Saving Pennies While Hemorrhaging Dollars

by Katy on November 1, 2023 · 38 comments

I wrote this blog post five years ago and it’s incredible how much my life has changed. Both kids graduated from college, I retired from nursing and my husband healed from the two injuries that required surgery. But the feeling of saving pennies while throwing hundred dollar bills into the fire still creeps in now and then. Luckily more “then” than “now.”


I’m going to describe a situation that I know is far from unique to my personal experience.

I create tasty meals based on bulk purchased dried beans, I pick up every coin, (even the grubby pennies) I source my clothing from the pay-by-the-pound Goodwill Outlet or neighborhood free piles, I dumpster dive at dorm move outs, I pack leftovers for work meals, I stalk the library for reading material, my haircuts are all freebies from the Supercuts’ training center; and I repair and mend anything that promises to last another day, month or year.

None of these things will individually ensure financial independence, but together they make a difference. An opportunity for financial breathing room.

Mind you, these are all sacrifices that I’m happy to incorporate into my life. These choices allow me to pay cash for my kids’ college educations, they make it possible to throw 16% of my income into retirement and to step away from the anxiety of a paycheck to paycheck existence. Plus, I firmly believe that over manufacture of consumer goods is an environmental nightmare as well as a toxic mindset. So choosing this lifestyle pairs well with my beliefs.

However . . . it can be exhausting. It’s satisfying when it results in financial freedom, but it’s frustrating to save 50¢ here or $2 there’s when an unexpected $538 dental bill or yet another medical bill infests my mailbox.

I feel like I’m celebrating a found nickel while simultaneously throwing hundred dollar bills into the abyss.

2018 has been a year of intense expenses with my husband having two (two!) surgeries, as well as kids in college and the general expenses related to home ownership and the audacity to stay on top of dental care.

So do I give up on my money saving efforts?

Nope. I renew my library books, grab my reusable bags (that save 6¢ apiece!) and head out to the inconvenient discount grocery store across town. I sell an item or two through Facebook Marketplace and pack up a bean based meal for tomorrow’s work lunch.

Do you feel like your scrimping and saving is hardly worth the effort when life is full of endless high cost obstacles? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley    

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

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{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary Ann November 1, 2023 at 5:09 pm

My husband has a saying “Never learn live like you are rich because you won’t ever be able to go back. The return trip is paved with misery.”

I make a comfortable living in a reasonable COL town ( for California.) I was single for several years and had $11,000 in student loans ( 35 years ago), $5000 on a credit card payment and owed my dad $10,000 for a down payment on my house. I thought I was doing great because I didn’t’ take fancy trips; shopped at the equivalent of Target; and I bought a used car. Credit cards had given me $50,000 limits which I ignored. So all was well, I thought

Then a couple came to my parent conferences. They both worked at Taco Bell in town and were raising two daughters. Suddenly I felt ashamed and a bad steward of my resources I had been gifted. At the time I was dating the man who would become my husband. I asked him to look over my books and set me a plan.

That was the journey that ended debt for me. I refused to live in ignorance. I followed Dave Ramsey radio show. I read frugal blogs. I learned to cook and budget. Mostly I was willing to tell myself the truth and not LIVE in denial.

At this point in my life, frugal living has become one of my favorite hobby. I love to live sustainably. I want to be free of unnecessary wants. I don’t want to own a storage facility, 10 purses, or a car I would be unconsolable if it dented. A well lived life is messy and dents lots of things.

Disclaimer: I do realize that living with food and housing scarcity is draining and terrifying. I am at a point of retiring with a comfortable pension, safe housing and with some money to travel. I have the luxury of gratitude. Still I know lots of movie stars who have made far more than me and end up desolate so I will give myself some credit even though overall I feel tremendously grateful.


Anne November 2, 2023 at 7:59 am

Great story!


Katy November 2, 2023 at 11:00 am

Wow, this was amazing to red, thank you so much for taking the time to share it! Frugal living is a bit of a hobby here as well. 😉


Christine November 3, 2023 at 9:04 am

Thank you for sharing, especially about your “wake-up” moment with the two parents working low wage jobs. Living frugally obviously worked well for you. Frugality is always a choice or a necessity, I guess. I’ve been at both ends of the spectrum and living frugally has worked for me in both cases and all in between. Best to you.


Jen in Santa Cruz November 1, 2023 at 6:38 pm

Sacrifices? LOL, I call all those things “hobbies”. 😉


Ruby November 1, 2023 at 6:49 pm

I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I saw our painstakingly clawed together emergency fund go “poof” in the wake of a hospitalization. We had such crappy employer provided health insurance for so long. But after the usual wailing and wringing of hands, we’d make a new plan, look at each other and say, “Steady licks kill the devil.” And we’d go back to suppers of beans and corn, hanging cloth diapers to dry on the clothesline and buying clothes at the Salvation Army because it was the difference between temporarily broke and permanently poor.


Katy November 2, 2023 at 10:53 am

Luckily the cloth diapers on the clothesline is a temporary period in one’s life.


Lindsey November 1, 2023 at 7:02 pm

When I finished grad school, I was offered a position that paid twice what my father made as an engineer. I lived on credit cards and thought that as long as I had enough to make the monthly payments, I was golden. Then I fell in love with a guy who got cancer soon after and the bills were more than I could pay (he could not work at that point) and we fell into debt. At one point the docs talked about an experimental procedure that had a high success rate but the insurance company would not cover it. There was no way to finance it and, luckily, the conventional treatment for his cancer worked. After that I decided that we were going to have a savings account that would cover the costs of a stem cell transplant so never again would I end up on the phone weeping so hard I actually vomited, while I tried to convince the insurance company to pay up. That account now exists and remains untouchable; we don’t even count it when we look at our assets or are making large financial decisions. (And we actually had to use part of that money when I got a catastrophic illness; it took years but we refilled that account as son as we could). I find it pretty easy to look at something I want (like this gorgeous $800 bookcase I saw the other day) and ask myself what is more important to me: to not have to worry about money if one of us falls ill again, or owning a piece of furniture. It makes it very easy to save even when bills seem to eat the money saved through those small and large daily thrifty habits. And now it has become a game—how thrifty can we be and still have a life we enjoy? I am sure that part of it is age, in that fewer things in a store catch my eye, I have become ever more conscious of environmental issues, I love looking down and realizing
everything I have on cost me a total of $8.00 from Good Will, and I get enormous pleasure out of having money to give to small local charities like the food bank or the fund an agency around here has that is dedicated to paying for medications when people cannot afford them. My father is gone now but he always said his survival in the camps meant that not only did he need to live a life that helped make up for those who died, but that he also had to produce children who made the most of their gifts and the opportunities in this country. His exact words were, “If you are wastrels, then someone else who raised better kids should have survived instead of me.”


Jan November 1, 2023 at 7:51 pm

Wow, Lindsey~ Your words are so very powerful. I nearly lost my breath reading them. Thank you for them. I am going to show my daughter what you’ve written as it encompasses everything that is *really* important. I truly hope your life is full of nothing but happiness, contentment and health. Thank you so much for sharing this!


Denise November 2, 2023 at 12:05 am


Hugely moving and powerful words. Your father’s view is both magnificent and motivating. Thank you for sharing this.


Katy November 2, 2023 at 10:52 am

Wow, that’s quite a message to grow up with. I assume you’ve read the “Maus” books?


Christine November 3, 2023 at 9:14 am

Profound words from your father! Words to live and thrive by.


Alexandra November 3, 2023 at 10:17 am

What a perspective. Thank you for sharing this. Your writing touched me deeply.


texasilver November 1, 2023 at 7:42 pm

There are some things that are needs like dental treatment & medical care. I groaned a little when I had to pay 2.5K for a dental bridge (after insurance). What are you to do? Taking care of your teeth & body usually contribute to a more pleasant life even if it costs a lot. I try not to spend on “wants” so I can pay for “needs”. I also believe in living below your means so that unexpected expenses can be handled. We know there are ALWAYS unexpected expenses in life.


Katy November 2, 2023 at 10:50 am



K D November 2, 2023 at 2:38 am

I try not to think of it as “scrimping and saving” so much as living an authentic life. There is a large intersection between frugal and green living and I usually focus on the green aspects. After a while the frugal part becomes second nature. It is what is comfortable for me. Knowing more about how people lived in the past also makes it easier for me to embrace a smaller life. Luckily I don’t need to embrace frugality totally but I choose to most of the time.


Katy November 2, 2023 at 10:49 am

We were very much “scrimping and saving” when I wrote this post.


Bee November 2, 2023 at 3:24 am

Because I save the nickels, pennies and dimes, I have the dollars to spend when I need them. It is hard, however, to watch one’s bank account get smaller.


Katy November 2, 2023 at 10:49 am

So true.


Emily U. November 2, 2023 at 11:04 am

I feel this soooo much. We’re investing a lot into different projects right now to make our home more comfortable and prepare for our expanding family. I know we saved so we can cover these expenses, but it doesn’t really do to much to get rid of the feeling of dread of “this costs HOW much?”, nor the pain of watching your bank account shrink when you worked so hard to build it up…


Marybeth from NY November 2, 2023 at 5:06 am

Today my kids(22&24) and I are off to the museum with a library pass. We are bringing our lunch and reusable water bottles. It will be a fun outing. We splurged and went to Disney in September. It was our first family trip in 10 years because we were paying for college to make sure the kids started out without debt. Now we are working on paying the mortgage off early. I also pick up the grubby pennies.


Katy November 2, 2023 at 10:48 am

Grubby pennies for the win!


Christine November 3, 2023 at 9:09 am

I pick up coins no matter how grubby too. I’ve even fished them out of puddles. A coin is a coin.


Carrie November 2, 2023 at 8:18 am

Life in America! Reading The Nordic Theory of Everything got me righteously angry about how hardworking folks in the US live on the edge financially because of our policies. Read at your own risk.


Katy November 2, 2023 at 10:44 am

Did you book offer any solutions?


kathy November 2, 2023 at 11:45 am

Your post still rings true today. I had a friend “scoff” at me as I sold multiple DVDs to an online site which netted $36. So what if I was only offered .19 for one. It’s the drip drip drip effect, the bucket will get full. I was doing the happy dance yesterday when I got a $46.27 class action settlement check. That buys a tank of gas. I worked 3 gigs and took Social Security early when I was out of work for 8 months in 2015. I’m 70 and still work a part time job for the $$ and the socialization


Katy November 2, 2023 at 12:07 pm

Better to make a small amount of money on the DVDs than have them sit and collect dust!


Mary Ann November 2, 2023 at 2:00 pm

Also, the time spent to earn $36 could have been spent SPENDING $36. My Father in law said the easiest way to save money is work all the time.


Katy November 2, 2023 at 4:11 pm

That pairs well with “The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it in your back pocket.” – Will Rogers.


Selena November 2, 2023 at 6:39 pm

I agree with your FIL. Though today online “shopping” can allow even the busiest worker to spend. I’m at the point in life where I just do not need more “stuff”. I will admit I’ve brought “stuff” into my house via charitable fund raisers. Eventually what I’ve “won” gets re-homed with someone who can use/needs it. So I consider that a win-win. I do tend to bid on useful things. At times I just donate money.
Living below ones means (meaning not being cheap nor neglecting priorities such as health, dental, vision) goes a long way on the road to living a comfortable life. Being raised to live below (or at least within) your means certainly gives you a leg up. Though I realize it is hard for far too many these days. Yeah, some are/were their own worst enemy but IMHO, most are not.


Ashley Bananas November 2, 2023 at 12:19 pm

I feel like I live so humbly right now. But, hopefully that will help make future me much happier and in a better place.


Kristen | The Frugal Girl November 3, 2023 at 5:35 am

Haha, I relate to this currently because GEEZ, it can feel like a waste of time to use up food odds and ends when you are hemorrhaging money in the direction of a divorce lawyer.

But like you, I keep on keepin’ on. This is temporary, and my frugal habits will help me get back on my feet in the future, while minimizing the damage right now.


Q November 4, 2023 at 9:36 am

Katy, you are so on target: “none of these things will individually ensure financial independence, but together they make a difference… Financial breathing room”.

I think that it is a practice: the more ways we practice frugality, the better we get at it.

This blog and your readers have given me so many ideas and incentives and inspiration. thank you.


Tony Wolk November 4, 2023 at 10:14 am


Thanks for this summation; and for yesterday’s lunch with a father who forgot his wallet.

But I was also thinking of my usual means of transportation for meeting up with you, thanks to my 1930s Raleigh 3-speed bicycle. And no only do I not require any petrol, but I have the benefit of joyful out-door exercise with each visit.



Katy November 6, 2023 at 9:48 am

And thanks for leaving your leftovers at the house, as your grandson was more than happy to devour them!


Cindy in the South November 4, 2023 at 11:27 am

Exactly. The unexpected medical expenses are so hard, financially, mentally, physically, and emotionally.


Gail November 7, 2023 at 6:36 am

I have only recently bookmarked your blog. I retired around 2019. I am now 64. I was a nurse. Retirement and divorce pretty much forced me to become frugal, but it reflects my value system. Someone has to present to the world an alternative way to live.
My quality of life is very high. I believe I eat better than anyone who’s constantly eating out. Yes, things take longer. Hanging laundry out on the line takes time. But unbelievably I can save money for home improvements despite everything. Ontario is very expensive and very cold. I heat with wood, and I pay for snow removal (the lane is 1/3 of a km). But contentment has come to me. And no, no other of my peers think like me. But they like to come over so I can cook for them…


Katy November 7, 2023 at 10:12 am

As one retired nurse to another — that sounds lovely.


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