Amy and Adam Hall of Union City, TN, and their two children have been a one income family since their first child was born four years ago. Starting out, Adam was in college and working part time to pay his way through school and support the family. For the first several years, they lived in sliding scale housing on an income of $13,000. Amy stayed at home to raise the children.
Says Amy, "We did not seek public assistance, nor did we have any debts (thank goodness). We budgeted stringently and I learned to save 20-40% on our groceries every week using coupons. I learned to cook from scratch, also. My husband did, eventually, get a better job, but we still barely made $20,000. Just this past February my husband got a great job, paying well over double what he had been making. This did require a move to an area with a slightly higher cost of living, but even with that added in, we are now able to save a great deal of money--all because we have stayed debt free and learned to budget well."
Why did the family stick it out for so long on what some would call a subsistence-level income? According to Amy, "During premarital counseling (which I *strongly* encourage) we vowed together that when children came along I would stay home. Whatever it took. It took a move down in housing, getting rid of one vehicle, stretching out DH's college education plans and living without the niceties we'd become accustomed to. Through it all, I felt so privileged to be home with my baby. There were discouraging times when it seemed that it would always be that hard, but we never wavered in our decision for me to be at home. People would say, 'Babies are so expensive! How can you make it on one income?' Actually, our baby cost us about $100 that first year. I breastfed exclusively, started her on homemade baby food at about 8 months and used cloth diapers. We did have health insurance, but seldom needed it--she was very healthy, thank goodness."
Amy began utilizing coupons creatively and extensively to cut the family's grocery bill. She was able to save substantial amounts and was even able to get many items free. She claims the key to saving a lot of money is to find grocery stores that accept double or triple coupons and to utilize a coupon service (customers pay a small amount per specific, requested coupon available from a list each week). It also takes several hours of work each week matching coupons to sale items, but is well worth the time. Here's how she got started:
"I had never used coupons until I quit work. I saw an ad on t.v. about using coupons and sent in the $30, thinking I was being a big fool. Well, I've saved that $30 many times over since I've been home. On my best shopping spree, I got $80 worth of groceries for $17. I think the key is organization and using coupons strategically. Those first 2 years I had all our family members (relatives) saving the Sunday inserts for me. I'd then clip them and file them by category into a little caddy. Then, every week when the grocery sale flyers came out I'd go through them and match up the sale items with any coupons I had, watching carefully that the generic wouldn't be cheaper. I began building up a price book, recording my best deals on different items--that helped me know what was a good deal. After about the start of the 3rd year, I discovered the coupon service. This has dramatically increased my savings. I get a weekly list of available coupons. When the flyers come out, I match available coupons with sale items, compiling a list of desired coupons. Then, I email the service (and they send) them right out. Yes, I do pay 5 cents for most coupons, but with that I've gotten a ton of groceries free. This helps "stockpile." If there is an available coupon that (combined with a sale price) makes an item free, I can get as many of those coupons as I want. I haven't bought toothpaste in a year and a half. I bought egg noodles about that same time. Deodorant I last bought a year ago. Other free and stockpiled items include rice, hairspray, shampoo, conditioner, margarine, various cleaners, pantyliners, kleenex, ketchup, cereal, noodle and sauce mixes (and) Koolaid."
She continues,"As far as other grocery tips, I learned to make many things from scratch. I've become a pretty good bread baker--I buy whole wheat flour from a bulk foods store. Still, there are many things that I can get cheaper with coupons than I could make. We've eaten lots of pinto beans and cornbread, stew, spaghetti. We went semi-vegetarian for a couple years. We now prefer meatless meals and they are so affordable."
Other things the family did to live a successful, frugal life include living in rental housing to avoid debt until building up savings, self-maintaining one, good used (and paid up) automobile, riding bikes whenever possible and camping and hiking for fun. They even vacationed in Florida for under $200 by camping and utilizing free state recreational sites and museums.
Amy suggests it's even possible that Adam's career success was helped along because she was at home. She says, "We have sought any opportunity to improve his work situation. The stress of working on an assembly line spurred him on to learn about management--where he is now. He started a small business during the "lean" times to supplement our income. He would probably not have done that if things had not been as tight. He did handyman work, which actually was pretty lucrative. He took jobs that others passed up as being "beneath" them. That gave him management experience that is helping him still. Since I was at home, I was able to help him with the leg work on many projects he was working on. I typed all his research papers and served as "secretary" for his little business, etc."
What were the hardest challenges for the frugal Hall family? According to Amy, "paying those once or twice a year expenses, like insurance on the car (and) taxes. Also, it was hard dealing with those who disapproved of my staying home and not *using* my education. That's a hoot! I've been so thankful of my education *because* I'm at home. Surviving on that amount of money was hard enough--thank goodness for the skills I acquired in my education. I do admit that a few times we accepted help from my parents-in-law for car insurance and repairs. They, too, felt it was important for me to be home with our child. Many couples have marital problems during times like that, but we were very happy."
When asked if it's all been worth it, Amy says: "Yes! The last 4 years have been so exciting and rewarding. It is very liberating to know that you can survive on very little. It opens you up to take calculated chances that you might not if you were worried about losing a portion of your income. Adam says that if many of the people he works with were to lose their jobs, they would be devastated. If Adam lost his job, we know that we can make it. He doesn't have to worry so much about the politics at work, since he knows they cannot hold his job over his head. In his words, 'It sets me free.'"
For couples considering this lifestyle, Amy says, "make sure you're in unity. It's going to take a lot of teamwork to succeed. If you are Christian, trust God. Rely on your faith (regardless of which religion). I know that this lifestyle isn't for everyone. I don't mean to tell working women, 'you're screwing up.' I do mean to tell a mom that if she and DH want her to be home, make it happen. Begin working toward that goal. And I want women to feel the freedom I have felt as a stay-at-home mom. Many would consider this lifestyle bondage, but to me it's been freedom. The pioneer spirit, I guess."
Finally, she says, "look on it as an adventure. Prepare to be stretched in your creativity and every other aspect. A sort of, 'Your mission, should you choose to accept it...' Believe in your family. Have frequent "pep rallies" and talk about what you're learning through all this. Commit yourselves to making it work."
Lucynda Koesters is the author of Finding Your Way Home: How To Become A Successful Stay-At-Home Parent .
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