Thursday, June 9, 2016

Large Families On Budgets - Making More Out Of Less, Part 2 of 2

In part one I began addressing the topic of how a family can do life well on a small income.  
Large family - small income - can they co-exist?   The answer: absolutely.   I would love to share with you what we have learned from the Lord on this topic. * smile* There are two parts to this post; Here is the first part if you'd like to be thorough.

Part 1:   Principles for making a smaller income stretch further.
Part 2:  A list of practical ideas that we implement to make an income stretch further. And a link to the conference video of my presentation of this material.

Here is one of the many questions I've received on this subject:
"Hi Erika, I'm a single mother of seven and I am having the hardest time with budgeting, trying to figure out how to make $2000 a month work. If you have any ideas I would greatly appreciate it." ~ S.M.

A list of practical ideas that we implement to make an income stretch further.  

~ Netflix - Our family has a weekly movie night, where we watch one family movie, and Bob and I have a weekly date night where we watch a movie at home together, plus our children watch documentaries some evenings while I prepare dinner. So having a Netflix account to be able to receive movies in the mail each week saves us a ton of money compared to renting movies. Also, Netflix has a huge selection including all of the family-friendly ones as well as new-releases, where the movie rental places do not have hardly any of the movies we would like. We don't choose to have a TV, so these selections from Netflix are all that we watch and it's served us very well.

~ Buying grocery items in bulk - We purchase any staple foods items that we can in bulk at either Costco or Winco, which saves a lot of money. We purchase wheat berries in bulk and grind the wheat flour ourselves and make our own bread. We have a few delicious recipes we love, but one yummy whole wheat bread recipe in particular that we bake every week to eat with our green smoothies with breakfast. Making our own bread is healthier for us, and far less expensive than buying bread already made.

I also sometimes purchase one extra bulk item for our deep storage pantry, where we have additional food that will last for a long time but which we can use if cash is particularly tight for a time and we need to cut back on groceries. Item such as canned soups, steel-cut oats, wheat berries, whole wheat pasta, flax seed. I don't buy a lot of extra things to stock the pantry at once, but I can purchase one item at a time here and there which doesn't make a huge difference in our grocery bill that week, but which does help build up a surplus for our use when we need it. Some non-bulk items I may purchase when they're on sale to have on hand in our regular pantry are things like spaghetti sauce, condensed soup, nuts, trail mix.

We also buy our additional bread items at the local bread outlet:  hotdog and hamburger buns, bread for french toast, and corn chips.  And it doesn't matter if the breads are near their expiration date, or even a day past, because we freeze it all until we use it (see below).  This saves a lot of money.

~ Having a large, chest freezer or upright freezer
(which we purchased used off of Craig's List) - Here is where we store many of the bulk bread items that we purchase.  And again, we can purchase bread that is near it's expiration date or just past it and freeze it, and we never taste the difference when we use it because the age of the bread has been stopped in the freezing process.  We also store bulk quantities of fresh spinach (way cheaper from Costco than the grocery store!) and frozen berries from Costco (for our green smoothies) in this freezer, as well as frozen pizza from Costco for our once-a-week movie night, frozen vegetables from Costco such as green beans and corn which we add to dinners often, and the bulk shredded cheeses also from Costco (co-jack and parmesan).  We separate the cheese in to ziplock sandwich baggies so that we can bring out and thaw (on the counter in just minutes) managable amounts of the cheese at a time.  This also saves a great deal on the cost of cheese.  We also purchase and freeze butter from Costco and store the extra here.

~ Eating the pantry - When we are unusually tight on cash due to unforseen circumstances, we do what we call "eating the pantry." *smile* This means we eat what we already have in the pantry and I do not shop for additional recipe ingredients. That week I only shop for the perishable items (fruit, vegetables, milk, eggs) and we create meals from what we have on hand. I usually have a few cans of soup that aren't enough for an entire dinner (we rarely eat canned soup because it's expensive and not as good for us as homemade, but have it on hand for "emergency" dinners when we need something fast or if I'm not home to prepare a dinner - also very rare). I sometimes have left over boxes of pasta from a recipe when I didn't use the whole box. We make oatmeal for dinner, or pancakes, grilled cheese sandwiches, maybe burritos if I have dry pinto beans to cook, things like that. The meals are not "complete" like I usually make them, with an entre and a side dish necessarily, they're more hodge-podge and seemingly odd to my mind. But the kids don't necessarily notice, and they think it's fun in it's oddity. *chuckle* We also eat from our deep storage (see below). This way I can spend very little on groceries that week. And this is also a great opportunity to use all those miscellaneous items in the pantry that otherwise would not have gotten used.

(Click here to learn how we made this pantry from a coat closet!)

~ Developing deep storage - Our deep storage is not nearly as big as we would like, due to both cost and space, but we hope to develope that in the future. For now it contains only items that would last for years if stored properly. Canned soups, canned chicken and tuna, brown and white rice, dry beans, lentils, wheat berries, steel-cut oats, rolled oats, jarred baby food, etc. When we "eat the pantry" we use this as an opportunity to not only save money on buying groceries but also to rotate some of the food items we have stored so that they do not get too old. It does take some thought to create a deep pantry, considering what recipes you like to make and would be able to make using certain non-perishable ingredients; but again, it's a time commitment and not so much a cash commitment. (The baby wipes box isn't wipes, it's food. *smile*)

~ Do-it-yourself - You may think that doing something like baking your own bread would take forever and that you don't have time. I thought for the first 14 years of our marriage. *smile* But really, doing things yourself instead of paying someone else to do it for you can save a lot of money. Yes, it's a time investment, but it doesn't take cash. We can choose to invest our time when we don't have the cash. One of my ways to contribute to saving money for our family is by doing things myself when I can. (And encouraging our daughters, who love to bake, to do things like this for our family).

~ Coupons - I do not clip coupons, except for food items that we already need to purchase and from stores that I'm already going to.  I shop at Costco weekly, so I always cut out their coupons but I only use the coupons when I need to purchase that particular item (I don't purchase items simply because they're on sale or I have a coupon for it).  It is very easy to save a little money by shopping according to coupons, but then spend that money for gas driving around to all the different stores to purchase the items!  Instead, I plan meals frugally and save money through my planning instead.

~ Buying used clothing - Another thing I can personally do to save a ton of money is shopping for our family's clothing used. All of our clothing is purchased at either Goodwill or Value Village, and we still have very nice clothes (I think *smile*). If you'd like more information on my strategies for doing this, you can read my post, Becoming a Master Used Clothing Shopper.

~ Using lists - By keeping careful lists and sticking to them, I can help ensure that I do not over spend when I shop for our family's groceries each week. I use a Master Grocery List to do our grocery shopping. I also have on our refrigerator a dollar store list of items that we buy that are available at our local dollar store, so that when I need something I can peruse that list to see if I can get it at the dollar store rather than at Wal-Mart. (Now I don't use this list as often as I used to because it seems that Wal-Mart has taken notice of items that are popular for people to buy at the dollar store and Wal-Mart has started offering those same items for about 97 cents at their own store; but it's still a good idea if that's not the case where you live.

~ Samaritan Ministries instead of paying for health insurance - Samaritan is a type of voluntary Christian co-op, providing coordination for all the membership to be able to pay off each other's major medical expenses.

For a family our size, medical insurance would cost $1500-1600 per month; with Samaritan we pay $355 per month, and our major medical expenses have been taken care of. It's far more involved and thoroughly explained on Samaritan's website. I would encourage you to check them out. (And if you sign up with them, if you mention that you heard about Samaritan through us then we receive a credit towards our monthly share.) It's an excellent website. If you scroll through their tabs at the top you'll find what you need to know. And we'd be happy to give more of a testimony if you desire.

~ Avoiding credit card debt - We do not use credit cards for anything except for making a few online purchases (such as for school curriculum) once in a blue moon, for items that cannot be purchased via cash or check. People pay a price for borrowing money on credit, and with credit cards the interest rate is a killer. If we have an emergency purchase to put on the credit card such as an automobile repair, then we immediately start putting every extra pennies towards paying that off before any discretionary spending. We get out of that debt ASAP.

~ Being prepared with gasoline - We have a full-size, 12-passenger van, and to fill it up costs about $80-90. So instead of letting the tank drain down to empty, we fill it as soon as it reaches half empty, thus spending only $40-50 per week on gas or so, which helps our cash flow. Of course we spend the same amount of money on gas over all, but our cash flow is helped by spending only $40 at a time instead of $$90. This practice also helps us during those times when money is unusually tight because we always have at least a half-tank of gasoline and do not need to fill the tank that week. If we only drive for the necessities around town and to church, we can stretch that half tank of gas for a couple of weeks. Then as we can we get the tank back up to full again.

Using unexpected income wisely - This is a hugely valuable tip. When ever we have extra income we use that money very carefully to set ourselves up to be able to do even better on a smaller income. Extra income may come from things such as a Christmas bonus from work, tax returns, birthday money, maybe an insurance settlement from a car accident, maybe an inheritance. With this money we do practical helps - not a vacation or an experience. We've purchased things such as:

* A privacy fence for the back yard, enabling the children to play outside all the more freely without adult supervision, and enabling us to be using our back yard to it's fullest extent and not feeling the need to go other places that cost money. I can get things done inside (when I'm not out with the kids), and they can get exercise safely.

* Yard activities for the children to play with, such as toys for the "dirt box", balls, badminton or croquet games, a volley ball.

* Upgrading our Costco membership to a "Business Membership", enabling us to get a percentage of our spending back each year. This has equaled a $150-200 return for us usually, which not only is extra money we can use but we are also able to pay for our annual membership fee of $50 with that money. So Costco membership is in essence "free" for us now.

* Our full-size van with cash, and we could purchase a van with low miles and was in great condition and which should last us for many years.

* A food processor for the kitchen, enabling me to more easily prepare large quantities of soups and many numbers of recipes from home instead of purchasing them already prepared. I can make lots of things from scratch much more quickly, easily, and pleasantly. And a simple blessing like this does effect my attitude about making more foods myself, and provides more time for me to be with the family. *smile*

* Organizational items such as containers for the bulk items in the pantry or building a pantry itself, or clear tubs for the children's toys, shelving for a closet, building a large closet itself, or organizing recipes. All of these organizational projects do cost money - but then you have a home that is so pleasant to be in! Not overly cluttered or cramped, causing people to want to leave the house a lot, which costs money finding places to go. Staying home is very inexpensive. *smile*

* Other things for the home which also make it a more enjoyable place to be, such as a new CD to listen to, a scented candle or reed diffuser, books, games, even some nail polish so I can feel pretty but do a manicure for myself at home.

* Christmas gifts and homeschool curriculum - With our tax return every year we first pay off any debt we may have (we pursue not having any debt and basically do not use credit cards, but sometimes there are baby delivery costs or crisis such as car repair), and then we set aside budgeted money for Christmas gifts that year, and also for homeschool curriculum.

* An upright freezer - for lots of additional food storage, items puchased in bulk and/or on sale.  (see above photo)

Here is our approach for spending extra money wisely.  When the money comes, we come to an agreement about how long the money will sit in check form before it is deposited and spent.  Maybe a month.  Then we make a list of all the possible places the money could go, and how much each of those things cost.  We then let the time pass and think and pray about that list.  We ask the Lord how He would have us spend the money?  Paying off debt is always the first priority Biblically, but then what is the wisest way to spend the rest.  And we need to be open to the Spirit's lead and guidance.  

It is very common for the Lord to show me different priorities than I originally started out with.  Perhaps something that I really wanted actually was not that important compared to the other items on the list, once the "shine" wore off a bit.  *chuckle*  Or maybe something that I really desired to have but didn't think it would be prioritized over the other things, actually did have increased value for us, and my husband would say to, too.  *smile*  Then when it's time to spend the money there is most importantly agreement between Bob and I as to where the money should go, and there is peace in knowing that we're in agreement as best as we can be with the Lord's desires for the money.

~ Be aware of the little purchases - Things like purchasing coffee every morning on the way to work may seem like a small thing - but it really adds up. Here in WA, buying a latte every day at $4 each would add up to $120 per month. And like wise, saving just a little every time you shop, also can really add up as well.

~ Paying off medical debt - The one debt we've incurred on a fairly regular basis (but have paid off completely each time) has been debt from baby deliveries. When we had great health insurance (we no longer do through Bob's current employment) our remaining portion of the bill that was our responsibility equaled about $2000. We would first apply for financial aid through the hospital and after our application was considered (income vs. family size, etc.) they would reduce our hospital bill by about 60%. Then we arranged to be on payment plans for the 5 different places we owed money to: hospital, doctors for me, doctors for baby, anesthesiologist, and lab work. And we paid between $10-40 toward each of these until the bills were paid off which took about a year.

With Samaritan, for the hospitalization and doctor bills for the miscarriage we had in May of 2012 we paid the first $300 towards our total published "need" (which is all of our bills combined for a single medical need, such as this miscarriage). The rest of the more than $8,000 in bills is being taken care of through the co-op. Miraculous. *smile*


~ Doing side jobs - My husband is quick to look for side jobs he can do on weekends to earn extra money. He is a "handyman" and can do minor remodel work on homes, construction work, computer work, automotive work, photography. And the Lord has blessed us by sending good work for him to do when we've been in need. I encourage you to consider what gifts the Lord has given you to work with and see how you can develop those to earn a bit of extra money.

I have another close stay-at-home mom friend who would go very early in the morning (before her husband left for work) 3 days a week to clean a hair salon and earn some extra money that way.

Some other dear friends of ours encourage their children in interesting income-earning endeavors so that their children can help purchase things they need such as clothing and also have quite a lot of discretionary income to do with as they choose. One daughter sells Avon. Their son walks some neighbor's dogs, does lawn mowing and landscaping, and collects recycling. Another of their daughters makes darling frosted cup cakes and sells those once a week or so to kids coming off the school bus in their neighborhood.

All of these ideas do take time. And that can feel hard often times, because if my husband is working more than so am I at home of course. But we are doing our very best to work with what the Lord has given us. And I pray a lot, and lean on Him for strength and perseverance.

~ Selling things
- When there are times of extra-tight cash crunch, or we have a specific cash need that we cannot meet, then my husband just starts selling things that we do not need right at this minute or can live without.  For example, Bob is a great photographer and he has some very nice equipment (he's purchased used from Craig's list over time), but he has sold all of his equipment probably 3 different times over the course of our marriage because we needed the cash.   (He purchased equipment used again years later each time when we had a little gift money.)  He loves photography - but we can't eat his camera equipment.  *smile*  Bob is such a good example to me of holding lightly the material things we own, and keeping things in perspective.  It always makes me sad, but he just shrugs, and smiles, and says, It will be okay.  He has also sold some car stereo equipment he had purchased used, and a riffle he owned and the ammunition.  We've sold furniture we didn't really need but were storing in the garage because we liked it.  Things like that.  We do what we have to do. 

~ Possibly consider moving
- This may be a hard thing for many people to hear, but it needs to be mentioned. We've heard many people say that this just wouldn't be an option - but really what they're saying is, That's too much to ask. Or that would be too hard. But the Lord does not call us to do only the easy things. We need to follow Him no matter what the cost. *hugs* Sometimes a family has a small income, or the income has shrunk significantly due to changes in circumstances such as the loss of one job in a dual-income family, or a career change, and they then need to make big changes. Changing the area one lives in can make all the difference. Cost of living in different areas varies greatly.

And, with a move there can actually be huge blessing being in a like-minded community, where most everyone else is also single-income, values family and children, maybe home schools. We made a move like this and it was so, so good. Thankfully we did not have to move away from family, but we did move to a completely different geographical area and we've been way, way better off.

The Lord promises to take care of His children. *smile* But we need to align our mind with His. We need to prioritize what He prioritizes. Choose contentment and thankfulness in what He has given us. Sometimes we need to adjust our expectations and go with the flow better, and stop fighting His plan. We need to share our gifts and abilities with others in need (not always without any compensation of course, as there is a time to be paid for our work efforts and a time to just offer them as a gift - after all, the Lord gave us the gift of the abilities in the first place). We need to immerse ourselves in His Word so that we can find peace and comfort there, instead of worrying or becoming overly fretful about our financial situation. 

And we need to make wise choices with the finances the Lord has given us. Not that it's not good to pursue improving our financial situation as we go through life. Doing so is a healthy use of our growing skills and knowledge. But we do not need to fear or become distraught about current financial situations we find ourselves in. 

Blessings on your efforts,

Recommended resource:

You may also be interested in my related post:
Marriage - Our High Priority  (smaller income or not *smile*)


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