Living on a Budget

By: Kris Berry

When my husband and I found out we were expecting twins our initial financial plans went flying out the window.  I had originally planned on returning to work once I had the baby at least part time.  But when we factored the cost of daycare times two we realized the majority of my salary would be going to day care.  For us, it made more financial sense for me to become a full time stay at home mom.  We quickly went from two people living on two decent incomes to four people living on one.  We knew that we needed to make some changes in our budget.

One of the first things I did was to scour the internet for information on budgeting and shopping and living on a budget.  I quickly learned there was an entire world of blogs and chat rooms devoted to saving money.  These blogs have taught me so much on changing the way I shop and how I look at money.  I’m going to share here some of what I consider to be the most important tips when trying to live on a budget.  These are things that work for my family, they might not work for yours.  Try one, try them all, see what works for you.

1) Change the way you shop

I basically shop from the circulars.  The grocery stores put out their circulars on Thursdays and their sales begin on Friday.  I will flip through the circular on Thursday and match up any sales that are going on with any coupons I have.  Combining sales and coupons make for very cheap, or even free, products.  I am not an extreme couponer.  I have three children, I do not have the time to spend hours a week on this.  Plus, there are five of us living in about 1200 square feet, I do not have the space for a stock pile of anything.  I have learned that sales go in cycles.  If something hits what I consider to be a “rock bottom price” (for example my price for boneless skinless chicken is $1.69-$1.99/lb) I will stock up for a few weeks.  I know it will go back on sale again.

2) Use cash

This one was a bit hard for us to transition to, but has really helped us stick to our budget.  I read a book by Dave Ramsey and he advises to switch to a cash-only system.  Basically what we do is sit down at the beginning of the month and look at how our money is going to be spent that month.  Some months we have more going out than others (Christmas, birthdays, weddings, etc…) so we budget for that.  Then we withdraw cash from the bank and put it into different envelopes.  Each envelope has a purpose (grocery, clothing, household) and when the money is gone it’s gone.  You can switch money from one envelope to another but you can not withdraw more money from the bank.  At first I was a bit leery about using this system.  We get points for using our credit card and we pay it off in full every month.  It seemed like a useless method to use cash.  But we decided to try it for a few months to see how it worked for us and we quickly realized that we had been spending money outside of our budget because it was so easy with the credit card.  When I am in Target and I physically only have $20 to spend, I only spend $20.  When I’m in Target with my credit card I can easily spend $50 without blinking an eye.

3) Play the “CVS Game”

This one has been the most fun for me.  Since I have been doing this (about 3 years now) I have not paid for toothpaste, shampoo, soap, tissues, and basically all of our toiletries.  Money Saving Mom does a really good job explaining how it works, you can check out her tutorial here.  Basically, CVS rewards you for buying certain products with their extra care bucks.  These “bucks” are used like money.  You can roll them over by using them to buy other products that also generate extra care bucks.  The idea is to “buy” items when they are free, and you should get to the point where you no longer have to run out to the store because you are out of something.  It has been amazing for me to see what I can “buy” for free each week at CVS.

4) Shop locally or participate in a CSA

I try to feed my family organically when at all possible, which (for most people) seems counterintuitive to using coupons.  I don’t buy processed food and I try to make things from scratch when possible.  There are many ways to purchase good, healthy produce and save money.  There is always at least one type of vegetable on sale every week in the store flyers.  I will always buy what is on sale.  Also, my grocery stores have racks of produce that is getting close to turning.  I will always check them out to see if there is anything worth buying.  Often times, there are items I can blanch and freeze or even cook up that night for dinner.  CSAs and Farmer’s Markets are two other ways to get local fresh produce at a decent price.  Some CSAs will offer discounts if you volunteer to help with the farm.

5) Buy in advance

I have saved tons of money by thinking ahead to my family’s future needs.  When clothing is marked down toward the end of a season, I will buy clothes for my kids for next year.  I watch the clearance toy aisles at stores and buy items when they are marked down and put them away until the holidays.  I also keep in mind my nieces and nephews when I’m out shopping and if I see something marked down that they would be interested in, I pick it up for a birthday or Christmas present and stash it away.  Shopping this way has eliminated me having to run out before a birthday party or Christmas and spend more than I have to on a gift.

6) Don’t be impulsive

Remember, just because something seems like a good “deal,” doesn’t mean it is.  If it’s not something you would have spent money on it had it not been on sale, it is not a good deal.  I tend to shop around if there’s something I need or want.  Do an internet search for the item, chances are you will find it cheaper if you look around.  Also, I always look online for coupon codes or printable coupons before I buy anything.  More often than not I can save a few more dollars just by finding a coupon or a code.

Like I said, these are just a few things that have worked for us.  Take them or leave them!  Are you on a budget?  I’d love to hear your money-saving tips!

4 thoughts on “Living on a Budget

  1. Great tips! I have used the Dave Ramsey system for a few years and it has definitely changed the way I approach money. We decided that for family reasons, I needed to change my career to something more “family-friendly” and have had to tighten up on some things. I have found that planning the meals for the week and an extra freezer have been a big help as I often buy meat (in particular) in quantity when on sale. I also shop at a grocery store where the points I earn for shopping there lower my gas costs. I then make sure to fill up the bigger vehicle when I have a lot of points, to take full advantage of the reduction in price per gallon. My family is happier and it forces us to really think about the things that are important to us so we can prioritize them too.

  2. Good tips.

    One of the biggest things I have learned since having to budget for a family of five is to really understand want vs. need.

    Needs are where the money goes. Wants wait until special days or, in some cases freecycle or hand-me-down scores.

    Also, I have become quite good at finding free and low cost entertainment.

    I commend you for making the choice to stay at home and to begin “living like no one else so you can live like no one else” as Dave Ramsey says.

  3. A website called can also help you save on groceries. Here’s how it works: KitchenMonki allows you to organize your recipes in an iTunes-like fashion, plan meals, and have a mobile grocery list delivered to your phone for easier shopping. But here’s the cool part: The mobile grocery list is broken down aisle-by-aisle, so that when it comes time to shop, you can enter the grocery store with a detailed shopping plan and avoid the lure of in-store marketing – which is specifically engineered to capture unorganized shoppers that browse each aisle. (In-store marketing is on the rise and data shows that it can drive up to 50% of the total grocery purchase.) KitchenMonki is a free website that can save shoppers money by mitigating unnecessary impulse purchases – and save them time by getting them in-and-out of the store quickly. Plus, it’s a perfect compliment to traditional couponing.

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