15 Ways To Enjoy Family Life on a Tight Budget

This summer marks the beginning of our family living on one income, so our tight budget just got tighter…  Here are some of the ways that we have learned to live more frugally over the years.   I’d love to hear your comments about additional ways your family enjoys life on a modest income.


I’ll start with food, because that seems to be where we have wasted (and now saved!) the most significant amount.

1.  Smart Shopping–Don’t wait until you are desperate for something to buy it.  Instead, wait until it goes on sale (rock-bottom-price), and stock up.  Stores typically have a 6-8 week sale cycle, and most of our daily staples eventually go on major sale.  You can cut your grocery bill in half if you will wait until things are buy one, get one free and stock up.  This is changing my life.

2.  Couponing!  I used to think people who stood around in the grocery aisle sorting through an insignificant bundle of 25-cent coupons were completely wasting their time.  Since then, I have learned that combining store sales and coupons, I can get most groceries for 1/3-1/4 the normal price.  I get lots of things for free, and through smart shopping and couponing alone, I have cut our grocery bill to less than 1/3 what it used to be.  That saves us hundreds of dollars per month.  I use Southern Savers to help me match up coupons and store sales.  You can find answers to all your couponing questions there.

3.  Eat at Home–With all your cheap groceries, you will have plenty of food to cook for your family.

4.  Save Some For Later–Experiment with recipes that can be frozen.  After you make a meal, save a little in the freezer, thaw it a few days later, and taste it.  If it is good, then next time, double your recipe.  Eat one meal and save another for later.  Cooking like this saves a lot of time and energy, cooking and cleaning up.  And that makes eating at home a lot more enjoyable.

5.  Baby Food–Make your own and never again pay 75 cents for a tiny jar of mushed up veggies or fruits.  Your baby will be more accustomed to the family foods if he starts eating them early on.


6.  Barter–We have had amazing barter relationships over the last few years.  We have bartered for meals from local restaurants, handmade soaps, lawn care, babysitting, house-cleaning, and more.  In exchange for these things, we have taught music lessons, delivered goods, cooked meals, baked cookies, given concerts, and made handmade gifts.  Bartering is easy.  Just think of things you have to offer.  Make a list if you have to.  And just ask.  You may think you don’t have any skills that would be worth bartering for, but I assure you, there is something you can do that would make someone else’s life easier/better/more enjoyable.

7.  Second-Hand–I cannot shop for clothes in real stores.  It is too much pressure.  Most of the clothes we buy are second-hand.  There are lots of good thrift stores, and some of them have great sales.  Our favorite is called Metro Thrift Store, and on Mondays, everything is half off.  We usually make a day of it, buy a sack-full of clothes for each of us, and end up paying about $75.  Especially with children, whose bodies are in a constant state of change, this system has worked well for our family.  And it is very much like hunting for treasure, which makes it even more fun.  Better yet, swap clothes with a friend.  My favorite clothes have been hand-me-downs from my friends…

8.  Make Your Own Gifts–And cards and wrapping paper.  Or better yet, let your children do it!  They will love it doing this.  Get online and look for simple things you can make.  Homemade baking mixes, one-of-a-kind paper dolls, a handmade stationary set, handmade magnets, etc.  Regift items that you no longer use/need that would make someone else happy.  Get your children involved in the gift-making/wrapping project.

9.  Learn How To Make Your Own–If there is something you love, get books from the library or do a google search, and figure out how to make it yourself.  Favorite foods/drinks, journals, quilts, birdhouses, etc.  Don’t assume you can’t do something just because you tried it when you were younger and it didn’t work out.  Or because someone told you that you were not very creative/artsy/craftsy.  If you can read directions and follow them, you can learn how to make SO MANY THINGS!  If you aren’t good at following directions, find someone who knows and ask them to show you.  If you have to, barter for the knowledge (cleaning bathrooms, walking dogs, house-sitting, etc.).  But don’t just buy everything you want.  Many things can be made.


10.  Do you need Cable?  I don’t know if everyone would be happy with this situation, but we have lived our whole married life without cable or satellite.  We watch movies and have had seasons of Netflix, but we are quite content without the constant buzz of the tv.  It is still a fight to keep the kids from watching it too much, even when we are in complete control of the movie selection.  There are lots of cheaper alternatives to cable/satellite.  And it’s no secret that we all watch too much TV.  Maybe you could cancel and put the money you have saved in some kind of vacation fund or family night/date night jar…  That would be nice.

11.  Go to the LIBRARY!  Not just for books, but for all the amazing special programs they have for your kids.  Our library has free events all summer long for children.  In our GA PINES library system, you can actually check out a pass to get into state parks free.  Last year, we checked out a Zoo Pass, and our entire family (of 5) went to the Atlanta Zoo for free.  Go to the library and ask what kind of special passes they have.  Take advantage of this amazing resource.

12.  Go Outside!  To the park, on a hike, to the river, in your own back yard.  Go anywhere, but go out.  There is something so healthy and refreshing about being outside.  And it is free!

13.  Picnic–This turns any meal into something special for our kids.  Especially if the whole family is present.  Another perk of picnics is there is no food on the kitchen floor to sweep up, which saves a lot of time in my messy family.  Find a shady spot and make a nice memory for your children.

14.  Books--Read them aloud as a family or listen to audiobooks while you do boring housework.  Listening to audiobooks makes me really happy.  There have been times I have actually looked forward to getting the kids to bed and doing the dishes, because I knew I was going to pick up a story where I left it off.  I do my best cleaning while absorbed in a story.  You can get books on cd at the library, or you can listen to lots of older books (in the public domain) on a site I just discovered, Books Should Be Free.  They have lots of classics, read by volunteer voices.  I like the idea of continuing my education while cleaning my kitchen.  And I like that my children can listen to classic literature while drawing pictures, building with blocks, etc.

15.  Pick up a new skill or hobby.  Entertain yourself while learning a new instrument, how to sew, how to garden, etc..  Pursue an activity that interests you.  If you can include your children in the endeavor, all the better.  Give them kid-sized tasks that are somehow related to what you are doing.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Kim Bohannon says:

    OH! what wonderful ideas! Thanks Mackenzie for sharing all this with me! You have inspired me to greater heights!

  2. Kim Bohannon says:

    oops, with us… lol…

  3. theRands says:

    We’ve never had cable either 🙂
    One thing that helps me a lot is making a menu for 1-2 weeks ahead of time and shopping accordingly. That way I don’t have tons of food in the fridge/pantry that I can’t make anything with.
    Have you tried making your own household cleaners? I was not particularly fond of the laundry soap I made, but it wasn’t bad and was very cheap. The homemade wet wipes are the way to go, though. I don’t think I’m even buying those again if I can help it.
    Also, we don’t have smart phones, which saves us at least $60 a month (no data plans for us!) Yes, I would love to have an iPhone, but I truly honestly don’t need one, since I have Internet access both at work and at home, and the cheapy navigation system in the car is all we need on the road. We have 1 laptop, 1 iPod, 1 video game system that works as a DVD-player, and that’s about it. It really is enough for us.

    1. theRands says:

      oh, and one more thing: grow your own herbs/green onions!