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How Sticking to a Budget Transformed Our Life

Testimony from Sue

When my husband and I got married over five years ago, we were a financial mess. We allowed bad habits to get worse by charging everything to our handy credit card.

Three years and two children later, a friend forwarded me an email about a website called MoneySavingMom.com. We didn’t know it then, but that email would change our lives.

I read Crystal’s blog faithfully each morning. She inspired me to read The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey, and I was so excited that I read it in two days. My husband Ben read the book also and we dove head-first into creating a budget. These changes enabled us to live a comfortable, more budget-friendly lifestyle:

1. We stopped using credit cards and paid cash for everything. 

Ben and I adopted the radical financial practice of paying cash-only. We found that we spent much less on average by using cash rather than using our debit cards. Although it took time to get used to, practice made perfect.

Our rule is once the cash is gone, it’s gone. No more spending.

2. We began shopping at discount and second-hand stores for everything.

Clothing, home decor, bread; we had to get creative! I found our local bread outlet to be a great deal. We stock up every few months and keep the excess in our chest freezer. Also, since our house is a “fixer-upper,” we found that shopping at our local Habitat for Humanity ReStore is a useful resource for supplies and hardware.

3. I couponed like crazy. 

As a stay-at-home mom, couponing became a much like a part-time job to save money for our family. MoneySavingMom.com made this step so much easier by outlining the drugstore game, highlighting creative ways to get coupons, and listing store match-ups by region.

4. We learned to say “no.

Difficult as it was, we learned to say “no” to family and friends for restaurant outings or vacations in order to stick to our budget. We also learned to enjoy the art of entertaining from our home. It is a great way to spend time with others in a comfortable, budget-friendly environment.

5. We stuck to our convictions and tweaked our plan. 

Throughout this change in our lives, Ben and I have relied heavily on God and his provision in our lives. We continued to tithe 10% of our income and manage our money the best we knew how. 

Our plan to pay off debt has changed with our circumstances, but our budget has stayed the same. In the past three years of living on a budget, we have saved for an emergency fund, paid off one vehicle, and paid cash to complete my college education!

Living on a budget has not only blessed our family financially, but it has allowed us to live freely and peacefully within our means. We may not know what God has for our future, but we have found great joy in a simple life today.

Sue is a full-time mom, proud wife of a firefighter, and a recent college graduate. She has a passion for saving money and living simply. Sue and her family live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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  1. says

    Great job Sue! I think that you made a great point, people can get overwhelmed with the thought of couponing but there are so many sites that list the match ups which makes couponing basically as easy as reading and making a list. It can save so many people so much money

  2. says

    Sue what a great story. We have been cash only for a while now and I prefer spending this way. Like you said when it is gone, you have to stop spending.

    I know what you mean by getting creative to save. We thrift store shop and I love our bread store close to our home. I can get organic whole wheat bread less expensive than I can make it at home. We also found a great closeout grocery store too. I usually buy my produce there and have saved a lot over the regular grocery store.

  3. says

    And if Sue shops at the same chain I do (I live 50 minutes outside of downtown Milwaukee in a small rural farming community), saving money isn’t always easy at that chain!!

    Sue, that’s SO awesome – living where we live is deceiving: people think our cost of living is lower since we’re Upper Midwest, but housing alone can kill you if you’re in the wrong area. Compound crazy taxes on top of that, and then the whole collective bargaining garbage that’s going on in our state, and that takes a whole chunk right there from a family’s budget. Well done, sister! Well done!

    • Teresa says

      We just moved from out of state to about 40 min south of Milwaukee. I know just what you mean about the taxes. It is a bit crazy. It’s 3x what we were paying before. However, if you have kids in public school. It does not even compare to where we were. The school my kids go to now is amazing. So I figure those extra tax dolars are well spent. Still trying to figure out the stores. They are definitely not as budget friendly as Utah.

      • says

        Theresa, where are you south of Milwaukee? I’m in the Waterford area. If you want, you can always email me – I’m more than happy to help!

  4. says

    What a great story!

    Money Saving Mom is very inspiring! I have been able to save quite a bit of money on our groceries since I started following her blog about a year and a half ago. I’ve also learned about Swagbucks and ebates through her site. I am happy to save whatever small amount of money wherever I can!

    I think couponing definitely helps with learning to have patience and to just say no to things when they aren’t on sale!

  5. guest says

    Congratulations. You have learned early what took me a long time to learn. I am a retired educator and have always had to closely manage my money. A few yrs ago I began couponing and bargain shopping and I am now living “richer” than ever before. I now find myself with extra money that I never had before. I am grateful for this website and others for helping me learn how to save money and live better.

  6. Lynn says

    I love that you mention learning to say no. It can be hard but sometimes it is necessary to do what is right for your family. I know this gets really difficult at holiday time, but it often the right way to go. My husband is from a large family (he is one of 12 kids) and for years after we were married, everyone stuck to the drawing names gig. It wasn’t long before we had so many people my husband and I were getting stuff from people we actually didn’t know or had even met (I was starting to have to tell my DH “that person is your second cousin’s spouse”!) Plus we were really getting junk because not everyone knew everyone anymore. We figured we would rather everyone save their $5 or $10, so we told the person who organized it that we just wanted our names removed from the list – we didn’t buy anything or receive anything. Once we mentioned it, several people starting doing the same thing – it seemed everyone was pretty much over it as adults. They finally just did away with it and now we do something for those we are close to. Sorry for the long example, but my point is that sometimes it only takes one person to say (nicely) no and you may find that other people feel the same way and like the relief of not having to be the first to say no.

  7. Susan says

    Inspiring post Sue!

    I’d ditto Lynn’s comment about just saying no. It can be hard, but like many things in life, getting started is the hardest part, and after that it is mostly all downhill.

    We don’t have any pressure from family — my extended family is scattered across the country and we don’t exchange birthday or holiday gifts, choosing instead to make a priority of visiting each other every year or so and putting money towards travel expenses. I have 3 siblings and 12 grandkids between the four of us, and NOTHING we can give the neices and nephews will mean as much as quality time together, and the memories that come with that, as they grow up.

    Anyway that aside … I’m a single working mom, and although I have no family within hundreds of miles, I have a great network of friends, in various circles, and much of our socializing involves eating out. A few years ago, money was particularly tight, and I set out to change my ways and reign in my spending. A lot, and I do mean “A LOT!” of my money was being spent on eating out, in part because of my personal habits (too tired to cook after working all day was my excuse) and also because the social aspects were important to me (still are). But by reducing in this area, I’ve been able to save several hundred dollars a month.

    Nearly all of my friends were completely understanding and on-board with the effort to reduce our restaurant expenses. In fact, I wasn’t the one to initiate the change — one of my dear friends responded to a dinner invitation by telling me that she was really trying to cut back on the expense and invited us over for a crock-pot dinner instead. It was awesome! I really appreciated her candor. Now we socialize at each other’s homes much more often than we go out. Much more economical and healthier.

    Since then, we’ve been able to get our group of friends to change how we socialize. The turning point for me was when we went to family pizza place for dinner one night. Most of the adults were having beer and pizza. I had a $5 salad and water, and my kiddo had about one slice of pizza. When the tab came, as is our habit, we split it evenly between the families, which came to like $25 each. Pretty darn expensive for a salad and slice of pizza! While I was bothered by it, I certainly couldn’t be upset with my friends because this has long been our routine, and I can’t expect them to read my mind.

    So, between that and the fact the our children were running around the pizza place like wild animals (it’s a very family-friendly place and doesn’t bother the staff but it bothers me), the next time I decided to take the lead and invite everyone for a get-together in the a local park. Bring your own dinner and/or something to share. No one balked at all! The wine drinkers brought their own. Much less expensive, and the kids can run around all the want.

    Unfortunately, I lost a close connection with one good friend (different circle from the above-described group). We used to have dinner together almost every Friday. She continued the “lets eat at a nice restaurant that serves alcohol” while I started to decline more and more, while my “I have a Subway bogo coupon” invitations didn’t go over well with her. Our paths just started to go in different directions, and while I am sad about it because I do love that family, but I’ve come to accept that we lost something that we used to have in common when I made the decision to stop eating out so much.

    Sorry this post is so long! But I just wanted to share a little of my story. If I can change my ways and reign in my spending, anyone can.

  8. says

    MSM is changing my life too. I am amazed at the drive I have to stick with it no matter what since listening to her talk a few weeks ago. I love coming here and reading stories like this – especially when one more friend or family member thinks I’m crazy for cutting up my credit card.

  9. Michelle says

    I was overjoyed to hear from someone in the Milwaukee area. I live in the county north of Milwaukee and am always looking for ways to save money! Thank you so much!

  10. says

    Yay, a fellow Wisconsinite! We live in Ozaukee County, which is an affluent area, only we definitely are not! I love your simple approach to saving money. We are trying to maintain a budget for our family of seven, find a way to save up for future expenses (like a vehicle and retirement), and pay off debt (mostly mortgage and home equity). My husband is a contractor, so our income varies greatly throughout the year, making it a challenge at times. I just started a four-part series on ways to make money from home; here’s a link to the first installment: http://whispersofworth.com/8-ways-to-make-money-from-home-part-1/

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