Budget Crackdown-A New Series

Get comfy-this one’s long.

We have lived on one income for almost 11 years. Regardless of where we lived and worked up until then we had two almost full-time (one full-time, one full-ish) time jobs. Except for our first year of marriage (when we slept on the floor for three months, borrowed my parent’s extra car because we didn’t have one and were grateful for gifts of $5.00 from church members to put gas in the car to get us home from church),  we would spend as we wanted living on two full-time incomes. None of it was super extravagant, we’re simple folks, but still we spent and had what we needed and a lot of what we wanted.

When I became a stay at home mom, our income drop was sort of a surprise bigger than we were prepared for-we “lost” a third of our income, and now had two kids in diapers and  one paycheck. We needed to make lifestyle changes to adapt to our new income.

We aren’t natural budgeters….it’s been a lesson after lesson after lesson kind of thing. Books and blogs and radio shows. It’s been lessons learned through Sunday School Classes, online stuffs, lots and lots of reading, prayer and  asking a friend who eats this stuff up to look at our finances and give some direction. That, friends, is a humbling moment.

What we have learned:

  1. Budgeting forced us to choose priorities. Camping is important to us, making memories and spending time together is important, the latest electronic gadget is not.
  2. Our food choices changed. We don’t go out to eat nearly as much anymore,and even that is becoming less than less-we just like cooking at home from scratch and our thoughts on food education and sustainability has changed drastically over the years. Both of those are HUGE factors in our food choices. If we do go out to eat, there is generally a good reason for it, but we choose carefully. We appreciate the earth’s bounty more than ever before.
  3. Celebration happens everyday for character, achievements, progress, bravery. Material things aren’t necessarily part of that celebration.
  4. As two young marrieds our life was ours…funny how kids change all of that. The kids needs come before us. Braces needed to happen a few years ago, so into the budget they went. Summer camp and clothes and birthdays and memories and lessons frequently require  money. Into the budget they went.
  5. We’ve learned to be stewards of what we have. Hand-me-downs are like Christmas morning around here!
  6. We’ve learned the importance of giving away and giving back; of receiving and being thankful. 
  7. We’ve fallen head over heels for food preservation and the art of canning.
  8. We’ve learned how to budget. There are many resources out there with budgeting tips..google it, look on Pinterest, go to the nearest library or bookstore, ask your church. Find what works for you. Some days I feel like I’ve read them all.
  9. We’ve learned to wait. Wait until money is saved; wait until the sale; wait and think about a purchase before we buy.
  10. It’s actually making us into who we want to be but for too long got caught up in the rat race and comparison struggles. We love DIY, family nights at home, free concerts, and quality time…there’s nothing like a budget to force you into these things.
  11. We learned to say no. There is freedom in the word no.
  12. We learned to appreciate. Each other, things we have, people, time together, gifts.

The biggest lesson we’ve learned? No matter what our income has been we have had everything we’ve needed. Not always what we’ve wanted, but everything we’ve needed. Much of that has come from others who “happened” to think of us. It has come from church folks who want to show appreciation for the pastor’s family and from board members who feel deeply the need to provide. From family members and friends who share. God has provided for us in some miraculous ways and continues to take care of us. We are amazed, but not surprised, every time He provides. 

What is included in our monthly budget?

  1.  Tithe-10% of our income is given back to the church.(the literal first 10% is set aside for tithe).
  2. Missions-a small amount of our income is given to the church missions program and other needs that come up during the year. This amount varies yearly.
  3. Child Sponsorships-we sponsor two beautiful kiddos through Nazarene Compassionate Ministries.
  4. Bills-car and life insurance, television, phone
  5. Groceries-see below for more about this
  6. Savings
  7. Weekend newspaper-coupons, man, coupons.
  8. Girls-extra-curricular lessons/activities-we home educate, so paying for extra things for our girls is a must,however, Jeremy has a degree in music education and teaches the girls music lessons.
  9. Allowances
  10. Gas money
  11. Extras—dog food, clothes, books, etc.

What is NOT included in our budget?

  1. Housing- Being in the ministry has provided us with housing for most of our married life-it comes as part of the salary package-it’s an expense we don’t pay for ourselves.The church housing we’ve lived in over our married life has been well taken care of, and we’ve had freedom to paint and decorate as we like….I realize this isn’t always the case for ministers. We have been enormously blessed.
  2. Cable television-we just don’t have it.  We pay a basic rate of $20.00 per month for the networks, PBS, etc.
  3. Long distance– we use our cell phones unlimited talk and text plan for long distance conversations.
  4. Jeremy’s cell phone-this comes with the job.
  5. Internet-the girls charter school reimburses for internet expense for their students. So while we pay this out every month, it is reimbursed to us at the end of the school year. We really only pay for internet three month of the year when school is not in session.
  6. Car Maintenance-Jeremy drives the local ambulance, and gets paid for funeral and weddings. These extra incomes are put aside for car maintenance.
  7. Car Payments-our cars have been paid off for a number of years.
  8. Home Educating resources-We use an online public charter school and they provide all the needed materials for the girl’s education free of charge.
  9. Debt-we have no consumer debt.

Budget How-To’s: There are so many ideas for budgeting out there..the envelope system, the 10/10/80 (give ten percent, save ten percent, live on 80 percent) are just a couple popular ones. Really…whatever works for one family might not work for the next. This is a learned things that sometimes needs to come after trial and error. I’m listing my three fave sites below, though I realize there are a thousand and one to read.

  1. Crown Financial Ministries is my favorite financial ministry.
  2. Dave Ramsey is great too. He has some great resources for kids and schools. Dave’s book The Total Money Makeover is by far one of my favorites.
  3. Wesleyan Investment Foundation is great too.


While our one income isn’t ginormous by America’s standards we realize it is much compared to the world’s standards.  Part of the reason for this blog is that we want others to know that life can be lived simply, lived well on one income and lived beautifully.

I say ALL of that to say this: there is going to be a Crackdown in the Smallwood Budget. We don’t have a whole lot we can or need to cut out, but there are a few things. And with those few things the strings will be pulled a bit tighter and a little more intentionally. The biggest and first change coming is our grocery budget. Yikes. We are foodies. We love everything about food: history, gardening, sustainability, earth care, get togethers, cook books, meals, picking and planting, perserving.

We have on average spent $150.00 per week on groceries, including paper products, personal items, etc for a number of years. The USDA says that for a family of four the “thrifty” plan for groceries is just over $150.00 per week. The “liberal” plan is almost $300.00 per week. $150 per week has suited us pretty well for a few years. Now, though, it’s headed to $100 per week. This came about for a few reasons:

  1. We are moving toward a more plant based diet.
  2. Garden harvest has started and we will need to buy less. Garden produce will help us be able to stock up on other things for the winter and purchase things in bulk for canning and jam making.
  3. We want to continually move toward a more sustainable lifestyle.
  4. This will give us an extra fifty dollars per week to save.
  5. We have been working this year toward a more simple lifestyle. You can read posts about that here. 

There are people who spend FAR less than this and those who just simply go without, either by choice or necessity. For us this is something we feel strongly that we need to do.

Periodically we’ll post about our $100 per week grocery challenge and it’ll be reflected in our meal plans. Our hope is to inspire others to take the challenge as well. In the end it’s not about having more money, it’s about being able to give more, save more, live healthier, be more sustainable and earth-friendly, inspire others, trust God to provide and lead by example the benefits of a worldview that cares for even those we may never meet.

I would love to hear about your grocery saving techniques! Post them in the comments and share!


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