Q&A Tuesday: Is it possible to save money when we’re barely keeping our head above water?

Audrey left the following comment on my post on renting (I’ve edited it a bit for space reason, but you can read it in it’s entirety here):

I know you talk about all these ways to save money, and anyone can do it, but it just doesn’t seem possible for us! I use coupons to save money, but even then we have no wiggle room in our budget for anything. We never have. My husband makes $1400/month (sometimes $1600) after tax.

I guess I just feel discouraged a lot, because we want so badly to save money (we don’t ever want debt), it just doesn’t feel possible. We’ve been trying for four years to save money and it just gets depleted because my husband’s hours get cut (which seems to happen to us a lot, no matter who he works for) and he can’t find more work. Any advice or encouragement for those of us who do rent because it’s cheaper, but have to use up more than half our income on our housing?

We’re paying $900/month here (water, sewer and garbage included). That leaves $500/month to spend on the rest of our bills — phone, electricity, internet, etc. We don’t have cable (for obvious reasons), and we have a great deal on internet and phone, and I use coupons like crazy to save money on everything, but with our two kids (3 and 1), it’s just barely enough to get by (well, it’s not right now, we’re getting behind on bills).

I hate how broke we are all the time (and always have been). Thankfully, the only debt we have is a bill we’re a couple months behind on. But we don’t have a car payment (our old car is desperately in need of repairs though — I’m afraid the tires are going to fall off, but we can’t afford to fix it!), we tithe, we don’t have credit cards, etc. But it just seems impossible to set money aside for big purchases (or even little purchases, like getting the car fixed!).

I have no idea how to remedy this situation. I do odds and ends from home. I clean houses when I can, and that sort of thing, but that brings in an average of $25/month, and my husband is already burnt out working as often as he is. He’s had no luck finding a second job (he’s already working so much already), either. I’m just not sure how to get ourselves out of this hole!

I wish you lived closer, Audrey, and I’d have you over and give you a big hug and sit down with you over a cup of tea to try and encourage you. I know how it feels when it seems like you’re working so hard and getting no traction. You’re wondering how on earth the ends are going to meet at the end of the month or what you’d do if your car breaks down or how you’re going to pay your utility bill.

Five years ago, that’s exactly where we were. And it was really, really hard. I’d grown up being taught to trust in God, but in those first few years of marriage, the rubber met the road and I realized that actually trusting God was a whole lot harder than it sounded.

The lessons we learned during those times of feeling pretty desperate financially were so hard but, oh so good! And we wouldn’t trade them for the world. It strengthened our trust in the Lord, it strengthened our marriage, it matured us as individuals and it inspired us to learn all sorts of creative and entrepreneurial things we never dreamed we’d learn or attempt!

Here are some things which helped us to pull through that time and start making traction little by little:

1) Pray

God delights in providing for those who trust in Him. Claim His promises. Pray His Word back to Him. Cry out to Him for provision, for wisdom, for guidance, for creativity, for open doors. Pray about the little things and the big things; nothing is too small or big for God.

And realize that He will never, never, never, no never leave or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5)!

2) Stick To Your Budget

Be very, very vigilant in adhering to your written budget. While it might seem like you’re not getting traction, sticking with your budget will ensure that you’re not sliding backwards or getting any farther behind than your possibly have to.

3) Realize That Your Attitude Can Make or Break the Situation

I wholeheartedly believe that you’re not stuck unless you choose to be. You can always be learning, growing, improving yourself and seeking to improve your financial situation — even if it seems that your actual income is staying the same.

Have a cheerful, grateful spirit. Focus on counting your blessings rather than all the difficult things in your life. And determine, by the grace of God, that you are going to do all you can to make the most of your situation, to stretch your resources as far as possible and to use any extra time you have in your day to increase your income.

4) Set Microscopic Goals To Begin With

No matter your income or financial situation, you can set goals, even if they are microscopic. You likely can’t save $100 this month, but I’m guessing that if you squeezed, you might be able to save $2 or $5 — or maybe even $10. Start there and set this aside in a savings account as your Emergency Fund (or however else you want to designate it) and add to it each month. Over time, you just might be surprised at how it will grow!

In addition, don’t just set goals for saving money, set goals for earning money, too! You said that you’re usually doing around $25 per month cleaning houses. What if you were to challenge yourself to bump that number up to $35 this coming month? And then little bit, by little bit, continue to bump it up.

I also recommend setting goals for improving yourself — such as skills to learn and books to read. Choose things which will help you be able to increase your income, make wise financial choices and which will encourage you in your current situation.

As always: don’t bite off more than you can chew. I’d suggest starting by setting two to four tiny goals each month. Once you accomplish those, add a few more. When you feel ready, increase the goals by a tiny little bit and then a little bit more. Setting goals — even if they are teensy-tiny — and then actually reaching them can give you enormous encouragement and you just might be amazed at the momentum it gives you!

5) Look For Any Extra Cash You Can Come Up With

You mentioned that you clean houses, if you are looking to expand, consider contacting local multi-unit rentals to see if they need someone to clean their units when a renter moves out. Or make connections with realtors and ask them about cleaning foreclosed homes for them or having them recommend you to sellers who want to have their home professionally cleaned after they move out.

Think outside the box of what normal professional cleaners do and you’ll likely land upon some really successful ideas. Contact business owners and offer to clean their office space. Advertise your business on Craigslist. Offer a discount to your current customers if they refer you to others who then end up using your services.

You also said you have a blog and that you’re currently making about $2 per month off it. I’d suggest you try to learn and implement some of the suggestions on BloggingWithAmy.com in order to steadily increase that each month.

While some may disagree with me, I think almost anyone who is willing to put in some time and effort can earn at least an extra $50 to $100 per month by spending three hours of blogging each week. You already have your blog set up and running, so I’d encourage you to work on monetizing it and growing it — if it’s something you enjoy.

6) Improve Yourself

Seek to make the most of every opportunity to learn, to grow, to glean. Always be learning new things, trying new things and coming up with new ideas. Don’t be content with the status quo.

Read good books which challenge and motivate you. As much as is possible, remove negative influences from your life which just suck time and energy. Replace them with things that encourage and inspire you.

7) Don’t Give Up

Finally, do not give up. Your situation will not change overnight; gaining traction is not instantaneous. But if you’re willing to keep working hard, to keep experimenting, to keep setting goals, to keep pressing forward, to keep sticking with the budget and to keep going when the going gets tough, it will pay off.

Don’t lose heart! Keep looking to the Lord and asking Him to provide and guide you — and see Him do amazing things!

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Comments

  1. Traci says

    Where there is a will, there is a way! I do have to work part time out of the home because I live in an expensive part of California and as much as I would like to move to an area where the cost of living is lower, I have a lot of family that I can not leave. But…things I have done on the side is, recycle cans, coupon my heart out, sell my stockpile, surveys, offer to be a personal shopper for a small fee, sell handcrafts, yardsales, babysitting, ebay..etc. These things (especially couponing) have allowed me to not have to work full time, which, as much as I would love to be home full time with my kids, is a blessing to me. I have learned so much following this blog for the last few years. The most important thing that I have learned is to be creative when trying to earn extra money and to challenge myself to stretch the income we do have.

  2. Rachel says

    Great post, Crystal:)

    Audrey, I suggest calling 211 to see if there are any other programs in your area that would be helpful for you. They will most likely mention WIC and food stamps, but there might be other resources that are specific to your state or even town that could give you that extra helping hand to be able to save a little.
    Freecycle can be useful in getting toys, housewares, furniture, etc if you need anything like that.
    Thanks for your honesty….as I’m sure you can see from all of these responses, you are not alone.

  3. Darcie says

    Yes! That is us too!! We live literally paycheck to paycheck. However, when we want to have a datenight or need that extra few dollars. We save and recycle cans. We have friends saving cans for us as well and it helps when you just need or want a few extra dollars. We also do the consignment shop thing. Instead of giving away my daughters outgrown nice clothes we take it them to a consignment shop and get a few dollars. We have also taken dvds or video games to a Game exchange place if we wanted a different movie or something.

  4. Marcy says

    Great post! It took me over an hour to read all of the comments. I think both of you inspired many.

  5. Anna says

    My thoughts and prayers go out to Audrey and her family. I have similar but different problems. I am a single mom of 4 children. I also am a professional. I have a decent income but one of my children and I have chronic health problems. I have asthma and my child has 2 disabilities. The kids’ dad is not responsible (does not provide income as he should). I pay for everything for us including child care and health care. My job is demanding and so is being a mom to 4 kids. My income would be adequate but the prescription and medical bills eat into my income so deeply (prescriptions are $400-$500/month). I even “budget” my health care benefits. Unless it is an emergency or something our family cannot do without I do not agree to any medical care unless I can afford it. I have turned down prescriptions simply because they cost more than I can afford. For me, I make too much money to qualify for anything. The saving grace is that we are Native American and can get some health care at the Indian clinic and also I go to the health department for some care. It is important for me to stay healthy but the demands of my job and being a single parent are challenging. Also, I often feel guilty for not being able to provide the top notch health care for my child with disabilities. I go without a lot but I learned last year after I also most died that I have to take care of myself too. I too feel like I never get ahead financially and it does get discouraging. I get bills paid and a little money saved and then another major medical bill comes along that wipes out all the budgeting and savings I have managed. I have learned that being healthy is so important and one can not under estimate how blessed you are if you have health. My health is better but I now have to really take my medicines and watch my stress level. My asthma got so bad, I could not breath and my oxygenation was poor. I remember thinking please don’t let me die not yet at least, my kids still need me. My near death experience taught me to take life a little slower and enjoy my time with the kids. I am still paying the medical bills for that illness and the medical bills for my child’s chronic health problems and I get a discouraged some times but being healthy is so important. I am working and taking care of my kids once again but my health will never be as good as it once was. I just have to learn to live within my limits and enjoy life as God has given it to me. Money can’t buy health. I have to keep up a good attitude but I do get discouraged sometimes. Next to finances, time is another stressor for me. MD visits alone take a big chunk of my time which run from 3-4/week. I don’t feel like there is enough time in the day to get it all done. I consider my self a SAHM and working mom. I do not have to work in the summer and get all the school breaks that the kids do so I “stay at home” and do all the things a SAHM does and then when I work I try to continue being a SAHM who happens to work too. It gives me great satisfaction to take care of the kids. Sometimes I feel alone because so many moms stay at home but I do not have that option; I have to work so my kids have what they need particularly health care. I am grateful for my job and I do enjoy it but I also like being able to take care of my family at home. I envy moms who can stay home full time but I don’t dwell on it because that is not my lot in life.

    • Heidi says

      Here is a health website I use quite frequently and have had much success with the information given. I searched and saw that it had some free information about asthma and how to perhaps prevent asthma attacks (or greatly reduce them). Best of all, most of the recommendations they give will cost you nothing. Their website is:
      mercola.com
      You may have to give an email address in order to access all of the information. Simply type in asthma in the website search engine.

      My husband was very sick earlier this year (he is much better now). And although we know that God uses means to help us, our greatest “solution” was total reliance on the Lord.

      2 Corin. 12:9 – “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
      and James 1:2-3 says:
      My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations;
      Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.

      I’m sure that you can attest that when going through terrible health struggles that it “tries our faith” but we can rejoice that he is working patience in us and that we can even “count it joy” to have learned these things. It doesn’t make sense that our “strength is made perfect in weakness” but yet the Bible says that it shows us the power of Christ and its sufficiency. My husband learned the reality of these things this year and though he doesn’t miss the physical side of things, he saw how Christ could work in the midst of his struggle.
      We pray that the Lord will continue to provide for you and that you will be an even Greater Blessing : ) to those you come in contact with because of these struggles. We rejoice with you that you love to take care of and provide for your children. Children are a great blessing! Be encouraged that our Father in heaven also loves to provide for His children. He loves us and He does care what happens to us.
      1 Peter 5:7 – “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.”

    • says

      Hello Anna,
      You have been on my heart all night. I just want you to know that you are not alone. I was a single mom for 10 years with very little outside financial assistance from the father. I had a career but still had to work a part time job a couple night a week to keep our head above water. It felt like every day was just treading water, putting one foot in front of the other. I felt like I dared not dream any dreams for fear they would not come true. I also deperately wanted to stay home with my kids. I did not have the summer off.

      My very best friend suggested I pry for God’s help. God has a special place in his heart for widows and orphen. Which I am not saying you are a widow, however, if you are doing it all on your own, in a way you are.

      Anyway God carried me through. I learned many things about myself, most importantly that I can rely on just God fully.

      Is it possible to order prescriptions by mail order? They maybe less expensive. Can the Doctor prescribe a generic version, that would be less expensive as well?

      God Bless!

    • Lorie says

      @Anna, Anna, someone else below suggested this but didn’t know if you would see that. Check on Angel Food Ministries for you area. There’s no requirements whatsoever to order food for them and you can order as much as you need/want.

  6. Alyssa says

    While you’re being a stay at home mom- I think it is so important to learn skills and educate yourself. Going to school is probably out of the question, however you may be able to take online classes (I did the last 2 years of high-school online- and it was very convenient and I really did learn a lot!). You may even qualify for scholarships/grants to cover most of the cost. Also, teaching yourself skills (DIY books are great for this, also Youtube- I learned how to make dog bows by a video on there!), such as sewing, painting, computer software programs, etcetera can really open up more opportunities for you! Itunes U is also a great new program I just found out about. It is under a tab in Itunes (Itunes is free to download on their website), and it has a large assortment of college courses from around the country- all free! Most are lectures, but some also have instructional videos. This could all be beneficial to you, incase you can’t be a SAHM forever, or just so you can have a few more skills to use for extra income!

  7. says

    I would agree with the importance of keeping a budget. Know where your money is going. What a blessing to not be in debt up to your eyeballs (that is our situation) but life’s normal stuff has a way of draining the bank account too. Sounds like you are doing what you can to decrease spending but it never hurts to be sure about that with a written budget. If you could save on rent, get a housemate (we’ve recently done that) or something. Up your income with selling stuff or maybe you could take on part time work for a season.

  8. Vanessa says

    I have read a few of the comments and I wanted to encourage you.I think you are doing a great job.At least you guys are paying the bills.I read alot of comments about you getting a job outside of the home.I would pray and talk with my husband before I would do that.With you still nursing and having small children I would look for more ways to make money at home.I save more money by being at home with the children than I would working outside of the home.I will pray for your family.

  9. Elizabeth says

    Audrey,

    You are doing a fabulous job staying out of debt in difficult situations. Be encouraged, you are already doing better than so many other people who make more money but are hopelessly in debt. In just a few years your little ones will be in school and things will be so much easier then. Just hang on to that thought.

    I’d encourage you to try to find a few more little cash jobs– a little bit of wiggle room makes a big difference in your state of mind. There are so many work-outside-the-home moms who need their houses cleaned or some cooking done– what about trying to find some women who would like their freezers filled with some heat-and-eat healthy foods? Do a little market research– I know I would love some freezer meals made with organic and natural ingredients that I could run home and pop in the microwave… for the price of hanging up some fliers (and maybe getting your foodhandler’s license– check with your health department) you could be on your way, and you can do it at home with your kids! Hugs to you.

  10. Lena C. says

    It is unbelievable how closely I can relate to Audrey. It sounds just like us! We live on a very minimal monthly income and there is zero space for wiggle room. There are many months that the bills we pay have to be picked out from all the rest because we just can’t pay them all.

    I do a few writing gigs online when I can to earn extra cash and that does bring in an extra couple hundred every month. Still, even with the extra money, it is very hard to set aside anything in savings simply because theres nothings left to set aside at months end. Some months it comes down to putting food on the table or a few extra dollars in a savings account and well…my daughter has to eat…

    I really feel for Audrey because I know the stress and frustration it causes to work so hard but not see your situation getting any better. In fact, I’d like to at least get her connected with the companies I write for so that maybe she could increase her own monthly earnings up from that $25. It would be great for her to contact me if she is interested:

    dealseeker1983@gmail.com

  11. jerilyn says

    We’ve been there too Audrey! My husband just got a promotion last month with a pay raise that gives us enough to save a little bit (not a ton).

    I would try not to get to worried about saving a lot. I know I can feel this way on blogs like these. I would love to pay 100% down for a home, but that’s not practical for us. Our down payment money is coming from our tax credits that we get every year- up until then that was our savings! I know you have practical issues that need to be taken care of, but don’t get too ahead of yourself. There is plenty of time to save for retirement, etc. later. Usually incomes increase with time and then you can save for that.

    As far as the car, I would maybe speak to your pastor about it. Churches often times have a fund for members if they need it. Also, some people would love to donate (often anon.) but don’t know exactly what needs people have. Ask for family members to give money for Christmas and put it in a mutual fund or savings account for your kids.

  12. Jamel says

    Audrey, just keep on keeping on as everyone else has basically been saying….and keep God first:)!! To save money, I hang out my laundry. Sometimes I have to laugh at myself at how red-necky everything looks to have laundry hanging all over the deck and the patio furniture……..but hey who cares right??? Every week God dries my laundry and not to mention it goes so much faster than waiting on a dryer as I have loads and loads to do (family of 6) I have not used a dryer now for a couple of years………I can’t believe it even as I write this that it has been this long……I haven’t missed it:) People tell me I should get a clothes line or do this or do that…….but what I do works for me:) I Also, I used my husbands spare change containers to buy energy efficient bulbs…….lower electric bill…….there’s other crazy things I do, but need to run………….Hope you have a wonderful day, and I feel inspired by your story!!

  13. Dana says

    Audrey, I will be praying for you and your family. You are not alone!

    I am tearing up reading your story and many others that are in your shoes.

  14. says

    Thank you SO MUCH for this post. This post has been a huge blessing to me! From the post itself, to all the encouraging comments and suggestions, to the people who have emailed me wanting to help. I am just feeling overwhelmed with love and encouragement! God has used this post to bless my husband and I more than you can imagine! You have all inspired us in so many ways, and encouraged us….. I can’t even explain how blessed we are! I tried to put it into words here:

    http://everyurlwastaken.blogspot.com/2010/10/his-provision.html

    Thank you so so so much! God is so great, I KNOW He will be lifting us out of this hole very soon! Thank you!

  15. Melanie says

    Don’t give up and remember….you CAN’T OUTGIVE God. God doesn’t need us to give money to our local churches. He CHOOSES to use us as a blessing to others. My husband went from $100,000 per year to being unemployed for 6 months and now has a salary of $55,000. We never once stopped giving and God has always supplied our needs (maybe not wants, but needs)

  16. Marg says

    That was so inspiring. It made me think how I could do so much better for myself! It got me motivated to keep self reflecting and trying to improve upon myself. Thank you for that! It helped me!

    I’m a single mom also living in expensive N. California! I also recycle cans and bottles and that adds up to a lot. Yard sales help occasionally as well. I’m very grateful for this site and others that are so motivating and have such great ideas.

  17. says

    My two pieces of advice would be (as a few others mentioned) looking into state programs such as WIC or food stamps. . Those programs are there to be used by good honest people like you…. we used them for many years. I think back to the food items we got from WIC and how much it helped. Milk and cheese are expensive these days (even with coupons! haha) . Two: if it works with your husband’s work schedule, try and find an office building to clean. They often pay WAY more than residential homes. You could even find one that is just a few nights a week and make around $500.0o/mo. I have done that now for the past couple of years. You’d be surprised how much money office buildings will pay. It may take a little work to find one (tell everyone you know you are looking for a building to clean), but it will pay off in the end. And you are only gone from home for a little bit of time! I am usually FOR mom’s staying home with the kids, but it situations where you are barely scraping buy, I think it is ok for the wife to go and get a small job.

  18. Alysia says

    One thing you could do is barter services to cut costs. Say find a hairstylist to do your family’s hair in echange for you cleaning her house. Also something maybe your husband could do this holiday season: get paid to put up people’s Christmas lights….the wealthy neighborhoods are a good spot to put fliers on doorknobs, because they’d rather pay you than do it themselves ( a family member of mine did this last year and made about $2,200 in one month!). I know you said he already works so hard, so I’m not sure he’d have time for this.
    Your story and the responses were on my mind all day. It’s always nice to feel like we aren’t the only family with these problems. Money Saving Mom and your post and all of the responses puts things into perspective for me when I get the “why us?!” blues. God Bless you and your family!

  19. says

    I, too, can relate to this.

    My husband lost his job unexpectedly in January. While he didn’t make a lot, it was enough for us. We had no debt and lived carefully, but to me, comfortably with some to save and share each month.

    Living with even less or sometimes, with absolutely no income has been challenging. It isn’t easy when you feel like you’ve cut all you can cut, with out cutting out what you need to get back on your feet. It’s easy to start to worry, to stress about money and how it just doesn’t show up.

    But…while it isn’t easy, and honestly there are many times when I’m not sure how we’ll make it, it’s true. God provides for what we really need. I have been humbled time and time again to see His hand in so many little ways keeping us going, if only for another week, another month.

    Every day I give those worries to Him. I try to do my best. To stay positive, stay faithful and to keep waiting on His provision. He does make our burdens so much lighter.

    I don’t see a lot of change in the future. In fact, right now, just around the corner fate seems to be mocking and threatening, but I am determined that if God can keep us going for thus far, that whatever disaster appears to lay ahead, He has a way through, or a reason for.

    So… for us who wait, who struggle and pinch to get by during these hard times when jobs are low paying or…non-existent in my case, keep trusting. I put my confidence in the fact that God does provide…right when we need it most.

  20. Shayla says

    Thank you Crystal, for the taking the time to address this honest (and not uncommon) question/concern/sentiment. Thank you for the pep talk that also encouraged this gal’s soul. This post could be a description of your whole blog..it’s a concise reminder of what we love about you…and how we want to live. :-)

  21. Rhoda says

    Thanks for the reminder that blogging, to begin with, requires such a small commitment of 3 hours a week to blogging. I can find 3 hours to beef up my over-neglected blog, and hopefully use it as a way to make a little more money.

  22. Mena Mariani says

    Thanks so much for your blog!!! I have had a terrible week that coincided with the week I got paid my first paycheck (I’m entry level too :T) and so many things have happened at once. I felt ten times better that I am not the only one going through a tough time. It gives me strength and courage to see women so strong getting through whatever comes their way.

    I feel like a hustler after having read the article. Thank you so much for your insight and wonderful faith.

  23. says

    Audrey,

    My heart goes out to you Audrey. I have felt like this too, many times even though both my husband and I work. I guess for me the struggle has been more that I have to work in order for us to “keep our heads above water” or at least, my husband thinks so, so that’s what I do. God has been so good to me though and given me so much joy lately. I pray he’ll do the same for you.

    I wanted to share a story from my parents’ early years of marriage:
    My parents hadn’t even been married a year when my dad started seminary in South Carolina and I was born shortly after. It was a new place for both of them and they had no family in the area. Even though my dad was studying full time, he was committed to my mom staying home with the baby (me!). They were really living by faith those years! There came a point where they literally had no food left in the house. My mom took down her jar of decorative beans and started to boil them for dinner. They didn’t know what they’d eat after that, but they were trusting the Lord for it! They also had some bills to pay and no money for them. So they were praying. While the beans were boiling, there was a knock at the door. They opened and in walked my uncle, who is not a Christian, never travels, and had not told them he was coming. He said he was on his way down to Florida, taking my cousin to Disney World. “What’s for dinner?” he asked walking into the kitchen and taking the lid off the pot. After seeing what was inside he announced that he was taking them out to dinner! He filled their car with gas (they had to move my carseat to my uncle’s car to go to the restaurant, because theirs was empty!) bought them some groceries, wrote them a check, and continued on to Disney World. I don’t think my uncle has travelled more than an hour from his house since then! When my dad looked at the check, it was the exact amount needed to pay the bills and my dad hadn’t even mentioned them to my uncle!

    I love this story. So do my siblings. In fact the first Christmas my husband and I were married, my sisters gave us a jar of decorative beans that they’d put together as a reminder of God’s faithfulness!! It was an occasion to hear the story again, since my dad had to explain the jar to my husband and the other non-family members who were at our celebration.

    I hope that is encouraging. God will provide for you, too. It will be beautiful. Trust in him and wait eagerly for what he will do.

  24. Lorie says

    This post was very encouraging to me as we’re also living paycheck to paycheck with no end in sight. I’m doing everything I can to make our budget squeal. I like to bake and decorate cakes and have even started a FB page but I need to add pictures then send it to all my friends so I can get a small business going. I could easily bring in an $100-$150 a month by doing just 1 cake a week. Thanks for the encouragement!