The ultimate act of rebellion in a consumption-based society is joyful frugality. And I’m grateful to say that my family has both joy and frugality in spades. I might add that the two are more interconnected than you might imagine.
It’s been over 3 years since we were a 2-paycheck household. Danielle has been blissfully working her tail off at home with no monetary compensation since Greyson was born, and my income is respectable (depending on who’s doing the respecting) but fairly modest. With 2 children and 1 mortgage, my paycheck needs to go a long way. But despite these seemingly long odds, in this tricky economy, we’re financially stable and are comfortably maintaining our nest egg and retirement savings.
So how do we pull it off? After all, the American hive isn’t exactly built for the benefit of the worker bees. In this era of creeping kleptocracy, the rich are getting richer — but that doesn’t mean the rest of us are doomed to a life of anxiety and credit card debt. On the contrary! Joy is eminently attainable, and so is a balanced family budget.
Below, you will find more than $3,500 of annual savings that Danielle and I have happily carved out of our family budget for the sake of making our simple little life economically viable. Without taking these actions, we would slowly hemorrhage money until our nest egg eventually collapsed. But by making these simply choices, none of which impede our enjoyment of life in the slightest, we have made ourselves financially solvent.
This, my friends, is how you beat the system.
Politely tell your cable provider to shove it.
In a world of infinite streaming content, overpriced cable packages will be obsolete within a decade. So hasten the demise (or more likely, strategic restructuring) of those dreaded cable providers — and save yourself a boatload of cash — by canceling your cable bill! In my experience, 1 or 2 streaming platforms are more than sufficient to mentally overwhelm you with viewing options. Who needs an additional 500 TV channels to turn that mild anxiety into a full-blown nervous breakdown? Plus, as an added bonus, streaming platforms don’t have commercials! So you’ll never have to watch a MyPillow ad again.
What we do: For most of the year, we subscribe to Netflix and Amazon Prime. Now and then, we swap out Netflix for Hulu. Either way, we pay a fraction of the price of a cable package and get all the viewing we could possibly find time for — and much, much, much, much more.
What we save: $420-600 per year ($25/month compared to $60-75/month)
Break up (over the phone!) with your phone carrier.
It’s common knowledge that both cable and cell phone providers are the bane of our 21st century existence. Calling Comcast or Verizon for customer service is the modern equivalent of getting a root canal — a procedure which, ironically, is now not all that torturous by comparison. So why do we put up with the Verizons and Sprints of the world? Because we think we’re stuck with them.
Well, I have good news for you. News which surprised me when I learned it myself a few years ago. There are “little guy” phone carriers that can save you a ton of hassle and a ton of money. They’re not commonly known; you just have to dig a little. And by doing so, you can extricate an overpriced cell phone carrier from your life like the rotting cavity it is.
What we do: We ditched Verizon 3 years ago for Ting, a charmingly low-key Canadian carrier with consistently responsive, warmly affable customer service. Ting somehow utilizes Sprint’s network, but without Sprint’s exorbitant costs. If Sprint and Verizon are sharks — and they are — a company like Ting is a friendly remora. So rid your life of sharks and find yourself a nice remora.
What we save: $950 per year ($48/month compared to $127/month for 2 lines)
Hug an Amish person.
Wait, let me be more specific. You’ll first need to find a specific Amish person. One who manages one of the 5 sensationally cheap BB’s Grocery Outlets located in southeast Pennsylvania.
And then hug that Amish person. Because he’s about to (in a manner of speaking) stuff a bunch of cash in your wallet.
The first time we visited BB’s and saw the prices, our eyes probably bugged out of our heads like Looney Tunes characters. $3 for olive oil. $2 for high-end cat food. $1 for cereal. 33 cents for a box of tea. 25 cents for yogurt. I’ve never seen anything like it. BB’s has utterly ruined us for Giant and Weis, whose prices are double, triple, quadruple, even quintuple what you’ll find at their unassuming Amish competitor. Plus, the inventory is different every week. So you never know what you might find on any given visit. I could gush about this place for days, but here’s my simple pitch: If you like to keep your money, shop at BB’s.
What We Do: For 5 years now, we’ve been making one monthly 45-minute grocery run to the BB’s near Newville. The gas money we spend to drive there is paid off after walking down just one aisle — and sometimes sooner than that. Plus, we get genuinely giddy each time we go. That’s how good it feels to save money. It almost feels like BB’s is depositing money directly into our children’s 529 accounts!
What We Save: $1,800 per year ($150/month on BB’s groceries that would have cost $300+ elsewhere)
Instead of amusement parks, amuse yourself at a park.
Don’t get me wrong. Amusement parks are awesome. They amuse me to pieces. But if you want to get outside for some fun in the sun and streamline your budget, then get to know your local parks, state parks, and National Parks. Your kids will thank you — both now and when they’re old enough to realize how invaluable parks are — and you’ll thank yourself too. After all, outdoor amusement is the cheapest (and deepest) amusement there is.
What We Do: Visit local parks regularly. Almost every morning, in fact! It’s pretty easy since we live 100 yards from one. We haven’t delved much into Pennsylvania’s network of state parks yet, but we will soon. And when the kids get old enough to take epic family trips, we will resume plundering the National Parks for all they’re worth, as we did when it was just the 2 of us.
What We Save: This is hard to quantify, but our typical outdoor weekend activities cost us less than $10. Sometimes they even cost us less than 10 cents!
Find random little ways to beat the system.
As you might have gathered by now, I greatly relish beating the system and sticking it to the man. At least when the man tries to charge me more than he should. Here’s a goofy example that only works for us because of our proximity to my parents.
When our rural trash pick-up service suddenly ratcheted up its prices to $33/month (from $23), I quickly hatched a plan. With my parents’ blessing, every Thursday morning I would drive our trash and recycling to their house on my way to work. By adding our disposables to the rarely-full bins on their curb, we could kick our overpriced trash company to the curb. I don’t take kindly to price gouging — in this case the result of a rural monopoly — so this was a very satisfying act of rebellion. Plus, I now get to briefly catch up with my parents during the week! Maybe even mooch a cup of Folgers coffee off my sweet mom and swap notes with her about the last episode of Broadchurch I watched. Win-win-win.
What We Do: See above.
What We Save: $400 per year ($0/month compared to $33/month)
These are just a few of the most notable ways we make our low-income little life work. We find all sorts of corners to cut in the pursuit of the dream — or at least our own particular one.
The dream of a life where Danielle can raise our children, as she’s longed to do since she was a little girl. The dream of a life where I can be fully present and deeply engaged with my family every single minute that our 9-to-5 work culture will possibly allow, by working a sane amount of hours and never having to bring my work home with me.
The dream of a life where the 4 of us live simply. And by doing so, we’ve ended up living larger than we could have ever imagined.
Thank you for reading! Please feel free to like and comment (or even share) on Facebook, since that’s the platform I use for my writing at this point. I know it’s increasingly hard to steer away from the almighty social media feeds these days, so I am deeply grateful for your interest and your support — and your click.