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When my husband and I were first married, money was tight in our home. We both had college degrees, and he had worked a few years at a decent job, however my income was pretty insignificant. To get through college I had taken on quite a few student loans, and as a young married couple our finances were just limited. We started out with over $50,000 in student loan debt on top of some car debt. Money was tight.
So, at twenty years old (I thought he was an old man at the age of twenty-five), we very unconsciously decided to live frugally. Neither of us enjoyed spending beyond our means, so being frugal came pretty naturally to us. That didn't mean however that it didn't hurt.
We bought our first house just one year into our marriage with a 10% down payment thanks to some serious savings on our part, but it wasn't easy! My husband and I renovated two homes early in our marriage, and spent many sleepless hours re-painting thirty-year-old particle board cabinets to make them look “cute” with loads of white paint. (It took six coats of paint to transform just one set of cabinets!)
I remember bringing our oldest child home from the hospital a few years later and thinking that I needed to figure out how to nurse my son as there was simply no way we could afford formula. (I had given up my low-paying job as a Youth Director at our local church to stay home with him, but just couldn't see how we were going to make it on one income.)
As he got a little older, I tried to come up with inexpensive homemade snacks so that we wouldn't have to go to the grocery store between pay checks (which was when I found that homemade bread made a great snack!) I got very creative on how I could stretch cleaning products and household items further than they normally would go, and even calculated exactly how many miles I could drive each week to go to “town” to help pinch an extra penny. (We lived about ten miles from the closest grocery, and I figured every penny I could save was a blessing!)
My son got a little older, and spent hours helping me tear wallpaper off the walls from the mid 70's . . . it was kind of retro and metallic, so he could see himself in the wallpaper as he worked. (Which was pretty cool for a three-year-old!) Meanwhile, the minute my daughter was old enough to sit up in her exersaucer, I turned on music and let her play while I re-painted any solid surface I could find.
It wasn't easy. Thumbing through magazines and seeing things that we could never afford was hard. Driving cars that no one else would even consider driving was no fun at all. (We even had a car that was actually two car ends glued together . . . my father-in-law convinced me it was a deal because the front end had 60,000 miles on it, but the back end only had around 40,000 . . . we figured we could always drive it backwards as it got older, right?) 🙂
Going to the grocery store and mapping out every single dollar in the checkout lane was painful (especially when I'd notice other mom's grocery carts and see that they could afford so much more than we could. I remember feeling so helpless in many ways, but it's what led me to figure out couponing, pushed me to start a business, and ultimately change our financial future forever.)
When we finally moved up in the world and decided to get cable, the cable company offered us their best deal on a Spanish-speaking plan, so each Christmas we received cards from the cable company in Spanish (and occasionally they'd call us and speak Spanish as well!)
BUT, I can tell you it was all worth it. Every. single. bit. We're able to travel on some fantastic vacations, give our children opportunities I never even dreamed of as a child, and help others outside our family as we're able. It's an amazing feeling to not be strapped financially, and all the years of choosing to live frugally have definitely paid off. It's been amazing to watch from from how our finances have changed, and I am forever grateful.
I wouldn't trade the way we started out for anything . . . I look back at those days when my husband and I spent Friday nights competing to see who could change a hinge out faster (he'd use a manual screwdriver, I'd use an electric, and he'd still win.) I'll never forget what it felt like each time our sweat equity paid a bigger down payment on a larger home, and I wouldn't trade the lessons we learned through living frugally for anything.
If you're in the midst of financial struggles right now, don't lose heart. There are blessings to be found right where you are that you'll not learn any other way, and when you look back you'll be amazed at how God's hand (along with a little determination . . . ) will bring you to a new place in life. So, don't give up, and don't sacrifice what you really want for what you want right now.
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Thanks for your post. We just got news that our business will either have to be sold or we have to go bankrupt. We have been trying to keep it and us afloat for to long. We are both 60 years old and it is hard to realize our dream of our own business has trashed our finances. I didn’t think we would be one of the three businesses that fail out of 4. So disheartening. Your post reminded me of when we were just married and how tough we thought it was- it really wasn’t- it was challenging and yes it brought out our creativity. Thanks for that!
Stephanie Luttrell says
Thank you for sharing this post today! I needed this during this time in our lives. My husband and I have been struggling financially for such a long time it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We know God has a plan and have trust in that plan but it some times just feels like we will never reach the goals we have or have nice things. Your story and encouragement were a great reminder that we need to continue to trust and do what we can. Thank you again!!
I really liked your post today, trying to be a little bit like you…hope your husband gets better…regards from Dominican Republic
Melissa Medina says
Just wanted to let you know that your article really touched me. My palace of emoployment will be closing at the end of this month our family of 7 will have to survive on one income. I’ve been reading your articles and googling how to start couponing. Things will be pretty tight but hearing your story gives me hope that our family will also be okay
Melissa Medina says
Just wanted to let you know that I loved your article. I just recently found out that my place of employment is closing (Oct 29th) and will be out of a job. I’ve been looking at your posts and googling everything I can to start couponing (never done it). We have five children and will have to make a drastic change since we will only have one income in our home. Your story gives me hope that even though we’ll be pretty tight, thinks will be okay
Sending hugs your way Melissa – I know you’ve got to be so anxious about that but trust that God has good plans for you! Definitely at first maybe just choose one store to coupon at – and REALLy learn what the best prices are – I save so much simply by shopping the sales ad and it adds up so quickly! Hang in there and be encouraged that you can do this – I know you can and you will look back and know that this stage was worth it. Praying for you today!
paula good says
love ur article …I’ve been working on this..I’m retirement age..but I was surfing..buying on line and ..scrapping stickers..great deal, but I don’t NEED then and in reading ur article I know it’s ok to hurt …when not getting my whim, but I haven’t paid yet…supposed to thru PayPal. Can I just still say no even tho I will make people mad?
Wendy Hardy says
Thank you so very much….this is a huge eye opener and I know now…im certainly not alone!….Thank you and a Dutch hello to you from The Netherlands 😀
Rachel Richards says
When someone told me we had a low amount of debt with our student loans & our small car loans ($7500 originially for both cars), I was shocked. I want no debt!
Thanks for your transparency. Though I got married much later in life (38), and hubs and I both had zero school loans and solid well paying careers, we are ver fiscally aware not to spend irrationally. We live in one of the most expensive counties in the country, which coming from the Midwest and knowing how far ones money can stretch for housing, is disheartening. I always said I would continue working as long as it worked for our family. In almost 9 years of marriage we have adopted 7 children from Ukraine and I am about to celebrate 21 years working for the same company. It is truly a juggling act, that hubs and I work very hard to balance. We just ‘fired’ our greedy landscaper as we have made the choice to better use the money by taking 4 of our children to a math tutor for the summer to keep their skills strong. We do everything ourselves but you know what? At 55 we will have 30+ years in with our jobs with a pension. Their have been days when I have been envious of those moms who stayed home and did not have their attention divided with a job outside the home, but I know the job I have has been a gift to our family and affords our kids amazing academic and extra curricular activities. Thanks for the reminder that intoning is forever and sacrifice and hard work does pay off.
Robyn Crawford says
Thank you for this! Needed a reminder that while things are thight now they won't always be!
Hang in there Robyn – things will change so much (but it’s so hard to know that when you’re in the midst of it!)
Shannon Glenn Caracciolo says
Joan Falldine says
Your transparency is going to be a big encouragement to so many people.
Thanks Joan for your kind words!
Doris Straight says
Great post. I love frugally day-to-day to allow myself vacations. I've had to learn to loosen up a little so I can have some fun in between vacations. most of my vacations are road trips, which I love, and I pack some food but eat out some. rather low income compared to most but not in debt. don't own my own home but don't want maintenance issues and want to be free as a bird when retired. think your post meant the most to me 'cause so many of my friends/relatives make more $$ and spend, spend, spent but are in debt. glad to know I'm not the only one counting pennies.
Judy hart says
Love it, Laurie. Mike and I were the same way. Although I did teach and mike had a great paying job, we still watched what we bought. We have built 3 houses, renovated one and always made money which we socked away. Now we are both retired and are financially able to travel, our dream from very early in our marriage. We still watch what we spend and live very comfortably. Love you and James
That’s so encouraging Judy! It really is amazing how good it feels not to worry so much about finances, and to be able to travel like you all have sounds so wonderful. Such a good example to so many of us! 🙂
What a great article! I think back of things I have done and sometimes still do to save a buck. It’s a good reminder for people not to lose sight of the bigger picture!.
Kim Farthing says
Laurie I have truly enjoyed reading about you and James and how you started out. I will use your website in the future and I have showed it to a few of my friends. You are doing a great job and I appreciate all of your work on trying to help me and others. You are a very special person…
You’re so sweet Kim! I wish you could have seen the look on Don & Jennie’s face when they showed me the great car deal they found (Don did make sure they painted the car all one color to match!) Thanks so much for sharing PPP with folks way up in Illinois…. I appreciate that more than you know! 🙂
Tammy Shelton says
I knew we had a connection. I used to be a youth pastor too. Went to Concordia University Seward NE. 😀
Thank you for sharing your story. It gives me hope to know with hard work (what we are working on now) things will get better.
How neat Tammy! There definitely is hope… but some days it’s overwhelming! Love that you did youth ministry too – I miss those days (but not the over-night lockins; those always did me in!)
Great words for me to read today. I have been having many financial thoughts hindering my mind. Thanks for a post to help put things in perspective.
You are so welcome Dana! It always helps to have perspective (but definitely is hard some days!) Hang in there 🙂
Love this! I think I’ll print out a copy of it and put it in front of my debit card, the perfect reminder to rethink if I really need what I’m about to buy!
LOVE that idea Jaime… I need to do the same (and maybe post on my fridge too!) 😉
Oh my gosh, Laurie, I laughed out loud at the car thing! Thanks for the humor 🙂
Living in God’s economy is ALWAYS worth it no matter what the apparent sacrifices are. Good work, and I pray that He continues to bless you and your family!
Kailin – I wish you could have seen my (naive…young…) face when my father-in-law of just a few short months told me how great my car was going to be (it was a Chrysler LeBaron, and the front half was maroon / back half white) when I first saw it. He promised me they would paint it before I had to drive it – it was AWFUL! But, I have to say, waayyyyyy better than the two cars I had before it – they were ones that our local electric company sold when they were completely ruined, and had rusty extra holes in them for electric “stuff”. No A/C, radio, nothing. Sure makes me love my Honda Minivan!
And you’re right, God definitely has His own economy – hard to wait when you’re in the midst of it but sure a hoot to look back on!!!
Shannon Cape says
Thank you, I really needed this today. My husband and I just bought our first house in April of this year and have been struggling to find a way to fix up the little things until we can afford to tackle bigger projects. I have an 18 year old son that will be graduating this year and looking at college, I have a 15 year old son, and my husband and I have a 15 month old baby boy. So with buying the house and trying to get things for my oldest to go to college, the cost of raising a baby and 2 teenagers, and Christmas right around the corner, I was just feeling down. This reminded me why I coupon and not to give up that things will work out someday.
Hang in there Shannon! If you have any energy for it, my favorite thing to fix up a house cheaply is PAINT! We’ve purchased quite a bit in the reject bins at Home Depot – and gotten a whole gallon for $5 🙂
It’s so hard to be in the middle of that at Christmas time, but I know you’ll find so many other precious memories this Christmas that money won’t by. May God’s blessings on you this Christmas!!!
Laurie, I can’t thank you enough for this post today. Your timing is perfect and it has really struck me. I’m inspired, I’m hopeful, and I know we can do it! Being frugal sure does build character doesn’t it? 🙂 Thank you–happy holidays!
It definitely builds some character… whether you want it to or not! But I definitely wouldn’t change it for anything, although I’m not sure I would have said that 15 years ago 🙂 You can totally do it, and it’s so fun to look back in the end to see how far you’ve come!