Spending Less Than Ever

by Katy on November 30, 2010 · 31 comments

My family is most definitely a two income family. My husband works full-time in emergency services and I work very part-time (16 hours per week) as a labor and delivery nurse. I’ve been in the same job for over fifteen years, so my hourly wage is generous. We are normally able to cover all of our expenses, while having enough leftover to pay down debt and never feel like we’re holding back on the things we want and need. (The income from the blog pretty much covers the hosting fees and not much else.)

We’re able to have this financial wiggle room because we make multiple frugal choices on a daily basis. We keep the thermostat low, fix instead of replace, cook at home, follow The Compact, (buy only used) and pack school and work lunches from home. However, we’re also spending $220 per month on tutoring for our younger son, which is allowing him to return to a public school language program that he’s been away from for over four years. In other words, we scrimp on the little things in order to afford the big picture stuff.

“I’m sorry honey, we can’t afford your tutoring because we like to eat restaurant food.”

However, my job has been providing me with significantly less work than usual. It’s not unusual for birth rates to fluctuate, but my last three paychecks have been approximately $700 less than usual. I’m used to riding the ups and downs of my irregular income, but this is starting to hurt.

So, have we been starting to rely on credit cards, or are we cutting back on our son’s extra tutoring? No way. We’re using extreme frugality skills to float us through this low point. For example, my sister and her family were in town for Thanksgiving, and instead of hitting up the Goodwills, (our favorite activity) we hung out at home and feasted on leftovers. Instead of providing different fruit choices, I have a bowl of whichever fruit is on sale. (99¢ per pound organic Gala apples) I’m not buying deli meat for school lunches, and instead am making egg salad sandwiches and onigiri from leftover rice. My special me treat yesterday was a stop into a library across town (I was in the neighborhood to pick my son up) and checked out some audio books as well as the newest novel from one of my favorite Chick-lit authors.

I thought about stopping into Trader Joe’s and didn’t, as it is my Achilles heel of impulse puchase-ery.

Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s? You bet!”

We will not need to dip into savings, nor will we suffer in any way. We’ll put a little less into debt reduction and cut back on most anything extra. And yeah, I’ll be using the $10 off $50 Safeway coupon that ran in today’s newspaper.

Having the ability to happily survive whether the purse strings are tight or loose is an important mindset in life. Hey, this might even inspire me to finally list some stuff on eBay. You never know. 🙂

Katy Wolk-Stanley

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

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

sarah k. November 30, 2010 at 10:26 am

So what do you put in the onigiri? I think I made something similar many years ago, and I’m trying to branch out from boring sack lunches. My kids would prolly be a little mad if I made them egg salad (though I once sent deviled eggs, and they didn’t make it back home).

Our Trader Joe’s is the 2nd closest market to our house (2 miles, an easy bike ride), so I shop there often, but I’m really trying to cut back on the impulse buying. Yes, I bought the candy cane Joe Joes last week. But with our lovely new policy of no raises for federal employees, of which my husband is one, no more for us! I appreciate your reminding me of how to go it with steadfastness anyway.


Katy November 30, 2010 at 10:50 am

I sprinkle “Furikake” and salt on the rice balls.



Kristen@TheFrugalGirl November 30, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Ohhh, Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s! I blame my tight jeans on those.

That’s easier than blaming my lack of self-control. 😉


Katy November 30, 2010 at 9:57 pm

I can’t be trusted with them.



mamafitz November 30, 2010 at 12:36 pm
Kate December 1, 2010 at 10:06 am

Thanks for these! I look forward to trying them. I tried a knock-off oreo recipe last week and, although they were amazing, they tasted nothing like an oreo.


Barb @ 1 Sentence Diary November 30, 2010 at 12:57 pm

It must be great to know that you have the skills to make it through leaner times. I have greatly loosened my grasp on the purse-strings this year, perhaps letting the pendulum swing too far in the spendy direction. I’ll be looking and thinking about that more carefully over the next few months. Thanks for the encouragement to get back on the horse!


Jinger November 30, 2010 at 1:03 pm

Katy, I’m in a somewhat similar situation. I work part time scoring teacher certification essays for Pearson. I never thought the state of the economy would trickle down to my profession…there will always be a need for teachers, in my mind. yet, the deep budget cuts in some states have affected how many college graduates are going into teaching and that results in lower number of tests to score, which means less work for me. I count on this income to supplement my retirement benefit and I am trying to figure out how to cut back even further right now. For one thing, all my gifts this season are home made or thrift store treasures. Now if I could just lower my food bill each week.


Marie-Josée November 30, 2010 at 6:23 pm

I don’t know if you eat lots of greens, but if that is the case, have you considered sprouting and or growing microgreens in your home? Organic greens are really expensive here in Quebec and I make salads and smoothies from these during the winter when prices really get hiked. I actually enjoy caring for the sprouts; I feel connected with nature and a few tablespoons of seeds make a huge amount of food.


dee December 23, 2010 at 11:50 pm

Your teaching job has been replaced with online learning videos. It is just a matter of time before all we have is online learning and the schools will close down entirely. Maybe you should have said something when Regan sent all of the steel mill jobs to China and all of the telephone jobs to India. Maybe then you wouldn’t now be feeling the trickle down that you are now. Good luck with that teacher stuffs.


Coral Clarke May 11, 2024 at 3:19 pm

I’m hoping that wasn’t meant as “ serves you right”, sometimes things come across meaner than was intended, and we are happily free from that here.


Kate in NY November 30, 2010 at 2:09 pm

OK, OK – I bought the candy cane joe-joe’s last week. And also (gulp) the chocolate covered ones. But in fairness, I have hid them in the freezer (!) so I can dole them out, one per day, to the kiddies. Now, if only I could hide them from myself!


AnnW November 30, 2010 at 5:07 pm

Inspiring post! You really know what is important in life. I would have loved to have had you in my delivery rooms. Can you get any short term private duty jobs? Ann


Suze November 30, 2010 at 5:50 pm

I’m in Australia – so no candycane cookies here – which is probably a good thing for my hips!
For years our budget was virtually non existent and our debt load was ridiculously high – any fluctuations in income would freak me out. I now have that wiggle room in our budget too – it’s a real sanity saver in more financially stressful times. It was hard work to get there, and I know the areas that I can trim even futher. One of my goals for next year is how low can I go – to help pay off our last debt asap.
love & staying out of the shops


Kimberly November 30, 2010 at 6:54 pm

In addition to the very real economic crunch that has trickled down to my world, I rely on a portion of my income in the form of child support. I always promised myself that I wouldn’t rely on that money, but here I am nonetheless relying on it, and having someone else’s (my ex) choices about life (whether to continue to work a steady job) affect my financial picture. And it’s not a given that he’ll choose what I would choose! (Believe me, it’s a short term goal of mine to get back to NOT need that money to make the monthly expenses)

This month, we’re playing the “pantry/freezer survival” game. We won’t go hungry, but I’m trying to spend as little as possible on extra food, trying to eat what we have so it’s not wasted, and therefore avoid any debt crisis from holiday spending. And we’re having a great time doing it…recipes have never been so creative!


Margie mccarthy November 30, 2010 at 7:32 pm

You inspire me! Keep writing!


Dmarie December 1, 2010 at 3:47 am

really LOVE this post, and what a great thread it’s created. In February of this year, we did the eat from the pantry/freezer thing ourselves. No eating out, and grocery purchases were limited to fresh fruit & dairy. I look forward to hearing more about where this period of extreme frugality takes the Non-consumerist clan…adventures in frugality!


Lori December 1, 2010 at 5:00 am

great post!! totally what i needed to read this morning as the push for holiday spending is in full swing. i’m on maternity leave and although we have our Christmas money saved (we put away money every month the whole year), your post reminded me that in times when money is tighter you need to cut back on the ‘nice to have’s’ to make room for the ‘must have’s.’


Molly On Money December 1, 2010 at 5:08 am

We’ve had a great year financially but next year is going to be tight. It’s tough when you watch your debt go away and/or your savings increase to than change gears and need to dip into that savings or scrimp even more. I just keep reminding myself it’s ongoing and life does have it’s up’s and downs!


psmflowerlady/Tammy December 1, 2010 at 5:50 am

Last year, our company made us take a 7.5% pay cut to get us through the really rough economic period. For several months, I didn’t reduce my spending accordingly (quickly enough), and added some to my already hefty cc debt. So, this year, we got our 7.5% back and it felt like a raise and I have been hitting the debt repayment really hard. However, I haven’t been building my emergency fund like I should have been and consequently find myself needing new tires and $$ for Christmas. So I am doing the extreme frugality routine myself right now and will likely add a very small amount to my cc – the first for the year and am working to minimize that amount. Some of the things I’m doing include: a) Paring down on acquaintance gifting – ie coworkers, etc., b) Making where possible & supplies already purchased (my stash is emberassing), c) Packing my lunch & giving up my daily diet cola splurge, d) Meal planning from my freezer/pantry and e) Zero non-gift Christmas purchases (ie decorations, poinsettias, ornaments, wrapping paper, etc.). I’ve got tons of this stuff already and refuse to go into debt to buy more – regardless of how deeply reduced the price may be. and f) Buying my kids the one big-ticket item on their gift list and a stocking only – I usually have some standard gifts I give every year (ie pajamas, games, a craft, etc.) – but they didn’t ask for them and I’m going to save my $ and not buy what didn’t make it to the list. and g) making holiday greeting cards – yeah I have a paper stash too.


Happy Mum December 1, 2010 at 5:54 am

Great post — great thread — thank you, Katy and all!


Reese December 1, 2010 at 6:58 am

Love it. Love the post, love your enthusiasm, love your effort. It really is inspiring 🙂

I’ve been at my job for 7 weeks now and just got my first full paycheck. Blessed that I am able to pay off my bills, but struggling with paying off extras–especially for the holiday season.

So, instead of a date night every friday (Which involves going out to eat), we’re going to do it every OTHER friday. We’ll also try to include coupons or Groupons each time (we sorta do this now, but we’ll be better at it).

We’re also limiting our purchases. I dont NEED new jeans, or any other clothes for that matter; I don’t have to buy a new handbag twice a year, or high heels.

It’s been a complete turn-around for my household and sometimes I find myself resisting (especially if something goes on sale). buuuuuut I’m working through it and you’re helping! Thanks 🙂


Rachel December 1, 2010 at 9:24 am

The mention of Trader’s Joe got me thinking: I always hear people say how cheap Trader Joe’s is, but is it really? I haven’t noticed it to be much cheaper than the low-priced, run-of-the-mill grocery store chains. Maybe the wine is cheap, but it takes more than wine for me to make a trip to Trader Joe’s. Anybody have thoughts on this?


Queen Lucia December 2, 2010 at 7:33 am

As far as I can see, Trader Joe’s is both more and less expensive, depending on what you get. For me, the TJ’s thrill is seeing so many items that would be considered “specialty” items at my regular grocery store – lots more ethnic foods, interesting frozen foods, lots of great candy, many organic or natural items – and for a lower price than what they would be at my regular store. I consider my trips to TJ’s to be irregular treats.


602Laura December 1, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Rachel, I live in Phoenix, AZ and I’d have to say Trader Joe’s is one of the more expensive stores in my area. We have a locally owned chain called Basha’s that has good sales and the same company owns another local chain called Food City, which caters more to the Hispanic population. I find just about everything I want/need at those two stores and just go to Safeway when I need a different selection.
Katy, I’m proud to tell you that I’m a mom of 5 , I’m almost done with my Christmas shopping , I’ve paid cash for everything and have avoided paying retail price for any item so far! Am I candidate for The Compact or what?! All year I’ve kept my eyes peeled at yard sales, thrift stores, second hand media places (we have a local place called Bookman’s that’s awesome! Similarto , but smaller than your Powell’s)… and good old Amazon.com. So by this time of year, I have a really nice stockpile of gifts.
My oldest child has a serious boyfriend and this is the first year I’ll buy Christmas gifts for him. I asked my daughter if she thinks the BF would be alright with me giving him used cd’s, dvd’s, books, etc and she said she thinks it’ll go over just fine, which made me very happy. I figure if he’s going to be a member of our family someday, I should let him know right off the bat how we do things around here!


Rachel December 9, 2010 at 6:46 am

Thanks for the insight on Trader Joe’s.

I was intrigued by your last paragraph about buying gifts for your daughter’s boyfriend. I’ve been with my boyfriend for two years, but the topic of my mom buying gifts for him (or him buying for her) has never come up. I don’t think she would want to start that habit/tradition until he’s officially part of the family (and I’m fine with that). I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with either approach, but I just found your comment interesting.


Coral Clarke May 11, 2024 at 3:26 pm

I gifted if the boyfriend/ girlfriend was spending Christmas with us, because gifts would be being exchanged. Something low key, and something that could be returned to my stash if they arrived giftless, and I didn’t want to embarrass them.


Lori from Michigan December 1, 2010 at 2:44 pm

I enjoy reading your posts, Katy. They are encouraging. We are finally, for the first time, getting serious about paying off our debts and hammering out a budget. It’s late, and we’re sort of old (he’s 49 and I’m about to turn 51), but we can do it. It helps to read your blog. Thank you!


Jo@simplybeingmum December 1, 2010 at 11:30 pm

eBay is a love/hate thing for me. Hate listing (with a passion!) but love to see my unwanted items posted off in return for hard cash (and less clutter)… you’ve reminded me I really need to get on it, any later than this weekend and it’s too close to Christmas for buyers and for guaranteeing delivery. Thanks Katy for the prompt!


Tina December 2, 2010 at 7:20 pm

Love the post Katy.


Charlotte December 6, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Thanks for a nice post.

99c for apples seems fairly expensive to me. Are there any apple farmers near Portland? We have an apple farmer nearby here, and if you go to his farm (which includes a major cold storage house), you can buy apples by the half-bushel for much much less. Combine that with buying seconds (which are really just fine to eat; usually they are just out-of-shape or perhaps have a teeny spot) and I buy my apples for as low as $7/half bushel, which works out to somewhere around 30c/lb.

Apples store for a good long time in the refrigerator (or even a cold corner of your basement), so it’s not that the half bushel would go to waste. (In fact, I usually buy two of them, so that I have to drive to the farm less often.)

Just my 2 cents.


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