How We Live On $650 a month

How We Live On $650 a month ~ Our Cozy Den

We have 6 people in our family – including 4 crazy kids! And we manage to live on $650 a month. This is how we do it!

Groceries = $250/month

I am very careful with my meal planning. I buy in bulk, cook from scratch, and we do not buy pre-packaged or convenience foods. We do get WIC vouchers, which probably adds about $50 worth of free groceries to our haul. I do one week a month where I cook from the pantry, and we don’t get groceries at all. I stretch the meat in my recipes to make it go farther (stay tuned for an upcoming blog series on this!). I check store ads to I can price-match and get the best deal, especially on meat and produce. I also buy a lot of groceries at GFS, which emails me great coupons to add to the savings.

Utilities = $170/month

Our electric bill averages $60, natural gas (heat) is $60, and water is $50. I work hard to make our home energy efficient. I teach the children to be cautious in their use of utilities. (They have to do push-ups if they leave the room with the light on!) These are my tips for saving money on electricity and water. We have all of our utilities on budget-billing plans, so that we pay the same bill every month. It keeps us from having high bills in the winter! We do not currently have an air-conditioner, which also saves us money in the summer.

Insurance = $100/month

We have insurance through the military-supportive company USAA. They have great rates, and $100 gives us excellent coverage on both our van and our home.

Cell phones = $40/month

I have a prepaid plan through the company Red Pocket. With under $40/month, I get unlimited texting and calling, and more than enough data. My husband also has a prepaid phone, which he tops up once a year for $80 (averages out to $6.67/month). It’s not included in our monthly budget because it is so minimal and he only pays it once a year. Read all about how to save on cell phones here, and finding a plan that works for you.

Vehicle Fuel = $30/month

My husband doesn’t work, but he does currently attend seminary. We bought a home close enough to his school and our church so that we would walk, saving us a lot of money in gas. We walk every time we have the opportunity! We only own one vehicle, and we practice something called hypermiling when we drive it to save even further. When we do fill up, we use a website and app called Gas Buddy to find the cheapest gas in our area.

Internet = $40/month

I shopped around to find the lowest rate at the speeds we wanted. We watch all of our TV on the computer, as well as my using it for work, blogging, school, etc. $40 seems a reasonable price for the service we get!

Miscellaneous = $20/month

We do our best to be content with what we have. If we “need” something, we wait a little while to decide if it’s really a need, or if it’s something we can live without. Usually the things that end up in this category are new shoes for the kids (purchased on clearance for $2 or less) or printer ink or things like that.

So that is all of our expenses, and if you add them up you will see that they equal $650. We do actually make more than that, but not by much. I can’t say exactly how much, because it changes from month to month — but I would say on average about $1000/month. The rest of our income goes to several areas: giving back to our church, supporting friends’ mission trips, our Compassion kids. We also save a lot for our kids, retirement, vacations, and investing. And we use some for fun – eating out, going on date nights, field trips, and other fun stuff! But all of those things can be stopped or put on hold if our income ever were to drop or stop, and we could live on our bare minimum of $650 if we needed to.

I wanted to add one more thing – back when we had a mortgage and our house wasn’t paid in full, we still had extremely low expenses. Our budget was closer to $1200 instead of $650, but we still had bare minimum expenses in most areas so that we could save-save-SAVE! (At the time we were making about $4,000 a month and saving well over half of it.) That’s part of how we got to where we are, and in the position that we could pay cash for a house.

I have more upcoming posts on saving money, especially in these areas! Subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss any future updates (top left side of this page)!

Now, a little something funny to end your reading, which I found humorous and appropriate. Sometimes you DO just need six hunnit and fiddy dollars!

650 funny

From Drowning in Debt to Financially Free

drowing in debt financially free

Sometimes people ask me how I got this way. HOW did I become such a crazy money-saving lady?

I think all stories start with parents. Most kids don’t learn much, if anything, about financial management in school, so the bulk of their money education happens at home.

My own parents lived a typical life in the 90’s. They had a mortgage, credit cards, little savings and nothing for retirement. So when I got out on my own at 18, I joined the Army. Not long after those paychecks started rolling in, I had a credit card and a big fat car payment. In less than a year, I racked up about $20,000 in debt.

Soon after that, I met my husband, and we got engaged. Our parents helped a little with wedding expenses, but we still put most of it on credit cards. Add to that a new truck, a new credit card, and furnishing our new home (we both had almost NO belongings). We had only been married about 6 months, and between the credit cards, car loans, and student loans, we had about $100,000 in debt.

About that time, I was browsing the internet (on my laptop which I bought on a credit card). I found an article about Dave Ramsey. His debt snowball plan sounded revolutionary to me, but also SO smart. I considered myself an intelligent person, and it made sense. Get out of debt? Of course! Why pay interest? Why hadn’t someone told me this before?! 

So we laid out a plan and started paying off the debt. We started with an eating-out freeze. We didn’t eat at a restaurant for a WHOLE year! We also did spending freezes along the way – where we didn’t buy anything except gas and groceries. We sold things. I constantly looked for new ways to cut expenses. We threw our tax return at the debt. Byron re-enlisted in the Army and got a bonus, which also went toward the debt. Even though we were only making about $40,000 a year, we paid off the debt in about 3 years. 

Even after the debt was paid off – we didn’t stop there. We started saving like crazy. We opened retirement accounts, investment accounts, and savings accounts. We started throwing extra money at our mortgage. By the time we got orders overseas, we had paid off over 1/3 of the house. That money went into savings. We were determined to pay cash for our next home. We also wanted to travel and see Europe debt free.

Those years were hard sometimes. I would see my friends going out to lunch all the time, their kids’ extravagant birthday parties, the fancy houses and cars and boats and toys that they all had. It took me a long time to figure out that the key to happiness is contentment where you are, not placing your joy in anticipation of what could be.

key to happiness

When Byron said he felt called to enter the ministry – and that he wanted to leave the Army (and thus, our paychecks) for 5 years, I’ll admit, I was scared. But I also felt that we were probably better equipped for this than most people, and this had to have been God’s plan all along. Because of our frugal ways, we didn’t need much for the day-to-day expenses. We had enough to pay cash for a house, with savings left over. I was able to continue homeschooling, and neither one of us needed to work full time on top of kids and school and seminary and life. Byron is still in the Army Reserves, so he does his one-weekend-a-month-two-weeks-a-year, which pays $450 a month, and we also bring in a few hundred a month from other random sources. (I teach tax classes online, sell crafts, and Byron helps a friend occasionally with his tree trimming business.) We wouldn’t be where we are if not for Dave Ramsey, our commitment to living frugally, and God’s abundant blessings.

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So that’s how we got here!

Endless Weekends

I’m sure you have heard the old saying “You never get to the end of your life and wish you had spent more time working or earned more money or success. You wish that you had spent more time with your family.”

I’ve gotten several comments lately about how lucky I am to have my husband around all the time. I know, BELIEVE ME, I know.

18 months ago, Byron was a First Sergeant in the Army. He was up at 4 am every day and off to work. He often didn’t come home until 8 or 9 pm, or later. Sometimes he worked all night and didn’t come home at all. That’s life for a soldier, especially one in a leadership position.

Today, life is pretty different.

Byron has school on Tuesdays, but other than that he’s home all the time. I do some freelance work in my free time, bringing in a few hundred a month, so we are blessed to spend all day together. Life is like one big long weekend 🙂

Here’s a typical day for us now:

We get up at 7 or 8 and get the big kids in the shower. Then we do about 30-45 minutes of schoolwork.

At 9, everybody does their chores.

At 9:30-10, we usually head out somewhere fun. Sometimes we go to the library, running errands, the park, the children’s museum, swimming at the YMCA, farmer’s markets, field trips, or anywhere we want!

At 12:30-1, we do some more schoolwork, which lasts 2-3 hours.

From 3-4, all the kids are in quiet time, and we relax for a bit – reading books or devotionals, talking and praying.

After quiet time, the kids have a snack and go outside and play.

We eat dinner around 5-5:30.

Then several nights of the week we have scheduled activities – Monday night I go out to Zpraise (Christian Zumba), Wednesday night we have Kids Club and Bible studies at church (and right now I’m teaching Dave Ramsey’s FPU!), Thursday night I have book club, Friday night is Date Night, and Saturday night is Game Night!

We have a full, blessed life. It feels busy at times, but it’s all quality stuff. A lot of things we want to do and very little that we have to do.

Thank you God.

clock time