Inside: When you need to make ends meet (and avoid acquiring more debt), you find any way you can to cut costs. Here’s a growing list of things we aren’t buying right now to make ends meet – from the trivial to the really inconvenient!

Crunching the numbers every month and trying to find new ways to make ends meet gets old after a while. As much as I appreciate a new year bringing new possibilities, it also brings not so fun things like insurance hikes and higher internet bills.

With expenses increasing faster than our income, I (along with thousands of other American families) am always looking for new ways to cut costs. But as we search for new ways to save money, often we just need to do the hard things, like making inconvenient sacrifices for a few months, or even years.

You might not learn anything new from this post, but sometimes it helps to know that you’re not the only sacrificing to make ends meet.

How to Make Ends Meet without Going Crazy

I spent years trying to cut costs in order to make ends meet. I burned out trying to live on a ridiculously low grocery budget and DIY everything.

Since I stopped couponing, living a minimalist lifestyle really helps us save money every month. While minimalism can hurt your budget, it can help your budget, too.

After you finish decluttering, there is NO WAY you want to go back to the chaos that was your life before.

You start to question every purchase, “Will I be happy I bought this six months from now?” Ninety percent of the time, the answer is “Nope!”, and back on the shelf it goes.

Other items on this list are born purely out of frugal tendencies. I’m thankful that we’ve always been frugal – I can’t imagine trying to learn how to be frugal. If that’s you, I admire your tenacity and willingness to work hard at forming better money habits.

Related Posts:

When Making Ends Meet Isn’t Fun

I admit it: there are times that I want to do exactly what SO many other American families are doing!

Getting a car loan.

Buying furniture with a sweet, no money down, no interest for six months kind of deal.

Signing up for a new phone (it’s only $10 more a month!).

These families’ lives look SO GOOD from the outside, and I catch myself envying them more than I’d like to admit.

  • Wouldn’t it be nice to have two cars and the freedom to go places with my kids whenever I want?
  • Wouldn’t it be nice to not need to clear my phone every day of all but the best pictures just so my 8 GB phone will function?
  • Wouldn’t it be nice to buy my favorite pair of shoes every year even though I know they’ll wear out in less than a year?

All those things would be amazing!

But I also know the stress and the pain of debt. We’ve lived with it for ten years.

What you can’t see from the outside of those picture perfect homes is the financial stress that’s tearing those families apart.

I know that adding to that debt would just make things worse. So we keep on living frugally believing that one day, we will be free from debt ourselves.

Hopefully when that day comes, some of the items on this list might be conveniences we can enjoy every once in a while.

But who knows? When that day comes, we might not even want them anymore.

save money | save money tips | save money ideas | frugal living | make ends meet #savemoney #frugalliving

14 Things We Aren’t Buying to Make Ends Meet

1) A New T.V.

Our current television is TINY. The size is made worse by the fact that my toddler took a toy hammer to it last month (turns out toy hammers are quite powerful on screens). I should be thankful he didn’t break the whole thing.

It’s still watchable…sort of.

When our kids (or I) get annoyed that one quarter of the screen is obscured by blurs and cracks, I remind myself that it’s good to teach them that you don’t just walk out and buy something new when something breaks.

You wait, and you save up for it. Great life lesson!

2) A Second Car

We have been a one car family for ten years. In 2016, my husband had a work vehicle, which freed me to use the car during the day.

I’m not gonna lie – transitioning back to only one car this past year has been rough. However, last month, we all finally adjusted to being housebound. Christmas gifts from grandparents helped a ton.

Related Post: Can You Really Be a One-Car Family in the Suburbs? This is How We Make it Work

3) Extracurricular Activities

Our kids currently participate in zero extracurricular activities. That’s right, I said “None. Zero. Zip.”

Guess what? They’ll be fine!

They play with neighbor kids a few times a week. We take them to parks. They got a trampoline and a basketball hoop from their grandparents for Christmas. They play soccer and basketball with each other and friends.

4) New Phones

Man, I miss the days when phone companies gave you a new phone for free in exchange for a 2-year contract. I am not a fan of the new system AT ALL.

While we do have iphones, they are way behind the newest model. I have only 8GB of storage space, which isn’t even enough to do software updates.

Renting new phones would cost $25 or more a month extra, and we wouldn’t even own them at the end of our contract.

New phones will have to wait.

5) Babysitting

With four kids plus homeschooling, we really feel this one sometimes. We do not have family living close by, and babysitting rates are pretty astronomical these days (as they should be – I’m glad quality childcare is valued highly!).

We trade babysitting once a month with friends, so we can have an occasional date. Otherwise, my husband and I take turns taking the kids out so the other can have a quiet house. We also rely on T.V. to give us a break.

Related Post: Yep, Your Kids Do Watch Too Much T.V., and They‘re Gonna Be Fine

6) The Right Sheets

I mentioned in this post that we use full-size sheets on our kid’s twin-sized beds. They tuck in and work just fine, although a dear friend did mail us some extra twin sheets when she heard we didn’t have any.

Related: 52 Ways to Save Money so You Can Stay Home

7) A House

We have been renting for over ten years now. While I truly appreciate being able to call someone to come fix my dishwasher when it breaks, we are ready for the permanence of owning our own home.

That being said, buying a home right now would not be a wise decision. We have no down payment and are still paying off student loans. So for now, we wait.

8) Books

I love reading new books with my kids, but they rarely want to read the same ones more than a few times. Our library lends books for two week periods, and you can always renew them a few times if needed.

This is one that bothers me hardly at all, since our library has a great selection and a broad network to share books across libraries. If yours doesn’t have a good selection, check out this library hack I use to get the books I want to read for free.

9) TOMs Shoes

I love TOMs classic shoes! I got a pair for Christmas a few years ago. While they lasted, they were comfortable and went with a lot of my capsule wardrobe.

Unfortunately, they cost anywhere from $40-$54 a pair and only last a year. I added TOMs to my “When We Get Out of Debt” list in my bullet journal and switched to these Croc flats which are a fraction of the price (especially when you get them on end of season clearance) and last so much longer.

10) Sponges & Loofahs

I wish I could list paper towels here, but my husband just can’t break the habit. We have, however, drastically reduced our paper towel usage after starting a paperless kitchen this summer.

We ditched sponges, in favor of these dishcloths and a dish brush. These do a much better job than the sponges, anyways.

Related Post: Why Every Mom Needs to Try a Paperless Kitchen

11) Wedding Attendance and Gifts

We have declined several wedding invitations over the past few years simply because we cannot afford to travel OR purchase a gift. Although we were sad to miss the happy day, we look forward to seeing our friends another time in order to spend quality time with them, something most weddings don’t allow for.

When it does work out to attend a close friend or family’s wedding, we can’t always afford a gift.

This one might not be popular or proper etiquette. However, when buying a gift from their registry means putting it on a credit card, we just have to swallow our pride and hope that our presence is enough of a gift.

When we can afford a gift, it’s usually something from this list of wedding gifts that are under $20 each.

I look forward to the day when we can purchase the highest priced item on the wedding registry. We love being generous! And we look forward to being debt-free so we can be more generous than our current finances allow.

Related Post: 16 Cheap, Useful Wedding Gifts: 16 Ideas for less than $20 Each

12) Playdough

It seems silly to mention here, but I used to buy playdough once or twice a month. The cost adds up.

Now, we make our own. 

Playdough-making is now an event at our house, one our children enjoy very much. They get to choose the color and help mix the ingredients. There’s something about warm playdough, fresh from the pot, that playdough from Target can’t compete with.

You can find our favorite recipe in this post.

Related Post: 35 Cheap Activities for Kids (for when you’re stuck at home)

13) Another iPad

We have four kids and one iPad. I’m thankful for the one we have, but I completely understand why parents get each child his own device – a tablet, an iPad, something. Instead, we deal with trying to make sure everyone getting choices and turns. Some days it works out well.

Other days? Oh, the screaming.

The upside is that they are learning to share and take turns…and that life isn’t always fair.

14) Expensive Vacations

Ever since we read through the Harry Potter series, we have talked about going to Harry Potter World. We talk about the world all the time. Maps hang everywhere in our home, and the kids talk about visiting the places we learn about in our homeschool.

Related: 14 Easy Ways Any Parent Can Teach Geography

Those kinds of vacations will have to wait.

For now, a day or two at the beach in a cheap motel once or twice a year is the best way for us to have a family vacation that fits our budget.

And guess what? The kids LOVE it! 

Kids don’t need expensive vacations to create family memories. They just need the whole family and a simple trip.

Struggle with budgeting? Check out the Real Life Money Plan to get the help you need! 

Just Making Ends Meet? You’re Not Alone

I know what it’s like to feel alone in a seemingly hopeless financial situation. Just when you think you’re getting ahead, an unexpected bill hits you and you’re right back where you started.

You look to your left and your right and see families who seem to have it altogether. They have more money, better stuff, and fewer limitations…or so you think.

Making sacrifices to pay off debt, stay debt-free, or just to pay the bills is really hard, especially if you’ve been at it for a really long time. It can feel hopeless, like your financial situation will never get any better.

Hold onto hope though: we need to believe that things will get easier. Practice gratitude, persevere and believe with me that this is not the way it will always be.

While you wait, take comfort in knowing that you’re not the only one.

You are so very far from alone.

Read Next: How to Save Money Every Single Month with Very Little Effort

Trying to make ends meet and the sacrifices are getting old? Take heart! You are not alone. Here are a few things we aren't buying these days to in order to pay the bills - from the significant to the trivial.

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25 Comments

  1. Thanks…a lot for this post. Specially for the last words…sometimes I really think that i’m alone in this journey. We have 3 lids and 1 on the way, we homeschool and I cant -and definetly dont want either- to work. In my country, family that homeschool usually have a very confortable financial situation, and is not that common so we get a lot of discouragement and criticism in this topic. We cant even think on buying a house, cars here are incredible expensives so we had to get a debt for one, because with 3 kids It wasnt safe to go to the doctor or to the supermarket on the public transportation. We have been on this journey for 7 years and just today we talked about how many years we could still be living like this. I think there will be like at least 6 to 7 years. Sometimes is just hard…specially when your own family thinks you made a wrong decision on following Gods plan and having a big family. So, what Im trying to say is THANK YOU, so today, you help me know that im not alone…even if I feel like I am. Have a beautiful day!!!

  2. Thank you for acknowledging the grind of trying to be frugal. So many frugal sites are all sunshine and roses – just be super frugal and you can retire before you are 40 and all your goals and dreams will be within reach! Such a nice, hopeful thought, but only possible for a few. I feel that for so many being frugal is more of a necessity than a choice; a means of holding the line rather than making any great strides forward. And that is where it can become wearing – trying to find ways to stretch a dollar even further year after year without any real gain in sight. But as it has been pointed out, we must strive to keep a positive attitude and cling the fleeting hope that it might, just might get better some day.

    1. Author

      Frugality is definitely a part-time job. Some things become habit after a while, second nature. There’s also a difference between living frugally by choice or by necessity. The latter gets really old after a while, as much as you can try to make it fun or a challenge.

  3. I grew up in a barely middle class neighborhood-we never went to bed hungry, but our lives were more like “millennial middle class” than “leave it to beaver.” When my husband and I married, we also scrimped and made do.

    And over time our fortunes changed and we moved from a rental to our own home, from one car to two, from one pair of shoes to “these make my feet hurt, I’ll buy another pair.” Today, we’re quite comfortable. But I sleep better knowing if our fortunes change, as they have for so many people, I know how to live on very little and still be quite happy. Your children will have the same blessing.

  4. TOMs can be expensive, yes. I very much like Skechers BOBs. Lots of styles and colors, still charitable, about $30, often less, last about a year. Just throwing that out there. Very comfortable, have been my go to shoes for years now. Love your site. Best of luck.

    1. Author

      Thanks for the tip Tori! I had never heard of BOBS, and it looks like they are significantly cheaper. I love TOMS’s mission, but right now, they are still too expensive and wear out too quickly to justify the expense. One day!

  5. Just saw this today, so not sure if it’s been mentioned, but if you’re doing ebooks at all, check if your library uses the Overdrive app. It’s a free app that lets you get ebooks, audio books and movies with your library card. Limit of 8 checked at a time, but it is an option to consider.

    1. Author

      Thanks so much Emily! And we love our free e-books – I use overdrive all the time. Thanks for taking the time to recommend it though, so everyone can benefit. 🙂

  6. I think having a positive attitude and practicing gratitude are the things that make my life worth living some days. While I too remained hopeful that our finances would improve after the kids were helped through college and well on their own, my pension suffered in order to try and help my boys have less student loans to pay back and help reduce the amount of stress there is trying to get an advanced degree, work, and try and study, study ,study, to graduate with a GPA that was something they were proud to put on their resume’ I chose to make that sacrifice because I did not want may children to have to count out change to buy milk or hamburger to make it to the next pay day, or to never be able to get away and explore this country of ours, when all my friends are sending me pictures of their last vacation, and my brothers are taking their kids to Disney World, but my kids could not go, because we simply did not have the money. I wanted my children to be able to have a better live, Well in so doing I am now 66yo, I have worked full time since I was 14 yo, and I am living on less than 1400.00 social security a month, no pension, CDs or savings account. My husband is the same, but did manage a small pension. There will be not traveling, we do not eat out, we rent a small one bedroom apartment, but it’s home to us and it’s nice, has a garage, washer and dryer and dishwasher in the unit. Most months we have zero dollars left after paying bills, buying groceries, and medications, and sometimes a full tank of gas. These are our golden years, the years we worked so hard to get to. but with inflation running rampant so many years in a row with no increase in pay, have taken a toll. You must always have hope that things will not get better, but will be OK, because one day it will just hit you, like it did me, that I was never going to have anything extra at the end of the month, it was just not meant to be. So for the rest of our lives we will stretch that last dollar to get to the next pay day, whose money will have all ready have been spent. WE do no have cable, or cell phones, no money for savings for gifts for birthdays and Christmas. But I believe that 50% of senior citizens are in the same boat or worse. That is the silver lining, I know that it could always be worse.

    1. Author

      I totally agree, Peggy! It just takes intentionally practicing that gratitude. Living the the present is something I’m trying to learn how to do, too.

  7. Thanks for the encouragement! I’m right there with you. I know the sacrifices I make today help ease my husband’s stress over financial worries. The only thing I disagree with is renting instead of buying. In my area, a 2 bedroom apt is $1200/month. Renting houses is more. My mortgage is $1000/month for a 4 bedroom house and when we sell it all that money is returned to us. We bought our first home for $99,000. Scrimped & saved and poured every penny we could into it for 2 years, about $2000 and sold it for $140,000. But in addition to getting the $41,000 profit we also got back our mortgage payments for 2 years so we walked away with over $50,000. Which was enough to pay most of our student debts and have 3% to put down on our next home. It wasn’t easy. We spent every spare moment caulking, painting, cleaning carpets, and searching Craigslist for used dishwashers when ours broke. It makes me so sad when families choose to rent. Rent is only for the super wealthy that don’t have to consider saving for the future.

    1. Author

      Thanks for sharing Lisa! Right now, buying is just not a possibility for our family. We hope to buy as soon as we can, but right now we are just thankful for an affordable single family home with a yard.:)

  8. We love going on staycations! We’ll book Airbnb’s in the area and have our vacation that way. We usually book places that are more unique, like an Airstream or RV.

    1. Author

      That’s a great idea, Alexis! We haven’t tried Airbnb yet. We want too, and I’m glad you mentioned you had a good experience. We’ll have to check it out the next time we head to the beach. It might even be more affordable than where we were staying, especially off-season and during the week. Perks of homeschooling! 🙂

  9. Oh, girl! I hear you! Be glad you’re renting when the dishwasher breaks. We own our home and our dishwasher broke down just before Christmas. Still trying to save up to repair it. And Harry Potter World…we went to Florida last year on a super frugal vacation and couldn’t afford to go there. We’ve also had to turn down attending weddings, graduations, etc. because there simply wasn’t enough money in the budget. Hang in there!

    1. Author

      I’m so sorry to hear about your dishwasher! Yes – I am definitely so thankful to be renting and able to call them to fix things. I’m not sure how parents with little kids buy houses and do all those renovations – where they get the energy OR the money. 🙂 One day! Thanks for your encouragement and I hope you are able to save up for that new dishwasher soon. I can’t imagine living without one, especially since I homeschool so we are home and uses dishes all day long.

  10. I am here to say, it is worth it. When the Mr. And I got married 31 years ago, we were both debt free. Things happened, with in 12 years we were about 180,000.00 in debt. Wow! Talk about a shock. I had been a SAHM once we started a family. We did the one car, we sold the Big house, payed off debt, put half down on the house we now have. His job has gotten better and more convient.
    It will get better as you keep your head down and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Step by step, it did not take us one day to acquire debt. It will take more time to delete that debt but OH so worth it. On our 25th wedding anniversary we went on a 2 week cruise. It was wonderful. All three of our kids has gone to college, yes we are helping with the school loans. We did not save for college. But there is that and we can help.
    It can be done. Just know it will not be a quick fix; however, it will be a peace of mind fix.

    1. Author

      Thank you so much for your encouragement! It really is about not thinking too far into the future and celebrating the small victories.

  11. Oh we are not alone! I’m so glad I found this post, this is exactly what I needed to read! Times will get better, and when they do, we will value the blessing of financial freedom and the things we can acquire way more than the rest of the society ?

  12. Great list. You are not alone! We are doing all these things right now too. It helps that our local homeschool group is very supportive and we are all poor together so we do lots of cheap and FREE activities!

    1. Author

      We LOVE free activities! Unless it involves intense overcrowding, and then we stay far far away. Lol. I miss our old city where we could get free passes through our library.

  13. I just found your site today and am really encouraged! We are so much in the same place as you guys, from no extra-curricular activities right now, to not buying a new TV, being a 1 car family and renting instead of buying (and student loans) etc. Thanks for sharing and for your upbeat attitude that’s really just so encouraging to me.

    1. Author

      That’s exactly why I wrote it: we’re not alone! It just feels that way.

  14. Have you looked into Cricket for phones? We dropped our landline and have an android phone with coverage from Cricket. We paid around $100 for the phone and pay $35/month for coverage. That’s our main phone. David has a flip phone he carries around that we add $15 to ever few months. I refuse to spend money on phone stuff. I can’t believe people willing pay $1000 for a new iphone. They are crazy.

    1. Author

      I’ll have to look into it! I would never spend $1,000 on a new phone. We’d craigslist an older model FOR SURE. I really really miss the days of get a free phone with your 2 year contract. I’ll have to look into Cricket! Thanks for the tip!

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