How to Stretch A Small Budget in Big Ways And 6 Steps to Get You There
Most of you have heard me talk about Kingdom Living Training School, and why we decided to spend 8 months of our lives walking in intentional community to become stronger disciples. My plan is to do a series highlighting the lessons learned during this time, but I am currently still processing the enormity of the year. So, for now, I will make abstract references to Training School (😉) to keep you in suspense. Training school was life changing in way of growth: we grew in marriage, community, and deep relationship with Christ. We grew to love ourselves and others in a fierce way, and found the secret of success (spoiler: there is none). This year was life changing in other ways, too. We gave up the world's ways of chasing after careers that buried us, while sacrificing our time in big ways.
Training school required us to work very specific jobs with very specific hours, which equated to earning a salary that was approximately half as much as what we had been making the year prior. In addition to paying for the multiple trips that Training School held, we had also started paying for Cal's private pilot's license. Both of these expenses combined were vastly larger than anything we've had to pay for- and we paid it all straight out of our own pockets. In fact, we didn't even have to take any money out of our nest egg of savings until the very end of our second year of marriage (moving cross country is E-X-P-E-N-S-I-V-E). Before you start wondering about a magical equation on how to pay for so much while making so little, I'm going to be honest and say I'm not even 100% sure how we did it. We were supernaturally cared for: again and again the Lord provided. I never put much weight on financial provision because I was too nervous it would lead to the prosperity gospel (i.e. if you just obey for long enough, eventually the Lord will ALWAYS bless you financially in abundance and give you more than you could ever need). But all I know is that when we stepped out in complete discomfort and faith, the Lord made it possible. The season was still filled to the brim with unknowns- we didn't know how we would continue paying for so much with so little, but the Lord provided. It was difficult - we were never financially comfortable during this time. Provision that large always requires copious amounts of trust. We would often pay one bill wondering how we were going to do it all over the next month. It also still required a lot of sacrifice- we had to adjust our lifestyle to be good stewards. Many of our friends were in the financial space to buy houses and go on fun trips together, and we had to be content with saying no to those things for now. Others are getting job promotions, while both Cal and I are starting clean slate with our careers this year. Cal worked weekend nights, and I worked week day evenings during our entire second year of marriage, so the amount of time we were able to invest in friendships became limited. It certainly hasn't been easy, and we definitely aren't perfect, but I have learned a few lessons along the way. And, since almost every person I know is always on the hunt for new ways to stretch the dollar, I'm sharing six practical ways below that allowed us to walk through a hugely financially heavy year and walk out (somewhat) unscathed.
1. Budget when you can.
Whether it’s a big paycheck or a small one, be a good steward with whatever you're given. The easiest tell of priorities is to look at your spending habits, and I would contend that your budget should always be disciplined in your 20’s no matter what. Cal and I were able to walk through a year of significant spending because we saved well during our first year of marriage when we had more of an income to work with. It’s important to have a large nest egg- not just for a rainy day, but also for any other unforeseen change that may pop up.
2. Get to the basics.
It’s amazing how much we have when we compare it to how little we need. When we took our backpacking trip through the Paria canyon in March, I was surprised by how easy it was to get by with carrying my home on my back for five days. In order to live simply, it’s important to evaluate what you truly need. For me, this season has meant buying little to no new clothing, saying no to special hair treatments, make-up, etc. unless it was bought with money received for my birthday or Christmas. It also meant greatly limiting how many times we went out to eat. We would primarily only go on dinner date nights utilizing coupons or gift cards. It also meant we didn’t take a vacation this year just us two, which meant that my dream to celebrate our anniversary in a new state and/or country every year needed to be let go.
3. Compare your prices.
I am an Aldi girl through and through. If you know me personally, you know that I should be their personal spokesperson (which is why I was crushed to realize that Colorado does not house an Aldi). I digress, but my point is this: don’t hop on spending trends just because they are popular. Do your research. For example, most people associate Aldi with lower quality food when it is actually the sister store of Trader Joe’s, which not many people know. Be willing to learn the tricks of spending less money.
Are you open to a less aesthetically pleasing ambiance in order to save some cash?
It may mean joining your local YMCA instead of an upscale yoga studio, but ultimately, if you do your research well, you will end up getting the same (or extremely similar) product for a much lower cost. Think about what you are willing to give up (i.e. time, aesthetics, less flexibility), and then re-evaluate your priorities.
4. Keep your eyes focused on the goal.
It's so easy to look to your left or right and compare your choices to those around you. I swear we never truly wanted to purchase a house until the majority of our friends became homeowners. I realized my expectations for our financial decision-making were formed around our friends' decisions. The plain truth is that none of our friends are in the same season of life that we are in. Not one of them have decided to go back to school or to move across the country in pursuit of a career change. Cal and I have our own goals and aspirations as a family- and that's how it should be. Our success in life is not contingent upon how closely we measure up to those around us. I've found it essential to remind myself regularly of our personal goals, and why we are doing what we're doing. Don't forget that the decisions you are making are for your own future, and yours alone.
5. Keep a few people close to you with the same financial mindset.
I am absolutely and 100% behind drawing a wider circle, but I also believe that the friendships closest to us should be ones that simultaneously encourage and challenge us the most. In terms of financials, I have found that it is more encouraging for me to keep close friends with similar outlooks. Most of our best friends are just as frugal as we are, which makes brainstorming hang-outs is easy. We generally shy away from all eating out, and instead open up our homes to one another to do life cheaply and more intimately. Instead of going out for a drink, I will often catch up with girlfriends on a walk or over cup of tea or coffee in one of our homes. It's common for us to have game nights instead of dressing up to go to a nice dinner. Our close circle has the same financial vision as we do, so throwing out alternative ways to spend time together is embraced. Plus, we are also inspired by innovative ways to save money and live smartly by watching the way our people live their lives.
6. Never stop tithing.
This one should really be first on the list (despite the fact that these six aren't in any ranked order). I truly believe that this is what saved us. The Lord is faithful, regardless of when we are, but tithing is a tangible way of obedience, especially when it's hard. There were many months when I was so tempted not to tithe because I wasn't sure how we would be able to pay our bills without taking money out of emergency savings. And yet, we were supernaturally provided for every. single. time. I'm not suggesting that God doesn't take care of His kids if they don't tithe, but I am promising that obedience will always yield the most fruit- whether this is financially, or beyond.
No part of me claims that this is easy. Just because I've listed six neat steps doesn't mean there isn't great difficulty in the follow through. In fact, I would contend that the simpler the "rule", the harder it is to follow (i.e. love your neighbor has yourself 🙈).
It's interesting to me that our 20's is a time that we spend re-working our internal wiring. Many of us were raised with the expectation that there would always be food on the table. Some of us were given the gifts of one or multiple family vacations to exotic or new places every year. Perhaps others of us had the ability to change out our wardrobes seasonally when we were living under our parents' roof. My point is, in order to live wisely, there may be some habits that need to be broken. I am not entitled to spending my "hard earned money" however I want. I was given the gift of a job that provides for my husband to go to school and puts food on the table, and it's important for me to view this from a lens of deep gratitude and provision. The more thankful I am for the provision, the greater the freedom to save. Comparison is the great downfall in many areas of life, but it will most certainly ruin finances.
In order to live differently you must live differently. It can be isolating, aggravating, and extremely inconvenient. You will have to say no while others are saying yes.
You will have to sacrifice and save and believe against belief that what you have been given is enough. It's important to realize what you are willing to let go of. Remember, any decision that you make will ultimately add or subtract more dollars to your bank account. And cling tight to the fact that the reward far outweighs the discomfort. Your goals are your own and your dreams are worth pursuing, no matter the cost.