I've had several friends ask for advice on how we manage to "survive" on one income - a teacher's income at that. Truth be told, the limited amount I make baking cakes (just a couple hundred extra dollars a month) is critical, but there are also a ton of other ways we save to make it work. I've put together a list of what I think are ten of our biggest ways to stretch Justin's paychecks.
1. Stop shopping. Don't go to the mall. Delete and "unlike" all business pages on facebook that you find tempting. Target always gets me, so I've quit going there unless I absolutely have to. Take your email off all companies that constantly send you "sale" ads. If you don't know about all about their super sales, you are much less likely to be tempted to look and buy their products.
2. Meal plan. Each Sunday I make a weekly menu for dinners. Breakfast is usually cereal, yogurt, and/or toast. Lunch is grilled cheese, PB&J, or leftovers. Each week I make sure we are stocked on the staples for these meals, then I plan a menu for all our dinners. It helps to base dinners off of things already in your cabinets and freezer whenever possible. I tend to stay away from recipes that involve elaborate or expensive ingredients. I try to only make one trip to the grocery store each week. I've never succeed in doing this, but I keep trying. Groceries are always one of our biggest expenses. I don't clip coupons. Some people are able to save a lot this way, but we eat very few foods that I can use coupons on now that we've cut WAAYYYY back on processed foods. I've found that I've saved money just by trying to eliminate the processed foods and making all that I can from scratch. (Not to mention the health benefits).
3. Rarely use your credit card. Things add up on that bad boy way too quickly. An easy swipe here and there and the next thing you know you've spent $400. We try to only use ours for gas and super big purchases (such as Justin's tuition - to get cash back points to help pay for gas). ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS pay your card in full every single month. Unless, of course, you enjoy throwing money away in interest payments.
4. Eliminate all debt, except a mortgage. If you're our age and you've somehow managed to pay off your mortgage already, big props to you. But I'm sure for about 99.9% of us, that's no where near the case. Any and all debt payments you make involve interest, which means you're paying more than you need to be. Don't finance furniture. Go without and save until you can pay in full. We have never bought a single peice of furniture for our house. I could be wrong, but you can make a pretty nice and cozy home on hand-me-downs, family treasures, a little creativity, and slip covers. Buy cars you can afford to pay for up front. It's probably not going to be the car of your dreams, but having no car payment is pretty heavenly.
5. Ditch the fancy phones. We've been lucky enough that our parents have let us stay on their family cell phone plans. We can't check email, facebook, espn, etc from our phones. We don't have 10 billion aps. But we can call and text. I don't even know what it would cost us to both own iPhones or whatever the other phones are called. All I know is it's alot more than the $10/month for each extra line on a family plan - and to be honest we don't even pay that because our parents love talking to us so much that they cover it still. :)
6. Skimp BIG time on gifts. Sorry friends and family. Now you know why I'm not big on baby showers, wedding showers, and extended family rarely gets gifts. Justin and I don't usually exchange birthday gifts or anniversary gifts (but we do take a long weekend together to enjoy the gift of un-interupted time together). We never celebrate Valentine's Day. This year we're really cutting back at Christmas too. I'm making a lot of the kids' gifts and I probably will ask Justin for a date night or sending the kids to our parents for another weekend alone instead of gifts. Other than a few homemade gifts I've made, family won't get much either. I hate this part, but I'm tired of dipping into savings to cover holiday costs. Explain your changes to your close family and friends. They will understand. If they don't, then they obviously don't have your best interests at heart.
7. Put any and all "extra" income directly into savings. You never know when that extra bill will come - semi-annual car insurance, ER visits, car repairs, etc. Everytime Justin works a Super Saturday, teaches summer school, tutors, etc we put the money directly into savings. If I get a few wedding cakes in a row, we'll try to put as much as possible in savings for when we may really need it.
8. Kids rarely need new things and there are a lot of free activities for them to do. Clothes, toys, furniture, etc can all be bought used to save money. Take advantage of hand-me-downs whenever possible. Jackson's (Christmas present last year) train table and train set were free, used hand-me-downs. He noticed where the table had some wear, but other than that he could have cared less. He has spent countless hours playing with it - money well saved! When we are out, my kids are nicely dressed and I don't know if they have more than three new things in either of their dressers. I love to sew for Summerlin - it's far cheaper to make her a custom dress than it is to buy one. Home Depot and Bass Pro Shop offer free children's workshops. Museums have free admission days from time to time. There are several GREAT city parks in our area. The possibilities are endless.
9. Don't go out to eat or for dates often. Justin and I have date nights "in" because the cost of dinner out and a baby-sitter is just too much. Our kids go to bed at 7:30 and we cook a delicious dinner together, then watch a movie or play a game. The food is always better tasting, far cheaper, and no baby-sitter cost!
10. Whenever you can, just go without. There are things that we think we "need", but we tend to put off buying them for as long as possible. It's amazing how many purchases we've avoided because after a day/week/month we realized we really didn't need that particular thing and have managed to do well without it. For example, we thought we needed cages to put around the pepper plants in the garden. We kept putting off going to Home Depot, but the pepper plants were getting pretty big. Justin found some stakes in the shed and gave them extra support using the stakes and twine. Granted this only saved us about $15, but $15 here and there adds up and before you know it, you've saved a substantial amount.
Yes, we go without a lot of things. But I believe that every sacrifice we make to manage on one income is more than worth it. I did not want someone else raising my kids while I was a work. We knew long before Jackson was born that we were just going to have to scrimp and save and somehow make it work.
For awhile I wasn't doing a great job of avoiding unnessisary purchases. I made up a lot of these guidelines at the start of 2012 and I've been amazed at how much less money I spent on pointless crap. I've been able to greatly reduce the number of cake orders I have to take. I'm so happy to spend less time working on cakes and more time playing with the kids. I encourage every family with young kids (or expecting young kids) to really examine your budget and spending. I think you'll be surprised at how much you can cut back and make one parent staying at home a reality. You can always buy stuff later in life, but you will never get the years with your kids back.