A lot of you know that my husband and I spent the first three and half years of our marriage with him in law school and us living on a part-time income. We never went hungry and we always had a roof over our head and clothes to wear, but it was a very lean time.
During those years, we lived in a little basement apartment that only had four windows on one side. I could plug the vacuum cleaner into one outlet and vacuum the entire apartment without ever switching outlets.
We only had one old vehicle almost the entire law school tenure and Jesse usually used it for transportation from work and school. We knew hardly anyone in town we lived in–in spite of many efforts to try and make friends–and there were really not any safe places I could walk to from our apartment.
It would have been easy to have been swallowed up in despair and I won’t pretend there weren’t moments when I felt sorry for myself or wished we could be living in a little better circumstances. However, I decided, with God’s help, to try and make the most of what might seem like a less-than-ideal situation.
Maybe we didn’t have money to go out, but I challenged myself to think up creative ways we could still have fun without spending money. We’d check out a movie from the
library and have homemade pizza. In the Winter, we’d brew some coffee, pop some popcorn, and play a board game. Sometimes, we’d go to the park with a picnic or we’d browse the book selection at Barnes and Noble.
We didn’t have money to spend on decorating our home, but I still found ways to make it homey and inviting. For starters, I tried to always keep it clean and
clutter-free–even if it wasn’t very pretty, at least it could smell nice and look clean! We tried to have music playing in the background and that always spruced up a rather bare home, too.
We couldn’t afford fancy foods or restaurant meals, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t eat well. I had fun trying new recipes, searching out good deals, and stretching our grocery budget as far as possible. I discovered AllRecipes.com and enjoyed using their ingredient search feature to come up with new recipes to use what I already had on hand.
Instead of going out and buying things, I’d go to the library and check out a stack of books. Sometimes we’d check out CD’s too, so we’d have new music to play in our home throughout the week.
It was also in this little basement apartment that I first began blogging and tinkering around with online entrepreneurial things. Had it not been for the free time and lack of friends, I would have never even considered pursuing blogging or had the time to learn about basic web design, online marketing, or producing an ebook or ecourse. Little did I dream that in a few years, those same skills would allow me to help supplement our family’s income by doing something I very much enjoy while keeping my priorities as a wife and mother first and foremost.
And guess what? It was holed up in this little basement apartment with sometimes only $20 to spare for groceries for the week that I was searching grocery deals online and came upon this store called CVS that everyone in a now-defunct savings forum was raving about. I could never have imagined what that simple search would uncover for me that day, nor how many thousands of other individuals I’d have the opportunity to introduce to CVS as well!
Yes, living in that little basement apartment in an unfamiliar town barely squeaking by financially would never have been something I would have chosen for myself, but I’ll always be grateful God allowed me those three and half years of learning to be content, learning to love simplicity, and learning to make the most of what I had. And I hope I never forget those lessons.
A cheerful attitude can go a long way in less-than-ideal situations; you can either complain about the thorns or you can savor the roses which bloom in the
midst of those thorns. Choose to bloom where you’re planted–even if it seems like it’s among thorns!
Nyakarima King says
Great post Crystal. My basement apartment is living in a European country and being jobless for 3.5 years now,since you must speak the language first. I have previously never been jobless for any time. I think it was God’s plan coz I started writing. Had a blog for 2.5 years, starting a new blog in a few weeks, I’m writing a book, have learnt everything about book publishing. I never could have done so with the cushy jobs. Though I miss the spa lol. The process was uncomfortable but necessary.
I love this! We have been married 4 years in Oct. We started out in a 1 bedroom teeny tiny apt (where my mother thought needed to be demolished but I loved it), then we lived in a huge luxury apartment, a bigger rented home, a fancy house we owned….and now after a job change and cross country move we are in a small 2 bedroom apt. I will always love our teeny tiny apt the most. Lately I’ve had the itch to move and since we’re back in our home state it’s easy to compare our apt to everyone’s houses. I’ve been looking for a sign that we are were we need to be and tonight a nice gentleman knocked on our door and handed us our keys (car/apt/outside door). I’m taking that as a sign. This article has inspired me to hush the voices and live where we already are and focus on living not the apt. Thank you!
This is what I needed today. I am currently living at home and not very happy about it. I so appreciate this article today. Gave me things to think about.
Thank you for this reminder. I needed it today.
Mama Bear says
Great post! I can vacuum my entire apartment without changing plugs, too! I’m linking to this in my first ever link love post at my blog.
Your blog has been such an encouragement to me and I really appreciated this last article as it was a good reminder to be thankful for what we have been given. My husband is in the midst of raising support as a missionary and the last several months have been very tight, but God has indeed used the time to increase our faith and help us enjoy the simple things. Though always frugal, I had no idea how much could be saved through coupons. There is no CVS here, but I never would have benefitted from the savings at Walgreen’s without your blog. Thanks for all the ways you have blessed me and my family!
Thank you so much for this post! 🙂 Your story has many similarities to experiences my husband & I have had as well. (Although you certainly made better use of God’s wisdom that I did originally!)
I have a Simple Living series on my blog that shares our story, and I love reading others’ stories (like yours!) too.
By the way, I can still do the “vacuum from one outlet” thing, and I really wouldn’t want it any other way! 🙂
Thanks for your encouragement and example to pursue contentment. A scripture that goes along with this is Hebrews 13:5 “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said,’I will never leave you nor forsake you.'” It’s hard to be content with what you have unless you are content in the Lord. In contrast, even if we have nothing besides Him, we are RICH!
I just love this post because it echoes what has been on my heart lately. We lived in a teeny apartment with a futon to sleep on and two board games to our name for entertainment. We moved somewhere unfamiliar and had no friends…yet, my life was rich and my marriage was strong.
There are times where I wish I could go to that simplicity and the newness of it all. Thank you for this reminder, Crystal!
Mrs. Kyle McVay says
I have been looking for someone to explain the CVS thing to me! I am already a professional “cheapy pie”. I enjoy your site and will be back to learn lots!
Your story moved me. Our living situation was very similar for our first 5 years of marriage with 1 then 2 small children.
We live in the largest, wealthiest city in South Africa. We moved here from our small hometown a month after getting married – we were only 21 and already had a 2 year old daughter (another story). I remember never inviting anyone over and struggling to make friends because our tiny, rented home, furnished entirely with stuff other people threw away, didn’t even begin to compare with the large, elaborate homes others we came across (at Church and business) had.
BUT, that time with my little girl was so precious. Stuck at home in a huge, crime-ridden city without a car (no public transport here) and my new husband working 12 hour days, my daughter and I spent all those days together. We’d walk to a nearby park and feed the ducks and play. I sewed and knitted most of her clothes. We had tea parties. We baked and cooked our frugal meals together. Sometimes we could get a ride to the mall but without ANY spending money, we’d spend hours just looking around and would finish the day with a shared cup of coffee at a small, inexpensive coffee-shop. The people in the shop got to know us and after a few times we got drinks and cookies free! During those afternoons walking around the mall, most people got to know us. I think it was a formative time in my daughters personality – she is very outgoing and friendly and this has opened many ministry opportunities for her. Anyway, we often look back and talk about those times – they were the best!
We eventually earned a bit more and bought a large house. But guess what? With the cost of maintaining it, the hours that go into keeping the yard and with little extra money to re-decoarte or fix-up its many rooms (which means I often still feel too embarrassed to invite people over), we sometimes long for the little rental home we had all those years ago and the simple but blessed times we shared together there!
When my husband was in grad school, we lived in a tiny shoebox apt. that had such poor A/C we would literally sweat unless we sat right in front of it. In winter we had to sleep with hats on because the heat was so poor too. We had no car and it was just over a mile to the grocery, so I would walk and just take back what I could carry. We didn’t spend anything unless it was a necessity – I was working a job that only paid $5 an hour. However, I wouldn’t trade that time for anything – it grounds you, and makes you shake your head at the whiners in life who go into debt because of what they think they have to have.
I love being stretched like this! You make the best of so many more situations. When I was younger my parents were divorced and my dad could literally not make ends meat but would end up finding the COOLEST free stuff for us to do and inventing the coolest games. I would not trade those experiences for anything in the world :). Now I can pass them on when I have little kiddos (some day in the FAR future :))
Crystal, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for this wonderful website. If it wasn’t for facebook I would have never found this website. Also thank you so much for your encouraging words. I usually spend about $75.00 on grocery shopping, but now since I have found your website I spend about $60.00. I am a stay at home mom to two wonderful kids. My son is 2 1/2 years old and my daughter is 1 1/2. My husband and I just started following Dave Ramseys plan this year when we were not able to make our minimum payments on our credit cards. I wish I would have known Dave’s plan before we got ourselves in this mess, but with the Lord’s help I know things will work out. The Lord is showing his mercy to us now, he just gave my husband a second job which is an answer to prayer! I know that I am a total stranger, but I just ask that you please keep my husband in your prayers. We are 27 years old, but my husband has a heart problem that runs in his family, so I ask that you pray that the Lord will take care of him while he is working two jobs. I know the Lord will take care of him, but it is so nice to know that other Christians are praying for him. Once again thank you so much for this wonderful website. May the Lord keep blessing you and your family.
Wonderful post, Crystal. I read on another blog, a remark made by George McDonald (who wrote some amazing novels): “No words can express how much the world owes to sorrow. Most of the Psalms were born in the wilderness. Most of the Epistles were written in a prison. The greatest thoughts of the greatest thinkers have all passed through the fire. The greatest poets have ‘learned in suffering what they taught in song.’ In bonds Bunyan lived the allegory that he afterwards wrote, and we may thank Bedford Jail for the Pilgrim’s Progress. Take comfort, afflicted Christian! When God is about to make pre-eminent use of a person, HE put them in the fire.”
When we live in a place as you did, without friends, it helps us get to another destination, and often I think the FATHER works through “circumstances”…though I no longer believe in such a thing as circumstance!! A loving FATHER, will help HIS children reach their destiny.
My husband and I are at the other end of life as you describe it–we are looking toward retirement, and trying to pare down and simplify our lives. We are currently building a cabin with a (less than)600 square ft. “apartment” on the ground floow–1 bedroom, bath/laundry, living/dining/kitchen. The upstairs is the same size, but just one open room, with a bath, which will be heated and cooled only when we have family or friends staying over. We are still in the process of planning to make the most out of less. Thanks for your tips.
Excellent post. So often God gives us the best opportunities and beginnings where we least expect them!
What a wonderfully written post! This past winter has been the first real period I haven’t been working full time (or caring for a newborn like the winter before!)and it happened to be we were lacking financially and with gas prices on the soar along with winter storm after storm, I was literally trapped at home as well. Also lacking in friends, I had only the internet to my disposal. 🙂 What a blessing in disguise it’s actually been. Especially since I’ve found your 2 blogs! We’ve been learning how to really save money. And through your blog carnivals I’ve found so many other women who have the same values and interests. (one thing I can’t find in my town!) Plus I’ve been able to really research healthier and more frugal food options for our family. I’ve tried tons of new things I never would have because there are so many women who post about their projects and give pictorial step-by-steps.
Thanks for all you do Crystal, you have a lot of friends out here in bloggy land!
A neat article on yahoo this morning… http://shopping.yahoo.com/articles/yshoppingarticles/110/never-pay-retail-again/.
Thank-you so much for your posts! I’m learning so much from your posts, and I decided to try a bunch out this week. SInce I’m a beginner, I’m using the Grocery Game. But with your encouragement, ideas, help, and support…I’ve saved $70 this week. My husband and I debate buying a new car with soaring gas prices, but have two old paid for, debt free cars. This post about less being more remind me we have so much! Two cars! Paid for! Less is more. I think we may need to hold on to them for a while longer–at least until they die. Again, thanks for all that you do! It’s amazing!
Kimberly L says
Thank you so much for everything! I signed up with Dave Ramsey today — I already feel like my life is changing 🙂
lylah ledner says
Your personal story is one that proves out again how any woman can make lemonade out of lemons. God’s given women such an ability to influence and be creative, but when we have a pity party, nothing creative can be released.
I love your story. Blessings…lylah
I can tell you, my husband and I started in a very humble position – we both had minimum wage jobs, lived in a tiny garage apartment (where to fit the bed in the “bedroom” we had to take the door off so we could walk to the closet). We ate good 1 night a week (Shabbat) and lived on beans and rice and other inexpensive but tasty fare.
Life is not in the physical posessions, but in the everyday moments, sharing a sunset or fireworks, discovering a new trail in the park, enjoying a new author from a library.
Today, almost 10 years later, with a 16 month old daughter, I am in a “better” financial position. But I never lost that appreciation for awe and beauty of this world – in fact with her, I found a whole new world of amazement. Her discoveries and my joys are free yet priceless.
AND – I still clip coupons and was a CVS gal from way back. Sometimes I think that roots of hardship can instill a habit of thriftiness.
Just because I make more than minimum wage now doesn’t mean I can be thrilled to get something for free!
I do want to thank you MsM for your tips – I am a full time working mom, and your blogs have helped me to do even better than I normally would. Thanks!
Mama Looking Up says
Thanks for this post. With gas prices what they are, and also because by going out less I spend less, we have been sticking very close to home in recent months. The result has surprised me. I am more content and find more joy in the small tasks of caring for my family than I ever did when it was easier to be distracted from my home. When times are lean, God's gifts are no less real.
Amen! Last summer when my husband lost his job, we decided it was time for him to quit the accounting job he hated and go to seminary full time. A year ago, I would have said no way can we afford to you to not work full time. By the grace of God, we have managed to cut every expense imaginable, yet still pay all of our bills and survive. The more we simplify the happier we really are. Thank you for your blog, you have inspired me and my sister and families to simplify and put our priorities where they need to be with God and family.
I want to THANK you for all the hard work and dedication and time you spend on your amazing blog. Just in the two short months I have been CVS'n and clipping coupons I have saved about $2000.00. My hats off to you!! I could not have done it without all the information you have to offer for me and countless others.
My daughter and I discovered CVS at the same time and since then we have taught all my sisters, nieces and several good friends to use the CVS program. They all read your blog. I want to THANK YOU again, not only for myself but for all of them as well.
THANK you and may God open His store-house of Blessing on you and your family with supernatural abundance!!
Thank you Crystal for that encouragement. We did the same thing for the first two years of our marriage and are considering going back to that simpler lifestyle because we aren't happy with our jobs where we live. No point in making more money if you're miserable! I actually like living the simple life so much more. I feel more at peace, content, and have more time to be the kind of wife I want to be.
A beautiful entry and oh-so-true! Thanks for your gentle thoughts and the smile they brought to my face.
This post couldn’t have come at a better time. My husband is in school right now and it’s been a long road. Today, I had thoughts of feeling sorry for myself, but prayed and thought about all the things I’m so very grateful for. Thank you so much for bringing more perspective to the situation. I find your blog very inspirational and I enjoy reading it every day. You’ve helped me see the value in so many things!
Mrs. J says
You know what, I needed to read this post! I just broke down an hour ago because I was so homesick plus with our financial situation, I felt so bad. We can’t even afford a tv service right now! Thank you for posting this. You never know how you just lightened up my day. I should be cheerful!
I’ve been spending too much time in the thorns lately. Thanks for the reminder! I’m grateful for your little basement apartment since I’m one of the people you led to CVS. Love it! -Michele
Lisa Q. says
That is an inspiring story. I have a friend that has lived in her mother-in-law’s basement, in a house that only had the basement finished and a small rental home; in each home she found ways for it to be inviting and homey. We always felt comfortable when we visited. It is a talent and an attitude! We too had lean times, and are experiencing them again. Wild flowers in an old milk bottle do a lot to freshen up a kitchen and dining room!!
Jennifer H. says
Are you doing seperate transactions because you have the $3/$15 coupons and want to maximize the savings that way? Or is there another reason for doing this?
I am new to all this and have had a CVS two blocks from my house for 3 years!!! I never paid attention and want to shoot myself for not paying attention!
When my parents were first married, my dad was in the navy, stationed out of New York. My mom knew no one, and couldn’t afford the “officers’ wives” events. She checked out a lot of books from the library, took some community education classes, and improved her skills in diy projects like sewing and such — which she still uses to generate extra income. Thanks for sharing your story.
You are truly a beautiful person. I loved your story!
thank you for this post. It was just what I needed to hear.
speaking os simple living, I just saw this pot on a money saving forum!
During the World War II food shortages, people were forced to make the most of what they had. With today’s escalating grocery prices, one hint from that time still makes a lot of sense (and cents!)… how to turn one stick of butter into two. This extended butter has the same taste and texture as regular butter. It’s frugal… half the cost… but it’s also healthier… because it has half the fat and half the calories of regular butter. You can use extended butter almost anywhere you would normally use butter, but remember that it contains only half the amount of fat, so you cannot use it in any dish that depends on a certain fat content. This is why you cannot use it for baking.
Extended butter is easy to make. Just beat one half cup of lukewarm water into one softened stick (one half cup) of butter. If you use a mixer, start slowly to prevent splattering. Add small amounts of water at a time and keep beating until the water is thoroughly incorporated into the butter. The mixture will be smooth and fluffy, and you will end up with one cup of soft butter. After this soft butter is refrigerated, it will become as firm as regular butter. I make up only one stick at a time and usually store the butter covered in a stainless steel measuring cup that lost its handle some time back. If your preferences run to something fancier, try shaping it or putting it in a pretty dish. This butter will also pick up detail nicely from a mold.
Thank you, I have had a thorny day and you really helped me to look at the big picture. God bless you!
Someone Being Me says
I know I am certainly grateful for your website. Going from two incomes to one recently has made a big difference in our budget. No telling how much money and stress you have saved me with the CVSing and the coupons. I had never even heard of the CVS ECBs until I came across your website.
A true testament of God’s grace.Thank you so much for your story. It shows just how little one can do with and yet be so grateful, and content.
I bet not being able to make friends despite trying was a little hard in a new place.
Mama to four
Excellent post! Thank you for the encouragement….
and for sharing the bouquet of CVS roses with the rest of us!!
Thank you so much for this post. I really feel that it is a message from God just for me. I feel that the contentment that you wrote of is exactly what God is cultivating in me right now in this season of my life.
That’s a really neat story! Did you have children during that time in the basement apartment? Were you working outside of the home at all?
Mom is Broke says
I have to admit I was a big shopper just two years ago. We had a great income coming in, and I could stay at home with my three kids. When I was bored at home, we all went to the mall to see what we “had to have”.
My husband owns a mortgage company, and business had been VERY slow the last two years. Within the last six months everything changed when we were on the edge of losing everything we had. I discovered your web site, and took it as a sign. (I thank God for you everyday!) I learned how to budget what little we had, coupon like a queen, and started a blog to help others too. I now have two part-time jobs, and my husband is working three jobs. We don’t see each other very much, but the kids are never alone and are not in daycare. We figure we are making sacrifices now to make up for our greed of needing to “have it all” a few years ago.
We have come along way, and we will make it through this time too. But this time we have learned more along the way, and will come out of it stronger than ever. Even after we start to have more income, we will continue to live fruegally. It has been a fun learning experience, and I owe it all to you Crystal. Thank you for all you do to help us save money!!!!!
Michelle @ Mom is Broke
What a beautiful, uplifting, and inspiring story! God always has a plan for us and if we go along with it, instead of rebelling, we will obviously benefit greatly! Thanks for sharing
Your post almost had me in tears! Things have never been so tight around our home as they are now and so it feels extra good to get enough diapers for our 8 mos old and our 3 year old and pay almost nothing. However, me and my husband have never been closer. It’s like we are finally on the same page as far as where we want to be financially, how to raise our children, etc. I check your blog every day and it brings such encouragement! My husband and I are both Christians, but sometimes it seems like its so hard to try to get closer to Him in times like these so I really appreciate a God loving role model that I can take advice and insight from. I thank God for you!
Thanks so much for the entry today. God has greatly used you in my and my family’s life. I have been a reader for about a month now and really enjoy your blog.
Amen! What a great post! God is ALWAYS teaching us something. I thank Him for leading you to CVS and leading me to find your blog 8 months ago. We’re in the home stretch of bringing home our 4 month old son from Ethiopia. I no longer have worries about buying diapers – I’ll just “work” a deal at CVS! Thanks!
Thank you for this post. It actually cheered me up. 🙂
I love this article. I wish that more people thought this way. I have been having so many women ask me lately how I can feed my family well and still pay bills with my husband’s teaching salary. I tell them that it is not always easy, but you learn that there are so many “needs” that you can learn to do without and that you are usually happier and more content without so many things to clutter our lives.
Thanks for the encouraging post! I am new to the world of wise-spending and have really appreciated the deals you share, and this was a very timely reminder to “bloom where you are planted.” God is faithful to always supply our need and while His plans may not be what we would have chosen, they are always better.
Thank you so much for starting this blog! I know exactly how you felt in that little apartment because I too have had to do that before, but living on my own. Now, I’m in a similar situation since I’ve been laid off and just relying on my boyfriend’s salary and my frugal ways, most of which I have learned through your blog! There are so many times I want to feel sorry for myself, but your inspirational words are definitely good to hear to keep me going. Thanks again!!!!
Lizz @ Yes, and So Is My Heart says
I found your site because two different moms recommended it to me.
I love it.
This was an excellent post.
Elizabeth-The Whole Family says
Kansas Mom says
My husband and I also lived in a basement apartment, much as you’ve described, early in our marriage. We had one bathroom. Guests (who slept on the living room floor in one of our two rooms) had to walk through our bedroom to use the bathroom. We didn’t have air conditioning and our first summer there was nearly unbearable. Every day, after getting home from work and school, we’d change clothes, jump in the car, and sit at Barnes & Noble for two or three hours. We never bought anything and they never said a word about it!
Great post. Thanks for taking the time to share your story. We are all blessed by what you gleaned during that time!
Wow! I love this article- very inspirational! I love the library too! Thanks for sharing Crystal- love how you make the most of things!
Andrea Reynolds says
Thank you for such a beautiful account of a very inspiring story. If only we can all have such a wonderful attitude to the hurdles life throws at us…
I couldn’t agree with you more! Thank you for the wonderful reminder!!
I completely appreciate what you and your husband have gone through. I am about to start law school myself and have been stocking up soap, razors, etc. I am an avid reader and just wanted to say thank you for sharing and making it a little easier on me.
This is possibly the best blog in the history of the world. Ever. For real.
I’ve recently discovered your blog, and I’m very grateful for it.
In addition to the one that you mention above, another good web site for recipes is
What a great and encouraging story for those of us who want to learn to live happily on a smaller budget.
Deal Mama Belle says
Wow, my situation is similar to where yours was. We are now in a basement apartment we recently remodeled, driving an old car, paying of my teaching degree of which I am using to homeschool. 🙂 (and I love it!) It was this situation that led me to seek out how I could do things differently in our home to save money. Since starting in April I have consistently brought our grocery bill down 30% a week! And we are still in the stockpiling phase! I do still want for things, things I could be doing or have if we were out of debt. (ie. we are still living in partial construction) Every time I start wishing for something other than what I have, I ask the Lord to let me feel the pain of this debt so I will never make that choice again!
Thanks for sharing Crystal.
Hi, this is such good advice. Half the battle is attitude no matter what you are doing, a positive attitude works wonders!
This is a very nice post. Sometimes I feel sorry for myself and just need to sit down and thank God for everything I have rather than despair over what I think is missing.
I’ve also found out that things work out the way they do for a reason. I bought a house before my daughter was born. Once she came along, I realized the value of a good neighborhood school because we did not have one! I ended up sending her to a Lutheran school and it’s been such a blessing these last 8 years! If I bought a home in our current neighborhood back then, we would never have been blessed enough to have her attend this school because the neighborhood schools are fine.
Finally, you’re totally correct about keeping your place clean and decluttered. It’s so much easier mentally to look at a neat space than at a messy one!
Wendi S says
Thanks for this post! I have been focusing on being content with what I have in the way of material things, but your essay opened my eyes to the fact that I have not been doing the same with my situation, outside of material possessions. I have been allowing our circumstances — how much dh works, the fact that he works nights and I don’t like his schedule, some marital stress, never enough time — get me down. I now realize I will be much more joyful and blessed if I strive to be content with, make the most of, and see the positive/blessings in “how” we live, not just “what” we have.
want to send a quick note…. I so enjoy your websites/blogs! I found them during midnight nursings trying to stay awake, but now find myself checking in frequently. Thanks for the encouragement!
I totally agree! A positive attitude can go a long way. My husband and I lived in a 900 square foot house for the first five years we were married. The last couple of months it was tight with the birth of our second born son. Oh, and did I mention that we had no air conditioning, lol. We also used to check out movies from the library. Now I am thankful we had those years because we appreciate everything we have now so much more.