I have been asked before about how I made ends meet when we were living on Chris' unemployment. And I've written about it before, but I thought I would re share how we made it so long and also how we made it once we had to go on government assistance (not ideal, but you have to feed your kids).
So here are some of the things I did to help save money.
1. I bought in bulk while we knew we had the money. Once I realized Chris would be coming home from Iraq I went out and purchased a deep freezer from Wal-Mart, not a huge monstrosity, but a nice sized one for our family (Beka wasn't at her full eating potential at the time). I bought huge quantities of meat to freeze. Ground Turkey, Chicken, Ground Beef, Hams, Turkey's , Fish, etc. . .
2. I paid up as many of our bills as far in advance as I could financially afford. Because Chris' rank was higher and we'd paid off all of our debts earlier the year before he left, it was feasible for me to do this and I paid of our minivan. There is nothing like having your car repossessed to add to your stress level when you'd prefer it not to rise more than possible. I paid $1,000 down towards gas, electric, and I paid a full year of our water, waste, Netflix and as far in advance as I could for our home phone and Internet and paid up 6 months on the house payments so we had very few bills to worry about while Chris searched for a job. Again, not having credit cards or any outstanding debts really helped us meet that goal.
3. Menu planning: Does it work? Yes, I had a friend with 11 children (yes, yes, please keep the jokes to yourself, she knows what causes it) who through menu planning fed her family of 13 on $500 a month. Menu planning also meant making sure I used what I already had to keep my grocery bill down. But menu planning alone wasn't the only thing I used - which brings me to the next thing I used to keep our food bills down. . .
4. Coupons: Okay keep in mind, I was able to use the on base commissary. They have boxes of coupons that people share and they are for whoever needs them. I used these coupons, ones that came in the mail and my mom and stepdad also gave us theirs from the newspaper in order to help keep our food cost down. Once we went on government assistance and WIC for Beka, between assistance, meal planning, and coupons I was able to feed our family using under the $455 they allotted to us each month for food stamps. Because I was so thrifty we were able to try new meals to make thanks to AllRecipes.com and other recipe websites to keep our meals from becoming boring. We tried peanut butter stir fry chicken (It was good for Chris, not so much for me, because I don't like spicy food, he however, LOVES it). I learned to cook clam chowder, and other interesting dishes I'd wanted to try for a while.
5. Date Night at Braum's or McDonald's is always a fun way to get away for a few moments of one on one time. I found this especially helpful when Chris would become discouraged or frustrated or seemed to be having a bad day in general. It got him away from the girls before he would explode at them, or before he would explode period. We discovered the joy of being together without spending a lot of money and it kind of reminded us of where we had come from (impoverished backgrounds).
6. Goodwill or the Salvation Army: I found a lot of good clothing and deals for Sarah or the little girls at these stores - also the D.A.V. - which is especially great because the D.A.V. helps disabled veterans. They had some amazing deals and I was able to take care of Lizzie's uniform clothing this way.
7. Hand-me-downs: We were lucky to have friends who had some girls who were much taller than both Lizzie and Beka so that helped me out a lot. And we return the favor ourselves by now handing down the clothing that is still in good shape to family or friends in need.
Now a typical payday for our family:
1. No homeschooling. It's not feasible to be in multiple places at once, so every other Wednesday the girls get a break for the day.
2. Pay bills: With the exception of rent, most of our bills are payable online these days. It's very nice and convenient. Rent though is always inconvenient until I discovered the money order machine at Wal-Mart. On the payday when we pay rent I have to go to Wal-Mart and purchase three money orders. Two pay our rent and one of them pays the water, trash, and sewage. Again we usually pay for Netflix, Hulu, AAA and this year we paid for our storage unit up for the year. We also pay our renter's insurance up by the year. Car insurance is a monthly bill we pay each month, otherwise, we end up with a shock when six months has passed by.
3. Grocery shopping: Even though we are not in the same dire straits financially we were in during 2011, I still use menu planning, coupons and searching through the grocery store ads to keep our food bill down.
4. Gasoline in the van. One tank of gas has to last us two weeks. So for now we are a one car family. Chris usually has the vehicle during the week. If I have an appointment or need to take care of something on payday, I take him to work and pick him up.
5. Daddy-Daughter Date: Each girl gets her own evening. Sarah's is usually Wednesday (occasionally we have them switch), Lizzie's is on Thursday night and Beka gets Friday night because Daddy never works past shift closing due to labor laws (he usually works Saturday if possible and Sunday if he can).
I know it may not seem exciting, but it's our life. It may seem boring to some people, but I love that our life is uneventful. Exciting is not always synonymous with fun and there are some types of excitement I can live without.
Have a good week.