How To Have A Wonderful, Healthy, Happy Life On A Limited Income
This is How I do It
I am a dental hygienist so when most people hear this they automatically think "Oh she makes a lot of money," Well I can't complain. My hourly wage is decent, but my work hours are sometimes low, and I like to work just enough to pay the bills to be able to spend time with my children. Being a single mother of three, not having health insurance, and only receiving a small amount of child support for one of my children--I have to be very careful with every penny I make.
Most of my debt is necessary debt: such as fixing a leaky roof, the transmission in my van, medical bills, and a mortgage. This is basically why I work--to pay those necessities. Ofcourse when you have a family there are other needs: social (birthdays,wedding gifts etc.) entertainment, clothes, and food, car maintenance and gas, medical and dental, etc. This is where I do most of my penny- pinching and money-saving. I believe life is to be enjoyed and so this is how I do it...
I'm sure some of the things I do I aren't new ideas, but in the hussle and bussle we sometimes forget.
Eating out: we love to eat out at least 2-3 times per week. During the week as I go through the junk mailers, I rip out buy-one get-one free-entree coupons from several restaurants and stuff them in a little bag in my purse, or put them in the car so whenever we are out we don't forget them and leave them home. I also try to remember which restaurants have kids-eat-free days, and which days they are, at which restaurants. Another thing to do is to go on that restaurant's website and see if they have coupons or specials that day. Since I'm the only grown-up in my family the kids meals are really the most expense and the drinks. Although, I believe in eating healthy I do like to hit fast food places about 1-2 times a week. In every fast food place there are alternatives for healthy eating such as salads, fruit parfaits, fruit smoothies, chilli etc. and for quick lunches there are always the dollar menus. I love fries and do eat a hamburger here and there, I believe this is just fine as long as you don't "super size it" and drink water. Soda is bad for your body and teeth. At restaurants,I usually take water, but since the kids meals include the drinks they usually drink whatever they want from milk shakes to strawberry lemonade, chocolate milk etc. Sometimes I finish-off whatever they leave. I'm like their garbage disposal. This is mostly, because I have a huge pet peeve about wasting food. I picture poor starving children in africa, or indonesia, and I can't deal with throwing food away! I also find that most meals are larger than what my kids or I eat, so we take home leftovers for the next day's lunch.
Social: birthdays, weddings and such happen often when you have family and friends which most of us do. So for nice birthday presents I usually clip out(junk mail) $5 off coupons or 25% off on a monthly basis and keep them in a drawer for the month in case something comes up. Alot of times I get the whole gift free with coupons such as $10.00 off any amount above $10.00. from places like JC penney or Bed Bath and Beyond and I budget all gifts about $15.00 after the discounts.
Food: I only do major grocery shopping about every two or three weeks. Whenever I do this I buy mostly non-perishables like cereal, oatmeal, granola bars, ceral bars, chocolate nesquick, soups, etc. things that we eat often, won't rot in the fridge, and are usually on sale. Then I take inventory before grocery shopping so I don't buy things we haven't finished yet. I do buy in bulk for a little emergency storage about once-or twice a year. Case lot sales, but I only buy things I know we eat and eat often such as tuna, green beans, corn, peaches and soups for winter. If I do make dinner it's usually family-size frozen dinners such as lasagna with no preservatives, Stuffed bell peppers,chicken and vegetable rice bakes etc. These dinners usually go for $7.00 or less on sale and I can feed the whole family and adding an apple or bannana or smoothie on the side completes them. I keep frozen berries in the freezer which I buy when they go on sale about .99/pound to make smoothies, and if I do have the time to make a home-made meal I stop on the way home from work and get the ingredients for that meal only. I find that if I buy perishable, fresh ingredients ahead of time I often forget what I have, and what I don't have, and I buy more or/and they rot in the fridge. I also only buy small amounts of fruit and vegetables and only one or two making sure to replace them only when they are gone, for the same reason that they rot and waste.
Entertainment and reusable things: we don't have cable or satellite. I found that the internet was more of a necessity and that we could stay just as entertained by using it to it's maximum capabilities. Do shop around for service you can save alot(prices and service vary extensively). I bought a router(used $5) and we stream movies from the net to a wee(given to us as a gift). I can be on my computer, while the kids watch a movie and play games on their nintendos or laptop or wee, and once or twice a week we go to an arcade. Games are .25 each. I give each child about $2.00 and play some of the games with them since they range from 2 years-old to 11. As you may have noticed we don't lack for material things like nintendo ds or wee, which can be very expensive, but must-haves for children now-a-days. The wee was given to us, but whenever I need to buy such things(mostly electronics and furniture) for birthdays or christmas for my immediate family, I usually buy them used. You can typically find them in good condition and they typically get misused and abused by children so I don't believe buying such things brand new is a necessity. I find all these things are more than enough and keep keep my kids plenty busy.
Clothes: I don't place a great deal of importance on clothes. They get worn and faded and then thrown away. I am blessed that my two younger ones are young enough that they don't mind hand-me- downs or used clothes. We make trips every 3 months to consignment stores specially for children and they love it!! I also pick take the salvageable clothes that no longer fit and leave them at the consignement shop. It's reuse and recycle(I love it) We also get hand-me-downs from older relatives and friends who do like to recycle their closets about every three months so we are up-to-date. I hardly spend money on clothes. If ever I do it's for my 11-year-old- who is more socially concious and if I do we go shopping together and compromise on things between $10-20 on sales rack.
Car maintenance and saving on gas: car maintenance for me is mostly an oil change every three months and brakes about once-a-year. I do something called mystery shopping and get some oil changes for free this way. If not, I go on a company's website and see if they have any coupons for the month or specials such us $10 off etc. I save on gas by picking a route for all my errands for the day so everything is on the way, and usually close by. If I do have amajor brake down like my transmission or electrical problems, tell your friends and family before taking it somewhere they may know someone who does it for themselves in their own homes and save you lots of money. If not compare small shop estimates to dealer estimates. I have found that dealer costs are usually about 20-50% higher.
Medical and Dental bills: I do have some credit card debt, which I accrue yearly mostly from medical and dental bills. I shop around even for healthcare clinics. I have found that many clinics will give you a 20% discount if you don't h a ve insurance and pay at the time of service so this is where my credit cards come in. I also found a clinic that will reduce your payment by about $50 dollars if you pay your balance within 10 days. and a clinic which only charges $45 for office visits and does most of their lab work and xrays in-house, saving you quite a bit of money. So healthcare costs can vary so shop around if you can before you go. Call a few places and ask about their payment policies and if they have discounts for uninsured. Also if you need shots the health department is the least expensive place all you have to do is get the order from the Doctor or clinic who does your checkup.
Credit cards: as I mentioned before I use credit cards mostly for real necessities (haircuts are not considered necessities) such as that leaky roof or when your transmission breaks down. Use them credit is good, but use it wisely. I save those 0% for six months-checks they mail periodically, and keep them around in case something comes up. For Christmas I open up new credit accounts or use my existing one to save 10-20% off purchases, and pay them all off within the month so to not defeat the purpose of saving money by pating interest. At the end of the year I claim all my medical and dental on my taxes, and use my taxes each year to pay-off my credit card debts within the free iterest period which sometimes can be up to a year. I have also heard too that you shouldn't have crdit card debt so your income-to debt- ratio isn't too high as this can a ffect your ability to get a loan if you ever need one.
Other small ways I save: I hardly ever go shopping for myself (clothes, make-up, haircuts etc.) in fact I most of the time I clip my own bangs, color my own hair, and have even cut my own hair. When I was 15-years-old my mother took me to El Salvador and Guatemala. At the airport I witnessed children begging for clothes, and at the public market outside a roasted-chicken restaurant I saw children scrounging for food in the garbage cans. I never forgot this so not being wasteful is not only about saving money, but also a part of my life-philosophy, something which my children don't quite understand, but I hope through my example they will learn to live life beautifully but not extravagantly--to have a wonderfu,l healthy, happy life on a limited income if they ever need to.
In Addition...we have enough and sometimes even more...we are truly blessed
Once-a year I like to take us on a small vacation( AND I MEAN SMALL) usually close by within maybe 30-50 miles to save money on gas and time. We get a hotel room and stay one day and one night. We eat at a fancy restaurant, swim, and shop, and then we go home.
At no time do I ever feel poor or that my kids are neglected. We never lack for what we truly need. We always have enough and sometimes even more. We are truly blessed.