You know what I’m talking about. Everyone goes through tough times when money is extra tight, like when income goes down for a while, you have an unexpected $1200 in car repairs, the washing machine breaks down and needs a $500 replacement, or you need to buy an $800 plane ticket to visit an ill family member or friend (or maybe all of the above happen at once!). Even if you have a good cushion of savings, it can drain you and throw your positive money focus for a loop.
Here are ten things I do when we experience these tough times, like last year when we had an unexpected $1800 in car repairs and $800 in pet emergency veterinary bills. Things worked out in the end, and we recovered, but it helps to have a go-to plan to help get through it!
1. Immediately put a temporary spending freeze on our household. This is probably a no-brainer, but my husband and I will only spend money on fixed expenses as well as basics like gas and food until we “recover.” Any plans for eating out or doing anything “extra” will be cancelled or postponed. Then we’ll make a plan to get through our situation and eventually replace savings, if needed.
2. Clean my house, especially the kitchen. I clean the fridge and go through all the food we have, determining how we can stretch what we have for a while to minimize grocery spending. I assess our stockpile (which we try to always have on hand), and start planning meals around those food items.
3. Cook and bake like CRAZY. I pull out the cookbooks, especially some of my favorites like The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook by Erin Chase, and Dinner on a Dime by Tawra Kellam and Jill Cooper, and pick out a bunch of recipes to make based on the food we have on hand. I especially like to bake muffins, waffles, soups, casseroles, etc. Whatever I can make to fill our home with fresh, homemade goods and create an abundance of food without having to spend any money. I’ve shared some of my Frugal Recipes on my website here!
4. Go through all the coupons we have in our house. I’ll look thoroughly through the Sunday coupon inserts I save plus coupons we receive in the mail, and clip all the ones that can help us out, like coupons for gas, groceries, and anything else we know we’ll need. I’ll also put aside any coupons for free items, like a free coffee at the gas station, so I have that on hand in case I get a craving for a coffee treat on my way to work or something. You can also find and print coupons for free in my coupon database.
5. Peruse my comfort books for tough times, like Shop, Save and Share by Ellie Kay, Miserly Moms by Jonni McCoy, and Pocket your Dollars by Carrie Rocha. They help me stay positive and are filled with great ideas for stretching money. (You can find these and many other great books at the library.)
6. Go through stuff we have and sell whatever we don’t need that might be worth something. We always seem to have a growing stash of things we no longer need that just get set aside until we have time to deal with them, particularly books, kids’ items that have been outgrown, and miscellaneous “stuff.” I’ll check their value on amazon.com and ebay.com if applicable, and then list things for sale. Some items I’ll list on craigslist. Recently I sold a book on amazon.com for $65 that I had been given by a friend who bought it for $.99 at a thrift store. I also recently sold an old leather jacket for $30 on craigslist. You never know what you can get for your unwanted items! You could get some quick cash – every little bit helps.
Also check out upcoming local consignment sales like Just Between Friends, where you can make money as a consignor, selling stuff your kids have outgrown!
7. I’ll donate items that are reusable but not sellable. Though this doesn’t bring in money, it does often give us tax deductions, but more importantly, it clears up space in our home which always seems to help me think more clearly. I think there’s something to those who believe in “the energy of space” like (Feng Shui) because holding on to stuff always makes me feel stressed and bogged down. And I think that creating space and giving to others has a roundabout effect; I feel I’m making room to “receive” more in life. For example, this past week I cleaned up a lot of the house, especially the kids’ toys, donating boxes of items and organizing the rest. Within a few days I sold that book I mentioned above for $65, and was invited to participate in a fun research study that paid $60!
8. Visit the library. We love to check out stacks of fun books, movies and CDs for the family to keep us busy and entertained for weeks. They don’t cost us a penny (as long as we return them in time!) and give us plenty of diversions, especially if it’s winter and we don’t want to go anywhere in typical single degree Minnesota temperatures!
9. For fun, I’ll find free things to do around the Twin Cities. For ideas, check out my Deals & Events Calendar for fun, free things to do for weeks to come, and plan outings for the family to avoid impulsive “let’s just go to the Mall of America!” urges (which don’t come up often but they do happen!). There are also many free events in your own community including your library (another shout out for the library!).
10. Be grateful and enjoy what we have. Even if we just took a huge hit to our savings account or monthly cash flow, I try to remember all that we do have, like our home, health, food, clothing, friends and family, jobs, and all the “stuff” that surrounds us. I’ll think of all the blessings in my life (which I always do anyway), knowing that life is a series of ups and downs and that eventually, things will get better.
There’s more that I do, like try to use the experience to teach my kids about money, and exercise more if possible (to feel my best).
Of course, I may also throw out a few cuss words and complain about the unfairness of the world. I’m allowed to be human, right? I do get over it… 🙂
What have you done to get through during tough times?
In Minnesota? Here are a few guides to help you stretch your dollars:
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