How You Can Get By With Less and Still Be Happy…

In Homestead Finances and Self-Employment by Contributor

by Sarah L

I was raised in a very religious, conservative family. My parents had several of us kids that they were putting through private schools, so there was never any extra money. We lived below “paycheck to paycheck”. I’ve been to food pantries, salvage stores, garage sales, and used coupons. Anything to save money. I decided when I was grown I was living high on the hog…no more pinching pennies for me!!

Well, turns out saving had become a way of life. When my ex-husband left us, I discovered he had taken my credit cards and charged thousands of dollars. At the time I was working a part-time job (and recovering from cancer and had 2 toddlers). I immediately was put into a dire situation of paying these bills off or ruining my credit. I used a debt consolidation place for over a year only to discover the total amount of my bills wasn’t coming down. I then got a signature loan from a credit union and was able to pay off my bills within the next year.

One way I used to mentally trick myself into paying off more of the debt faster was to pay a few extra dollars on my monthly utility bills (works best with utility bills as they credit your account). If I owed $60, I’d pay $65. I would do this every month until I was one full month ahead on that bill.

Then I would move on to another utility bill. I would do the same thing there. Eventually, I had enough paid ahead that I would “cash in” and use my credits to pay those bills that month. That way, the month I used all the utility credits, I would be making a double payment on my debt. I know this is really just a mental trick, but it was easier to put a few extra dollars onto a small bill and then be able to make a larger payment on the big bill as opposed to putting a few dollars on the big bill and not really being able to see any progress in paying it off.

You have to have a mentality that you will not spend unless it’s absolutely necessary. We were eating as frugally as possible, not going out to eat, not going anywhere that cost anything. We found lots of free entertainment and activities to do!!

Another way of saving money or stretching what you have is to use coupons. I’m not into the “Extreme Couponing” craze. If I have a coupon for something I normally buy, I will use it. However, if I don’t normally buy name brand products, then I’m not saving money by switching to a name brand to use a coupon when it’s still more expensive then the off brand. I know how much money I can spend each month. If I don’t have extra money, I don’t look at the ads that come out (other than grocery stores). I don’t go to a garage sale (no matter how tempting it may be) if I don’t have money to spend. I also weigh the cost of saving a few cents with driving across town (is it worth the gas to save a penny-probably not!).

During this time when I was newly divorced and had NO money, I picked up a deer that had been hit on the road in front of me. I called a friend and he helped me field dress it. We had been eating tuna helper with no tuna so having a freezer full of meat was a huge blessing. Another friend invited me to go deer hunting the next year.

He loaned me a gun and took me with him to some property he had permission to hunt on. It took 2 years but I finally got a deer and have every year since. When my son shot his first deer at 8 he was so proud to tell everyone that he had brought Bambi home for his family! Now, we bag at least 3 deer a year and that’s our meat for the year unless I can shoot something else we can eat (squirrel, rabbit, etc.).

I’ve learned how to hunt all kinds of game (and cook with the meat – it’s all in the way you cook it.) Hunting is a great way to get inexpensive meat for the table. Most hunters would gladly help a newbie and show them the ropes, lend a gun, etc. I would encourage anyone interested in taking up the sport to go to a Hunter’s Education Class. Most state Fish & Game Departments have programs to teach new hunters (or anglers). Most Departments have hunts for new hunters where they provide the gun & the place to hunt.

I’ve gardened and canned since I was a little girl. Most University Extension offices have canning classes. If you buy a “Blue Book” it walks you through the process step by step. A canner is a big expense but well worth it as it will last for years. If you can find someone who cans they can mentor you and help you along the way.

I’ve been fortunate to garden my whole life. I always meet people who are just starting to garden and decide to grow 50 tomatoes or 20 zucchini plants. They are just setting themselves up for a failure (with the weeds alone). I advise going slow if you are new to gardening.

Plant a FEW plants, that you know you’ll like. Learn about gardening, then plant a few more the next year. I tell new gardeners to plant what is native to the area or will grow well in the zone you’re in. If you’re in northern Wisconsin, for example, peanuts and okra won’t be good plants for you!!

Plant both vegetables and flowers that are native to your area and you will have a lot fewer headaches trying to grow them. Do some research…there is a ton of information online. Go to a garden center…go to a garden club…stop by someone’s house that has a garden and ask for help. I’m always excited when someone stops by my house and asks for gardening help.

There are also a lot of free edible things out there in parks, cemeteries, etc. It’s amazing how many people I meet picking mulberries that don’t know what a mulberry is! Do a little research and learn what’s out there. It’s exciting to get food for your family from little seeds or from areas that people don’t think of.

I hope these hints can help someone.