Things were bad. I was concerned about my smallest prince in the ambulance ahead, but at the same time I was wondering, “Was it really necessary to call an ambulance?”
My tiny baby did have a seizure, but he recovered to be just fine (thank you, Lord) and my marriage did fail. But the tools learned in that season are priceless ones that keep working to this day.
I entered a new season of life as a single mother. I was able to increase my work hours and thereby increase my income, but still remained part time for the sake of my young children. On my limited income, I learned four keys for budgeting:
1. Eliminate All But the NecessaryThe cable was cut off. The home phone gone and only a limited cell plan put in place.
We didn’t participate in extra-curricular activities (soccer, gymnastics) and I made no commitments to anything that would incur a monthly bill. None. I even canceled trash pickup and obtained permission to take our bags to a nearby church dumpster. I was brutal in eliminating bills.
2. Maximize What You HaveWe made good use of our internet service and PBS for entertainment. We purged and sold items of value. The cash for an unused vehicle was more useful than the vehicle in storage. I adjusted my payroll withholding to make the most of each monthly check.
I paid all our bills at the first of the month: Tithe, Mortgage, Power, Water, Phone, Insurance. Then I lived on what was left. Often that meant not going places in order to save gas and stretching meals in creative ways.
3. Get Real and Get SavvyI had to be realistic about myself in this season. I wasn’t one who could spend $40 on a manicure or a night out with the girlfriends. Instead, I learned all the “Kid’s Nights” to the local restaurants and it was a real treat for our little family of four to venture out every now and then.
I asked for help at our church with AWANA fees and accepted help at Christmastime when it was offered. This was humbling, but I recognized God taking care of us in these practical acts of kindness.
I learned that we could have fun and live well with much less than I once thought. Yes, my definition of living well shifted, but it was a relief to not compete to measure up in the ways I once thought were important.
4. Give A Little, Live A LotYou may notice Tithe was at the top of my expense list. It wasn’t always so, but I believe it is essential to demonstrate trust with more than words and so I committed once again to tithing. I have never regretted that decision.
I also become aware of so much we didn’t need and donated much to our local Habitat For Humanity Rehome store. The children all learned to love sharing and passing to others the things we no longer needed.
Our gifts were small, but I hope to instill the joy of giving in my little ones. We all treasure experiences more than our stuff these days.
In order to make our life work on a small budget, I was forced to account for every dollar in the door. It became a priority for me to not only exist but to begin saving.
As the children grew and entered into the public school system, our childcare costs ticked slowly downward and I was able to expand our budget to include small vacations and a gifts fund. When we wanted to spend on something extra, I knew right away whether it would be smart.
The second great lesson was that saying “yes” to one thing always meant saying “no” to something else. Knowing my limitations forced me to be clear about my priorities and taught me deep joy and pride in making it alone.
I’m so thankful the leanest days are behind me, yet I am daily grateful for the treasures found in the hardship.
Originally posted on Money Saving Mom (10/22/13).