While in high school, I started to learn the value of earned money. The desire to be a good steward (rather than necessity) resulted in a tendancy towards being frugal. For example, I wanted and learned to sew because fabric was so much cheaper than clothes.
When we were first married, John was in graduate school and I was working as an R.N. A few months into marriage, we had a change of heart and chose to start having a family instead of building a nest egg. We were soon blessed with our first pregnancy. With that exciting news, I became a stay-at-home mom.
Being at home with our growing family was more important to me than the salary from my job. It did, however, require creativity in budgeting. Part of John’s schooling included a modest stipen of $9000 per year. This was not much money, even in 1984, to live on in the city. Remaining debt free required being frugal and then taking it to a higher level. We also had no health insurance, so the stipen not only had to cover living expenses, but also had to stretch to cover the doctor and hospital bills for the birth of a child. We paid cash – up front!
To facilitate these changes, I began my budget book in which I wrote down EACH AND EVERY expense. Limited funds required our knowing exactly where each penny was going. I also had to learn to keep a running total of my purchases while shopping. Decisions had to be made as to which purchase was more of a necessity, sometimes at the cash register. These early years helped me learn to distinguish between “needs” and “wants”.
I quickly realized that even for our small family (“small” that moment in history anyway) buying in bulk was usually the most economical. Living in a big city had an advantage here because we were able to buy from a large food co-op and the largest Asian “farmer’s market” in the country. I can remember running over to get the “we bag it specials” as they were announced over the loud speakers a half hour before they closed. The only problem was that we sometimes had to eat 3 lbs. of mushrooms in a couple of days! Obviously, not everything could be consumed in a timely manner. If it spoiled, I was not saving money! But 50 lb. bags of wheat berries (to grind for whole wheat flour), popcorn (for corn meal), noodles, rice and oats were bought and stored in 5 gallon paint buckets. These normally protected the contents until they were finished. But to protect further against bugs, John was able to get dry ice to de-oxygenate the buckets. Now we use oxygen absorbing packets for long term storage. (Buying in bulk is not always cheaper. When using some coupons, smaller quantities can be cheaper as you can read about here.)
In our first year of marriage, we had acquired a bread mixer (Bosch) and grain mill (Kitchenetics). These items remain two of the most used appliances in my kitchen. Now, 25 years and 10 children later, we are on our third grain mill and third bread mixer! These not only provided a very economical alternative to store bought bread, but a much healthier one as well.
The biggest monthly expenditure for most people is housing. We chose to rent smaller, older houses in the country for much less than their city counterparts. Our heating and air-conditioning were not equal to our friends the Jones, but then neither were our utility bills! The country houses had enough area around that we were able to garden in some way. These gardens and deals with farmer friends led us to buying our first 25 cu. ft. freezer (which is still running and now full again 20 yrs later – PTL).
Little did I know, the lessons learned during those early, lean years would be so valuable throughout life. With a large (or any size) family, remaining debt free can be challenging in our society. As John’s salary grew, we remained frugal which enabled us to live debt free and save while living comfortably. Our saving was not miserly though. We saved to finance the plans for our future: house, cars, college…without involving the bank. Ultimately, all that saving has enabled us to venture out of the “secure” corporate world into real farm life and our vineyard.