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Saving on a Smaller Salary

Guest post by Amy at Amy’s Finer Things

The excuses are many.

If only we made more money.

If only we had two incomes.

If only I had my degree.

If only we hadn’t had kids so soon.

If only we didn’t need so many things for the house.

If only…

If only…

If only is not an excuse to not save!

I know I’m not the only one who has been reading with fascination and admiration Crystal’s account of saving 100% down for a home. The discipline, the drive, the faith… what an amazing accomplishment!

I wonder, too, if many of you have done the math and realized the significance of their savings in such a short time period. For our family, it would (more or less) mean saving 100% of my husband’s gross teaching salary for 3-4 years. We believe in living on little, but 0% is a little too little.

If you’re living on a smaller salary, take heart. You may not be in a position to save 100% for a home, but barring a medical or financial emergency situation, you can and should still save!

Here are some of the strategies we employ to save on our smaller income.

Give first. No matter our financial situation, there is always someone somewhere who is in need. We have never suffered financially while giving generously.

Set financial priorities and goals. Before we were even married we knew that our priority would be for me to raise our children from home. Knowing a single income was in our future, we began living on one immediately, putting much of my income in savings. It was nice to have a head start!

Save automatically. Our savings deposit is made automatically each month, much the same as automatic bill payment. There is no need to ask “Can we spare this money right now?” because it’s already taken care of.

Live below your means. Even on a smaller salary, we can live below our means. Do we make sacrifices? Sure we do! No cable, smaller home, older (paid for!) vehicles… the list goes on. And our savings account keeps growing.

Remember… the best things in life aren’t things! Forget the Jones’s; stop buying stuff to make you happy. It won’t. Cherish your relationships. Make frugal living fun in your family. With the right attitude, your friends might join you!

Stop it with the “If only…” Quit waiting for “Someday…” Even with young children, even with a single income, even with a smaller salary, the time to save is now.

A Tiny Town Kansas wife of one and mother of 4 (3 and one on the way), Amy believes in Embracing the Extraordinary in Every Day.  On her blog, Amy demonstrates that living on one (smaller) income is both possible and rewarding.  She’s not afraid to preach from her soapbox that The Finer Things in Life Aren’t Things!

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  • beth says:


  • Jen says:

    Thanks Amy for this post. I know Crystal and her husband have worked very hard to save up for their house, but she still has been blessed with some opportunities not all of us have. Your post is a nice reminder that even those of us who would have to save 100%+ of our income for much longer than Crystal had to save in order to afford even the tiniest little fixer upper in the area where we live can still at least save some!!

    • Becky says:

      @Jen, Just a quick thought that ran across my mind when reading this. Please don’t take offense, but I want to remind everyone that Crystal wasn’t just blessed with opportunities, she CREATED them. We all have the power to do the same in our own way.

      • Jen says:

        @Becky, I did say I know she has worked hard and I know her opportunities are a result of hard work she has put in, but you have to admit she has been extremely blessed too, not just with opportunities she created….people don’t just have the opportunity to CREATE healthy children that don’t have tons of medical bills, etc. I’m just saying we are all in different situations. Hers has allowed her to buy a home with cash. Others may not be as fortunate and even though they work just as hard or harder, they can’t do the same thing, but at least they can save a bit.

        • Sue says:

          I agree with you Jen.. we all all very blessed and nothing taking away from Crystal.. she and her husband work very hard.. But I think most people, would not be able to afford to get a house free and clear.
          No offense to anyone here. I believe we all work hard and do what we can. Some just can reach that goal we all have faster than others.

  • JessieLeigh says:

    Excellent, Amy. Could not agree more. We, too, set my income aside since we knew we would eventually be living on just my husband’s salary. I think that was so valuable in teaching us how to budget on less AND padding our savings. That proved to be a huge blessing when our 2nd baby came so early and our whole world (financial and otherwise) was rocked. I always encourage wives who hope to be SAHMs to do that! Great post.

  • Cori says:

    I never meant to be a SAHM, but I am enjoying it while the economy makes it necessary. The tiny stipend my husband earns as a grad student makes it tough, though! Even so, ever since our baby was born in January, we’ve been setting aside money we got as gifts, as well as anything we could spare from his salary, knowing that summer is coming. Summer means an even smaller stipend, and last year we struggled very badly. This year we have several thousand dollars saved up to see us through, and it’s such a relief. I hope that with careful planning and budgeting, we won’t need more than half of it, and the rest will be the seed of our future savings. Thanks for the encouraging post!

    • Megan says:

      @Cori, Cori, I’m a grad student too and I know how tough it can be to save while on that tiny stipend (I’m a social scientist, but humanities students have it even worse!). I used to live two doors down from a music grad student who had a wife (who stayed home) and two kids. I was always encouraged to see how they lived frugally in their tiny 2-bedroom apartment. Keep on keeping on – it will pay off in the end!

    • @Cori, I’ve never been stretched in quite that way. Kudos to you for handling it with grace and making it work!

    • @Cori, We’re there too! It’s crazy hard being a student family. We look forward to our tax return every year. It always comes right in time to tie us over through the Summer until things pick up again in the Fall.

  • Jessica says:

    Love this!! As a military family I know all too well the limited income! I think the very best tip is living beneath your means and giving. We have been able to save enough money in the past couple years for my husband to take 6 months off when he gets out of the army this winter… It amazes us and excites us. It is possible to save with planning!!

  • Cindy says:

    We are small business owners and made some mistakes along the way. We are now living on as little as possible to pay off debt. I came up with the idea to put all the $ I get in rebate checks (that I apply for as a part of my super couponing) straight in to savings. Many times I have already received the product attached to the rebate for free. So it’s a win-win for us any way I look at it.

  • Myra says:

    Love this fabulous, inspiring post! Amy, you are awesome!

  • Trixie says:

    Thank you SO MUCH for posting this! It’s amazing how excuses are pulled out of the woodwork for not saving or not paying down debt.

    I’ll share just a bit of my story in the hope that in encourages someone out there. It took me 10 long YEARS to save up for a DOWNPAYMENT on my first home. Yes, that is a very loooonnng time and it seemed like it would never happen, but it finally did! I also made a very small salary working full time. When I bought my home I was making just under 20K a year. Take heart, it CAN be done!

  • jen says:

    My grandmother was a simple woman who was also a very hard worker. She was born in almost 100 years ago. She had this saying, “Put one foot in front of the other and start walking.” It sounds very simple yet in reality that is how we begin any hard task. Just go

  • Audrie says:

    Love it!

  • Jen says:

    What an encouraging post. Living below our means feels like such an adventure at times as it’s so exciting to be able to save a week’s worth of groceries just by living from our pantry or to make it a treasure hunt to find as many free things as possible. BUT, it does have it’s moments when I just want to wander off the the frugal lifestyle path as it often takes more work. Thanks for being a cheerleader and reminding us all that it can be done and IT’S SO WORTH IT IN THE END!!!

  • Heather says:

    Living on one income when you have two is a great thing to do, especially if one is planning on staying home with kids. My husband and I did that before my oldest was born, and saved all my salary for our future home down payment. It sure was tempting at the time to want to live a little larger, go out to eat, buy better clothes, etc. but it was worth it to save the $.
    But even more importantly, I think it would be very hard to live on 2 incomes and have to go down to one later. It’s easier to be frugal/poor if you’ve always been frugal/poor!

  • Megan says:

    I agree! We’re a family of four who live on little more than $18,000 gross per year. The only help we receive is food stamps and even those are made to stretch with the couponing skills I’ve learned! That way I can afford to give to pantries when I can get great items on free specials. Our cars were purchased for around $1,000 apiece and we realize that they aren’t going to last forever. Every bit of savings helps, even if it’s just filling up the change jar and cashing it in to put in savings. This way we hope to be able to purchase a house years from now – maybe not 100% but at least with a large down payment.

  • Loye says:

    My youngest (of 3) graduated from high school a year ago. I was a SAHM by choice for 23 years. I started a part time job (in couponing!) 2 years ago for fun and a bit of play money. All three of my daughters have turned out to be exceptional young women – never a bit of trouble and I (and my husband) attribute that to placing raising them ahead of EVERYTHING else – paying mortgage off, fancy vacations and clothes, etc. Stretching the budget was my “job” during that 23 years. We expected them to help with the work around the house from the time they were very little, and that was a big factor, I think, in how they turned out, as well as strong religious faith, and service to others.
    Now, if you can work that mortgage down on top of that, you are superwoman!

    • @Loye, I consider stretching our budget my primary “money making” job, too. I know I make more staying at home doing that than I would working… I won’t, however, guarantee that my children will be model citizens just because I’m home with them. 😉

  • Thanks so much for this post. It is so easy sometimes to compare yourself with others’ success, feel discouraged, and then just start spending because you don’t believe it matters if you save anymore. We live in California, where the down payment on a 3 bedroom home would be close to the cost of buying a home outright in other places. We also live on a teacher’s private school salary of $41,000, which seems like a lot in some places, but here, it doesn’t go very far.

    Nevertheless, over the past few years, even if it was a couple of hundred here and there, we steadily tried to build up our emergency fund. Also, because of our income level and # of kids, our tax returns have been bigger lately, and instead of spending them like crazy, we save them for the miscellaneous needs that come up (but they really have to qualify as needs). Even if it’s not much, this allows us to slowly increase our savings year to year.

  • Chelsea says:

    Thanks for posting this. I’m a single 27 year old living on a low income and saving is difficult but it can be done! I love everything you offer and its great to know that even though I’m not a mother your advice still works great for me.

  • Kathryn says:

    Thank you for posting since a lot of people don’t understand this very simple concept. The funny thing is, is that all of these ideas are not new and have been around forever and ever…folks got into “deep mud” since they want to do things the “quick” way, not the “right” way. Saving $$ has nothing to do with how much (or little) you make, how many kids you have, what season you are in, whether or not you have a college degree, what background you have (or don’t have), etc. Some folks were blessed with parents who taught them wise money management skills and some were not. I am very delighted that more folks have jumped on the bandwagon to get on the right track when it comes to money…this is why I teach financial ministry. Again, all the gurus out there teaching folks about money management, behavior change, etc. – they are not teaching anything new…they just got smart and packaged it all in a profitable marketing mechanism. Kudos to everyone who is trying to do things differently, in a positive manner. As a wise money manager, I enjoy sharing my approaches, morals, and values with others…and for those who are striving for this goal, keep going! It will not only do wonders for you, as an individual, but will also do wonders for your marriage (if you have a spouse. Go get’um!

  • Preach it, Amy! 🙂 It’s so, so true. Thanks for the wonderful reminder!

  • thursday says:

    I calculated that we’d need to save 100% of our salary for THIRTEEN years in order to buy a house here. Hahahahahahaha! Not going to happen. Crazy.

    We’ve never had two salaries except when we were both in school. Of course, those salaries were like, oh, 6-7k a year. So we haven’t managed to save much ever. I’m still working on that stop buying things because they won’t make you happy! It’s true – I’m just struggling with my addiction. Funny, though – I was just thinking about all of this last night.

    Will begin working on saving more TODAY. And spending LESS.

    Ok, off to list some things on ebay and craigslist. Must declutter.

  • Angie E says:

    Thanks for the serious kick in the butt!

  • Jenny says:

    Re: keeping up with the Jones’…
    When people talk about the Jones’, I always think to myself, I don’t know any Jones’…:) Everyone I know is pretty much like me. So the I’ve come to believe that the Jones’ are just a myth perpetuated by a media driven marketplace hoping that we “buy” into it. I’ve decided to keep up with the Smith’s…you don’t hear much about them 😉

  • Kathleen L says:

    My husband and I bought our house 5 years ago. We have a mortgage and I have to work part time because we need health insurance. Most of my paycheck goes to daycare and health insurance. Very frustrating! Otherwise I would stay home. My husband is an electrician and his employer dosen’t offer it. I find Crystal’s story very inspiring, even though we already have financed our house and we have 3 children. We live in Massachusettes and the cost of living up here is really high. I spend about $125.00 on groceries and toiltries for 5 family members and 2 pet cats. I have learned a lot from Crystal about couponing and getting the best deals. Last year my husband was down to only about 20 hours a week and it was really hard! We still managed to pay our bills and get food on the table without getting into MORE debt. I tell people about how Crystal and her husband saved up enough to buy a house with cash and most people are amazed but, then they say “Oh he is a lawyer no wonder they can afford to do that”. They don’t get it. I know people around here that make a lot of money and they are so far in debt it’s really ridiculous! And they make a LOT more than us. The only debt we have is our house and my husband’s truck. I wish we could get rid of that! Anyways, I just wanted to Thank Crystal for doing such a wonderful job on her blog and showing us how to be positive even when you just feel stuck and your going no where.

    • @Kathleen L, we’ve always had to purchase our own insurance, too. Amazing to me that public schools don’t provide it for their teachers… I guess since we’ve always done it, its “just another bill” to us now.

      You’re right. People don’t get it. Yes, he’s a lawyer, and yes, Crystal has found great success with this site… BUT… the root of their success is in their money management, NOT their income.

  • Thanks for this post!

    This is a strategy my husband and I have employed since I started working full time after finishing my master’s degree in 2003. We bought our home with 20% down in 2004- a modest home in Ohio.

    We bought a home under our means knowing we didn’t want a huge monthly payment and that one of us might like to stay home when we’d be blessed with babies.

    Unfortunately, our house turned out to be a lemon and needed a lot of repairs- expensive ones. We put about $20k into the house (foundation, basement, roof, sewer, windows, furnace/ac). We paid for all that straight out of checking/savings- no credit cards. All within the first year or two of purchasing our home.

    We paid off my student loans and our daughter (a surprise) was born in 2006. By then, we had one year’s worth of living expenses saved. My husband lost his job in August 2007 and didn’t become employed again until March 2008. In 2008, we paid $17k in cash (well, we wrote a check, but still) for a gently used car and our emergency fund was up to about 1.5 years of living expenses.

    We started trying for our second child last spring, and I had a miscarriage but then conceived right after and am due in 6.5 weeks with our son. Our house is 85% paid off and the emergency fund remains intact.

    It’s all due to living well below our means, doing without, making do and not worrying about the Joneses. I started freelance writing a year and a half ago to set up side income streams- I earn more than my husband at my full time job so losing my whole salary would be a huge decrease in income. It’s looking good that I will be able to stay home with our kids once my maternity leave ends, and our house should be paid off right at the same time, God willing.

    I too have been in awe of Crystals’ family’s ability to save that amount in just two years. For me and my husband, this would not have been possible. However, we’ve done the best we could with the resources we have, and I try not to compare myself to people who can save so much so quickly, because it’s just as bad a mindset as keeping up with the Joneses is.

  • Well said, Amy! I was lucky enough to find my soul mate in so many aspects, including my financial twin! My hubs and I are alike in so many ways, including the fact that we both like saving, not spending, our hard-earned money. From the moment we agreed that I would be a SAHM (aside from my part-time teaching at a preschool, beginning in the fall), we began to live as if we had only one income, putting as much away as we could. We own all our vehicles outright, and are working to do the same with our beloved house. (We fell in love with this place; it will take extraordinary circumstances to put us in a different house!) We pull money away each month for our daughter’s future, as well as save for our own retirement. We are working hard to ensure that we can, not only give our children the best future possible, but also to ensure that we can live comfortably, without burdening our children, as we watch them live their futures.

    Thank you for the reminder that things are just that: things. :o)

  • Tania says:

    I love the idea behind this post and think it’s great motivation. However, it’s unrealistic to think everyone can do this. Some people aren’t lucky enough to be living at their means with the bear minimum. I know that my salary goes to three places: student loans, rent and groceries. That’s the salary from three different jobs. That’s it. There is nothing else I can cut out and most weeks it still doesn’t meet. There is no surplus, there’s no cutting down on the $15 a week grocery budget for two, there’s not poor budgeting, no lack of shrewd.

    I’ll save this post for when I have the income to spend on…anything. Great motivation, it just neglects those in dire straits.

    • Megan says:

      @Tania, Tania, I think that this is a really good point! Some people are in such tough straits that they truly can’t save very much at all. However, I heard a really inspiring story on Marketplace Money on NPR this past weekend. It was about how people in one of LA’s homeless shelters are learning to budget and save just a few dollars at a time. I was really inspired! Here’s the link if you – or anyone else! – would like to check it out:

    • @Tania, I’m a “never say never or always” kind of girl. You make a great point. In different seasons of life, it IS really hard to save. For most people, though, there is a way to make it work. I’m especially inspired by the families who commented that they are living on grad student salaries and the family of 6 living and saving on $18K. Wow!

    • Camille says:

      @Tania, We were in this spot for a long, long time! It has taken us almost 7 years to get to a point where we are able to save just a few dollars a month. Hang in there! Your hard work will pay off and soon (maybe not soon enough, but soon!). Amy doesn’t mention the beauty of compound interest in saving, but even if you can manage $20 a YEAR — it will pay you back so much in the future thanks to compound interest.

  • aimee says:

    this was a really fantastic point. isn’t that the truth about so many things in life – saving money, losing weight, being more content? just get to gettin’! 🙂

    after reading through the comments, my experiences have been confirmed which are that people are in different situations and saving enough cash for a house just isn’t realistic for everyone. we live in arlington, va, and the median house is well over $400k. a one bedroom condo is in the two hundreds. i’m hard pressed to imagine the circumstances in which someone would pay cash for a home here other than being independently wealthy. that said, we’ve had the difficult and sad decision to move somewhere with a lower cost of living so that we are able to save more money.

    there was a great article this morning that encouraged people to trim costs on housing, transportation and food which are americans largest expenses. by moving somewhere with a lower cost of living, we’re reducing housing and food. i sure look forward to being debt-free!

    blessings to all!

  • Tammy says:

    One thing about this story and your comments,Chrystal was brought up in a house where she was taught good money saving skills.She and her husband are very smart when it came into NOT going into debt.

    On that somebody mentioned not keeping up with the Jones and comparing your selves to Chrystal and Jesse on what they did is like doing that.Seems like everyone is wondering how they could save up to put 100% down on a house.etcc.

    Read Dave Ramsey and you will be amazed that he allows one debt :a house mortage.

    • Crystal says:

      Excellent point, Tammy! I have a series planned soon which talks about how not everyone can (or should!) do what we’ve done, but everyone can start somewhere and do something.

      • Camille says:

        @Crystal, The best point here is that Crystal and her husband were taught early on to work hard and how to manage money! I’m determined to teach my children these lessons as I missed out on them!

  • Alena says:

    This came at a good time for me as I was just going over our budget and feeling very discouraged. I’ve been a SAHM for several years now due to my poor health and my husband’s work has cut back on his hours this year so we’re having to cut back too. I was looking trying to figure out where we can cut more out of our spending when I took a break to check my email.

    We’re a family of 6 living on $18,000 net a year. We’ve recently purchased our home, and yes, it’s financed but our down payment was 1/3 of the purchase price. Our goal is to save enough money over the next 2 years to be able to pay off our home completely. In looking at that goal vs. our current income, I was feeling very depressed. This post encouraged me to keep trying! So I’m going to be searching for more things I can do to help us save money, spend less, and meet our goal.

    Thank you for the reminder!

  • So true, Amy! 🙂 Thanks for saying this.

  • Jamey says:

    We are a one-income enlisted military family and we just brought our first daughter, but third child home from Ethiopia two weeks ago. We are just about to re-buckle down 🙂 with our money and get things back in order. We want to start saving for our first house (someday) and a real vacation. It’s always nice to read about other families who make choices to keep life simple. We can’t choose easy, but we can choose living simply.

  • Wonderful post! I really loved reading all the comments, too… so sincere… there are many wonderful families out there who are really trying do better. So inspiring.

    We paid cash for our house in 2007, but our situation was a little unique. My husband was fairly real estate savvy and we moved several times, each time doing work and building equity in the house, selling each after two years to avoid capital gains, then doing it again (4x total, I think) until we had enough equity to cash out (plus some cash in hand) and buy this current home debt-free. It took us almost eight years, but we did it :o)

    Again, I know our situation was unique. We had to get creative to do it!

  • Camille says:

    We also live in a single, teacher income (in one of the lowest paying states!). It is a challenge, but so worth it to be home with my kiddos!

    One area we’ve really struggled with saving for is our retirement! My husband has a pension, but these days you just never know!! We use a cash system to pay for most everything. Whenever we get coins in change, we put it in a jar. When the jar gets full, we deposit the money in to a Roth IRA (these are FABULOUS for those of us on low incomes in low tax brackets!). We only manage about $200/year with this, but it’s $200 more than we had last year! 😉

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