one complaint is that we spend too much on food. I’m out and the 4 kids are hungry and fast food, here we come – and heartburn, upset tummies, etc., 15 minutes later. I don’t like FF, but I continually get brought up short by being caught off guard. So, now I’ve bought those ultra expensive cereal bars – $3.48 for a box is a far cry from the $21 we spend … and can hold them off until I get home to prepare something. I’m also bringing our water bottles (our refillable, no BPA, ones) in the ice chest … sometimes hunger is just thirst, I’ve discovered! Nice for weight loss! 🙂 And of course, a bag ‘o fruit into the ice chest – just in case. I’m never leaving home without it again! “Be prepared.” Who was it that said that again???? lol
Love that idea Tracy. We need to get another cooler.
My husband and I have been saying for a long time that we eat out way too often and that is where a huge bulk of our money goes each month!! I became a stay at home mom 6 mos ago when our 2nd baby was born… we have been looking for some kind of guidence to how to set up a budget and stick to it. I love reading your blog and it really has become inspirational to us. While my husband brings home a little more annually than your situation- it allows us to become debt free very quickly which is one of our huge goals! Thank you so much for putting your lives out there to show people that it is absolutely possible to thrive on what you have!
You are very welcome Amy!
I found your blog on pinterest…and I am so guilty of over spending on food. I like the way you break down “necessity” and “entertainment”, but what really caught my eye was the fact you and your hubby have weekly date night. I appreciate your ideas both as new ideas to steal for myself AND to reassure myself we aren’t the only ones who walk around Lowe’s picking out paint, cabinets, etc for our dream remodel, then walk out with nothing but dreams. I’m excited to put some of your ideas to work!
I just wanted to chime in with a thank you for the whole series! I’m a graduating college student about to start life on my own for the first time and I’m trading a higher income for a job I really love. These tips are incredibly helpful – especially the idea of considering eating as entertainment. Thanks for the great advice and best of luck to you and your family!
First off, this is not a spam message, so please don’t mark it as one. I just wanted to say that if you, or anybody, is looking for a way to still be frugal but be able to manage a pizza night every so often, or even have extra money to spend at the grocery store, you could sign up to be a trendsource shopper. I did it and got free pizza and an extra $5 from my first gig with them.
Thank you so much for this series. I am new to blogging AND budgeting, and this was the most simple, non-confusing, non-overwhelming blog i have found, which makes me want to read it! I made my own budget up and will be checking back periodically to find more tips from you on how to constantly improve on it and live within my means! Thanks again 🙂
Yeah for simple, non-confusing and non-overwhelming! 🙂
And other reason we live like we do is so my husband doesn’t have to work a ton of hours and we are saving towards the goals of buying a small lot and having a small, family run car lot. So our reasons for frugal living is not just so I can stay home, but so my husband will eventually be able to work for himself and hopefully have a small business to pass on to our sons.
Your comment, “we have decided that we don’t want to trade something temporary (food) for something eternal (my ability to stay home and raise our children),” defines what my husband and I believe in too. We have a 9 year old, 6 year old, and third blessing due in July….worked part-time until our first was just over a year and mainly (a couple months a had to work when my husband had surgery and couldn’t work) been home since. I honestly don’t know how my family would function without me home…who is going to be home with a sick child or for Dr’s appt and so on. We live and thrive on very simple living, but we have come into a lot of people concerned that we are added a 3rd child for our small (1200 square ft) manufactured home. It is really simple for us…our home is paid for and so is our 3 plus acres here in small town rural America. Everyone keeps telling us that we need to start buliding…oh goodness just the thought of that debt makes me sick to my stomach. My parents built a new home when I was young and have spent a lifetime of hard work to pay for the thing…I don’t want that. I keep our home clean and clutter free and I’ve been working really hard on more organzing skills (like just realized that a cheap bookcase can go in the closet for great storage). Anyway it gets really hard when people act like our home isn’t “good enough,” I just wish there was a way for them to see that our home is fine, our kids are happy, and we are living like we do for a purpose.
Hi Kelly! Just remember that you live your life for your family, not for anyone else. People are quite generous with their opinions, but I just smile and say nothing. You are probably challenging their thinking and they don’t like it. Way to go for living life on purpose!
You’re a role model, too! I truly appreciate reading what you’ve written! I don’t know why everything thinks bigger is better??? More space to keep clean? Ugh! Clutter is a serious handicap in my house! It clutters the brain, makes tempers unstable … so girlie, anything else you’d like to share – like how you get the kids to keep their stuff put away, and I’m all ears! No matter how hard I try, I feel like I’m unheard. 🙂 God bless you, your family, and your new addition! Yeah!
Hi Tracy-Three of my four children are teens so their things are smaller now-makeup, jewelry, accessories, books, art supplies, etc. The three girls share a room and there isn’t much space, so my 11 year old has under the bed boxes and one large plastic tote in my walk in closet. All the toys have to fit in those containers so if something new comes in, something old has to go out. Thankfully there is ALOT of room under the bed. 🙂
With fewer toys it is easier to keep them picked up. When I had smaller children we kept toys in groups and only one or two groups could be out at a time (ex: Legos and Hot Wheels, Baby dolls and kitchen stuff, Lincoln Logs and Little People, etc.). Everything had to be picked up before they were allowed to get anything else out.
Great blog! It can be done!!! We found out the hard way a few years ago when my husband became unemployed for 6 months (our only income). We (family of 5) lived off of unemployment (not much) and made it by the grace of God! We have changed a lot from that season in our lives and I believe we are better for it! We now closely watch our spending and budget (followed Dave Ramsey’s advice) and even though my husbands career is back on track we choose to live on a minimal budget…and boy do we get a lot of looks like we are crazy! 🙂 Thank you for such a wonderful blog!
I just found my new favorite blog! You are amazing! Okay, that said…..I 100% agree with you on food being entertainment! Since my husband lost his factory job last May, we have been living on his part time job salary and my part time job salary. Then in January, my shop closed. So now we are totally reevaluating things, and feeding a family of 5 on give or take $250 a week (total, thats not the food budget) has come into sharp focus! Crock pot ingredients for a week of meals cost the same or LESS than a single night out at a *dine-in casual* restaurant. I’m loving you and the advice about the freedom account! Can’t wait to see what’s next!
I’m so glad I stumbled on to this blog! We recently moved across country and have been living on one income for a few months while I get my career up and running. We have learned how to do “our part”- live lean, cook more, don’t waste- and trust God to do the rest. He has been faithful every step of the way! Loving your tips and ideas and the practical applications. I already passed the link on to a few of my friends who are stay-at-home moms! Keep it up, PLEASE!!!
HI! I found you on pintrest as well. I have enjoyed exploring your site. I am a 28 yo single lady and I recently received a major promotion at work (due to my graduation) so I just now feel like an adult. LOL I am a Paramedic and we live our lives in an ambulance and eating food from gas stations and fast food. It is very very hard to bring your lunch to work for 2 reasons: 1. our new trucks have no extra room for a lunch box and 2. I never pack enough things that I can eat and drive. I may go to the grocery store once or twice a month cause I want to cook something special or to get supplies for my at home bakery. I have read your online book and it is great! I find budgeting to be fun but I cant find the time to do it. Do you have any advice for someone in the opposite position of going to the grocery store? Thank you so much for your time and your wonderful blog!
Hi Tori-I’m not sure exactly what you are asking. Can you be more specific?
I’m sorry, I wrote that on the run. What I was trying to ask is do you have any advice for someone who can’t bring their food to work or who has to eat fast food/gas station food and stay on a budget?
Tori, I guess if I had to eat fast food I would try to eat from the dollar menu as much as possible. At gas stations you may be able to find fresh fruit or veggie and dip packs so you are not always eating junk food. Hope this helps. 🙂
I currently am a SAHM. When my husband and I sat down to really look at our budget to see if we could figure out a way for me to stop teaching and stay home, we found two areas that we had control over how much we spent. 1. dining out and 2. gifts. We were spending more on dining out than on groceries in a single month and we were a bit shocked to see how much we spent on gift giving. So we drastically cut back on dining out and we modified the way we spend on gift giving (actually try to make more gifts than purchase gifts). Another way we save money with food is by making freezer meals. It is also a great time saver.
Great idea to look at the gift budget Angie. It’s easy to try and impress others when we really can’t afford it. All the adults in our immediate family gave free or less than a dollar gag gifts to each other for Christmas a couple of years ago. The laughs and memories were much more valuable than any other gift we could have given each other.
So i hav been in frugal mode the last few months and our taxes have recently allowed us to pay off some debt and free up some money. After reading your blog I am ashamed at the splurging I have done. I quickly remembered how easy it was to live without eating out and where all that mone could have gone. Thanks for the reminder :o)
Hi Sarah-I have splurges too. I just have to make them smaller. 🙂
My husband is going to love your blog…I am not the most budgeted minded person (we grew up tightly but probably spent in the wrong places first) because I like some of your ideas. Some I am not willing to do yet, but they are all so smart so far. Also, we hardly ever eat out…we are never very pleased with quality of the food for the money and then always regret it…so we eat out maybe 3 times a year. 🙂
Hi Sandy! As my husband says,”I’m not your target audience.” haha! Maybe more men will become the target audience when they see their wives open to new things. 🙂
Thanks for the wonderful series! We’re a family if six also, and I’m a stay-at-home mom of four three and under. The food budget can be kind of hard sometimes! We don’t eat out very often, maybe once a month for our “big” date. To keep from doing a lot of grocery runs, I do a weekly menu with grocery list and only go once a week. I get everything I need for the week and I don’t go. It’s helped our budget. We also make our meals from scratch for nutritional reasons. To continue dating, we do a dinner/date once a week. We put the kids to bed then I make a meal for us so that we can sit, eat, and talk without little ones and restaurant issues. Looking forward to the rest of your series!
Hi Molly! I love “in-house” dates. While I enjoy going out to eat every once in a while, it’s so much more relaxing to have a quiet evening at home.
I found your blog on Pinterest and as I am always looking for new ways to save money I had to check it out. Your honesty is inspiring and your story is motivating. Thank you for being so open, I’m sure you will help many people!
Thanks so much Megan!
I love your post. My husband is an accountant and we have always had a strict budget (he LOVES budgeting!) as I stay at home with the kids, but I am not always diligent. I guess knowing that we have that ‘extra’ account for emergencies has led to me going over on non-necessities. I never do extremes, but if we’re $20 over on clothing allowance (or $50 over on groceries) I make excuses. I am trying to reign myself back in and stick to it. Thanks for clarifying that even food can be considered ‘entertainment’. I WILL be better!
Hi Lori! Glad I could encourage you. 🙂
Hi there…I am a new reader and thank you for sharing. I am a single 27yo woman, no children. At the end of the month after all bills are payed I should have about $1000 left to do with whatever I want but I DON”T. Sounds crazy I know, but I really have a problem with mis-managing $$$. I hope you continue to share.
Hi Marie-I think it is even more difficult to manage money as a single person because there is no one pressing you to do any differently. Hopefully you can find a few ideas here to help you reach your goals. Blessings!
I have never looked at food like that way before…..Til NOW!!!! Grocery Store look out, here we come with a new list 🙂 Thank you so very much for all your helpful hints.
In life it’s all the small things that add up to something GREAT!!!!
Stay positive….Have a wonderful weekend!!!!
We too are expecting a little one and I am so torn with returning to work and entrusting my sweet infant to strangers to make less than $100 more a week than what we will pay in childcare or starting now to work towards staying home. I am hooked on your series… I know you don’t have all the answers but you are living proof that with our Father we can make it. Thanks.
Hi Katie- We have trusted God for 16 and a half years now. There have been times that I have gone back to work during that time, but it always drains our family. He is so faithful and always provides just what we need. I know that if you truly trust Him, He will make a way for you.
Thanks you so much for sharing all this info!! I recently found your blog and it was just what I needed! We have a family of 6 also (soon to be 7) and we have been trying to figure out how to manage our finances after baby comes and I quit my job. I don’t make much, but when things are tight the Lord makes a little go a long way! Thanks for reminding me of that!
Hi Lara! So glad you were encouraged. Have a Peaceful Day!
I am loving this series Kimberlee! My husband and I are decent at staying on a budget which is not much more than your own (because I work part time at home) but we got off track this month (again) and I have been discouraged. It is good to know we are not alone, tomorrow is a new day to do it right, and there is always something new to learn from others who have been there. Thanks for sharing. God Bless!
Hi Janna! You are definitely not alone. Hang in there. 🙂
We feel the same way about food in our home. We eat together as a family twice a day and three times on the weekend. We have four small children (by the way, the same macaroni and cheese is only a dollar a box split four ways at home compared to the four dollar “meal” out), but when we decide to take everyone out (or even on a date just the two of us) my husband and I ALWAYS split a meal together. We never take left overs home–which we wouldn’t eat anyway, and we enjoy the process of choosing for each other every time.
Hi Stephanie-You are right. It’s much cheaper to fix food at home. I like your date idea.
This is a topic close to my heart! I actually just gave up fast food for Lent. It’s a perfect time to break a habit! I find that I will often decide to grab something on the go or grab something on the way home from a busy day. I am actively making an effort to plan ahead. I know there are days where I am just too tired to make dinner after doing everything else that is needed through the day. I have just started freezing meals and using my crockpot more so that lack of time is no longer an excuse for wasting my families money on food!
I think planning is the key. Great job Kim!
Amen! It is amazing how quickly entertainment food purchases can add up!
After we had our son, I realized we were saving more money than when it was just the two of us. It baffled me, considering I became a stay at home mom, and we were saving less when we had two incomes. A brief run through of our checking account statements showed that we spent at least $50 a week on entertainment food expenses before the baby arrived! That’s over $200/month on non-necessary food items. Ouch.
Having our baby definitely gave us a reality check!! And now we can enjoy that extra money for things we can do as a family (vacations, museum, movie, etc…) instead of eating it during a 1 hour meal at a restaurant.
You’re right Katreena. It does add up quickly!
I just found out I was expecting and my husband and I have been struggling with this same decision on whether I say home or not. I stumbled upon your blog and what a blessing!! Your husband makes almost as much as mine and if you can do it with 3 teens we can do it with a baby! I think this blog has become an answered prayer!!!
Wow Kaitlyn! Thank you so much for sharing this with me. You just made my day. You definitely can make it on one income, you just have to be very careful and determined. Blessings on your new baby! 🙂
I just read through the whole series (so far) and love it! Your transparancy is refreshing 🙂 These past couple of months I have been so slack on our food budget and I need to tighten the purse strings again, so I’m looking forward to the next part of the series! 🙂
Thanks Jenn. So glad you’re here! 🙂
I’m really enjoying your site… especially this ‘series’ of topic! We recently have been working on ‘Dave Ramsey’s’ plan (really it’s just practical advice) and this is a super reminder of what is REALLY important, and how our culture has a really messed up way of thinking (in general). Thank you for showing that it CAN be done!
Thanks for your encouragement Heather. 🙂
I just had an ah ha moment. It makes total sense. Thanks!
You are very welcome Lindsey!
My family spends way too much on “Entertainment” food and you know what.. It’s not good for me or my kids. My gues is that your children are a lot healthier than most. Thanks for helping me think of this in a different way.
Thanks Tiffany. We still enjoy our ice cream, just not every day. 🙂
This is so very true. We began Crown Financial’s course at our church and began tracking our grocery spending. Oh my! Living very close to a grocery store has its hazards! Way too little planning and way too many trips to the store. We have gone to using just cash this month and planning our meals (and even freezing some) so that we aren’t tempted to go to the store when we don’t *need* to. I think we will literally be cutting our grocery bill in half!
That’s great Jackie. Any time you cut the budget it’s a good thing. 🙂
Thanks for the postings thus far. I am interested. My husband and I each work two jobs and have three little kids at home. Some nights we are all just making it home after dinner time should have already happened. Fast food feels like the only solution. I don’t want it to me the solution, but it is. Ideas? If your idea is crock pot, I leave for work at 7:30am for work. That seems hard.
Hi Rachel-You do have a difficult situation. I have a couple of ideas. One is to spend some time putting meals together on the weekends. Look at Easy Meal Planning Chicken Plan here as an example: https://thepeacefulmom.com/2011/08/19/easy-meal-planning-chicken/. All you have to do is spend a few minutes pulling the final meal together. The other idea is to plan really simple meals but make them special. For example, have quesadillas with raw veggies and dip and call it Mexican night. Make Monday night picnic night: Put a blanket on the floor in the livingroom and have an indoor picnic with sandwiches, chips and fruit. Make Wednesday night Breakfast for Dinner night and serve scrambled eggs and toast. The kids will start to look forward to the scheduled nights and you won’t have to worry about planning. Hope this helps. 🙂
As a part of a dual income family myself, I totally understand your dilemma. When I get home after picking up my son from daycare, he’s *starving* and wants dinner ready almost immediately. Even a frozen pizza seems to take too long some nights. It does help that hubby gets home before I do (since I have the daycare run), so he usually has dinner started before we get home.
Some crock pot recipes work, if you’re slow-cooking things on low. My husband makes amazing refried beans in the crockpot, letting them soak overnight and then I pop home on my lunch break and turn them on (so it’s 5-6 hours in the crockpot before my husband gets home to mash them and add salt and lard). A batch lasts us at least 2-3 meals.
We’ve also done a few meals similar to Rachel Ray’s Week In A Day show, which is great because you basically cook the whole meal ahead, like on the weekend, and then just heat it up and maybe do basic assembly that night (great for inspiration for working folks, as is the 30-min Meals show, but so often I don’t even have 30 min!). One of our new favorite meals is a beef stroganoff recipe my hubby got from a stay-at-home-dad friend of his (who is disabled, so when he is having a good day he cooks huge batches of meats and freezes them, and feeds his 5 kids and working wife this way, he’s such an inspiration to us), where we slow-cook a big pot of beef chunks in the oven on the weekend (or in the crockpot, in a pinch), freeze 2-3 dinner’s worth of the meat, and then just add the noodles and sour cream the night we eat it (so the noodles aren’t soggy).
Thanks Sarah–I love the crock pot refried beans idea!
A very good breakdown. I would even venture to add that buying food you prefer is a luxury, not a necessity. We have learned to like lots of different foods to save money. Just becasue I prefer brand A of vegetables, I buy the brand that is cheaper and just as nutritional.
So interesting that I stumbled onto your blog today! We have had to look at our budget pretty tightly because we are building a house and my husband and I live in different cities. We know how to budget and we were living within our means but every month there was nothing to save.
So February we tried a cash budget with groceries and restaurants, it was CRAZY. I don’t think I had ever really looked at how much a loaf of bread cost and how many leftovers I threw away, let alone how easy it was to NOT eat fast food at lunch. When my envelope was empty, I didn’t pull through the drive through – easy as that.
Can’t wait to see your next post!!
It’s really easy to let money “leak” out of the budget on food expenditures. Glad you found your leaks. 🙂
I am such a better grocery shopper than I was before I started using cash envelope system about 3.5 yrs ago. It’s amazing how good you can get at finding deals or meal planning around what you already have on hand when you use cash. The first few months were difficult but now we don’t run out of food money at the end of the month instead carry it over to the next.
I love this series. Food is so important and so many people spend it eating out when they should eat fresh home cooked meals. And i commend you for staying home. I am a stay at home mom and my husband and I are really tight on money. Thank you for being so real and honest about life. It is so reassuring to know that my struggles are normal and do-able. My husband and I used to eat out and now that we can’t I often feel like I don’t know what to do to keep dating each other. I am excited to read about your date ideas. thank you again for all of your honesty, it is truly helping me.
Thank you for taking the time to let me know Taylor. I am so glad you are finding the series helpful.
karen b says
We don’t eat out that often either not even once a month. We realized a long time ago that that money could be more useful in other areas. Sometimes I buy treats @ the grocery for alot cheaper than going out. Thank you & looking forward to the next post in this series.
So true that you can buy things cheaper at the grocery store. Thanks Karen!
I just want to thank you for writing this series! You are speaking to my heart and it is just what I was needing to hear. Sometimes I get down thinking about what we are doing without in our one (pretty low) income household, but what you said about trading in the temporary for the eternal hit the nail on the head. That is why we do it and it is so worth it.
Looking forward to the next post!!
Thanks so much for your encouragement Karen.
I am kind of in a stage where I don’t really like to go out to eat because we have a toddler and it’s more trouble to get her out and then hope everything goes smoothly at the restaurant. We ate out twice last year (once without her, for our anniversary while my parents watched her). But even when it’s more convenient later on, I really don’t see us doing much eating out because I’d rather spend the money getting a little nicer food for a few nice meals at home. But I do know people who really enjoy it and it’s really important to them and to them, I say, have a cash envelope for it and make sure you budget it.
I remember those toddler days Diane! We rarely ate in a restaurant with young children and when we did we ate fast. 🙂
I just found your blog via FB and I didn’t know me and my husband live well below the poverty line! We struggle but I wouldn’t trade my job as a sahm to go to work just to be able to eat more. One thing I do have trouble with is groceries. I always tend to go over budget with that. Do you have any posts about buying groceries when your income is so low? I would love go be pointed to them!
Thank you and I can’t wait to get on my laptop tonight to go over your blog!
Hi Melissa–Welcome! The statistic I quoted is for a family of six, it may be a little lower for a smaller family size. As far as groceries, have you downloaded my FREE E-book? It has lots of practical tips for saving on groceries. Here is a link: https://thepeacefulmom.com/2011/08/19/free-e-book-save-more-clip-less/
I was on my phone when I posted the above comment so I am fixing to download the ebook now! Thank you for the link!
Oh and by the way, I meant to say I wouldn’t go back to work just to eat OUT more! Lol!
It’s amazing how much we can spend on that stuff when we are not tracking it. At 29 and a single woman I was wanting to buy a house. With knowing I would have a mortgage I started tracking my spending and realized that between eating out and coffees I was spending about $500 a month… thats a big chunk of change that could be spent on a home of my own. So I sucked it up started cooking at home and making my coffee in the morning. Even if I hadn’t been wanting to buy a house I realized that it wasn’t the most responsible way to spend the money I had been blessed with. And that bit of discipline has been a great lesson in my marriage to a man that is a saver and our finances.
Hi Tammy! Good for you for having the discipline to cut back in those two areas (and thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.) 🙂
Very well said! I’m looking forward to reading your tips on how to save the food budget!
I have to admit, food is entertainment way too often and looking back at my budget I see that I am plenty entertained. You make a very good point. A painfully good point.
Hi Monica–Sorry to cause you pain. 🙂