Living on a Limited Budget With Contentment

by Katy on September 4, 2015 · 42 comments

Boston Cream Pie yogurt

My family of four lives on a limited budget. Partly because years ago my husband and I stupidly folded debt into our mortgage, which means we pay an enormous monthly amount, but also because we have savings goals. We aspire to send our sons to college without student loan debt and my husband and I want to pay off our mortgage years before we retire.

So we scrimp and then we save.

Just yesterday I hit up our local Grocery Outlet for snacks and random food items. (Their inventory is so varied that it’s impossible to write out a specific grocery list.) I made my way over to the yogurt aisle and noticed that the Boston Cream Pie flavor was priced at 20¢ apiece. Normally I would choose a variety of flavors, but instead I grabbed six containers of the same yogurts and headed to the check out.

This single act of choosing the same discounted yogurts may seem insignificant, but it isn’t. Living on a limited budget supports our big picture goals and it’s this commitment that allows us to enjoy a rapidly increasing savings account while also saving towards retirement.

Saving in the here and now allows for an abundant future.

At this point you might be wondering if our scrimping and saving is depleting the joy from our here and now? The answer is an emphatic no! Because we’re content with our thrifted furnishings, our frugal meals, our non-flashy lifestyle, our frugal choices.

When you’re content with what you have, it’s easy to avoid feelings of deprivation.

Being thoughtfully frugal with my purchases allows me to hit our long term goals. Which is more important than a variety of yogurt flavors. Any day of the week.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

ann September 4, 2015 at 11:20 am

We’ve just got back to the UK from Florida and found food quite expensive whilst there which surprised us. I think because we’re not familiar with the different supermarkets, we didn’t recognise which ones were expensive and which not for a while. I liked the Yoplait yoghurts you have over there, I tried a couple whilst in the US, but I don’t think I ever saw any for 20 cents, so you got a really good deal.

I have come back with a whole new respect for the way you live so frugally without spending money. I can imagine that it is not always made easy for you and therefore I admire your efforts enormously. They make me smile a lot too as they are sometimes incredibly ingenious.


Nathalie September 4, 2015 at 11:38 am

Hi, I live in Florida. Next time you come, look for an Aldi. They’re the cheapest around, in my opinion. For instance, their brand of Boston Cream Pie yogurt is $0.39 a cup.

Publix (our local grocery chain, Publix stores are ubiquitous in Florida) is awesome as far as supermarkets go, but they’re expensive if you’re not shopping with coupons. Also, Florida is more expensive than a lot of other states when it comes to food.


Mand01 September 4, 2015 at 4:42 pm

I just have to ask what Boston Cream Pie yoghurt is? It must be a popular flavour if a store makes a generic brand of it. What is a Boston Cream Pie?


Susan (Eastendmom) September 4, 2015 at 4:51 pm

You can google recipes, but Boston Creme Pie is a two-layer sponge cake – 2 round layers – with “Boston creme” (a custard-like cream) in the middle and chocolate icing on the top. Delicious!


Trisha September 5, 2015 at 7:43 am

Boston Creme Pie = Delicious.

Boston Creme yogurt = Not delicious.

But then, I like plain ol’ vanilla, so that’s a maybe personal problem. 😉

Barb @ 1SentenceDiary September 18, 2015 at 10:11 am

Agreed! I’ll take plain vanilla, or even plain with just some added fruit, over ‘Boston Crème Pie flavored’ yogurt every time. But obviously, others must feel differently or they wouldn’t sell it! To each their own.

ann September 5, 2015 at 4:25 am

Thanks for the tip. I will make sure to look out for Aldi if we go again. We had a great time though. You live in a very beautiful part of the world.


A. Marie September 4, 2015 at 11:57 am

IMO, Katy has captured the essence of frugality in her emphasis on contentment, satisfaction, and joy. In a nutshell, if you don’t enjoy doing this, you won’t be able to sustain it. This isn’t a slam on anybody, just an assessment of human nature.

I’ve quoted this more than once in this space, but I’ll do it again: A remark about frugality I’ve seen attributed to the late Joe Dominguez of Your Money or Your Life fame is “When this stops being fun, you’ll see my tail lights!” So far, thank goodness, it’s fun for me. And now that DH is retired, I’m even getting him on board.


Diana Fulmer September 4, 2015 at 12:16 pm

a tight budget is hardly deprivation. Our homeless eat better than many parts of the world. I love the challenge of providing meals at a deep discount from the usual price and never feel deprived. Just the fact that we have so much to chose from in our stores tells me we are very rich. And the truly poor get lots of government and agency assistance. The next big issue is affordable housing for everyone. Food is possible to get on limited income but not housing in certain areas.


Katy September 4, 2015 at 12:23 pm

I agree about a tight budget not being deprivation, but many others feel self-pity.


Mand01 September 4, 2015 at 4:45 pm

Not me. I feel in control and empowered. Date Ramsey says a budget is you telling your money what to do. I said that to someone the other day, and they had honestly never thought of it that way. We work hard for that money – why wouldn’t we want to control every cent of it?


Betsey September 4, 2015 at 12:29 pm

Funny you should write this article today!
I took a good friend shopping for clothes today. She is in her 80’s and felt she needed a couple of new tops. Since we live in a small town, the only local women’s clothing store is very exclusive and expensive. Well, she found a top on sale for $20. I found several things that were lovely, and then reality hit. Where would I wear these clothes? I, too, am retired, I mostly wear jeans and whatever, so why do I need these? I put them back onto the rack and left without spending a cent. Actually I saved about $200.
I do not feel deprived, I like the money in the bank, and I absolutely love the fact that I will not feel guilty tomorrow.
You rock, Katy.


Nathalie September 4, 2015 at 12:33 pm

There is indeed a distinction between living on a limited income and living on a limited budget. Living on a limited income isn’t something you have much choice in. You’ve got to make do with what you have. Living on a limited budget has its challenges too because you could spend more in a myriad of things but you choose not to.

We live on a limited budget (i.e. below our means although we could do better, as my husband has a good income) and we don’t feel deprived at all. We could afford many things but we just choose not to spend money on those things… we don’t buy books or music (that’s what the libraries or Amazon gift cards from Swagbucks are for), don’t have cable (although we do have Netflix but I’m considering cancelling that), don’t have huge data plans on our phones (we mostly use them while on wi-fi anyway), rarely eat out, don’t have expensive hobbies. I don’t get manicures or pedicures or haircuts (no difficult to do as I don’t like getting those things anyway!) and I don’t care about fashion or trends. We don’t need the latest gadget. My kitchen is from the 70s, including my wall oven. No granite counters or stainless steel appliances for me. A lot of our furniture is from thrift stores. I just don’t care for our house to look like a magazine picture. Nothing matches and we don’t care. We don’t have a lawn service. I fish things out of the trash that my family has thrown away so I can recycle/upcycle/reuse them. I try not to pay full price for anything if I can avoid it. I use coupons, send for rebates, participate in Swagbucks and Bing Rewards, use our credit cards to earn free to us rewards, use loyalty cards, subscribe to many e-mail newsletters from manufacturers, follow many blogs that deal with frugality via Feedly.

We bought a large house in a semi-rural area several years ago because the price was equivalent to what we were spending on renting an apartment closer to Orlando. We didn’t borrow what the bank told us we qualified for, far from! We don’t have any credit card debt or car loans. We drive our cars until they die, even if that means we’re spending more on gas because they are gas guzzlers. However, we definitely use them to haul things (and even people once in a while) and we keep up on their maintenance.

We are lucky that we are in relative good health so we don’t have medical expenses to worry about (keeping our fingers crossed!). My kids can join activities if they’re free or if they earn the money to pay for them. I don’t do clubs or travel teams for anything. Time spent at home with family is what’s important to us. However, I actually force them to join in school clubs or library activities or school sports so they do develop interests outside of just sitting home.

Our plan is to pay off our house in 5 years so right now I send double the amount of our mortgage to accomplish that and we try to save for retirement as well. We’re homebodies who like freebies. Since I’m a stay-at-home mom, I have plenty of time to shop at several stores around town to spend as little as possible on groceries and other things.

As far as college goes, our views differ, Katy. I spent years warning the kids that they would be on their own for college so they needed to work hard and look for scholarships. In Florida you can qualify for a Bright Futures scholarship (the amounts have decreased a lot since 2008, though) if you have very good grades, 100+ volunteer hours and ACT/SAT scores. Then you have to maintain a minimum GPA in college for it to be renewed every year. My 2 oldest boys are helped by their dad and my oldest has gotten a small Bright Futures scholarship and has also taken on some student loans. My middle son refused to do what was needed to qualify for the scholarship but he now works almost full time while he goes to state college (formerly known as community college). When I see how my boys “manage” their money (despite my advice), I’m glad it’s not my husband’s hard earned cash that they’re spending! On the flip side, they’re happy that I’m not controlling them through any “help” that I might give them (unlike their dad who is the ultimate helicopter parent and driving them nuts!). I do help out here and there by buying them clothes when they need them (a new suit for my oldest’s performances, for instance), giving them small amounts of cash or a gas gift card here and there, taking them grocery shopping once in a while, buying school supplies and “furnishing” their dorm room/apartment when they first go to college. My daughter is very motivated to not incur debt so has dual enrolled so she can earn college credits for free, working really hard and taking on Honors and AP classes to increase her already high GPA, got a job to save for college because she doesn’t want to have to take loans (I also won some money in form of a partial college scholarship for her several years ago). She also is looking for a career that will allow her to be fulfilled but also where she has the potential to earn good money. (My 2 oldest chose to study jazz and photography, respectively, because they are passionate about those interests and I’m not too hopeful as far as their earning potential, but it’s their lives.) My youngest will do the same as his sister, hopefully. My way of helping out is letting my middle son live at home right now. I do charge him rent (to try and teach him responsibility, it’s never too late!) but as I mentioned in a previous comment, I am secretly thinking about giving it all back to him when he gets an apartment in January, provided that his stay with us goes well. He just moved back in a week ago and so far he has insisted on buying his own food, which has impressed me 🙂 I’m hoping that once he realizes how much of his paycheck is spent on food, gas & rent, he starts being smarter with the choices he makes for driving around (not consolidating errands, sitting in the car with the engine running while he’s talking on the phone with his GF, speeding when he knows he’s driving through a speed trap!) and for buying food (brand names only, not looking for sales or considering shopping at Aldi because it’s “too far”).

My ultimate ambition for me for my kids to learn to be self-sufficient and live a frugal yet fulfilling life… and I’m hoping that the eldest will see the light at some point!


Nathalie September 4, 2015 at 12:38 pm

Correction: My ultimate ambition is for my kids to learn to be self-sufficient and live a frugal yet fulfilling life… (…)


Betty Winslow September 4, 2015 at 12:59 pm

I’m content with our lifestyle for the most part, although the fact that we can seldom go on trips (unless it’s to a wedding or funeral – and even then close by) due to car issues makes me a little sad. We’ve been frugal most of our married life by necessity, and our children for the most part have learned valuable life skills from it. We never intended to send any of them to college; we paid for them to attend private schools, encouraged their interests (ballet, various sports, art) and expected them to get good grades and grants or scholarships for college. The oldest one attended the US Naval Academy, the younger son has got a full year and a half of college under his belt and is working towards going back, the older son chose to drop out of HS, and the youngest frittered away her time through a year of fully paid college and is now working as a restaurant manager. Not the choices we would have made, in most of that, but hey, not our lives. They are wonderful human beings and have to make their own ways. We pray for them, help them out a little when we can from time to time, and give them advice when they ask (seldom….). Hubby and I are now looking down a short road to retirement and are trying to get out of debt and make some plans for the next phase of our life together (43+ yrs). We pinch pennies in mmany ways, splurge only in a few when it’s important to us, and are for the most part content. It’s good.

[WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.


Jane in Seattle September 4, 2015 at 1:25 pm

Eating in a limited budget doesn’t mean you have to eat beans, or feel deprived. Bargains are to be had if you are just a little flexible and spend some tome planning your trip. Safeway this week has pork tenderloins for five dollars over the weekend, There is a dollar coupon on coupons,com. You can download two. That makes a pork tenderloin four dollars. Hardly depriving yourself! LOl.


Marie September 4, 2015 at 1:31 pm

Great Post and mindset Katy. Part of why people feel deprived is because we have been raised to think that spending is best and saving means going without. But when you read back your post…how can that be going without…using all your talents to prove cheap nutritious meals, providing your son with a great future. Blog after blog people talk about decluttering how much of that relates to mindless spending? Anyone can live on a good budget but it takes skill to live frugally and for me…I take pride that I can do that!


Gail September 4, 2015 at 2:35 pm

I’m supporting your statement re little actions (yoghurt) help fulfull your family’s bigger goals! Yes


tonya September 4, 2015 at 2:43 pm

Having spent much of the past 5 years on a limited income ( due to some unemployment periods) I totally appreciate our income now with full employment. There is a huge psychological difference for me between a limited income (must) and a limited budget (a choice). Grateful to be able to make this choice now!!


Madeline September 4, 2015 at 3:09 pm

I love saving money when we can.Being retired now, we have more time than anything, and prefer to save our money . We drive to Mexico, just 4 hours away,for cheap beach vacations. Europe has never been on my ‘bucket list.” We use our paid off HOME for a lot of our fun and entertainment,since we have a pool, a yard to landscape and garden in,my husband’s favorite hobby. I love to cook, and being retired means I have time and energy to prepare whole foods we like, such as home-made baked beans,cornbread, and a lot of other vegetarian meals. We don’t eat dairy or meat or processed foods..there are HUGE bunches of aisles in the grocery store I simply skip. I enjoy entertaining right here at home, and my girlfriend and I have happy hour on the patio instead of at the local watering hole .A BOTTLE of wine at Trader Joe is $4.00-$5.00 vs. five bucks a GLASS! I ride my bike, attend FREE YOGA CLASSES at a local yoga school.We play board games, watch movies on netflix. I make greeting cards with my rubber stamps (my hobby) –I make gift packs of five home made cards and put them in a decorated gift bag I also make..saves me a ton of money on gifts. I take online classes at Coursera. I listen to free music on Pandora. I do splurge on clothes on sale more than I should–I have to get over this habit!!! Having the TIME to be frugal is such a gift! BEING frugal is fun,actually! It becomes a game of “how can I save..” Love your blog!


Marilyn September 4, 2015 at 4:40 pm

Like everyone else here, I am a person who actually enjoys saving money. I guess it’s a little bit of a game to me. I also like the security of understanding our financial situation and knowing we have some savings to weather any rough patches. I admit that there are times when I have fallen into the trap of trying to “keep up with the Joneses.” Always a mistake!


Mand01 September 4, 2015 at 4:56 pm

We have a child with a disability. We have a good income now, but we didn’t always. We live well below our means, because we want her to have as many choices as possible. I also am told by the media and research that as a woman, I am less likely in the future to have as much money for retirement and to earn less over the long term (already untrue – I’m the breadwinner in my family, earning double what my partner does – I think over time some of these stats will start to change). A budget and a decision to live below our means gives us the power to have more options in the future and to ensure that our daughter has opportunities that she might not have. Yes, we are now lucky to have a good income, but we could also waste that money. I think that a budget helps us to make our own opportunities.


Amanda September 4, 2015 at 5:34 pm

I’ve never heard you mention that you folded debt into your mortgage. Fascinating! I’d love to hear more about your story. How did you possibly run up debt? It seems out of character for you. When did you decide to pay off everything? Were you always this frugal or did you learn to be that way because you wanted to save more?


Katy September 4, 2015 at 9:30 pm

The debt was related to when we were first working on our fixer-upper 19 years ago.


CW September 4, 2015 at 5:58 pm

We are in Victoria, BC dropping our daughter off for university (a 14 hour drive from our home in northern BC). We too do not want her to graduate with debt. We saved money in a registered education plan (the government kicks in some $). However, she is also expected to use her hard earned cash from working this past year. And she will be expected to work each summer, too. Fortunately, she has a few small scholarships for this year. My husband is retired and I will retire next year, so careful management of education $$ is very important!


dusty September 5, 2015 at 2:41 am

While I certainly agree with the frugal lifestyle, I drive a 23 year old car and have a flip phone (I get a lot of flack about both of these), I also think it’s important to treat yourself at some time. Yes, I do color my hair at home but once a year I go to a salon and get it done, just for the experience. I also get a pedicure a couple of times a year and then do it myself the rest of the year. I think it’s important to treat yourself to something. A friend of mine recently told me how much money he had saved and he said that maybe one day he could take his wife (of 30 years) out to a nice dinner. I told him to do it now, don’t wait. I just think that it’s nice to pamper yourself once in awhile.


Katy September 5, 2015 at 8:59 am

I agree. But I feel pampered by library books, a cozy Goodwill blanket and a 3¢ cup of tea at home with a good friend. I’m what you call “low maintenance!”


Karen September 5, 2015 at 3:28 am

Re: paying off debt before retirement. DH retired earlier this year. We have no mortgage payments, and save up all year for the property tax payment. No car loans, either. When I went back to college as a non-traditional student (older than most of the student population), I incurred no student loans.
Yes, it was a sacrifice, but well worth it.


K D September 5, 2015 at 5:29 am

We live on a limited budget by choice. We want to have enough money for a nice retirement, we want to donate generously to charities every year, we want to have a low environmental impact, and we are able to send our daughter to college without any of us incurring debt.

I think the more choices there are for things the more I don’t feel like consuming at all. It’s nice sometimes when the choices are made for you via a big price break (Katy’s Boston Cream Pie yogurt is one example, Food Should Taste Good bars at a great clearance price at SAM’S Club this week is another, as is the meat marked down 50% at Safeway). When I was growing up there were so few choices compared to today and I was perfectly happy then. Manufacturers and marketers don’t want us to be happy with what we have but I choose to be as do Katy’s followers. I love the community we have here, as most people I know do not think the way we do.


Diane C September 5, 2015 at 9:37 am

I’d like to inject a cautionary counter-point, if I may. I realize it’s towards the end of this comment thread and may not be read by many, but here goes…
My in laws were frugal all their lives. They travelled all over the world, staying on the super cheap everywhere they went. My FIL died two years ago, and my MIL has over two million dollars. She also has Alzheimer’s. It’s sad that she has all this money that can’t help her. Yes, it will pay for her care, but she certainly is not enjoying the fruits of their labors.
My point is that savings goals are great, but today is real and tomorrow is only a promise. Make sure to enjoy life to the fullest along the way. Yes, sometimes it is worth it to spend the money to attend that out-of-state family wedding or class reunion. I think Katy does an awesome job of keeping a balanced perspective, spending wisely today whilst keeping a steely eye on the budget and the future, which is why I love this blog!


Carol September 5, 2015 at 4:48 pm

Yes. I’ve been feeling this lately. Mostly it’s important for me to be frugal, but I passed up an opportunity this summer to go to Palm Springs with a discounted room. I felt I needed to not spend the money. Now I’m regretting it, as it would have been a great experience to relax in the pool with a margarita. I don’t get a lot of opportunities to stay at hotels, actually.


Barb @ 1SentenceDiary September 18, 2015 at 10:24 am

I find it difficult to achieve the ‘right’ balance, and by that I mean the right balance for *me*. All my life I’ve been quite frugal. However, after the unexpected and far too early death of someone I loved a few years ago, I have relaxed a lot about spending. Life may be shorter than expected, and I want to enjoy the now as well as the future.
For example, last night my daughter and I decided after dinner to go out to a trendy cookie place (that’s right, they make fancy cookies) just for fun. In the past I would never have considered such a thing — I make cookies from scratch that are delicious — but it was more for the adventure of it. It’s not all that often that my 15-year-old suggests an outing with mom, and I thought, “what the heck, why not?” On the other hand, I spent money on gas and cookies that could have gone towards other things. Plus, I’d like to be sure I’m modeling good financial discipline for my kids. I’m still working on the balance… not sure I’ll ever get there.


Katy September 18, 2015 at 10:35 am

That sounds like something I would have splurged on as well, as time spent together is more valuable than anything. Plus when those outings are not a daily occurrence, they’re appreciated.


Sarah G September 5, 2015 at 10:16 am

The Grocery Outlet that you frequent sounds wonderful. To my knowledge there is nothing like that in our area. I shop at Aldi, which I love, but even at Aldi you can’t find 20-cent yogurts! Our area is semi-rural, so our shopping choices are a bit limited.


Revanche September 5, 2015 at 11:06 am

It is a darn shame that so many people have embraced the manufactured sense of need that advertising agencies are so good at selling. It reminds me of the background behind the diamond engagement ring: the diamond cartel realized they had to manufacture a need for their diamonds lest the surplus drive down demand and prices, so they tied the diamond to the feeling of love and commitment that people associate with getting engaged. They did this so well that I think most people believe that a diamond engagement ring was always the tradition, and that they too need one to be engaged.
I love discovering a good new book and it is just as enjoyable borrowed from the library as it is if I bought it new, but so many industries and livelihoods revolve around our thinking that we need to buy new.
With an infant, these days I feel entirely pampered if I get to nap for a couple hours and you know, lowered expectations are just the ticket to contentment, that and learning to enjoy and be happy with what you already have.


marie September 5, 2015 at 12:26 pm

Saving is totally a set frame of mind: Not oh, I can have this, but will this change how I exist.


Sharon September 6, 2015 at 7:12 pm

IMHO, deprivation is not being able to afford what you need because you bought something you wanted instead.


Diane C September 6, 2015 at 10:12 pm

To Sarah G – There is a little more to the story. In general, those crazy good prices happen at Grocery Outlet when the product is at or beyond their sell-by date. Not so much at Aldi, I think. If you are not particularly concerned with sell-by dates, there are screaming deals to be had.
Recently, I thought of Katy when I saw Tillamook pepper jack cheese 1/2 oz. snack servings, perfect for DH’s lunchbox, priced at 10/$1. Oh yes, please, I bought 100. They’re now happily past their date, but since they live in the freezer until needed, they ‘ll be fine. Fortunately, my family has learned to ignore those pre-printed dates. In fact, we joke that they are not sell-by dates, but freeze-by dates. BTW, yogurt does not freeze well, but it does last a very long time past the date stamped on the carton.


JD September 8, 2015 at 6:18 am

I so agree with Katy’s post.
Circumstances haven’t been kind to us in the last five years, and our savings are pretty much gone, as my husband’s been unable to work and my pay is not so good. His health is not good at all, and I could fill a page with the things we’ve had go wrong. Sometimes I get discouraged but then I realize, we are MAKING IT on one third of what we used to live on, which believe me, wasn’t a huge income to start with. I still have a job and 401K that I contribute to, we have a paid for house, a nice 2-year old car, and we get free food out of our garden containers. Our church offers wonderful free concerts and activities. We have two great adult kids, two precious grandchildren and a third on the way. What rich blessings! How can I complain? Let me put my arms around my grandchildren and life can’t get any better.


Vickie September 8, 2015 at 8:33 am

I feel like finding good deals is pampering myself!
When I find the foods we enjoy on sale, I don’t hesitate to buy them knowing this pampers our taste buds. Not expensive foods, just the everyday foods we love.
I keep a large can of mixed nuts, so we can grab a handful if we’re feeling hungry in between meals, or in the evening when we’re enjoying a TV show or just chatting.
I buy the same same low cost household staples we like, because they make me happy.
I keep tea and cold water in the fridge for drinks and, buy ginger ale for the grandkids when they visit. A cheap alternative to pricey pop for my grandson.
Audio books from the Library for listening to in the car and books to read during breaks between chores at home.
Exercise is walking the dogs, yard work and housework. This helps us afford an occasional outing for a birthday or our anniversary and an annual vacation somewhere fun with family and/or friends.
I love the frugal life, it has rewards that buying “stuff” can’t bring. My home and the people in my life are what keeps us happy and content!!


Katy September 8, 2015 at 8:49 am

Very well said, Vickie!


Katy September 5, 2015 at 8:56 am

Yeah, I’m not eating them. They’re for my younger son.


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