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28 “Extreme” Measures We Took to Stay Out of Debt

After reading Frugal Granola’s post on the extreme measures they took to get out of debt, I thought it would be fun to think of a few “extreme” measures our family took to stay out of debt. Now, for many of you, probably none of these things are very extreme, but compared to the average American, they are pretty counter-cultural.

The 28 items listed below each saved us at least $100 per year — if not much more! And it’s because of being willing to make sacrifices like this that, by the grace of God, we stayed out of debt while Jesse was in law school and lived on around $12,000 per year.

As our income has increased, we’ve relaxed a bit on how extreme we are (I think there’s plenty of room for occasional “splurging” if you’re out of debt and living below your means!), but we still do many of these things.

1. We lived on a very strict zero-based budget.

2. We were almost 100% cash-only.

3. We lived in a small apartment.

4. We didn’t go out to eat, except a few times per year — and then it was usually a fast food restaurant where we’d use coupons and eat for less than $7!

5. We cooked from scratch.

6. We had one car – an older, used car.

7. We readily accepted hand-me-downs.

8. We shopped at thrift stores.

9. We got books and DVDs at the library.

10. We stayed home alot.

11. We didn’t pay for a cell phone.

12. I cut my own hair.

13. We used cloth diapers.

14. We used coupons to get the majority of our food and household items for pennies on the dollar — feeding our small family all 21 meals per week for $30-$35 each week.

15. We played the Drugstore Game.

16. We bartered — from car repair work to clothes, we weren’t ashamed to ask if an individual would be willing to barter with us.

17. We negotiated discounts on necessary purchases and regular bills.

18).We used a birth center, instead of a hospital to have our first baby thus significantly lowering our out-of-pocket costs.

19. We reused and made-do as much as we could.

20. We pretty much didn’t buy anything for our baby for the first entire year.

21. We stopped worrying about what other people think.

22. We worked really, really hard — constantly looking for more ways to pinch pennies and creative ways to bring in a little extra money.

23. We only ate meat a few times per week — and only then as a “condiment”.

24. We didn’t pay for internet — we got a free AOL three-month trial and when we called to cancel, they kept voluntarily extending our subscription!

25. We kept our home pared down to the basics and sold anything we didn’t use.

26. We didn’t use a babysitter. Since we weren’t living close to family, the first time we left our daughter was when she was over two and a half years old!

27. We didn’t exchange Christmas or birthday gifts of any sort until about four years into our marriage.

28. We prayed a lot. And God was always and has always been faithful!

What about you? What “extreme” things do you do or have you done in order to get out of debt and/or stay out of debt?

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  • Megan says:

    The most extreme things we are doing right now to save up for my husband’s medical school tuition are: rent a 450 sq ft apartment, stalk the “free” page on Craigslist and keep an eye pealed at dumpsters for any great discarded items. Aside from all the baby-related items you mentioned (no kids here), we do virtually everything on your list as well! (though we do pay for the cheapest internet possible, get haircuts at the local beauty school and eat out a lot thanks to mystery shopping).

  • Great list!! 🙂
    We have done a lot of those also and there isn’t much I can add to your list!

    My husband travels a lot for work and is gone 1-14 days at a time. The dear man often takes food with him to eat at the hotel instead of eating out. That has saved us thousands of dollars over the past 3 years of this job.

  • Clare C. says:

    All very good advice, although I can’t see myself ever cutting my own hair! My husband cuts all 4 of our kid’s hair so I’d definitely ask him before I’d try my own. Of course, #28 is the best advice of all…

  • Aubrey says:

    Awesome post! I think it is so awesome that you had your baby at a birth center, I really wanted to do that but unfortunately it wasn’t an option for me.

    We started using cloth diapers about 6 weeks ago and they are awesome! We invested in some of the pricier stay-dry styles because my son just can’t have anything wet against him or he gets a terrible rash. His rash has cleared up completely since we switched, they are easy and very cute, we love cloth! We should just about break even on diapers with our son, and of course we can use them for baby #2. If anyone is looking into cloth check out or

    Recently I started entering as many online giveaways as possible. So far I have won a $200 Target gift card, a six months supply of organic baby food, a free toddler bed, and two nice cloth diapers. Also we sign up for every freebie we can find! I also have earned 2 $5 gift cards to Amazon by using Swagbucks.

    Another way we have saved lots is by breastfeeding. It is a great way to save money and it is super healthy for moms and babies! Our son is allergic to dairy so if we had to buy formula for him we would probably go broke!

  • We stopped our trash pick-up and now take our own trash to the landfill! Isn’t as bad as I thought it would be! Plus, we recycle ALL that we can so that it reduces our trash amount!

  • Great post! We’ve done a lot of the things you’ve mentioned.

    Maybe not extreme, but something that has helped us in our financial journey is having my mother live with us. At this time, my husband and I both work full-time outside of the home. After our oldest child was born, we asked my mother to move in with us. My father had passed a few years before and managing a household on a fixed income was becoming challenging for my mother. We now have three children and my mother has lived with us for the past 6 years. Not having to use daycare or babysitters allowed us to use our income towards paying off debt (we are debt free except for our mortgage) and build up our emergency fund. Plus it is such a blessing to have my Mom close by (downstairs!) and have my children develop a close relationship with her. Something I didn’t have a chance to do with my own grandparents.

    Mary Ellen

  • Katie W. says:

    I especially like #28! 🙂 But we do alot of this as well. With having a 3 yr. old and our second child due anytime now, we have taking alot of hand me downs and we don’t care what other people think. Because all the money we are saving doing all these things will get us that much closer to having a farm someday! 🙂 Thank you so much for writing your list. There are alot I want to add to ours that I don’t have on ours! thank you again and you are an inspiration! 🙂

  • Audrie says:

    We have no cell phone, no cable, and hang dry all our clothes – other than socks, underwear, and such. I went to beauty school as a teenager, so I cut everyone’s hair, and I taught my husband how to cut mine.

    My husband works at a discount grocery store (he’s in college), and gets a discount on pay day weekends. We only stock up on the good deals every other weekend, and buy fresh produce to freeze.

    Those are the some of many!!

  • Darcie says:

    Those are great ideas!

    My husband and I collect aluminum cans from friends, co-workers and family and resycle them. Right now we have atleast $50 worth we are saving up for gas money for our vacation.
    We also do the hand-me-down trade thing. We have friends that give us children clothes and we give them something in return. Also there is a thrift store here that does the same. If you donate they will give you something you want in the store!
    We only go out to eat if we have coupons and lately we’ve been getting free meals from online sites!
    God is Also our Provider!!

  • dawn says:

    We do most of that already. I know we could tighten the belt, pinch more pennies and do more though. This month will give us an opportunity to do that too! One day it really hit me that the ‘economic disaster’ our nation has been in for several years really hasn’t affected us much. We had to make some adjustments of course and there’s things we do without that we’d like to have, but it wasn’t like some kind of radical, armageddon-type destruction to our lifestyle. We didn’t have any job loss to deal with though, that would have been tough. But basically, it’s been life as usual around here…no biggie. One nice thing about a frugal lifestyle, it weathers economic storms much easier than the affluent lifestyle! Love this blog and your tips are another way we make it, thanks for all your hard work!

  • Lisa says:

    We started a garden and are hoping to get enough vegetables for me to can for the whole year. I asked my mother and mother-in-law for canning jars and a hot water canning system for my birthday to avoid those start-up costs. Starting the square foot garden was relatively cheap, we used lumber given to us by a neighbor who moved and didn’t want to pay to move it. We purchased good quality garden soil for about $6/bag and used only 3 bags with extra left over. Seeds cost $1 or less per packet. Canning enough vegetables, jellies, spaghetti sauce, and salsa for our family of 6 for an entire year will greatly reduce our grocery budget.

  • trisha says:

    Breastfeeding. Not buying baby food. Doing our own auto repairs and other repairs around the home, sometimes even “making do” with what we have by becoming “handy.” Being a real neighbor.

    How about making a serious commitment to staying out of debt? Now that takes patience (to wait until you have the money).

    Last year we “committed” to become completely debt-free(house, farm, everything). I am amazed that once we became so committed, the blessings started pouring in and we are now completely debt-free! Sure we’ve wanted to do this for years and yes we’ve even been working on it but it really didn’t start to take off until we seriously became committed to it.

    I’m also amazed how when something broke and we decided we didn’t want to acquire more debt to replace it (like a vehicle), somehow, things practically were dropped in our laps that fit our needs!

  • Kimberlee says:

    That’s funny because I just wrote a post about how we’re weird- several counter cultural decisions we have made that have allowed me to stay home and allowed us to stay out of debt. I am so glad that we have made these decisions and I am sure you are as well.

    If you are interested, you can read my post here:

  • Wendi says:

    The biggest thing we do is delay gratification. We have no credit cards (all we owe is our car, the 2nd mortgage and house) and we refuse to add any further debt. Which means if there isn’t cash that payday, we don’t buy it.
    We aren’t proud. Hubby is a mechanic (field tech), and sees things getting tossed in dumpsters all the time. Full containers of olive oil, cans of food, etc. He will pull stuff out and bring it home. He’s brought home ladders, and other food items that I have been blessed to share with church family (what am I going to do with 14 huge bottles of olive oil?). The best recent blessing is he saw them preparing to get rid of a HUGE sewing table and offered to buy it. We got a steal ($75) for something worth over 1K. That is a blessing, and something I NEVER would have been able to afford! All because we didn’t rush into anything and just waited.

  • Guggie Daly says:

    Something that made a huge impact was buying less than we could afford. When we were in the market for a house, everyone-families, friends, realtors, etc-was excited to show us just how much house we could buy.

    Did we really need it? No. And buying smaller has given us countless benefits. Our mortgage PLUS condo fee is less than local rent rates for apartments. We have money to update everything and furnish our house. It’s so nice not having to think about where the money is coming from for our house and how we are going to afford an untimely problem, etc.

  • Patti Smith says:

    Congratulations! You really did a lot to save and not spend. That is terrific. I have to say my husband and I do not own any cell phones. The only time I would EVEN think of having one is when we are traveling by car and then I would get one of those throwaway ones that you can buy minutes for. We just do not see the need to carry a phone with us everywhere we go. I think it is so silly to see people talking on the phone in the grocery store, in the movies, at a restaurant. Who convinced people they needed that many phones? I am glad to say we have our landline and that is it. I feel good that I am not giving extra money to some company just to have a cell phone. People can do without a lot of things, if you just think about it. Good job. I enjoyed your article.

  • Angela says:

    We’ve been making our own laundry soap with washing soda, borax, and ivory soap. In place of dryer sheets, I use aluminum foil wadded up in a ball for the static cling and softener, and it’s reusable.

    • Beth says:

      I love the idea of tin foil in place of dryer sheets. Recently I have been having a ton of issues with skin allergies and I’m trying to eliminate every little thing possible to help. I can’t wait to try this and pitch the dryer sheets out. 🙂 Thanks!

      • Heather says:

        I picked up a set of the “dryer balls” at the discount grocery store. They do the job nicely when I use the dryer (not often–I haven’t had one often, & have just never gotten into the dryer “habit”)

  • Jen says:

    Congrats! That’s an awesome list. I especially like #26 and I know God wanted me to read that right now! After reading your post on your quick stop at Walmart, I was thinking how nice it would be to have someone to watch my kids so I could occasionally make a few quick stops by myself. It’s nice to know that you haven’t always had that luxury and I’m not the only one who has to run every single errand with two small children in tow! Keep up the good work.
    Oh, and I agree with everyone who said breastfeeding is a great money saving tip!

    • Joann says:

      @Jen, Same here, Jen. We haven’t been out since our 7-month-old was born. So many people think we’re doing some injustice to ourselves and our children by not leaving them for a night out. We don’t have family around either, and honestly, I love the sense we get out of doing it together or not doing it at all. I’m sure we’ll go out by ourselves sometime in the near future, but right now we’re doing just fine.

      • Andrea Q says:

        @Joann, Same here. The children are always with one of us or their teenage sister. Very few people understand and I have acquaintances who feel sorry for us!

        • Julia says:

          @Andrea Q, You might have to ask around a bit, but there are other families you might trade babysitting with you. We did this last fall.

        • k and b's mom says:

          Children and parents do need time alone to grow. You need to have faith that there are people besides family members that can watch your kids. You may want to join a mommy group or daycare co-op – sometimes the daycare swap is free. You don’t want your children to have anxiety separation at the age of 15!

  • Kimberly says:

    Great Post, Crystal!
    We do most of what you have on this list too (the parts that my husband would allow anyway!), although we didn’t stay in an apartment (it was too expensive…up to $750 a month for the ones we found near work). We did have to buy things for the baby too…eventually a crib, clothes, cloth diapers, etc. (we didn’t have supportive family, baby showers, or any of that), and we did need some furniture (bought used at garage sales or freebies from others…hubs and I still sleep on a mattress on the floor!) and we bought clearance plates to save on cost of paper plates all the time. We had our kids at a birthing center, but even that did set us back quite a bit on our budget. I can’t imagine how much it would have been to have a hospital birth.

    Breastfeeding saved a huge amount of money. One child had a health issue and had to have some kind of special formula because of her health needs, and it was like $25 a can…yeoch! if it wasn’t for the fact that this stuff saved my baby’s life, I wouldn’t have done it.

    We have a garden now that we live in the house, I shop super frugal, etc. Use the library. We did finally get cell phones after one very scary situation when I was broke down on the road alone after grocery shopping (hubby’s choice).

    We are still very much in debt…but slowly crawling out. His work has given him paycuts most years for the last ten, and he’s been laid off about 8 or 9 times since we got married 18 years ago, so that’s been hard, but we have to just trust God that this is part of His plan for us right now. Though i hate the strangling feeling I get from being in debt, I am thankful that God has always provided for each of those bills, even if it is only minimum payments some months.

  • Great post! We’ve done alot of the items you have listed.

    Maybe not extreme, but something that has helped us on our financial journey was to ask my mother to live with us. At this time, my husband and I both work full-time outside of the home. When our oldest child was born, we asked my mother to move in with us. My father had passed a few years before and managing a household on a fixed income had become challenging for my mother. My mother has been living with us for 6 years now. By not having to pay for daycare and babysitters, we were able to use our income to pay off debt (we are debt free except for our mortgage – and working on paying off that early!) and build up our emergency fund. Plus it is such a blessing to have my Mom close by (downstairs!) and have our children be able to develop a close relationship with their “Mee-maw”. Something I didn’t have with my own grandparents growing up.

  • ksenia says:

    We do a lot of those as well. However, I wonder: Should there be a balance between penny pinching and enjoying life? Do any of you feel tired of hardly every buying anything? I mean, what’s the point of working hard if you are not enjoying the fruits of your labor?

    I have a young child, another one on the way, work part time, am involved in my community. I try to cook from scratch and watch out for sales and deals, we cloth diaper, no paper products in the house, hardly any cosmetics, use lots of hand me downs. Doing only this, I still often feel overwhelmed and exhausted… I don’t know what the trick is to do all that the commenters above me do and still enjoy life. I’d love any feedback.

    • Heather says:

      I feel the same way. We are not ‘starving students’ but do have a small built-up of debt (college loans, mortgage, one car loan) that we are just now figuring out how to tackle. My husband and I would consider ourselves frugal, but we also ARE going to enjoy ourselves. If that means eating out and paying a babysitter once a month- that’s what we are going to do. If that means saving to take a vacation- we’ll do it. For us it’s all about balance. We are all in different situations, and no two are alike. I so appreciate hearing others stories, but for me, many of the measures above are VERY extreme. *We just started a babysitting coop and love it (should have done it sooner).

    • Mary S. says:


      I agree that there has to be some balance. Otherwise you do feel overwhelmed and exhausted and it is going to be much more difficult to stick with it. I think you can get that balance even if you are adhering to many of these “extreme measures”.

      One thing that I have found that helps is to add an item to your budget for “fun money” it can be as little as 3 or 4 dollars a week. Then you can either save it up and use it to go out to dinner every couple of months or use it to rent a movie and get a favorite snack that may not normally make the cut when shopping frugally. The amount you budget for this would depend on your circumstances and goals but for $3 you could pick up some candy and a movie from Redbox and make your own movie night. Also it helps to find frugal ways to do something you enjoy like going to lunch and an afternoon movie instead of dinner and a later showing or use some overage from couponing to pick yourself up a treat at the drugstore one week.

      • Beth says:

        @Mary S., I agree with the balance idea! We have included in our budget Netflix. It seems ridiculous when you think about it but my hubbie and I love to cuddle and watch a good movie! For about 10 dollars a month we always have a movie of our choice at home and tons of movies we can watch streaming online.

    • @ksenia, I don’t think Crystal would advocate living this way on a permanent basis…it’s just what they did to get through law school. She and her family eat out now, she pays to get her hair done, and so on.

      But in law school, things were different, and they did what they had to do.

      • Crystal says:

        I agree! If you’re going to be living on beans-and-rice longterm, you need to give yourself some grace and breathing room. Otherwise, you’ll likely burn out!

    • @ksenia, We didn’t buy much for a long time, and we don;t buy anything now. But, for a short while, we were out of debt (before we had a loss of income and three hospital visits). During that time, we had some disposable income. We decided to use the extra at that time to buy some furniture. I don’t regret paying cash (and on sale 🙂 for something that I use everyday, and it’s really nice to be able to sit on couches instead of folding chairs in my living room, and to be be able to sit at a real kitchen table with chairs instead of folding chairs and an old metal table (outdoor type) with a piece of black-painted plywood for a top.

      Being frugal and saving can make it possible for you to get something that you really want.

  • Amy H says:

    We live in a multi-generation situation which really is a win-win situation for us (but, understandably isn’t for everyone!)

  • Amen, especially to the eating little meat, using the library for books and videos, and having a baby without buying all the stuff the big stores say are “necessary.”

    Our second baby was born while we were living in on-campus family housing, and his “bedroom” was a porta-crib in our closet (not a walk-in closet, mind you–this is student housing). I used to cry as I looked at pictures that my pregnant friends posted on their blogs of their beautiful, perfectly decorated and coordinated nurseries, waiting for the day that baby came home from the hospital. But I wonder how many of them are still paying off a $2000 credit card balance that made that nursery possible.

    • Julia says:

      @Starving Student Survivor, We took a no frills approach when we had infants too. They won’t even remember what they didn’t have. However the shared tender moments bonding with Mom and Dad will impact them forever.

    • @Starving Student Survivor, It’s nice to know we’re not the only ones who have done that! Six children later, I’m still grateful for the simple white sheets my sister-in-law bought us for our first baby, because white goes with everything! We’ve had the crib in our room and in our closet (at different houses). We’ve never had a changing table. Our first baby lived in onesies and a pair of overalls that were given to us (when I had my second little girl–my fourth child–I did buy lots of dresses, because were were able to, then–but they were bought at resale shops and used on ebay.)

    • Katie W. says:

      @Starving Student Survivor,

      I totally agree! We are do with our second baby any day now and we have a bassinet from friends of ours. Because we don’t have any room to put a crib.(which we have but was a hand me down. ) And I am glad that we didn’t spend the money on the beautiful sets you can buy.

  • Tammy says:

    I was part of a small babysitting co-op so that I never used a sitter.

    I guess if you bother agreed on not giving each other gifts then that was good.We have been know to give a 99 cent bottle of soda as a gift to each other.

  • sara says:

    I moved to a small town in the South where everyone drives really big trucks- no bus or train system. I made sure to get an apartment within 2 miles of everything I would need- shopping, grad school, laundromat- then rode my secondhand bike everywhere. It was a lot easier then I thought it would be- it only took me 10 minutes to get to anything. I had a rolling cart that I took with me to the grocery on big trips, and an over-the-back-wheel bike rack for small ones. The only time it was really annoying was 1) Rain 2) Letting laundry pile up and carting a ton of it to the laundromat. And now I miss how fit it made me! Those little 10 minute spurts of biking really add up!

  • Andrea Q says:

    We took advantage of a temporarily placement at a field office through my husband’s employer. They moved us 2,500 miles from home (and then back); we got a larger salary that allowed us to pay off most of our debt and save up a downpayment for a house. It was an amazing four years!

  • Julia says:

    @Andrea Q, You might have to ask around a bit, but there are other families who might trade babysitting with you. We did this last fall.

  • Stephanie says:

    I can’t agree more with #28. God will provide He has done this over and ove in ou marriage an there are still plenty of things an indiviual or a family can cut back on. I truly believe having faith and praying and allowing God to have control will relieve a lot of stress, which can lead to overeating, marital conflicts and health issues just to name a few. We have thought so many tims that this just isn’t possible and God proves us wrong and still allows us to be able to share abundantly with others.
    Praise God!

  • Annette says:

    Honestly, the biggest money savers for us are our parents. We live within 20-30 minutes of both parents and they both extremely helpful. They babysit for free (they actually call and ask if we’d like to go out so they can babysit), which allows us to have a date every week. Yes, I said every week. We don’t spend a lot of money on dates, but that’s something that keeps us sane. Often, we’ll do a cheap dinner at Costco (for about $5) and then walk around Target or something (we’re weird, I know). We go to movies cheaply when I’m able to take advantage of movie offers through grocery deals (free movie tickets when you buy certain # of cereals, etc.). I can usually get a movie ticket for under $5 that way.

    My couponing also saves us a ton of money. I track my spending and saving and we’re getting twice as much with coupons as we would without them. I was able to cut $150 off our monthly budget, which allows us to pay more debt and save more.

    We’re very blessed to have generous parents too- they bought our nursery furniture when we were expecting our son. They helped with our hospital bill after he was born. My parents just paid for sod to be put in our (tiny) backyard because it was just dirt before. They wanted our son to have a yard to play in. Things like that really free up money for us to spend on other things. Both of our parents struggled in their early years of marriage and they’re both doing well right now. So they enjoy helping their kids out so they don’t have to struggle as much.

  • kirsten says:

    When my children were younger, my friends and I would take turns watching each others kids. It saved us the cost of hiring a babysitter and gave us all some alone time with our hubby’s.

  • kavm says:

    Great tips. I especially agree with eating meat a few times a week instead of every day (saves money and it’s a fun way to explore new recipes). And using 100% cash makes a big difference – it’s a smart move to put the credit card away. Lists like this help a lot – I came across another good one recently on that featured 10 tips for saving money on travel, like attending festivals instead of costly attractions and checking out library books (yes libraries still exist!) instead of purchasing books and DVDs. Looking forward to fun and guilt-free summer!

  • Julia says:

    Thanks for all these great ideas! I really appreciate reading what you did as a follow up to the “Extremely Free” post you recommended. Coincidentally, this week I shared 17 strategies we are using in our quest to stay out of debt here:

  • Kacie says:

    That’s wonderful!

    I think I remember reading that cloth diapers didn’t work out for you and you switched back to disposals. Any thoughts on switching back to cloth? There’s some new kinds out there that might work better for ya!

  • Deb H. in Wisconsin says:

    Thanks for sharing! God does always provide! We all need to find ways to live within the means that He provides for us~ which is different for each family. Everyone has their own priorities on what they will “splurge” on and what they will “pinch” on.

    I appreciated the comment about “enjoying life.” I agree that we may have to really tighten the belt for months/years, but to stay in that mode constantly becomes wearisome. My family loves to eat out, so when I pinch, clip, save, re-use ~ I figure it is my way of allowing my family to indulge in what they love to do.

    I also want to add that pinching pennies changes when the kids are older. My kids are 16, 14 and 11~ and saving money now is faaaaar different than it was when they are little. Our cost for milk for a week is close to what some of you pay for a week of groceries! However, I prefer healthy, happy, well-rounded kids (with a mother at home).

  • Ditto the breastfeeding (nursed DD for 3 years and 1 month) and cloth diapers (got them used, currently am sharing some with a friend who’s like minded) and baby food (made my own / gave her what we ate), thrift stores (95% of our clothes come from there), rummage sales and free piles/posts.

    I also cut everyone’s hair, rarely use my clothes dryer, grow garden from seed, don’t have cable, have a 4 year old cell phone, bag my and DH’s lunch daily for work, play the drugstore game, stick to a budget, and…

    we put all of my income toward paying off our house early, saving for retirement/college savings for our DD. So effectively we live on less than half of what we bring in, because I have the higher salary.

    God willing, our home will be paid off in November-December and that will give us the freedom for me to be a SAHM / freelance writer from home.

  • We have done most of these during our marriage as well, though I still can’t get my meals down as low as you do (or even double, since I have twice as large of a family). My husband and I still don’t exchange gifts for birthdays, aniversaries, and Christmas (though I did ask him to buy milk for me for our anniverary for the last two years; it was a splurge for us to do so, but a wonderful treat!)

    My husband cuts my hair. He had three haircuts after we were married, and then I started cutting his after that. We cut the children’s hair at home.

    All 6 of our children were born at home.

    My husband works from home most days, saving gas and wer and tear on the car.

    We only go out once a year, and then only if my parents watch our children and give us money to go out as an anniverary gift.

    We also accept hand-me-downs, and I make many clothes for my family as well (including making clothes over). I also have a friend who takes my list with me on her vacations, and she garage sale shops for my boys (her own children are grown, and she loves garage sale shopping).

    We also don’t take vacations. (If we could, I think we would, but paying the bills comes first).

    We also drink water (as opposed to buying drinks), mend our clothes, and grow lots of fruits and vegetables at home.

    We are also a one-car family who doesn’t go anywhere. People are surprised that I’m always home, but staying home saves us a lot of money!

  • Christina says:

    If more people in this great country of ours would live below their means just like all of you are doing we probably wouldn’t have this government bailout tragity!
    I have only been couponing for a little over a year and what a TREMENDOUS impact it has made in our life not just financially but my relationship with my husband as well, we rarely ague over money anymore which is a HUGE one in many relationships. I wish I would have learned all the in’s and out’s sooner when my husband went back to college just a week after our first son was born in ’04. Luckily we have made many wise decisions (with God on our side) and are COMPLETLY debt free. This includes 3 vehicles, 2 boats, a lake house and our main dwelling! Some of you ask about “don’t you have any fun” YES!!! We take vacations almost every other week at our lake house! One of the boat’s is very old but was given to us the other is also old and we paid $2k under bluebook. I still have the car that my folks bought me when I went to college and it’s got $200k miles on it and still runs like a champ!! My husband and I are both very handy and when it comes to do it yourself, we do it ALL!! My Mama always said “never turn down someone giving you something, they’ll look elsewhere next time” So we have MANY hand me downs including almost ALL of our furniture. The lake house (single wide trailer) was sold completely furnished, even the sheets and dishes and with all my great deals at Walgreens on toothpast, deoderant, etc. we were up and running in no time! My brother supports his local 4-H every year and buys several animals to eat, whatever they don’t finish from their freezer before the new meat arrives he sends to us over 800 miles away (my folks usually bring it when they visit) so we have lots of meat to choose from for free! We have no family nearby (closest is about 400 miles) many times our church hosts a parents night out which we take full advantage of but our last date was crusin the isles at Lowes to scope prices on some more DIY projects! We also have no land line just cell phones (my husbands is company paid) and we still use rabbit ears to get our TV or Red Box!! I love this life style because I can say we have NO dept! It can be exhausting at times and some times I do splurge and throw caution to the wind but I’m very regretful and pick up right where I left off.
    Cudos to all of you living debt free or trying to get there!! It’s not an easy road but it is very fulfilling.

  • Kirsten says:

    A great alternative to paying for a babysitter (even if it is just to go take a “free date” like a walk around a park or sitting and talking in a bookstore) is to swap sitting with other families from your church or neighborhood.

    We’ve joined a babysitting co-op (where you “earn” tickets or points by watching other members’ kids and can then “spend” them by having them watch your kids)…and at other times we just set up swaps with other couples where we alternate weeks watching each others’ kids. In that second scenario one night per week is set aside as “date night” and twice per month you get to go out, and twice per month you watch the other family’s kids.

  • Jenna says:

    I just wanted to thank you for all these posts recently. My husband and I are trying like crazy to be in a position to buy a house next Spring. About 4 years ago we moved to a town an hour away in order for what would have normally been a great promotion if the economy hadn’t been so bad. We sold the first house we bought together when we moved and ended up loosing money. But it had been on the market for almost a year and paying morg. and rent was killing us. After having our first son 1 1/2 years ago- I became a SAHM and die hard couponer/deal seeker. I always cut coupons, but started the drugstore hopping, rebates, stockpiling. I have now recently been helping friends that want to know how I do it.

    It’s posts like this that help keep me motivated that I CAN make a differance for my family and IT IS possible. My husband runs a restaurant and isn’t home at night or on the weekends…so on this Friday night sitting alone on the couch with the baby in bed…after reading this I didn’t feel so alone.

    I love your blog- been following for almost 2 years. Thanks for all you do- it really affects a lot of lives and you should be proud!

  • Jessica says:

    This is a good list….we are already doing a lot of these things but are learning there is a balance to it all. While we try to live frugaly in many areas we are learning to live a little in others. I have to remind myself that life isn’t just about preparing or saving for the future…it’s also about living in the now and we should take time to enjoy it (Ecc. 8:15!), whether it be an (free!) evening at home with the family or a dinner out with friends. The key is to enjoy life and for sometimes for me, stressing over ways to pinch more pennies isn’t necessarily the true enjoyment of life. My husband and I have learned again and again that God provided abundantly and in unexpected ways…it’s amazes us and I’m always left wondering why I try to take things into my own hands and worry and stress about money!

  • Louise says:

    One thing I’d like to add if any of you have teenage daughters – my daughters loved “designer jeans” while in high school. I allowed them to have them; however, they had to come up with the “difference” in costs – so they babysat, did odd jobs – whatever, but it was enough for them to get what was really important to them.

    Also at the end of every school year, they’d launder and iron the clothes they “grew out of” and I took them to a resale shope. They “earned” enough for really nice tennis shoes for the following year.

    As long as money is tight, even the children can “help out.”

  • Heather says:

    We do a lot of the things other folks on this list do, but here are a few tips I haven’t seen:
    1. Use a clothesline, rather than a dryer, if you can. Not only is it cheaper, energy-wise, line drying is also better for you clothes. Lots of people don’t realize this, but washing and drying actually does more to wear out clothing than wearing it does!

    2. Learn how to shop farm auctions–especially if you need basic household gear. Usually, the other auctiongoers don’t want household basics, and they go VERY cheaply (one example from the last auction we went to was a working vacuum cleaner, a child’s desk, and enough stainless steel saucepans to keep house, all for $1. At the same auction, we bought a sewing machine, and a bunch of fabric to sew with, for $6–all of my little girl’s dresses and nightgowns this summer came from that fabric, and turned out really cute!)

    3. Learn to sew. Sewing machines do not have to be expensive. As I said above, the one I’ve been using since January cost me $6, with fabric. Patterns are often as low as 99 cents on sale–& can be had secondhand even cheaper. Fabric is also not hard to come by, and there are many ways to save money on it. I make many of my family’s clothes–from my husband’s underwear and button-down shirts to the diapers my little guy wears (which his sister also wore). The absorbent layers in my diapers are towel fabric, because I got a huge box of old towels at an auction for $1. I mostly taught myself to sew when I was a kid, because my fashion desires overran my clothing budget, and it is a skill that has saved me and my family thousands of dollars over the years, easily, as well as allowing me to have things that I would not otherwise fit into the budget, such as breastfeeding tops. An older sewing machine in good shape is very likely to be a better deal than a new one from one of the discount stores, as those are simply not very good quality. And, as with any tool, poor quality is false economy and frequently just aggravating to use. You might end up thinking you hate sewing, when you would like it much better if only your machine wasn’t designed to be a piece of junk!

    4. This seems counterintuitive, but it’s just not: With ALL tools and equipment, buy the best you can afford. Better quality will last longer, in many cases be safer to use, and will save you many dollars worth of aggravation. You will also not be chomping at the bit so much to replace it with something better. Often, it is a better idea to spend your money on a better-quality used piece of equipment (anything–from socket wrenches to kitchen knives to furniture to sewing machines) than a lesser-quality new version of the same thing.

    4. This one has been mentioned before, but learn how to use your local freecycle and craigslist free sections effectively. The best hint is to plan ahead. You can find almost ANYTHING on the free section of CL if you check it regularly and know what you are looking for. When CL has free couches every day, why is your living room furnished with folding chairs? At the moment, almost all of our furniture has come from CL for free or from freecycle. Don’t be afraid to check the not-free sections of CL, too–you may just fine what you need for a much more budget-friendly price than buying it at the store.

  • mel says:

    Great post. We do all those things, and find it kinda fun in a way. But it’s a nice reminder that you can pray your way through any obstacle!

  • Those are very interesting to read! When we were first married, we had no money even though my husband worked 12-14 hours a day, we lived in a mobile home and shared the rent with my younger married sister (great way to save on rent…we shared expenses for the first year and half or so of married life and kept each from going totally crazy from being alone all the time without a car and never seeing anyone else)
    When we had our first babies, we bought everything at garage sales from clothes to cribs….it really helped.
    In order to stay out of debt, we decided to forgo many conveniences….including electricity, running water, toilets, showers and lived in rustic cabins for 4.5 years without it. We paid for everything up front. If we wanted to use electricity, we had to pay for the gas for the generator and if we wanted to cook, we had to pay for propane. Otherwise, we had little expenses…., we washed clothes at the laundry mat and cut back on clothing.
    Other things we did was we never would have car unless we had cash to pay for it, they can be older, but they were paid for.
    We made so little money we did not have to file taxes some of those years….and we struggled as where we moved work was scarce, but we traveled where there was work sometimes and later went back home, but it was worth it, to not be in debt like so many others.
    As time went on, we slowly have done better, we upgraded to living in a 1 bed apt with 2 boys and being pregnant, when we moved I was pregnant with #4, but it was $200 a month. We lived without a phone for many years as well. Now, we have some debt in our house, but nothing else….it became cheaper to buy than rent even though we had to go into debt for it, and i love having a shower and lights, computers etc. But i know, if I had to, I could do it again!

  • I’m so glad you posted your list! It has all the other things we did, but I didn’t put in the “extreme” post. 🙂 (Except I never did the drugstore games.) We had our baby at home, instead of a birth center, and it was definitely a wonderful experience, as well as a frugal choice.

  • Carrie says:

    Getting back to basics, check out Amy Dacyczyn’s first book. She is/was the Frugal Zealot and although some of the info in the book is dated and pre-computer, she really is the main person I credit for helping me see the less-costly side of life. Although she is no longer in the spotlight, there is much relevant information to be found in her books and I highly recommend her.

  • Hannah says:

    I just want to share with all of you other money saving moms, especially young ones like me, an epiphany I’ve just had this past week. Since my husband and I got married three years ago, I’ve wished he would agree to using only cash and no credit, to eating far less meat, to using cloth diapers on the kids while I’m at work (as I do when I’m home and he’s at work). I’ve been belligerent about these and other money saving issues, if not verbally, at least in my heart and it has become a source of contention. Or I should say HAD become, because God has really changed my heart. I have realized that none of my personal goals or dreams or ideas, no matter how fabulous, are more important than my relationship with my husband and being at peace with him. I feel so free now. Free to love my husband instead of loving my own personal goals in budgeting and spending.

    All that to say, it is wonderful that Crystal and Jesse have been able to live like this and pay cash for a house. Praise God for that! But don’t let reading about their experience make you discontent with the way you and your husband have decided together to manage your money and to live your lives. Love your husband more than you love your money.

  • Laura says:

    Great ideas and tips! There are a few high end neighborhoods that have annual garage sales with amazing deals of kids’ clothing and toys I like to visit. As a vegetarian family, our doctor reminds us every year how healthy this is for our family and it checks out with all our tests – even iron! Interesting books to read about this are: The China Study and Mad Cowboy by Howard Lyman a cattle farmer who turned vegetarian after witnessing all the contamination, pesticides, antibiotics, etc. in the meat industry. Also the movie Food Inc. gives Americans a glimpse at how appalling and ruthless the cow, pig, and chicken industries are – okay I’m off my soapbox now! As an animal lover, like so many of you, any days that you choose to eat meat free are often healthier for you and your family, animals, and our environment – and often cheaper too! Yea!

  • Jay H. says:

    having lived through hard times before we implemented “REPARING” instead of buying! This is being a lesson to my kids.
    So far we’ve repaired instead of buying:
    camera repair ( – Great job! 1/3 of the price! recommended by good photographer friend
    refrigerator – local shop recommended by neighbor
    and we even tried our hand and some electrical outlets! that was a hard one!

  • katharine says:

    It is so affirming to hear from so many other like-minded moms. We had 2 of our babies at home (with a midwife), and do all the things you listed, and most of your readers’ ideas as well! My husband has been in college for all 11 years of our marriage and unfortunately, his PhD degree didn’t work out. Now he is certifying to teach school. We now have 5 children, and feel incredibly blessed to be debt-free. One book I have enjoyed that has lots of crazy ways to live thriftily is “It makes Cents” by Vi Judge. The Lord truly helps those who help themselves!

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