How do you manage to not spend but still not feel bored and depressed?

Last week when doing a Facebook Live (you can watch the replay over HERE), a reader asked a great question and it's been heavy on my heart all week.


So, I'm sharing my response (and a little bit more), for anyone out there who's struggling through a financially tight season (because honestly we've had no money, a little more money, and even more money, and I promise, a lot of the choices we make to find happiness have more to do with our attitudes than money at all!)


Here we go.


“How do you manage to not spend but not feel bored and depressed?”


Goodness, as I've shared before when my husband and I started out our finances were just tight. (You can read more HERE and HERE.)


And it was hard some days.


Perusing catalogs (pre-Pinterest days), watching friends have cute clothes, and knowing we couldn't afford any of it didn't feel fun much of the time at all. 


In fact, we were looking back at pictures from our early married days not too long ago, and my super-cute-young-and-pulled-together-nieces-and-nephews were kind of shocked at just how rough we looked.


I wore hand-me-down everything.


I bought THE UGLIEST SHOES YOU HAVE EVER SEEN. (They were high tops. From Walmart. I still remember they were on clearance for $2 and I thought I'd snagged such a deal. They. were. hideous.)


Girls who truly have cankles (some of you understand my pain) have no business at all wearing high tops ever. NO MATTER THE DEAL. E.V.E.R.


But I sucked it up.


I wore the shoes.


I baked bread instead of buying it when our grocery budget ran out at the end of the week.


I never ever never bought paper towels.




And we survived. 

(These were some of my favorite outfits our kids wore for Christmas. I got the shirt for $3 and the smocked dress for $7 at a local consignment sale. I loved how fancy they looked back then, and we still stuck to our budget!)

Fast forward 20 years.


My husband and I went out on a date last weekend, and because we're saving for a big-huge-mega-lofty project we decided to do date night on the cheap.


We went to a new area of town we'd never been to.


We walked along a really pretty creek and meandered the prettiest cobblestone sidewalks in the midst of some absolutely darling older homes.


We peaked inside restaurants that smelled absolutely amazing and made a mental note to remember those for a later date.


We stopped at Wendy's and splurged on a 99¢ drink.


And we had just the nicest night.


All for a buck-ninety-eight. 🙂


As we were walking, we talked about this question and reminisced about our “good ole' days.”


I got a little weepy remembering the day we purchased our first home, brought turkey sandwiches from the gas station and came home to mow the yard with our $89 mower we bought with what little leftover cash we had after our home purchase.


I remember sitting on that porch stoop, watching James mow without a single bit of furniture in our home, and just loving that even though our new house was a disaster ~ IT WAS BAD ~ we were finally just home.

(This was our second home back in 2004 after TONS of paint. The chair on the left was a hand-me-down, I bought the rocker second hand for $15, the picture frames on our mantle were from the Dollar Tree, the wreath was a gift, Bybee Pottery on the shelves were gifts too, and we'd covered those brown bookshelves with white paint as soon as we moved in the house.) 


We remembered painting together all night long for  so many early years, changing out at least eight million beige outlet covers, and learning to do it all ourselves so now we really can do just about it all ourselves.


It wasn't always fun.


It sounds waayyyy better reminiscing than it ever felt way back then.


But I wouldn't change a single step of the way. 


So here are a few (practical-and-not-so-uber-sentimental!) tips on how to really not spend and still not get bored and depressed along the way:

That entertainment center was $49 at Lowe's and we stained it ourselves ~ I thought it was just lovely. 🙂 There was no way we were paying for cable, so we had a fancy set of rabbit ears for our TV back then (this was Jackson at his sister's birthday playing pin the tail on the donkey – clearly he was more interested in sucking his thumb back then!) 


1) Think outside the box. 

Think of things to do that are fun but still frugal. Hiking/walking in a different area of town is great ~ it's free, you'll get some exercise, and it's fun to just hang out in a different space than you're own.


Rent a movie the next time a free Redbox code pops up.


Hang out at a local bookstore and truly just “window shop” and dream big while you're there.


2) Focus on super cheap “splurges.” 

The other night my daughter had run seven miles for cross country and wanted a treat. Instead of stopping for ice cream we picked up a 50¢ Frosty ~ she was thrilled, and we didn't break the bank on a $5 single serve scoop!

Watch for BOGO restaurant coupons, save money using the Ibotta app for free restaurant gift cards, and think of ideas on ways to save that most folks may be missing.


Visit the Dollar Tree with a $2 limit. 🙂


3) Visit the library. 


4) Clean. 

As silly as it is, when I clean and take care of what I already have, I'm less depressed, and realize we have way more than enough already at home. 

(This was my favorite deal EVER ~ I found this bathing suit for Caroline for 99¢ at Children's Place on clearance and felt like I'd won the lottery!)

5) Shop Goodwill or a thrift store. 

Clothing and housewares are so much cheaper at thrift stores, and there's so much fun in the thrill of the hunt! Also, watch for a fun furniture piece, maybe even paint it and sell for a small profit.

(Our kids always watched me cook and James fix things, so their favorite toys were our pots and pans and their Fisher Price tool kit.) 🙂 


6) Don't be jealous of other people's stuff.


Focus on doing the best with what YOU have right now, set a goal ahead of you, and fight to get there instead of wishing for something someone else has. 

I know this one's not easy at all, but you will never measure up. 


So just let this one go. 

7) Surround yourself with like-minded folks.

One of my favorite couples when we were starting out spent several years completing a home project because they were determined to do it only with cash. Watching the way they patiently waited for what they really wanted was such a life lesson for James and me back then, and it's guided the way we've spent ever since.

When choosing people to hang out with, pick those whose goals are bigger than just what they can have today, and who really want to live a life of financial peace too. When you do it together it's a wee bit more fun, and it'll be incredibly motivating for you too.

And last but not least . . . 


8) Keep dreaming big.

While I love penny pinching, the goal of living frugally is not to stay financially trapped forever. 

The best gift James ever gave me was to dream big from day one, and along the way we've purposefully stopped and talked about what we really wanted (financial freedom, the ability to give generously, and some fun things we love to do too), rather than allowing ourselves to focus on what we wanted right now.


In those early years, we literally had a piece of notebook paper on our fridge that had our “goal list” of what we wanted to do at home. When we were tempted to splurge on something that wasn't in the budget we'd look back at that list, remember what our goal really was, and skip the unnecessary expenses for the things that mattered most.


It was worth it.


(The second deck we built ~ we just finished up our fourth outdoor space in our newest home two summers ago.)

So, hang in there. 


It won't always be easy.


There will be days when you're discouraged and depressed and wish for more.


But keep thinking of ways that you can transform your finances little by little (I know they're there!), and choose for yourself to keep dreaming big too. 

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  1. I love this!…thank you!

  2. I agree that it is important to remind ourselves of what we DO have, and not to be hyper focused on what we don’t have. It is important to keep our lives in perspective. Many people in this world are suffering, and its easy to forget it, because we just don’t see it. Practice gratitude! If you have a roof over your head, and food in your stomach, then you have plenty to be thankful for! And like you said, so much of our circumstances are temporary!

  3. I am an older stay at home wife. Decided to leave work after 40 years. My husband still works and money is tight. But the wonderful part of all the struggles we have had is realizing we can make anything be special. We are now debt free, have a savings, but think wisely before any pennies are spent. Makes a big difference. Can we live without it, can we use something else, can we just be happy with what we have? It has been a fun challenge, but it has brought us back to our roots, and we spend more time together, relaxed and happier. I would rather do without and be with the one I love. Count your blessings…be thankful and then everything turns around to being great….

  4. Debra W Smith says

    What such an inspiration. You are my idol. I watch you everyday and get so inspired.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words Debra – it’s been such a fun journey as we’ve slowly walked this road! So glad it encourages you – blessings!!!

  5. My husband and I both lost our big career jobs 7 years ago. Wow! Our family really had a lifestyle change. My husband is working, but at a low stress job that stays at the office. I am a stay at home everything and didnt realize how consumed i was by my teaching job. I substitute teach when it fits the schedule. I wouldn’t want those old lives back for the money. Finances are much tighter and we’ve had to cut a bunch of things but it really helps to look at all we gained. We have less stress, better health, time together, humor…

  6. I loved reading this!!

  7. We have been married for 50 years now, but in the beginning, things were really tight. My husband was going to school and working a full-time job, while I was home with a newborn in a city we just moved to. No family around to rely on, but we forged on. There were times when the grocery budget only allowed for formula and a few things for us. We ate a lot of oatmeal, popcorn and casseroles, (when we could afford meat). I was fortunate to know how to sew, so made most of the baby clothes out of unused adult clothing. I made my own baby food when the baby hit that stage. We endured, met other young families in the same situation, borrowed when we could, and managed to survive. I feel sorry for the kids today that have never had to struggle. It builds character. If times get hard for them, they don’t know how to handle it. We gave our children what they needed, but not what they wanted. They had to work for the wants. We bought them jeans, but if they wanted a designer label, they had to make up the difference. I hope somewhere in their upbringing that they learned something from those lessons!

  8. Every so often, back in the days when the hubby was laid off from jobs. I would go shopping. I would put everything I really wanted/liked in my basket, just savoring the moment. Then I would Leave it. I know, it wasn’t fair to the store or the employees, but it let me enjoy an outing. I didn’t do it every week or even month. Just when I was really feeling down about my poverty. Thank goodness those days have passed!

  9. Thanks for sharing. We have similar story. We look back st those times and are thrilled we made it thru.
    The younger generation wants everything right now new house new cars best clothes it is hard to you appreciate all the effort and hard work you do for your family to accomplish goals and when you do get to the point where you get to build a house or get a nicer home you appreciate it all the more.

  10. This article serves as a good reminder that the “lean” years really are special. As you explained so well, this comes from valuing those you love, the things you have and experiences, over those things money can buy! Thank you for the reminder!

    • Thank you so much Desiree – I don’t know that I’d want to go back to those days, but goodness, we learned so much and have some sweet memories!

  11. On a funny note, you come up with so many great deals that it’s hard to save! . I have enjoyed so many of your bargains…We have a special needs daughter who will require our life-long financial support so we really do a good job of saving for her future. But sometimes it’s hard to remember it doesn’t matter how good of a price it is if you don’t need it, right? . It’s a good time for me to focus on your cleaning and organizing program that you’re sharing. Thanks for the motivation. Now, I just need to print the darn pdf on my laptop.

  12. I remember being so broke that I had to wear old washcloths for sanitary pads. That was awful, but what was good was how much my children learned about saving and managing money! They are very responsible adults today! I think all we went through was worth it!

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