Less is More: Lessons from our little basement apartment


A lot of you know that my husband and I spent the first three and half years of our marriage with him in law school and us living on a part-time income. We never went hungry and we always had a roof over our head and clothes to wear, but it was a very lean time.

During those years, we lived in a little basement apartment that only had four windows on one side. I could plug the vacuum cleaner into one outlet and vacuum the entire apartment without ever switching outlets.

We only had one old vehicle almost the entire law school tenure and Jesse usually used it for transportation from work and school. We knew hardly anyone in town we lived in–in spite of many efforts to try and make friends–and there were really not any safe places I could walk to from our apartment.

It would have been easy to have been swallowed up in despair and I won’t pretend there weren’t moments when I felt sorry for myself or wished we could be living in a little better circumstances. However, I decided, with God’s help, to try and make the most of what might seem like a less-than-ideal situation.

Maybe we didn’t have money to go out, but I challenged myself to think up creative ways we could still have fun without spending money. We’d check out a movie from the
library and have homemade pizza. In the Winter, we’d brew some coffee, pop some popcorn, and play a board game. Sometimes, we’d go to the park with a picnic or we’d browse the book selection at Barnes and Noble.

We didn’t have money to spend on decorating our home, but I still found ways to make it homey and inviting. For starters, I tried to always keep it clean and
clutter-free–even if it wasn’t very pretty, at least it could smell nice and look clean! We tried to have music playing in the background and that always spruced up a rather bare home, too.

We couldn’t afford fancy foods or restaurant meals, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t eat well. I had fun trying new recipes, searching out good deals, and stretching our grocery budget as far as possible. I discovered AllRecipes.com and enjoyed using their ingredient search feature to come up with new recipes to use what I already had on hand.

Instead of going out and buying things, I’d go to the library and check out a stack of books. Sometimes we’d check out CD’s too, so we’d have new music to play in our home throughout the week.

It was also in this little basement apartment that I first began blogging and tinkering around with online entrepreneurial things. Had it not been for the free time and lack of friends, I would have never even considered pursuing blogging or had the time to learn about basic web design, online marketing, or producing an ebook or ecourse. Little did I dream that in a few years, those same skills would allow me to help supplement our family’s income by doing something I very much enjoy while keeping my priorities as a wife and mother first and foremost.

And guess what? It was holed up in this little basement apartment with sometimes only $20 to spare for groceries for the week that I was searching grocery deals online and came upon this store called CVS that everyone in a now-defunct savings forum was raving about. I could never have imagined what that simple search would uncover for me that day, nor how many thousands of other individuals I’d have the opportunity to introduce to CVS as well!

Yes, living in that little basement apartment in an unfamiliar town barely squeaking by financially would never have been something I would have chosen for myself, but I’ll always be grateful God allowed me those three and half years of learning to be content, learning to love simplicity, and learning to make the most of what I had.  And I hope I never forget those lessons.

A cheerful attitude can go a long way in less-than-ideal situations; you can either complain about the thorns or you can savor the roses which bloom in the
midst of those thorns. Choose to bloom where you’re planted–even if it seems like it’s among thorns!

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  1. says

    I totally agree! A positive attitude can go a long way. My husband and I lived in a 900 square foot house for the first five years we were married. The last couple of months it was tight with the birth of our second born son. Oh, and did I mention that we had no air conditioning, lol. We also used to check out movies from the library. Now I am thankful we had those years because we appreciate everything we have now so much more.

  2. Anna says

    want to send a quick note…. I so enjoy your websites/blogs! I found them during midnight nursings trying to stay awake, but now find myself checking in frequently. Thanks for the encouragement!

  3. Wendi S says

    Thanks for this post! I have been focusing on being content with what I have in the way of material things, but your essay opened my eyes to the fact that I have not been doing the same with my situation, outside of material possessions. I have been allowing our circumstances — how much dh works, the fact that he works nights and I don’t like his schedule, some marital stress, never enough time — get me down. I now realize I will be much more joyful and blessed if I strive to be content with, make the most of, and see the positive/blessings in “how” we live, not just “what” we have.

  4. Mar says

    This is a very nice post. Sometimes I feel sorry for myself and just need to sit down and thank God for everything I have rather than despair over what I think is missing.

    I’ve also found out that things work out the way they do for a reason. I bought a house before my daughter was born. Once she came along, I realized the value of a good neighborhood school because we did not have one! I ended up sending her to a Lutheran school and it’s been such a blessing these last 8 years! If I bought a home in our current neighborhood back then, we would never have been blessed enough to have her attend this school because the neighborhood schools are fine.

    Finally, you’re totally correct about keeping your place clean and decluttered. It’s so much easier mentally to look at a neat space than at a messy one!

  5. says

    Wow, my situation is similar to where yours was. We are now in a basement apartment we recently remodeled, driving an old car, paying of my teaching degree of which I am using to homeschool. :) (and I love it!) It was this situation that led me to seek out how I could do things differently in our home to save money. Since starting in April I have consistently brought our grocery bill down 30% a week! And we are still in the stockpiling phase! I do still want for things, things I could be doing or have if we were out of debt. (ie. we are still living in partial construction) Every time I start wishing for something other than what I have, I ask the Lord to let me feel the pain of this debt so I will never make that choice again!

    Thanks for sharing Crystal.

  6. Thuy says

    I completely appreciate what you and your husband have gone through. I am about to start law school myself and have been stocking up soap, razors, etc. I am an avid reader and just wanted to say thank you for sharing and making it a little easier on me.

  7. Andrea Reynolds says

    Thank you for such a beautiful account of a very inspiring story. If only we can all have such a wonderful attitude to the hurdles life throws at us…

  8. Jan says

    Wow! I love this article- very inspirational! I love the library too! Thanks for sharing Crystal- love how you make the most of things!

  9. says

    My husband and I also lived in a basement apartment, much as you’ve described, early in our marriage. We had one bathroom. Guests (who slept on the living room floor in one of our two rooms) had to walk through our bedroom to use the bathroom. We didn’t have air conditioning and our first summer there was nearly unbearable. Every day, after getting home from work and school, we’d change clothes, jump in the car, and sit at Barnes & Noble for two or three hours. We never bought anything and they never said a word about it!

  10. Leslie says

    Thank you so much for starting this blog! I know exactly how you felt in that little apartment because I too have had to do that before, but living on my own. Now, I’m in a similar situation since I’ve been laid off and just relying on my boyfriend’s salary and my frugal ways, most of which I have learned through your blog! There are so many times I want to feel sorry for myself, but your inspirational words are definitely good to hear to keep me going. Thanks again!!!!

  11. says

    Thanks for the encouraging post! I am new to the world of wise-spending and have really appreciated the deals you share, and this was a very timely reminder to “bloom where you are planted.” God is faithful to always supply our need and while His plans may not be what we would have chosen, they are always better.

  12. Lorrie says

    I love this article. I wish that more people thought this way. I have been having so many women ask me lately how I can feed my family well and still pay bills with my husband’s teaching salary. I tell them that it is not always easy, but you learn that there are so many “needs” that you can learn to do without and that you are usually happier and more content without so many things to clutter our lives.

  13. Amy says

    Amen! What a great post! God is ALWAYS teaching us something. I thank Him for leading you to CVS and leading me to find your blog 8 months ago. We’re in the home stretch of bringing home our 4 month old son from Ethiopia. I no longer have worries about buying diapers – I’ll just “work” a deal at CVS! Thanks!

  14. Kim says

    Thanks so much for the entry today. God has greatly used you in my and my family’s life. I have been a reader for about a month now and really enjoy your blog.


  15. Amber says

    Your post almost had me in tears! Things have never been so tight around our home as they are now and so it feels extra good to get enough diapers for our 8 mos old and our 3 year old and pay almost nothing. However, me and my husband have never been closer. It’s like we are finally on the same page as far as where we want to be financially, how to raise our children, etc. I check your blog every day and it brings such encouragement! My husband and I are both Christians, but sometimes it seems like its so hard to try to get closer to Him in times like these so I really appreciate a God loving role model that I can take advice and insight from. I thank God for you!

  16. Beth says

    What a beautiful, uplifting, and inspiring story! God always has a plan for us and if we go along with it, instead of rebelling, we will obviously benefit greatly! Thanks for sharing

  17. says

    I have to admit I was a big shopper just two years ago. We had a great income coming in, and I could stay at home with my three kids. When I was bored at home, we all went to the mall to see what we “had to have”.

    My husband owns a mortgage company, and business had been VERY slow the last two years. Within the last six months everything changed when we were on the edge of losing everything we had. I discovered your web site, and took it as a sign. (I thank God for you everyday!) I learned how to budget what little we had, coupon like a queen, and started a blog to help others too. I now have two part-time jobs, and my husband is working three jobs. We don’t see each other very much, but the kids are never alone and are not in daycare. We figure we are making sacrifices now to make up for our greed of needing to “have it all” a few years ago.

    We have come along way, and we will make it through this time too. But this time we have learned more along the way, and will come out of it stronger than ever. Even after we start to have more income, we will continue to live fruegally. It has been a fun learning experience, and I owe it all to you Crystal. Thank you for all you do to help us save money!!!!!

    Michelle @ Mom is Broke

  18. says

    Thank you so much for this post. I really feel that it is a message from God just for me. I feel that the contentment that you wrote of is exactly what God is cultivating in me right now in this season of my life.

  19. Renee says

    A true testament of God’s grace.Thank you so much for your story. It shows just how little one can do with and yet be so grateful, and content.

    I bet not being able to make friends despite trying was a little hard in a new place.

    Thank You!
    Mama to four

  20. says

    I know I am certainly grateful for your website. Going from two incomes to one recently has made a big difference in our budget. No telling how much money and stress you have saved me with the CVSing and the coupons. I had never even heard of the CVS ECBs until I came across your website.

  21. Shawn says

    Thank you, I have had a thorny day and you really helped me to look at the big picture. God bless you!

  22. kim says

    speaking os simple living, I just saw this pot on a money saving forum!

    During the World War II food shortages, people were forced to make the most of what they had. With today’s escalating grocery prices, one hint from that time still makes a lot of sense (and cents!)… how to turn one stick of butter into two. This extended butter has the same taste and texture as regular butter. It’s frugal… half the cost… but it’s also healthier… because it has half the fat and half the calories of regular butter. You can use extended butter almost anywhere you would normally use butter, but remember that it contains only half the amount of fat, so you cannot use it in any dish that depends on a certain fat content. This is why you cannot use it for baking.

    Extended butter is easy to make. Just beat one half cup of lukewarm water into one softened stick (one half cup) of butter. If you use a mixer, start slowly to prevent splattering. Add small amounts of water at a time and keep beating until the water is thoroughly incorporated into the butter. The mixture will be smooth and fluffy, and you will end up with one cup of soft butter. After this soft butter is refrigerated, it will become as firm as regular butter. I make up only one stick at a time and usually store the butter covered in a stainless steel measuring cup that lost its handle some time back. If your preferences run to something fancier, try shaping it or putting it in a pretty dish. This butter will also pick up detail nicely from a mold.

  23. says

    When my parents were first married, my dad was in the navy, stationed out of New York. My mom knew no one, and couldn’t afford the “officers’ wives” events. She checked out a lot of books from the library, took some community education classes, and improved her skills in diy projects like sewing and such — which she still uses to generate extra income. Thanks for sharing your story.

  24. Jennifer H. says

    Are you doing seperate transactions because you have the $3/$15 coupons and want to maximize the savings that way? Or is there another reason for doing this?

    I am new to all this and have had a CVS two blocks from my house for 3 years!!! I never paid attention and want to shoot myself for not paying attention!

  25. says

    That is an inspiring story. I have a friend that has lived in her mother-in-law’s basement, in a house that only had the basement finished and a small rental home; in each home she found ways for it to be inviting and homey. We always felt comfortable when we visited. It is a talent and an attitude! We too had lean times, and are experiencing them again. Wild flowers in an old milk bottle do a lot to freshen up a kitchen and dining room!!

  26. says

    I’ve been spending too much time in the thorns lately. Thanks for the reminder! I’m grateful for your little basement apartment since I’m one of the people you led to CVS. Love it! -Michele

  27. says

    You know what, I needed to read this post! I just broke down an hour ago because I was so homesick plus with our financial situation, I felt so bad. We can’t even afford a tv service right now! Thank you for posting this. You never know how you just lightened up my day. I should be cheerful!

  28. Sandy says

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time. My husband is in school right now and it’s been a long road. Today, I had thoughts of feeling sorry for myself, but prayed and thought about all the things I’m so very grateful for. Thank you so much for bringing more perspective to the situation. I find your blog very inspirational and I enjoy reading it every day. You’ve helped me see the value in so many things!

  29. says

    Thank you Crystal for that encouragement. We did the same thing for the first two years of our marriage and are considering going back to that simpler lifestyle because we aren't happy with our jobs where we live. No point in making more money if you're miserable! I actually like living the simple life so much more. I feel more at peace, content, and have more time to be the kind of wife I want to be.

  30. says

    I want to THANK you for all the hard work and dedication and time you spend on your amazing blog. Just in the two short months I have been CVS'n and clipping coupons I have saved about $2000.00. My hats off to you!! I could not have done it without all the information you have to offer for me and countless others.
    My daughter and I discovered CVS at the same time and since then we have taught all my sisters, nieces and several good friends to use the CVS program. They all read your blog. I want to THANK YOU again, not only for myself but for all of them as well.

    THANK you and may God open His store-house of Blessing on you and your family with supernatural abundance!!

  31. Kristi says

    Amen! Last summer when my husband lost his job, we decided it was time for him to quit the accounting job he hated and go to seminary full time. A year ago, I would have said no way can we afford to you to not work full time. By the grace of God, we have managed to cut every expense imaginable, yet still pay all of our bills and survive. The more we simplify the happier we really are. Thank you for your blog, you have inspired me and my sister and families to simplify and put our priorities where they need to be with God and family.

  32. says

    Thanks for this post. With gas prices what they are, and also because by going out less I spend less, we have been sticking very close to home in recent months. The result has surprised me. I am more content and find more joy in the small tasks of caring for my family than I ever did when it was easier to be distracted from my home. When times are lean, God's gifts are no less real.

  33. Audgirl says

    I can tell you, my husband and I started in a very humble position – we both had minimum wage jobs, lived in a tiny garage apartment (where to fit the bed in the “bedroom” we had to take the door off so we could walk to the closet). We ate good 1 night a week (Shabbat) and lived on beans and rice and other inexpensive but tasty fare.
    Life is not in the physical posessions, but in the everyday moments, sharing a sunset or fireworks, discovering a new trail in the park, enjoying a new author from a library.
    Today, almost 10 years later, with a 16 month old daughter, I am in a “better” financial position. But I never lost that appreciation for awe and beauty of this world – in fact with her, I found a whole new world of amazement. Her discoveries and my joys are free yet priceless.
    AND – I still clip coupons and was a CVS gal from way back. Sometimes I think that roots of hardship can instill a habit of thriftiness.
    Just because I make more than minimum wage now doesn’t mean I can be thrilled to get something for free!
    I do want to thank you MsM for your tips – I am a full time working mom, and your blogs have helped me to do even better than I normally would. Thanks!

  34. says

    Your personal story is one that proves out again how any woman can make lemonade out of lemons. God’s given women such an ability to influence and be creative, but when we have a pity party, nothing creative can be released.

    I love your story. Blessings…lylah

  35. Kimberly L says

    Thank you so much for everything! I signed up with Dave Ramsey today — I already feel like my life is changing :)

  36. says

    Thank-you so much for your posts! I’m learning so much from your posts, and I decided to try a bunch out this week. SInce I’m a beginner, I’m using the Grocery Game. But with your encouragement, ideas, help, and support…I’ve saved $70 this week. My husband and I debate buying a new car with soaring gas prices, but have two old paid for, debt free cars. This post about less being more remind me we have so much! Two cars! Paid for! Less is more. I think we may need to hold on to them for a while longer–at least until they die. Again, thanks for all that you do! It’s amazing!


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