Simple Tips for Living on Next to Nothing

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Living on next to nothing can seem impossible these days, but is it really? These simple tips can help you learn how to live within your budget, even when it’s limited.

Tips on How to Live on Nothing

Simple Tips for Living on Next to Nothing

When you’ve hit the bottom of your budget and are living on next to nothing, it can be hard to see all of those articles that you find around the internet proclaiming “Couple Pays off $100k Debt on $25K” or “Woman Lives in a Mansion on $30K”.

While they might be inspirational stories for someone. When you read the story, most of the time, the family gets a large sum of money from selling something or something similarSo what happens if you don’t have a yacht that you inherited that you can sell? Or how about when you have a family of hungry mouths to feed and don’t live where you can make $100k a year?

I’ve been there. If you are new to LHL, you may not have read my story yet, or perhaps it’s been a while, so I will give you a refresher.

My hubby and I were married when we were barely 19. We had 2 big cross-country moves in the first 3 months of marriage. After we settled into a rental (in which we exchanged part of the rent for work), we were not doing well. It was 2008, and jobs were hard to come by in our area in the middle of winter.

We did whatever we could to make and save money. We had side work, delivering newspapers, clipping every coupon imaginable, and more. I used to sign up for free samples so we could have things like shampoo. We were broke and finally ended up on food stamps for a while until we could get back on our feet. It was a trying time but an experience that we learned much from.

Getting Out of Debt

Two years later, at the very end of 2009, we were completely out of debt. (besides a car loan) And we were able to purchase our first house. We didn’t inherit any money or things; we didn’t have any jobs that made us rich; we didn’t win the lottery. We scrimped and saved and did whatever we could (including living in a cheap camper) to get us back on our feet.

Are you in the middle of a trying time right now? Living from paycheck to paycheck? Or even wondering where the next paycheck is coming from? I hope that today’s article will give you a few ideas and some (realistic!) inspiration to get through this time.

Meal Planning Service

Stick with Simple, Healthy Meals

Many people assume that packaged products are less expensive than healthy foods. While it can appear that they are cheaper since they are all packaged together (i.e.: $2.50 for Hamburger Helper). They are not when you get down to crunching the numbers. (Here’s my own breakdown of what make-your-own Hamburger Helper would be.) 

When you are grocery shopping, stick with staples like beans and rice. For produce, buy inexpensive fruits and veggies such as bananas, carrots, and celery. These items are much easier on your budget than the more expensive produce and generally provide the same amount of nutrition. It’s important to choose healthy foods, especially when you have a very limited budget, as you might be able to save on future healthcare costs and may be able to skip days from work due to illness.

Tip: Looking for more meal ideas? Here is a list of meals that you can make for under $1 per serving. Not all of them are healthy, but they might give you a bit more inspiration for cooking from scratch.

Shampoo Bars

Make Your Own…Everything

Making your own products, such as shampoos, soaps, etc., is usually more inexpensive than purchasing them from the store. (Unless you choose expensive ingredients/herbs.) Yet, most of the time, people are put by the initial investment cost. Although a jar of coconut oil may make you 10+ different products, paying the $15 upfront cost may seem like a hardship if you normally spend $3 on a bottle of lotion.

It also might help to make your own products that use the same or similar ingredients.

If you are unable to make the initial investment in the supplies, see if a friend or two will go in with you on the cost. Not only will your initial costs be less, but you will have fun creating the products with your friends!

Tip: Check out this huge list of  DIY recipes to get started making your own products.

Dollar Bills

Pay Nothing for Clothing Unless You Have To

When you have little ones, clothing costs can grow to astronomical levels. This is especially true if you have some rough-and-tumble little boys like me! The most affordable option is to learn how to repair your clothing by mending hems, patching holes, and taking care of spots and stains right away.

(FYI: I have a recipe for a Stain Remover in my book that is amazing!)

But as the kids are growing, it’s inevitable that you will have to buy new clothes for your little ones. Even if you don’t have little ones at home, you can only do so much mending before new clothing is necessary. You could pick up something on clearance or from a thrift store, or even buy used clothing online, but you can also get great clothing for free! Here’s how:

Have a clothing swap! Find friends with little ones in similar sizes, and set up a clothing exchange where you can “shop” each other’s clothing. No money is exchanged, just much-needed clothing.

Tip: You can learn more about setting up a clothing exchange in this post on Organizing a Clothes Swap.

If you don’t have anyone to exchange clothing with, there is still a simple way to get money for clothing. Have you tried selling things on a local Facebook “garage sale” group? All you need to do is list your unneeded clothing items for sale. Once they sell, you can turn around and use the same money to buy the clothing you need. It could be from online sales or from actual rummage sales.

If you don’t currently need any clothing but it happens to be rummage sale season, it can still be a good idea to use this strategy. Buy clothing in the next sizes up for your kids. They will be wearing them before you know it! I always buy as many clothing items from rummage sales as possible, and I almost always purchase clothing a year ahead. (i.e.: right now, my oldest wears size 4/5 so we are purchasing size 6 when we find good items/deals)

Coins in a jar

A Few More Tips for Living on Next to Nothing…

I asked our Little House Living readers to share their best tips for how to live on almost nothing. Here’s the great advice you had to share!

Tip: Join our Simple and Frugal Living group on Facebook and join in on the conversation!

Eating Out, Convenience, Bills, and Upcycling

Not going out to eat too much or bringing home takeout or fast food. Not buying too many convenience foods. Making most from scratch. Growing a big garden, composting and having chickens. Learning to safely pressure can and water bath can. Buying canning jars used or with coupons and a sale. Making your own cleaning products and soaps. Not paying full price for anything and if you can’t afford it you can’t have it, NO credit cards. We never buy a vehicle on a loan, always cash. Paying ALL bills immediately when that check comes and then budgeting the rest carefully on paper. Never buying clothing new unless it is underwear or socks. Constantly checking free ads on craigslist and local sites. Upcycling anything you can. Wearing clothing more than once before washing. Timing showers or doing army style. Not needing every new gadget and tool that everyone else has. Learning to borrow from a neighbor or family when you need a tool. Living in a small home and not thinking bigger is always better. Learning to let go of excess stuff (my biggest struggle of all). – Heidi M.

Tip: Letting go of excess stuff? Learn How to Declutter Sentimental Items Successfully


When doing groceries, be precise. Only buy exactly what you need. Don’t get carried away at the shops. Take your time and make a list. – Naomi K.

Bartering and Thriftiness

Meal plan, use coupons, cut out all nonessentials, barter for things or services you need. I dog-sat for my neighbor, and she cut my kid’s hair. Make/bake as much as you can from scratch. Shop yard sales and thrift stores. – Stephanie K.

Tip: Learn more about Bartering in this post Learning How to Barter Successfully

Happiness and Free Fun

Learn to be happy regardless of your situation. Stop trying to look for the next bigger, better thing and prioritize. Needs/vs wants. Coupons don’t do it for us as we try to make as much from scratch (from food to cleaners). Learn skills! Utilize the local park systems and libraries and make our own fun. – Lacey M.

Tip: Looking for homemade cleaning products? Check out these 9 DIY Recipes For Homemade Cleaners That Actually Work

Paying Bills and DIY Maintenance

Always make sure there is enough for bills plus a little extra. I set aside money each pay period for bills. Even if it won’t be used that week, it made the week with all the big bills less painful. If you have a car, do as much DIY maintenance as possible. Even going to a decent shop for oil changes might be an expense, but those routine checks might catch a small problem before it gets bigger and more expensive. Plus, your car lasts longer that way. – Susan C.

Grow Your Own

Buy only what is necessary and hopefully find it on sale. Grow your own produce, and then can and dehydrate what you’ve grown. Cook from scratch.. and bake. It’s cheaper than mixes. Use coupons for shopping in stores. Spend time with your family and have fun times; there is no need to spend lots of $$ on going to places where you can have game nights at home. Make one trip to town to stock up on items, save on gas, and keep yourself from splurging when you really do not NEED that item. – Carolyn S.

Attitude and Togetherness

Attitude makes all the difference. As a disabled single mom of 4, I try to show the kids the bonuses and good parts. We make delicious meals from scratch, always learning something new that tastes much better than anything we could get in a restaurant. Clothes are bought at thrift stores, and all my kids love that the stiffness is all out of the clothes, especially jeans! We are closer as a family. The simple fact of planning a menu together thrills them because everyone gets a choice. Same with sale ads. – Jaime G.

Homemade Pantry Mixes Ebook Promo

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What are your best tips for living on next to nothing?

Me and KadyMerissa has been blogging about and living the simple life since 2009 and has internationally published 2 books on the topic. You can read about Merissa’s journey from penniless to freedom on the About Page. You can send her a message any time from the Contact Page.


This post on Simple Tips for Living on Next to Nothing was originally published on Little House Living in August 2017. It has been updated as of September 2023.

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  1. i enjoy your page and ideas but i was wondering can you do anything about all the pop up advertisements ? even if i x them out another comes to replace it…it is distracting from your page…thank you and keep up the good work !

  2. One thing that has saved me a lot of money is when a problem arises I to try and fix it with things I already have.

    For example, my German Shepherd (Ike) gets really dry and itchy skin from seasonal allergies. Instead of rushing to my vet for a solution, I went online and found a cheap and effective remedy using what I already had in my house. I mixed a solution of water and 15 drops of tea tree essential oil into a spray bottle, gave it a shake, and sprayed his itchy spots. Within 30 seconds he no longer had to scratch. Yes, I have to reapply it now and then, but for the cost of a couple of bucks and it works – totally worth doing.

    I also shop one of the dollar stores where everything is actually one dollar or less. I’ve found red wine vinegar, miscellaneous kitchen gadgetry, treat bags and tins for holiday baking, light bulbs, parchment paper, all for a buck each.

      1. Thanks, Casey, for posting that. I’d like to add that essential oils should not be used on or even close to cats, particularly tea tree and citrus EOs. Their livers don’t process the same as humans’, and some can kill them.

        I love these frugal ideas.

      2. Tea tree oil is very toxic to cats, dogs, and rabbits. My vet said never to use it around pets, much less on them. I don’t even use it to clean my floors anymore as my dog almost bled to death!

  3. My husband and I were barely 19yo when we married too… but that was over 41 years ago. 🙂 We have eaten potato soup without potatoes many times in our married lives but have always gotten by. The tips you have given here are good ones. Blessings~ Andrea xoxo

  4. These are good tips. We survived an 18 month lay off 18 years ago. Some of the things we did to get by:
    We cancelled all memberships (gym, book club).
    We threw an old-fashioned children’s birthday party at home rather than plopping down money for a venue.
    We shopped for children’s Christmas gifts at yard sales.
    We replaced the shoes my daughter outgrew by shopping at a thrift store (a dollar for NEW shoes, NEW, I don’t think the previous owner wore them even once).
    We learned how to do simple plumbing work ourselves.
    I gotta say, we were just as happy being in a tight situation as we were with a steady, good income. I think working together as husband and wife to make the finances work helped a lot.

  5. I have tried to find your stain remover recipe, but it keeps going to your store. I make all my soaps, but I have problems with stains. Thanks!

  6. I love Andrea’s comment about eating potato soup many times, and without the potatoes!
    You can have soup for almost nothing by keep parts of veggies that you might usually throw away – the outside leaves of cabbage (roughly chopped), the peel from carrots and potatoes (washed well first though) celery leaves, the base of celery (slice or chop it up), end of zucchini, in a container in the freezer. You can add any leftover bits of cooked veggies and any leftover broth. You can also swish a little water around inside a newly emptied salsa or condiment containers and add that to the container. When it’s full, simmer the whole ice block in a little water or broth. You can blend it all and add a bit of milk for cream of mixed vegetables soup, or add more broth or water and simmer until it is all done. Add cooked leftover pasta or rice (or both) if you have some – freeze any leftover pasta and rice in a separate container.
    My daughter calls this “Surprise soup” – you know why!

    1. I used to teach a class on budgeting and would mention making “garbage soup”. Nobody heard of it until I taught a class at a senior center. All of the women laughed, and then told stories of their version of garbage soup. I figure I save about $10-$20 a month on this soup, and it tastes different every time! Everyone loves it.

  7. I think teaching our kids to be resourceful in this “WAL MART AGE” is key. Sometimes, yiou can’t just up and go to Wal Mart and pick up something. My son’s back pack strap broke, and he wanted us to up and go get him a new one yesterday, the day it broke. I said “No Sir, you have a gently used (although younger) back pack you can use until we can get to the store again. This up and go get something new in case mine breaks is just wrong. It doesn’t teach my child to take care of his items, and things. It doesn’t teach him to be content with what he has. We only get paid monthly, and then I don’t work during the Summer so our budget is extra tight. Some times we have to wait to get what we want! A good lesson to learn in life!!!

    1. That’s funny. It reminds me that when my son kept ripping/breaking his backpack, we introduced him to button and craft thread and taught him how to sew! I wonder what he will think of us in 40 years…. hahah.

      1. Thanks. I live in South Africa and its lovely to hear your comments. We get a lot of tv programs for diy or people looking for and buying houses from America (like House Hunters International) and I’m always astonished at the prospective buyers commentary. The perfectly good kitchen and bathrooms are always dated and has to be replaced. immediately. Sometimes they demolish everything and throw it in a skip as trash. We have some very poor people living here who would love to receive those and would even pay a small fee for it. It saddens me to think that we live in a world where everything is replaced long before it is necessary. Where people has to have everything even if they don’t need it or can’t afford it. Thanks for your lovely advise and wisdom ladies

    2. Most of my teaching career has been in a very tiny rural school, and one particularly ingenious young man loved his backpack so much that he learned to sew it up with dental floss. His family had plenty of money and could buy him whatever he wanted, but he preferred to sew that pack. And he specified that dental floss was strong enough to withstand some rough use.

  8. We moved here to Central Florida when we were newly married. We went through a few lean years after a job loss too. Having a garden, lots of garage sales (for hosting & shopping), and frugal living was a must and we did most of that before the internet.

    So now I’m trying to grow as much food for cheap or free as I possibly can. We can garden just about all year round here and I am determined to plant as many fruit trees and crops to eat as I possibly can on our half acre lot. Fruit trees are beautiful so I use them as landscaping. My annual summer garden is pretty much done in by the heat except for some intrepid asparagus beans, Cubanelle & Jalapeno peppers, herbs and an Asian egg plant that gives me just enough to make me smile.

    Looking forward to my fall plantings. I can start tomatoes, peppers, and beans right now. But I’ve got to wait till mid-September to plant peas, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, nasturtiums, etc. It’s just too hot and humid right now for these veggies. But I’ll be harvesting most of these by November thru January. Then in February and March we plant our spring gardens for summer. It was strange to try to wrap my Northern mind around this when I first moved here but, after thirty years, I think I’m finally getting it.

    The Raja Puri, one of four different kinds of bananas I have growing in the back yard, is starting to make it’s first bloom stalk. Hopefully it will be done before December, when we may or may not get a frost. I have an awesome banana jam recipe that requires NO pectin- just bananas, sugar, and a squeeze of lemon or lime. Good use for too-ripe bananas. We could have Peanut butter and banana sandwiches any time we want.

    The Carambola tree (grown from seed I started in 2007) is ripening star fruit as fast as we can eat them. I harvested the last of my pineapples last week and even used the cores and skins to make Tepache, a semi-fermented spiced probiotic cooler for summer. I’ll have some more pineapples by December. Coconuts come ready by the end of September and through December- love that coconut water and the chickens eat all the coconut meat we cannot toast or fit into the freezer. Sweet potatoes just keep going all year long.

    I started a Natal Plum hedge around my back yard a couple of years ago. These plants serve three purposes: They are beautifully glossy ever-green with three-pronged thorns to keep out unwanted intruders (both four- and two-legged varieties); they produce beautiful, fragrant white star shaped flowers which the butterflies love; and they make a little bright pink berry as big as the pad of your thumb. With these I make a pretty & fruity bubble-gum-pink jam just in time for Christmas.

    Mangoes are finished for the year except for a few stragglers. Last week I made a devine Mango Crisp with toasted almonds in the crunchy topping. My 19-year-old son ate most all of it by himself. He’s offered to buy some frozen mangoes for another batch…

    That’s about it from Florida. Love your tips.

    That’s gardening in Coastal Central Florida.

    1. We are buying in So FL and were just talking tonight about what we will plant in the garden at our new house and realized we know nothing about gardening in FL so this will get us started, thank you! The house already has a 3-story tall avocado tree and a mango tree. I need bananas for sure and those Natal plum bushes sound great!

  9. We have been living more simply since we got married, too. I think foremost it is a mindset. You have to be content with what you have and always look for ways to live on less. My biggest thing is not to peruse the catalogues or ‘sale’ papers that come our way or go shopping unless I need something in particular. Because I can’t miss or want what I didn’t know existed. And a ‘sale’ on an item I do not need is not a savings. Planning ahead for expenses is also something I had to learn.
    Swaps and yard sales along with rebating (love the handy dandy apps for that now) have also been our bread and butter.
    I do some things from scratch, but mostly I rely on combos of sales/rebates/coupons.

    Great article, Merissa!

  10. Great suggestions, Merissa! My husband of 47 years have really had some lean times, most of it before the internet. Although we are retired now and our children are grown with families of their own, we still have that frugal mentality! We live in a debt free double wide manufactured home and drive a previously salvaged car that we have had for over seven years. We rarely eat out, although we can afford it now. I cook from scratch EVERY DAY. I can the foods we like, for example, today I bought a bushel of tomatillos and a bushel of tomatoes at wholesale cost, to make a year or so’s worth of salsa. We have to buy produce because we live in a senior’s park, so no land to grow a big enough garden. Even so, canning our own means that it is exactly how we like it and we know exactly what is in it.

    I sew almost all of my clothes and most of his. I even tailored a $5.00 thrift store suit to fit him and no one could tell the difference. If I need something I try to make it first. I have repaired lamps, plumbing, laid flooring, painted nearly everything and even have replaced the belt on my dryer drum.

    I agree with the other Toni’s suggestion. One of our few luxuries is rotisserie chicken from warehouse stores. Not one bit of it goes to waste here. We eat the meat over several days (I use it in very creative ways). The carcass and any juices in the container go into our freezer until I have three or four. Any vegetable trimmings like carrot peels, onion skins, and celery “butts” go into the freezer too. I pressure cook them together with water and strain the stock. Then I can that to use as a rich chicken stock in my cooking. Why pressure cook it? Pressure cooking is fast and efficient. It uses far less energy than a long slow simmer. I add a splash of vinegar to the brew before cooking to draw all of the minerals from the bones.

    I am a fearless cook. We have had some very creative meals when we were broke but I have always done my best to put nutrition first. I studied nutrition and cooking at my local library before the ease of the internet. My older daughter as a young mother herself, reminisced about my cooking one day and quipped: “Mom , you could take a shoe sole and an orange, and make a fabulous dinner!”

    The best advice I can give now that I am 71, is to make the best of what you have and always remember when there is difficulty that this, too, shall pass!

  11. Thank you for this common sense post, Merissa. I’ve seen those cost-cutting articles about getting rid of cable and gym memberships, having ground beef instead of steak, cheaper vacations, not going to the salon, etc., and they make me laugh. Some of us don’t have much to cut. We do most of the things you and others above recommended. Right now I’m saving up for a pressure canner that will work on my glass-top stove, and in the mean time I’m reading a lot about canning and preserving so that I can dive right in when I’ve got my canner. Swagbucks is helping me with this, and I’m almost at my goal.

    One different approach I have is that credit cards are okay but ONLY if you don’t use them or barely use them. They are handy if the car breaks down, or you need to replace the washing machine on short notice and don’t have enough in savings to cover it. Then the rule is nothing else is purchased until that expense is paid off. We do have a Netflix account, because we live rather out of the way and don’t even get TV reception, but it’s one of the cheaper plans, and they have things our little library doesn’t carry. The Netflix goes on a credit card, but it’s paid in full every month, so there’s no interest charged. This works for us because we can resist running up balances, but I know not everyone can resist that temptation. It’s very easy to get sucked in with credit cards so you have to have serious “won’t power” to make this work.

    1. I know, right? I haven’t been to a salon in years and years…it would be a wonderful treat if it was in my budget but for now my trusty pair of scissors has been working just fine!

  12. Oh, and I just remembered something my great-aunt and great-uncle used to do! They started a “travel club” by inviting friends to their home to watch rented videos about foreign countries. My great-aunt said it was the best way to travel because you get to sleep on your own pillow and you know it’s safe to drink the water. 🙂

    1. We do offer shipping to Canada, we just have to get an exact quote from the post office before we can ship. If you are interested in anything from the LHL store, please email me at [email protected] and we can get you a shipping quote.

  13. This is a wonderful article. I do think you can not spend money, but I also thin it is important to have multiple stream of income. I schedule mystery shops and do product demos. Thank you again.

  14. I find even though my children have grown up, I still make what I call chuck it in stew. Cheap bacon off-cuts from the market, mixed pulses, veg and anything else to hand goes in. This lasts for several meals when kept in the fridge or freezer. It is very economical.

  15. Stop buying junk from Walmart! I invested in my daughters’ backpacks when they were freshman in high school. They picked a pattern that would grow with them… they are still using the same ones as sophomores in college! Every year, after school let out I would check seams for any wear and then clean them, stuff with plastic grocery sacks and store in a bin until fall $35.00 investment

  16. So many good points! I really believe it is important to be thankful…. and also to reject feeling deprived. If we allow ourselves to feel deprived… then nothing will be enough.

  17. My own tip would be this one : when I go shopping, I only take cash instead of using my credit card. When I know that I have only 100 euros in my pocket, I’m obliged to count every euro spent and I can’t spend more than I have in my pocket.

  18. Our neighbourhood has a food purchasing club, every family puts $20 in and designated people from the group go around to grocery stores and farmers markets to purchase the food. They buy whatever is marked 50 percent off and on sale. First they call stores to see what they have, example anything that is almost about to expire and on sale. After the food is collected it is divided up, and each family gets a box with some fruit, veg and healthy items. Since they are buying in bulk some stores give them a discount.

  19. I am trying to find for lack of a better term pattern that you mentioned in one of your articles for making a matching game for kiddos using fabric. I have a granddaughter and lots of fabric . I would appreciate any ideas for gifts clothes games etc .

  20. My mother clothed my son for the first 5 or 6 years of his life because she is a great yard sale shopper. She found another grandma with gra!ndsons a year or so older than him. She would call my mom ahead of her yard sales and mom would have first dibs! We are fortunate that our neighbor has a son a year or two older than my grandson, as well as one a few years younger. We trade clothes every season! Her older son’s clothes go to my grandson, and my grandson’s go to her younger son! Win win all around! Even if you don’t have a neighbor with kids in the same age range, see if a fellow church member has kids/grandkids that fit the age range, or perhaps a family from school or the local library that might be willing to work with the hand me down plan! We rarely buy the grandson anything new (socks and underwear) and always shop the thrift stores first. This includes shoes and boots, which kids outgrow all too quickly

  21. Really great tips here! In the article and the comments. I agree with the one about buying backpacks (and some clothes) from Wal-Mart. They are so cheap and don’t last. I paid more for a good back pack from Lands End (they have a great return/replacement program) for my daughter who just started high school and I expect it will last her through college. Clothes too; i have been haunting eBay and thrift stores for well made wool sweaters for Christmas presents etc. You have to do this sort of thing in order to survive.

  22. A few things I do to save money on kids clothes……First, I clothing swap with family members as much as possible. This is super helpful since I have 3 girls and my sister in law also has 2 girls. This saves a lot of money when buying sports equipment and shoes. I want my kids to be able to try as many things as possible because they have so many more options than I did when I was a kid simply because of our location versus my location growing up. Lots of activity options means lots of expense, clears for soccer that are only used for one season but then grow out of and need new for the next season. We swap all of this stuff! I am also a Facebook “garage sale” addict. I browse several of these pages several times per week. I do not buy unnecessary things just because they are a good deal but if I know my kids will use it I take advantage of them. Example: as discussed in this article, Melissa talks about buying clothing a size up for kids when finding a good deal. My daughter was a current size 7/8 and I was checking the garage sale sites and saw a girl from town I know buys expensive good quality clothing for her kids was cleaning out her daughters closet who happened to be growing out of the next size up for my daughter. I showed pictures to my daughter and she loved all of it so I bought her entire wardrobe. Everything from jeans, T-shirt’s, jammies, shorts, sweatshirts,(puma adidas, Nike) sport shorts, dresses(lularoe) leggings and a north face brand winter coat. I think we ended up with over 30 items and I paid $160 for all of it. The winter coat alone was $85 brand new and she only wore for 1 year. I also have 2 more girls to pass these items down to. I try to keep an envelope with cash I’ve saved for kids clothes so I can make big purchases like this when finding a good deal. Another tip I have is when buying things like snowpants or basketball shoes or cleats, while your girls may like having pink, a friend of mine who has both boys and girls always buys black so she can pass those things through all of her kids. One last tip when shopping that seems like common sense but I haven’t always done so in the past is to stock up on things like school supplies. I bought extra of everything this past year because I had a little extra cash for it and even though it is only January I am very grateful I did. The end of 2017 did not treat us so well financially. We will be trying to catch up most of this year and possibly the next few years to come, I know that I can breathe a little easier when back to school purchasing comes around again this year.

  23. I hope it’s okay to post links for non-profits, because and trash can be lifesavers!
    You can post what you need under “wanted”, browse what people in your area are giving away, or give away things you no longer need.
    Right now in my area there are 28 posts of people giving away things including, among others, an oak dining room table and chairs set, women’s shoes, philosophy shampoo and body lotion, curtain panels, an area rug,and gently used toys for 12-24 month old. People have recently requested and received a toaster oven, craft wire art supplies, and a fish tank.
    These sites are so worth checking out–no buying, selling or bartering allowed, just giving and getting!

  24. For a FREE vacation with young ones-
    As a young single mom years ago, we had a lot of fun by pretending we were first time visitors to our little city.
    We looked in the local summer newspaper flyer (free) and made a list of all the fun activities, sights and places that were advertised for tourists.
    We put the bicycles in my vehicle and systematicly hit the parks, a nearby historic fort, museums, and picnic areas. Fishing, bike riding, picnics festivals, and kids events along with farmer markets were all included!

    It’s a lot of fun to include the kids and look at your surroundings with new eyes. Be sure to take pictures.

  25. I love these tips! Here are some of mine. I’m living below the poverty line in my city and rent is 2/3 my cost of living (!) and here’s what’s helping me deal with it:

    First and foremost I think the most helpful thing has been to ask other people for help. My neighborhood has a fantastic food bank where two very nice grocery stores give their surplus produce. I haven’t bought fruit in over a year due to expense and now I get to eat it every day, because it’s either about to go off or there were too many items. Last week I got an immaculate honeydew melon. I’ve saved hundreds of dollars by going there. I know not everyone has access to one but if you do, absolutely take advantage of it. I didn’t realize so much of it was donated expired food that’s all totally still good. If you like to cook like I do, you can pick up some whole grains, make things like apple compote where you can get old apples and cut off the bruises and cook the rest, cook dry beans, etc. Also, you can adapt recipes and make substitutions if you don’t have all the ingredients. Sometimes you even end up with better food that way.

    In addition to this, I’ve asked friends to swap items with me. One friend and I trade food and I helped him mend a shirt. Another friend has given me a ton of shampoo and conditioner she bought and doesn’t like. I gave someone some old Lactaid pills because I’m no longer lactose intolerant. I use Freecycle first before buying anything–I got an $80 coffeemaker essentially new because someone here didn’t want it! If you have access to Freecycle, post a wanted ad for what you need before you even consider buying it, because even thrifting it would cost more than it being free. You can use Craigslist too but I find it less helpful.

    Thinking outside the box with regard to how items are marketed can be really helpful as well–I’ve studied cosmetic chemistry and it turns out that the active ingredient in shampoo is the exact same as the one in most face washes, hand soap etc. So I use cheap Suave shampoo to wash my face and hands! Where I live it actually costs less per ounce than even the largest bulk refill of hand soap. I stopped buying face wash a while ago because I just can’t afford it anymore and have bad reactions to many of them anyway, and I react poorly to bar soap on my face (though I do use it on my hands, just not in the kitchen where spare bits of stuff can get on it). You can’t do this with every item, since sometimes there are ingredients in shampoos that would make them sticky for use on hands, but the rock-bottom basics like Suave and VO5 are great for this. I use dish soap and a touch of bleach to clean my toilet. I don’t bother buying specific toilet cleaner. Yes, I still use bleach, there are certain items I do want to disinfect, but you can use WAY less of it than the bottle says–I worked in food service and you only need about 2 tsp for a gallon of water to create a solution that disinfects. I keep it in an old milk jug under the sink to use on meat cutting boards. If you buy Lysol, there is a 2 gallon jug at Home Depot that is concentrated and you only need 2 oz for an entire quart. I’ve had my jug for 5 years and it’s still almost full.

    This is a no-brainer for some of you but somehow it was new to me: Line dry your clothes! I used to live in an area with water so hard it was almost undrinkable, so I couldn’t do it there, but here I can, so I do. No clothesline or you live in an area where fancy rich people think it makes the neighborhood/apartment look bad? Get a drying rack or get creative with how you hang it up. I use clothespins and hangers and remove the cover from my ironing board and lay sheets over the top of it. I’ve also suspended a broom between a dining chair and the metal bars of the ironing board (where they join) and hung a sheet on that.

    It’s also incredibly helpful to learn how to mend. Mend anything and everything. I just redid the hem on some dish cloths that were fraying. Replace your disposables with cloth–I love cloth hankies and have used them for years. I don’t care if people think it’s weird, it’s saved me hundreds of dollars and relieved my allergies–no more paper dust! Cannibalize old clothes and torn sheets for new projects. My cat destroyed an old sheet when he was sick (and I do mean destroyed, it tore in half!) and I sewed a pillowcase out of it. Hit up rummage sales for fabric. I brought home batting scraps for free from my church’s quilting bee. I make quilts by sewing the top to the batting squares and then I add the backing on later. We have an extreme surplus of cheap clothes in the US and people just throw stuff in the garbage and I rescue it. If you don’t sew, barter with someone who does.

    But the most important thing for me has been to do my best to ignore manipulative consumerist messaging. There’s a concept in economics called “relative deprivation” that marketers use to make us want to buy stuff–the goal is to get us to feel “deprived” (of things we 99% of the time don’t need) because other people have something newer or fancier, or because the lifestyle depicted in the ad seems somehow better than ours. This tactic makes us feel like we need stuff we don’t need. It’s both financially sapping and psychologically harmful. Reject it!

    Hope all that helps 🙂

  26. No garden for me as I live in a condo. I went out two days ago and harvested free oregon grapes from the gardens and made jelly for Christmas presents. I have managed to slip a few herbs into the gardens, rosemary, oregano, chives, parsley, but no room for veggies. However, we do have farmers markets where the veggies are fresher and less expensive than the grocery store. I used to live in a town where anyone with excess in their garden could load in the trunk of their car and on Saturday morning the library parking lot became a garden market. Another place I save at the grocery store is to look for their reduced price fruit & veggies which are bruised there is usually a rack somewhere near the back of the store.

  27. I found many ways to save money.

    Only wash laundry in cold water.
    Hang dry instead or using a clothes dryer.
    Ditch cable and go with free tv (Pluto has 145 channels for free) or a skinny bundle (Philo is only $16 a month for 45 top channels).
    Compare auto and house insurance costs every year. You can save big by switching.
    We switched to showers only and limit them to about 5 mintues.
    Put a timer on your water heater. You don’t need hot water 24 hours a day.
    Insulate your water heater.
    Lower the thermostat on your water heater. When we checked ours it was set at 150 and lowered to 120 degrees.
    Cancel magazine and newspaper subscriptions. You can access most for free either online or at your library.
    Check out videos at your library. Ours lets you take them for a week and it is free.
    Check Walmart, Lowes and Home Depot for their opps paint. It is half price and it perfectly good usually somebody requested a certain color and didn’t like the result. Hubby found a 5 gallon bucket of interior white paint for $50 at Lowes.
    Check and maintain the proper air pressure in your tires. Not only while they ride better but you will get better gas mileage also.
    Instead of paying for air fresheners for you car put a few drops of essential oil on a wooden clothespin and clip it to your heater/ac vent.
    Switch from regular light bulbs to LCD’s. The amount of energy saved it amazing and light output is usually increased also.
    Instead of leaving a porch light on all night use motion sensor lights that only come on when needed.
    We hang old curtains or shower curtains over south facing windows in the summer. This prevents the sun from even getting to a window to begin with.
    Of course open windows as well as curtains at night and close them during the day in hot months to naturally cool your home.
    I use the rinse water from my washer to water shrubs outside (not if using bleach).
    We use a wood stove to heat our house. Don’t even have a furnace and haven’t for over 20 years. We go to people and clean up land for the fire wood. Or you could just go to construction sites (even small ones) and clean up scrap wood.
    We don’t use pesticides. We have free range chickens to eat the bugs.
    Use a crock pot, pressure cooker or similar instead of your oven.
    Unplug items when they are not in use. Even if they are off many still pull what is called a phantom load (that just means they use some electricity even when off).
    The list is nearly endless…

  28. Merissa …I just love your site and cannot wait for your next book! Thanks for so many helpful tips from you and your readers. I want to learn how to do canning but afraid to start and we recently also started gardening and composting.

    Any recommendation (book or post) of easy-to-follow how to on canning? Thank you and you are a blessing to all of us.

  29. Lots of wonderful ideas here. We have a few things we do that weren’t mentioned by you or others.
    Hang old sheets over your windows and dampen them regularly with water in a sprayer- it will cool the air coming in exactly like a swamp cooler does.
    We use a credit card with a fairly low limit that gives us cash points, then pay off the credit card every month. We use the points to buy a wide variety of things – for free! But you have to be firm about paying off the balance every month so you don’t rack up more in interest than you’re getting in points
    We live in a rural area, so we try to not go into town to shop more than once a week. For the rest of the week, the car does duty as a food dehydrator

  30. I feel very fortunate these days. I never earned much more than 10% over minimum wage in my life, and i’m not rich now, but fortunately my husband and i are both thrifty and cautious with spending. We have more than we need, and savings rather than debt. That said, I know i have made mistakes and spent money in ways that now i wish i had put away for my kids. I love reading these posts because they are reaffirming and inspiring! I really appreciate everyone’s comments.

    Here are a few of my tips:

    1. Shop less often. When i was at my best, i only let myself shop one morning a week to do everything. This forced me to plan ahead, and not be frivolous. I had a grocery list and a set amount in cash, and went to the flea market first (which had fresh veggies too) and about two other places for the best prices, rotating some stores in a month, but by noon i was done for the week. Sometimes shopping “right now” or hunting too much for the best price backfires… we get exposed to things we don’t need but think we will use.

    2. Be thoughtful in purchasing items and delay as long as you can. Many a time i find i don’t need it after all or can find a substitute at home. I stopped buying things i wasn’t absolutely sure i would use often. Even with clothes, i think about exactly what i need, and then wait a bit (weeks). Then i go out to find what i NEED… to thrift stores first, then to shops if i can’t find it second hand. I don’t let myself get distracted. I look for quality, though. Cheap plastic stuff isn’t a good value.

    3. Use what you have, particularly with food! Oldest to newest we use up our leftovers. This has also taught me not to buy odd stuff! My husband’s pickled onions sat in the cupboard for a long time. Before i go for food, i plan a meal around what i have in stock and need to use. I’m trying to keep less of a variety of things, and certainly less prepared foods like salad dressing.

    4. Make stuff!!! I keep my own sourdough starter and bake breads my family loves better than store bought. I make my own very thick yogurt, and the jam to go in it. We make our own pie crusts… its a skill worth learning how to do well. Salad dressings, sauces, cookies and crackers, sometimes even potato chips!… yes it takes a bit of time but not as much as you might think. One morning on the weekend i make things. The food is healthier this way and tastes so much better that you’ll get hooked! It’s not only cheaper, but a luxurious treat!

    5. Have your go-to ingredients on hand for “fast food.” We always keep, for example, spaghetti, spaghetti sauce, and a bit of hamburger in the freezer, for spaghetti bolognaise. You can also make a double batch of almost any meal and freeze half for a quick meal.

    6. Eliminate disposables from your life! I gave up menstrual pads for cloth pads, tissues for hankies, paper towels for clean rags, coffee filters (or Kuerig!) for a “zero waste” french press method (yum), disposable batteries for rechargeable ones (costs more to set up but its saved us a fortune!), disposable razors for a safety razor, single serving lunch items for a good thermos and containers, picnic ware for washable… the list goes on. Each of these replacements seemed “expensive” to me when i started, but they have paid for themselves many many times over!

    7. Be willing to spend money to save money. This does not mean buying a home gym to cancel gym membership, if you won’t use either! But i’m thinking of good purchases i made like LED light bulbs that use half the energy of CFLs and paid for themselves in 7 months, or getting an all-in-one kind of cooker that pressure cooks, slow cooks, and cans. Our big purchase was an HE side loading clothes washer that uses less than a third of the water and half the energy of our previous used “bargain” clothes washer. We did purchase our HE washer new but almost half off list price from a Sears that was closing. We calculated it would pay for itself in about 32 months (from the water and electrical savings). We obviously can’t spend to save if we don’t have savings, but you start where you can. One LED bulb can be purchased for $1 and if you put it in the lamp where you sit at night you will start the process of living on less.

    8. This should go without saying but i find it often DOES need saying… don’t pay for what you don’t use! Don’t have lights, a fan, a tv, or a computer on if you are not in the room. PERIOD. Don’t waste food. Don’t buy clothes you wont wear lots (it should be $1 or less per day you wear it!). Don’t buy lotions you don’t use up. Don’t buy subscriptions you don’t read or use. Don’t pay for the water dripping out your faucet (fix it!) and don’t run the tap while brushing your teeth… things like that.

    Those are a few of my favorites. thanks!

  31. Stop eating meat entirely. You don’t need it ; It’s only a learned habit. I am on the WFPB diet (whole food plant based) and have never felt better. My diet is only fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

  32. For small families, empty nesters, and retired folks: I only cook 3-4 dinners per week. Since most recipes serve about 4-6, I have planned leftovers. If I make something large like a chili or a casserole or lasagna or soup, I immediately put away half into a freezer container and freeze. There is usually enough in half for two dinners. I plan two breakfasts and two lunches and make enough for the week. You’d be surprised how much less food you have to buy.

  33. As long as I can remember living my family went to thrift stores and embraced the frugal lifestyle. Growing up without much and then living my adulthood on a very tight budget made me wise to things. I do not set a budget for groceries because I never spend over 50 or so a week in groceries. we hit the discounted sections of the grocery store and that is how we shop every week. we get the same things every week so there is no surprise. I get all my clothes second hand or for a few dollars. I Got your book, the only thing I have paid full price for in a while, but it has paid for itself as I am starting to use the various recipes and am now looking to make the cleaning products and personal care items. It is not hard to be frugal when it is all you have known, but getting more ideas never hurt. I look forward to your emails as they provide me with new and exciting ways to stretch what I thought I was already stretching and it is exciting to me. Keep it coming.

  34. Merissa I was wondering if tge 2 cups of flour in your cream of chicken soup mix is a typo. That seems like a lot.
    I love your blog and the wonderful ideas and recipes.
    God bless you and your sweet family.

  35. One of the ways I’ve found to save money is by knowing the regular retail price and what the sale price typically is for clothing and household goods. If I’m in a thrift store and see canning jars for sale, I’ll check the price. Here, quarts are running around $15-16/case of 12. If I need more than a few, $2.99 each is NOT a good deal, especially if they have no new lid or ring. If I can get them for $1.99, with at least a ring, I’ll do it. But if I need a lot, I’ll just look for a coupon or % rebate and buy a case when I see them at a good price. Same for clothing (for me; I’m a senior). There are a couple of brands that I absolutely love and I used to shop that label regularly when I was working full time. Not any more. But I know their tops go for $25-35 and more. If I come across a like-new top at a favorite thrift store, I have no problem picking it up for under $5.00. But, it’s because I have that knowledge that I can tell if it’s a good deal or not. Use your Google in-store, if you’re not sure if something’s a deal or not.

  36. Use the Amazon Wish List, and update it quarterly. Use their prioritizing tool to sort items into high, med, low priority on the list. Then quietly let family and friends you have a list there. I really like knowing how to give family members what they really want or need but may not be able to afford. If it’s beyond my means, I can give a gift card with a note what it is to go toward. Or combine cards with other family members for the big items.

    Use the library. It’s not all books and movies! Ours checks out board games, fishing gear and more. Free movie night with refreshments, as well.