Most homeschoolers live on one income, which can make our budgets extremely tight. Some of us find ways to supplement our family incomes by working part-time or creating our own businesses. Others work a full-time job and homeschool when we aren’t working. Still others are able to find ways to stretch the budget and make one income work.
Before we had children, I was a network administrator for a large, multi-national corporation. I was in charge of the computer hardware and software for their Information Technology Division. That meant that I was responsible for keeping the computers running for about 500 employees as well as helping to come up with procedures for software rollouts for the entire company. It was a big job and I received a large paycheck.
So, when my husband and I both felt that God was telling me to lay my career aside to stay home with our first son, we had some financial adjustments to make. We hadn’t done a very good job of saving money when we had two incomes coming in. So, we were forced to make some big lifestyle changes which allowed us to stretch the budget. These decisions weren’t always easy – especially since we also experienced my husband losing his job multiple times with companies going out of business and doing major layoffs. But with God’s help, we were always able to make ends meet no matter how tight our finances became.
Having lived through some very lean years, we’ve learned that there are lots of ways to stretch the budget and make ends meet while living mainly on one income. This post will cover tips that my husband and I have discovered along the way. I also polled my Facebook followers to see what ways they had found to save money over the years and I’ll be including their helpful advice in this post as well.
One caveat before you read any further. PLEASE do not attempt to tackle all of this advice at one time. If you are looking for ways to save money, try choosing ONE thing from this list and give that a try. Once you have that tackled, then choose another.
It’s so easy for homeschool moms to become overwhelmed – we are famous for trying to tackle too many things at one time. Please be kind to yourself during this process! If your family needs to put you into psychiatric care, then any money you’ve saved from these tips will be lost. 🙂
In this post, I will cover the following:
- General Principles for Lowering Costs
- Ways to Lower Food Costs
- Ways to Lower Gas/Fuel/Electric/Utilities Costs
- Ways to Lower Homeschooling Costs
- Ways to Lower Other Household Costs
- Ways to Bring in More Income
Here are 60 Ways to Stretch the Budget and Live on One Income:
- Bank Loans – Whenever possible, save up for larger purchases rather than borrowing money. The less you have to pay in interest fees, the more money you will have to spend on the items you need.
- Budget Wisely – Several moms talked about creating a budget and sticking to it.
- Buy Used Items – Ask around before buying ANYTHING. Many times, people have upgraded their computer, phone, etc. and are selling their old ones. You can save a lot of money if you’re willing to use items that others are discarding or are willing to sell at a great price.
- Clutter – No one likes clutter. If we are intentional about decluttering and keeping things organized, we won’t be as likely to lose important items and we will minimize the times when we think we need to “buy it again” only to find it later.
- Contentment – Be content with what you have. Try not to watch lots of commercials which can cause us to want what we don’t have. Don’t covet your neighbor. Make do or do without.
- Credit Cards – The interest rates on these are even worse than on bank loans. Try to save up to pay cash whenever possible. If you must borrow money, however, consider opening a home equity line of credit rather than getting a credit card.
- Impulse Buys – At the start of each year, make a list of what home improvement projects you will tackle, larger items you need to purchase, and day trips or activities your family will take. This allows for fun new experiences but keeps you from making impulsive plans! Plus, it gives you experiences to look forward to!
- Need vs Want – When money is tight, we quickly learn the difference between needs versus wants. This is a good thing. Learn to let go of some of the wants during this phase of life. There will be plenty of time for that later, once the kids have grown up.
- Bring Snacks With You – Whenever you’re going anywhere in the car, be sure to grab a box of granola bars or crackers and some water to bring with you. That way, if family members get hungry while you’re out and about, you won’t be forced to stop and make an impulse buy.
- Convenience Foods – Cooking from scratch rather than using pre-made or packet food is a healthier and cheaper option.
- Coupons – Some people do very well cutting coupons and shopping sales associated with those coupons. Be sure to look for Groupons or use Ebates before shopping.
- Dried Beans – Our family eats lots of pinto beans and black beans. Rather than buying cans of beans, I purchase bags of dried beans. They are much cheaper this way! And they’re easy to reconstitute in a crockpot. Simply put the entire bag of beans in your crockpot. Then, add about three times as much water as you do beans. Turn the crockpot on high and let them cook for several hours. Once they look right, let them cool down. Use a colander to rinse them off. Then, divide them into several different quart-sized freezer bags. Put one in your refrigerator to use and the rest in your freezer until you need them.
- Farmer’s Markets – If you don’t have the time or the space to plant a garden, you can usually find some great deals on fresh produce at farmer’s markets as well.
- Groceries – Our grocery budget is pretty large since we’re currently feeding two teenage boys! There are ways to try to curb their appetites, however. And consider serving lots of rice and potatoes as side dishes because they help to make sure people get full during meals and require less between meal snacks.
- Ground Turkey – Ground turkey is much cheaper than ground beef, but the taste and texture are very different. One way to save money, is to use 1/2 ground turkey and 1/2 ground beef in your recipes. Your family won’t be able to tell the difference and you’ll save money. Plus, it’s healthier!
- In Season Produce – When produce is in season, it’s more plentiful and the prices go down. Be on the lookout for what is currently in season and change up your recipes accordingly.
- Make a List – If you have a habit of wandering through the stores and looking around, you’ll be more likely to buy extra items. When headed to the store, bring a list and get what’s on the list. Don’t get into the habit of browsing or mindlessly throwing things into your cart.
- Menu Plan – Many families menu plan which helps to be sure you only purchase grocery items that you will use right away – and that produce won’t go bad and need to be thrown away before you can use it.
- Pack Lunches – Pack your husband’s breakfast and lunch rather than having him eat these meals out every day. Also, if you’re going on a field trip, you can pack lunches for that as well.
- Plant a Garden – Planting a garden and preserving food cuts grocery costs in a huge way. Some homeschool families also raise goats for the milk and make yogurt and cheese. Others raise chicken for the meat and the eggs.
- Restaurants – Try not to eat out too often. Instead of going out for dinner, have a picnic in the living room/backyard/park etc. Even just going through fast food drive-thrus can add up. I used to enjoy getting a pop when I was running errands but now I grab a glass of tea or water and bring it with me from home. Every little bit helps!
- Shop Around – It can be a pain, but when I grocery shop, I go to four different stores. This allows me to get the best price for each item I need. One homeschool mom suggested making a price book for grocery shopping. She sais that it was very eye opening for ways to save money. She had previously thought she was getting the best deals but after making the comparison price book, she found that she was overspending on several things and was able to change her shopping habits.
- Shop in Bulk – Stores such as Costco or Sam’s Club will often allow you to purchase MORE of an item for a similar cost as what you would pay for smaller packages at the regular grocery store.
- Store Brands – Consider buying store brands for some products versus name brands. Also, if you have an Aldi in your area, shopping there is a great way to save money as well.
- Wild Edibles – Someone suggested gathering wild edibles. This is an awesome idea although I don’t know much about it. I know dandelions are super healthy if they haven’t been sprayed with any weed killer.
- Ask for a Lower Price – When you need to purchase something, ask if the business does discounts and under what conditions. You will be amazed at what discounts are available. We’ve had good success asking for them with our natural gas, electricity, internet service, garbage service, and satellite TV. I usually start the conversation with, “Hi, I’d like to keep my same service but pay less each month” and the customer service rep usually responds with, “We can certainly help you with that.”
- Cell Phone Contract – Rather than signing up for a pricey contract with a cell phone company, you may want to consider paying month-to-month or getting a pre-paid cell phone. Our family uses a company called Republic Wireless for our cell phones. My husband and I only pay $12 a month for unlimited calls and texting and we have wifi data. They also have cheap data plans as well. By the way, cell phones are a luxury. Some homeschool families choose to do without them at all saving even MORE money.
- Combine Errands – Rather than driving to the store every time you need something, wait until you need several items and then go. If you need to go to the bank, the grocery store, the library and the post office, try to make the rounds during one trip rather than driving to each place separately. This cuts down on the amount of time spent running errands as well as the amount of gas you use.
- Daily Showers – You can choose to take showers less often or to reduce the amount of time that you’re in the shower. Or to take showers which aren’t quite as hot. I find my solace in the shower, though, so this is something I would be very reluctant to give up.
- Downsize Home – The smaller your home is, the less your utility bills will be. Also, you will have less furnishing expenses and a smaller mortgage. My husband and I have been watching TV Shows about Tiny Houses and we dream about one day living in one. Probably not until our sons move out… but the thought of having such a small house to pay for has its appeal.
- Get Rid of Luxuries – Get rid of cable TV or your satellite dish. Stream movies on Amazon Prime, Netflix, or Hulu instead. Also, many libraries have movies that you can stream as well. Some families don’t even have internet access although I don’t recommend that one because then you wouldn’t be able to read my blog!!! 🙂
- Land Line Phone – If you have cell phones, do you still need your land line? Our family was able to save a significant amount of money each month by getting rid of our AT&T land line and replacing it with Magic Jack instead. We were able to keep our phone number so that we don’t have to give our cell phone numbers to everyone… but rather than paying about $50 a month for a landline, we are now paying about $35 a YEAR for Magic Jack. Some families also use Ooma to do the same thing although that’s $10 a month which is more than Magic Jack.
- Lower Utility Bills – Consider making your home more energy efficient. In the winter, lower the temperature on your furnace by a degree or two. In the summer, consider opening the windows more often and running your air conditioner less. Switch to more energy efficient light bulbs. Turn off lights when you aren’t in the room. Make sure you put your computer to sleep or turn it off when it isn’t in use.
- Microwave – Some meals don’t taste right if you cook them in the microwave. But some are just fine. If you have the choice of taking 45 minutes to make something in the oven or 20 minutes in the microwave, you’ll save money doing the latter. Some people also use crockpots and pressure cookers to save themselves time and money.
- Park Your Car – Depending on where you live, you might be able to use public transport/walk/bike ride as much as possible instead of driving. This option will help you save a bundle on fuel costs and you get exercise while you are at it. Bonus!
- New Books – Use your library as much as possible. You can also read lots of classic books which are in the public domain for FREE. Check out sites such as Project Gutenberg or Many Books. If you need to purchase a book, you can usually get the ebook version for less than the printed version.
- Purchase Used Curriculum – Ebay is a GREAT place to purchased used curriculum. You can usually get it for 50% off! Another great way to save in this area is by purchasing through the Homeschool Buyer’s Co-Op.
- Cloth Diapers – Some people choose cloth diapers versus disposable in order to save money. If you continue to use disposable ones, consider getting them from a big box store where you can usually save a bundle.
- Craigslist and Ebay – Buy second hand/factory second items whenever possible. Auctions are also really good for bargains as are online outlets such as Craigslist and Ebay.
- Educational Discounts – Many places have discounts for homeschoolers, discounts for AAA, military discounts, educator discounts, etc. It never hurts to ask! Remember to ask before purchasing any computer hardware or software as well as many places have student discounts.
- Fix Broken Items – A good appliance repairman is invaluable. We’ve been able to fix several of our appliances rather than replacing them.
- Full-Price Movie Tickets – Try to purchase discount movie tickets. Some theaters have special matinee prices or cut-rate prices on certain days of the week. Or, skip the theater altogether and rent movies and make your own snacks.
- Gifts – When grandparents ask for gift ideas for the kids, consider asking them for family museum passes or other things which will help you to save money throughout the year.
- Haircuts – Give haircuts at home versus going to the salon/barber shop. It’s easiest to do this for the men in your family but if you’re brave, you can do it for the girls as well. Here are the hair clippers that I use to cut my husband and sons’ hair! It’s also cheaper to color your own hair at home versus having it done by a beautician.
- Homemade Cleaners – It’s much cheaper to make your own cleaners at home using basic ingredients than it is to purchase everything. You can make quite a few things using water, vinegar, baking soda, liquid dish soap, and a few essential oils. Search Google or Pinterest for some great ideas. I’ve made my own laundry soap as well. And did you know that if you purchase foaming hand soap, you can make more very easily by putting about a tablespoon of liquid dish soap into the container, filling the rest with warm water, and shaking it up?!?
- Home Remedies – Going to the doctor can be very expensive – especially now that the deductible on most people’s health insurance has skyrocketed. Rather than going to the doctor to cure every ailment, consider trying to heal some things at home. Consider keeping a few items on hand, such as various essential oils, so that you’ll be ready when sickness hits. You’d be amazed what information is on the internet if you Google “home remedies for X.”
- Homeschool Uniform – I know people tease homeschoolers about our ‘school uniform’ being pajamas, however, there really is a purpose for wearing them – especially in the winter. If we aren’t going anywhere that day some families stay in our jammies which keeps them warm (lower thermostat), creates less laundry (saves water and electricity), and requires them to purchase less clothing. Another bonus is that when our kids are comfortable they learn better.
- Magazine Subscriptions – Are you reading all of the magazines that show up at your house? You might want to consider paring down on some of those subscriptions for now.
- Make What You Need – If you need something such as shelves or furniture, make it yourself versus purchasing it.
- New Cars – Purchase modest used vehicles. Try to save up in advance and use cash rather than getting a car loan.
- New Clothes – When my boys were younger, we went to lots of neighborhood garage sales to look for clothes. We also accepted any and all hand-me-downs. Now that they’re older, we try to shop at Salvation Army and Goodwill before going to stores. We can usually find shirts there but sometimes the pants and shorts are hard to come by (especially since my boys are 6’4″ and 6’5″.) Consignment shops are also helpful!
- Purchase Passes – If your family goes to the zoo or the museum on a regular basis, consider purchasing their yearly pass rather than purchasing tickets each time you go. And be sure to ask if they have any discounts for homeschoolers.
- Shampoo – Some people choose to make their own shampoo rather than buying it. You can find recipes for this on the internet as well. I’ve seen recipes using apple cider vinegar and baking soda as well as recipes using various essential oils.
- Shop on Black Friday/Cyber Monday – For large purchases, such as appliances, try to buy them when they go on sale. You can often buy homeschool curriculum and online classes at a cheaper rate during this weekend as well.
- Shop on Clearance – Try to buy the items you need AFTER they have gone on clearance. Buy Christmas wrapping paper and cards AFTER Christmas, when they go on 50-80% off. Buy clothing after the season is over in preparation for the coming year.
- Use Tax Return – If you receive a tax return, consider using it to pay off debt, purchase necessary clothing items, and/or purchase homeschool curriculum. You can also put that money aside for a rainy day.
- Vacation Off-Season – If your family is going to take a vacation, consider doing so when everyone else is still in school. You can save up to 50% on lodging and other costs if you avoid summer and other busy times such as holidays while traveling. You may also want to stay in a tent or rent a cabin in a campground for further savings. If money is really tight, forego the expensive vacation for a staycation instead. Look for free community activities such as parks, town pools, and local hikes for cheaper summer fun and making memories as a family.
- Collect Cans – If you live in a state which has a can/bottle deposit, you can collect cans while you are out on your walks – or ask friends and family if they would like you to take their cans off of their hands. Many people find it more of a bother than it’s worth to take their cans back and are happy to donate them to someone who is willing to take them back.
- Things You Don’t Use – If you have lots of stuff sitting around your house that you aren’t using, consider selling it. Some people make decent cash having a garage sale. I don’t really want to make the time for a garage sale, but a good alternative for me has been selling larger items on Craigslist and smaller items on Ebay. I’ve also done well selling back old homeschool curriculum on Ebay.
- Work From Home – Almost ten years ago, back in April 2007, I decided to start blogging about homeschooling boys. This has given me a way to help contribute to our family income as well… which has been a lifesaver since our expenses continue to rise as our boys are getting older. There are many other ways to work from home as well.
As you can see, there are LOTS of ways to stretch the budget and live on one income. It isn’t always easy to live on less. But when the need is there, you can find a way. You may even find that you enjoy the challenge of finding new ways to save!
Do you have any other ways to stretch the budget that you can share with us? I’d love to hear your tips! Please leave a comment below!