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How to Survive on One Income

When Jesse and I got pregnant with our first child, I was working full time as a sign language interpreter for the county schools. Jesse was going to aviation mechanic school full-time, working a part-time job, and we honestly couldn’t figure out how we would make my dream a reality, to be a stay-at-home-mom.

Nine months and a couple miracles later, our little Roo was born and I became a stay-at-home-mom! It has not been easy financially, but has it been worth it? You betcha! I wouldn’t trade being with my girls for anything in the world. With that being said, I wanted to share all the tips I could think of with yall, in case you are wondering how to survive on one income. Even if you arent in that position, who doesnt like to save money?

Lets start with food. I love food; eating it, talking about it, you name it. 🙂

When Jesse and I were first married, we made a budget and found that we could live on $50/week for groceries. (This was back in 2008. Grocery prices may have fluctuated a little bit since then, but you get the point.) And now that we have two kids, I get about $87/week for groceries and home items like napkins, toilet paper, etc. Each week I plan out our meals on paper and write up a grocery list in order to keep me in budget, and to help me resist those tempting impulse buys.

My list consists of your basic, every day items. In order to keep things cost effective, I stay away from recipes with weird/expensive ingredients that would only be used one time and waste away in the fridge. Speaking of cost effective, I have to be smart about meat purchases. Meat is typically the most expensive item on my bill, so I stick to the basics- ground beef or turkey (which I never pay over $3/lb for) and chicken breasts. I’m not serving fancy steaks over here every night! A little trick I have found with chicken, is that every couple of weeks, it goes on sale at my local store for $1.99/lb. I ONLY buy the chicken when it is on sale, and I stock up on it and freeze it so that I wont have to pay full price. Also, when I boil the chicken, I save the broth in jars and freeze it so that I never have to buy canned chicken broth.

I realized that buying juice and soda was a money pit, so I don’t buy that unless it is a special occasion. That will save you a lot of money right there!

I used to buy the instant oatmeal packets, but realized that was a money pit too, so now I buy the big can of quick cook oats and make my own. I love to heat up my milk in the microwave, then add the oatmeal and a handful of dried blueberries. It is too good.

I use coupons when I can but am not extreme in any way. I shop at ALDI about every other month to stock up (the store is kinda far) and that saves me a ton! If I could shop there every week, I would never have to cut a coupon again.

I also buy a lot of generic items. They are great, and I often like them more than the real brand. One of my favorite Kroger deals is their honey wheat bread. It’s only $1 a loaf and always very fresh.

I don’t like to let things go bad in the fridge, so I use my leftovers to make something new. For example. I found a great way to use leftover white rice as fried rice. It was a hit!

Ok these next three things may make you roll your eyes or think I’m crazy, but I rinse out and reuse paper towels, heavy duty zip lock bags (if they didn’t get yucky) and I save my butter wrappers in the freezer to grease baking pans.

You still with me? Or ready to turn me in to the loony bin?

Moving on to baby stuff…
You don’t need to buy your kid every toy on the shelf. Surprise! I have some awesome friends & family that I have inherited toys from. Or if I am buying the toy, it is probably coming from a garage sale. I have bought a handful of new items for them, but they have to be REALLY cool for me to justify it. Like this awesome Melissa and Doug beach set. Roo LOVES this thing, at home or at the beach! Another toy tip- let the grandparents/aunts/etc buy the toys for holidays.

I breastfeed my babies until they are at least one year old. That is free and will save you from having to buy formula. I love my Medela pump.

I make my own baby food to save money. You can learn how to do that here.

I buy my kids clothes at thrift stores, consignment sales, or from the sale rack. I love to go to Target for their end-of-season sale and stock up for the next year.

Speaking of Target, their diapers are my FAVORITE and they just happen to be the cheapest! Huggies and pampers are great, especially when they are given to me at a baby shower. I really like Luvs too. But when I am buying the diapers, it’s Target Up&Up. (They are about .14 per diaper while Huggies and Pampers average about .26 per diaper)

Diapers have come a long way and no longer need to be changed after three drops of tee-tee in them. I change wet diapers every three hours. (Poopy diapers get changed immediately of course to avoid smell, rash, and explosion.)

When it comes to wipes, my husband and family make fun of me, but I rip them in half. Ha Ha Ha yeah yeah get it all out. You done? 🙂 ok so my hands are small and this is what a normal size wipe looks like in my hand:

It os awkward to wipe a baby’s bottom with that big ol thing floppin around. Now when I rip it in half, it is a much better fit.

Saving pennies. Every little bit helps, right?

My last category is home life.
The biggest point that I want to get across here, is that you want to cut down as many fixed expenses as you can.
For some people, a monthly cable bill is a fixed expense. We do not subscribe to cable. Instead we purchased a tv antenna that gives us all the basic channels, and it was just a one time cost! We get ABC, FOX, CBS, NBC and many more local channels. They are crystal clear. We do subscribe to Netflix though. It’s just $8 a month. Poor mans cable. 🙂

We do not have a home phone, but we do have a family cell plan and get a discount through my husbands job. You would be surprised at the long list of discounts your cell phone provider is willing to do…I was!

Jesse shopped around for insurance to find the best deal and we combined our home and car insurance policies to save some money.

We both drive used cars.

When we bought our Suburban, we were tempted to subscribe to the OnStar features and XM radio, but they are fixed expenses that we don’t want or need. Thanks but no thanks.

I wash all our laundry on Mondays. One load right after another, to keep the dryer hot and therefor, save on the energy bill.

Our thermostat is set on 76 in the summer and in the 60s in the winter.

Every night when I remove my mascara, I use only half of a cotton ball. Lol. Even I laugh when I realize how kooky I am.

I use up every last drop of toothpaste and lotion. I have no shame to cut open the lotion bottle to get all the goody out.

As for the toothpaste, Jesse found these squeeze things and they work great for getting out the last bit.

Jesse and I each have an allowance that we get each pay period. We get $25 loaded onto an AmericanExpress prepaid card (no fees) and we can use that money guilt-free, without having to consult with the other about, “do we have room in our budget?”

Last but not least, when my family exchanges Christmas gift lists at Thanksgiving, I ask for items that may seem to be a Target shopping list. Razors, cover girl mascara, lightbulbs, etc. I ask for things that I need and are practical. My husband thinks this is hilarious.

**update 03.04.13- We love using BillCutterz.com to negotiate our bills. They have lowered our gas bill & cell phone, just to name a few. Check out Jesse’s post about them here.

What do you do to save money in your home? I am always looking for new ways! 🙂


{ 26 comments… add one }
  • Heidi July 31, 2012, 10:55 am

    These tips are great! We do almost all of these same things, even down to asking for practical gifts. One year, for my birthday, my mom got me beef gelatin (for making marshamllows and jello). That might be the weirdest practical gift I’ve ever asked for. And my aunt bought me a bunch of tubes of Bert’s Bees Wax chapstick. The luxuries that I hate to spend money on make the best gifts!

  • Megan July 31, 2012, 11:37 am

    I’m super impressed! Great tips!

  • Cassie Smith July 31, 2012, 12:39 pm

    Wow! This is great 🙂 We are a family of 5 and we do a budget of $150 every 2 weeks. So glad you shared your blog. You and Jesse are an inspiration to everyone that is trying to live in a frugal way 🙂 I have found that the slow cooker saves us a lot of time and money.

  • Ruth July 31, 2012, 2:32 pm

    Kudos! Have you tried craisins in your oatmeal yet? My sister served me some at my last visit and it was yummy! (I never would have tried it on my own as I don’t care for raisins in my oatmeal.) Your post reminds me of days gone by in my life.

  • Mary W. July 31, 2012, 2:41 pm

    I STILL do the butter wrapper thing. It’s good practice, and tastes better than Pam.

  • For the Love of French July 31, 2012, 2:44 pm

    We are in the process of fixing up an area in our backyard for chickens, for eggs (and meat when they get old). We are also going to raise rabbits for meat, we decided they breed often enough that they will pay for themselves fast. We have started a compost pile so that in a couple months we can begin our garden.

    I love craigslist. We got our washer and dryer there for $50 for the pair. I looked their for wood and everything really. We made our chicken coop out of two end tables and a metal door that we didn’t need anymore. So the coop cost us $7 which was just for the screws and I didn’t even use all the screws. ( well I guess you can include the hinges and handles and hook and eye lock, that would all equal $7)

  • hannah July 31, 2012, 3:19 pm

    i cut my dryer sheets in half. they say each sheet will last 2 loads but if i cut them in half when i first get the box i dont have to worry about remembering what use i am on. we by in bulk and cut out going out to eat except on special days.

  • Janna July 31, 2012, 10:07 pm

    I’m loving these tips, keep ’em coming!

  • Janna August 1, 2012, 1:10 pm

    I forgot to mention a couple other tips: I like to rent kid movies from the library for Roo & I to watch together. It’s free! And pinterest.com is a great resource for practically anything, but I really love to find DIY cleaning product ideas on there. My latest favorite, clean the toilet with baking soda. Pour it in, leave it for 30 minutes, then the water rings scrub off easily.

  • Kathleen and Javier August 6, 2012, 9:51 pm

    This might sound strange and a little silly, but after moving into the house we are in now, for some reason our light bulbs are constantly blowing out. Every time we replace one, another one goes out usually the same day. (I have wondered if there is something wrong with the wiring or voltage or something). But anyways, I HATE the fluorescent bulbs that are supposed to save money- the light they give off puts me in a bad mood for some reason and makes me feel like I am in a hospital. Another thing, we have ceiling fans in almost every room of our house and the fans each take 4 bulbs! Plus, in the bedrooms, for reading we have lamps and there is also some recessed lighting in the bathrooms and kitchen. So, literally, lighting our house can be very expensive. We have finally decided and agreed to only put a few light bulbs in each fan (except the one in the common room where visitors sit). We don’t even put any bulbs in Kayden’s fan. Nadia gets two because her reading lamp is not as bright as Kayden’s 🙂 He just has one reading lamp and that’s all! He has to use the light of day to light his room otherwise. After dealing with this, I realized, that if I ever was to build my own house I would make sure to add in extra windows or sky lights to eliminate the need to use electricity and light bulbs Or at least plan the placing of the windows in relation to where the sun is located and best able to deliver light. Natural light is so much more soothing and peaceful anyways, don’t you agree?

    • Janna August 7, 2012, 3:04 pm

      I agree one hundred percent Kathleen! Good idea to use reading lamps and daylight. I prefer daylight too.

      • Janna August 11, 2012, 9:33 pm

        I thought of another money pit- buying taco seasoning! I make my own with chili powder, cumin, crushed red pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, salt & pepper

        • Kathleen August 12, 2012, 4:51 pm

          The comment about the taco seasoning is great and made me think of something we do to save money- we make our own Italian Sausage and breakfast sausage. I started that when I tried to go gluten free for Nadia and store bought sausage has gluten and other things like nitrites/nitrates and then buying organic/gf sausage is ridiculously expensive. So, I finally researched online and came up with my own recipes, or rather, figured out how to do it. I don’t really have a “recipe” and have no idea the amounts of things I put in as it depends on what I feel like 😉 But, I thought I would mention that…

          • Janna August 14, 2012, 1:12 pm

            Good idea! If you can make it cheaper yourself, then why not? And it’s healthier too!

  • Amanda August 7, 2012, 6:23 am

    Hello! I don’t think I’ve met you, Janna, but I know Jesse from back in Port Orchard.

    I really like the butter wrapper idea! And the $25 amex per diem is a pretty good one too- Although I don’t think I could get by on only that much spending money- ha!

    • Janna August 7, 2012, 2:58 pm

      Hey Amanda, do whatever works! 🙂

  • Faye Harris October 25, 2012, 10:18 am

    Would you consider cloth diapering? Have you considered it and decided not to do it because of water/electricity costs for the washing machine?

    Water is included in our rent so without that added expense we have chosen that option–

    • Janna November 3, 2012, 9:18 pm

      You hit the nail on the head. Yes my top three reasons for not cloth diapering were 1) more water usage 2) more electricity 3) yucky stuff in my washing machine. Do you do it? Do you like it?

      • Kathleen November 3, 2012, 9:58 pm

        Janna, I agree on your comment about cloth diapers. I guess maybe I’m germophobic when it comes to that-

        • Kathleen November 3, 2012, 10:00 pm

          But if I was more organized with my laundry and didn’t allow things to lie around and get yuckier, maybe I would try it. 😉

          • Janna November 5, 2012, 9:59 pm

            LOL Kathleen. Will there be another baby to diaper soon? 😉

          • Kathleen November 5, 2012, 10:15 pm

            Good question 😀

      • Faye Harris November 6, 2012, 3:23 pm

        Yeah, I cloth diaper and I love it. I didn’t buy newborn sizes so I used disposables until he grew into them, about 6 or 7 weeks old. I can’t imagine in the beginning though trying to manage the laundry on top of being a new mother BUT when I have the next child I will buy newborn size diapers so I can put them on the baby in the hospital. It felt like he could feel the difference.

        As far as extra laundry, sure, its more but I am already home and it doesn’t put a large dent in my day time wise. I am used to the pattern now so its not so bad. Water is included in my rent so it doesn’t cost me more. Power bill is still under $100 a month. After using both, I prefer the cloth. Especially with him drinking breast milk its really no big mess…but I know I wouldn’t use disposables especially after trying them. (They also make really cute styles and it’s really fun….the key is to not get addicted to having to purchase more and more but when you’re on a budget you find you don’t overspend)

  • Laura Johnson November 26, 2012, 2:20 pm

    Janna, I think I need to hang out with you more. I never knew you were this savvy! I have big hands so I won’t be tearing baby wipes in half, but maybe I’ll stop using two at a time :/ Freezing butter wrappers?? This is amazing stuff. You must have cringed when we went out to eat and I mentioned that I forgot to use my 15% off card. I thought I was savvy, but I’ve got nothing on you. I have a friend who used to live here and swore by ALDI. I’ve only been once, but maybe I should give it another look.

    • Janna November 26, 2012, 3:00 pm

      Laura, you crack me up! Thank you for the compliments and I would love to learn how you are savvy. The more you go to ALDI, the more you will realize how awesome it is. And good news- they are building one close to us by Fall 2013! You will be hooked!

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