How you can get by with less and still be happy…

This is a guest post and entry in our non-fiction writing contest  by Sarah L

I was raised in a very religious, conservative family. My parents had several of us kids that they were putting through private schools, so there was never any extra money. We lived below “paycheck to paycheck”. I’ve been to food pantries, salvage stores, garage sales, and used coupons. Anything to save money. I decided when I was grown I was living high on the hog…no more pinching pennies for me!!

Well, turns out saving had become a way of life. When my ex husband left us, I discovered he had taken my credit cards and charged thousands of dollars. At the time I was working a part-time job (and recovering from cancer and had 2 toddlers). I immediately was put into a dire situation of paying these bills off or ruining my credit. I used a debt consolidation place for over a year only to discover the total amount of my bills wasn’t coming down. I then got a signature loan from a credit union and was able to pay off my bills within the next year.

One way I used to mentally trick myself into paying off more of the debt faster was pay a few extra dollars on my monthly utility bills (works best with utility bills as they credit your account). If I owed $60, I’d pay $65. I would do this every month until I was one full month ahead on that bill. Then I would move on to another utility bill. I would do the same thing there. Eventually, I had enough paid ahead that I would “cash in” and use my credits to pay those bills that month. That way, the month I used all the utility credits, I would be making a double payment on my debt. I know this is really just a mental trick, but it was easier to put a few extra dollars onto a small bill and then be able to make a larger payment on the big bill as opposed to putting a few dollars on the big bill and not really being able to see any progress in paying it off.

You have to have a mentality that you will not spend unless it’s absolutely necessary. We were eating as frugally as possible, not going out to eat, not going anywhere that cost anything. We found lots of free entertainment and activities to do!!

Another way of saving money or stretching what you have, is to use coupons. I’m not into the “Extreme Couponing” craze. If I have a coupon for something I normally buy, I will use it. However, if I don’t normally buy name brand products, then I’m not saving money by switching to a name brand to use a coupon, when it’s still more expensive then the off brand. I know how much money I can spend each month. If I don’t have extra money, I don’t look at the ads that come out (other than grocery stores). I don’t go to a garage sale (no matter how tempting it may be) if I don’t have money to spend. I also weigh the cost of saving a few cents with driving across town (is it worth the gas to save a penny-probably not!).

During this time when I was newly divorced and had NO money, I picked up a deer that had been hit on the road in front of me. I called a friend and he helped me field dress it. We had been eating tuna helper with no tuna so having a freezer full of meat was a huge blessing. Another friend, invited me to go deer hunting the next year. He loaned me a gun and took me with him to some property he had permission to hunt on. It took 2 years but I finally got a deer and have every year since. When my son shot his first deer at 8 he was so proud to tell everyone that he had brought Bambi home for his family! Now, we bag at least 3 deer a year and that’s our meat for the year unless I can shoot something else we can eat (squirrel, rabbit, etc.).

I’ve learned how to hunt all kinds of game (and cook with the meat – it’s all in the way you cook it.) Hunting is a great way to get inexpensive meat for the table. Most hunters would gladly help a newby and show them the ropes, lend a gun, etc. I would encourage anyone interested in taking up the sport to go to a Hunter’s Education Class. Most state Fish & Game Departments have programs to teach new hunters (or anglers). Most Departments have hunts for new hunters where they provide the gun & the place to hunt.

I’ve gardened and canned since I was a little girl. Most University Extension offices have canning classes. If you buy a “Blue Book” it walks you through the process step by step. A canner is a big expense but well worth it as it will last for years. If you can find someone who cans they can mentor you and help you along the way.

I’ve been fortunate to garden my whole life. I always meet people who are just starting to garden and decide to grow 50 tomatoes or 20 zucchini plants. They are just setting themselves up for a failure (with the weeds alone). I advise to go slow if you are new to gardening. Plant a FEW plants, that you know you’ll like. Learn about gardening, then plant a few more the next year. I tell new gardeners to plant what is native to the area or will grow well in the zone you’re in. If you’re in northern Wisconsin, for example, peanuts and okra won’t be good plants for you!! Plant both vegetables and flowers that are native to your area and you will have a lot fewer headaches trying to grow them. Do some research…there is a ton of information online. Go to a garden center…go to a garden club…stop by someone’s house that has a garden and ask for help. I’m always excited when someone stops by my house and asks for gardening help.

There are also a lot of free edible things out there in parks, cemeteries, etc. It’s amazing how many people I meet picking mulberries that don’t know what a mulberry is! Do a little research and learn what’s out there. It’s exciting to get food for your family from little seeds or from areas that people don’t think of.

I hope these hints can help someone.

This is an entry in our non-fiction writing contest where you could win:

First Prize) Winner will receive a Stealth Body Armor Level II vest courtesy of SafeGuard ARMOR™ LLC and a $150 gift certificate for Wolf Ammo courtesy of   A total prize value of over $600.

Second Prize) Winner will receive a Wise Essentials Kit courtesy of LPC Survival and an EcoZoom’s Versa Stove courtesy of EcoZoom stoves.. A value of over $300.

Third Prize) Winner will receive copies of both of my books “31 Days to Survival: A Complete Plan for Emergency Preparedness” and “Dirt-Cheap Survival Retreat: One Man’s Solution”  and a Katadyn Siphon Water Filter courtesy of Mayflower Trading Company.  A total prize value of $107.

Contest ends on June 5 2012.

About M.D. Creekmore

M.D. Creekmore is the owner and editor of He is the author of four prepper related books and is regarded as one of the nations top survival and emergency preparedness experts. Read more about him here.


  1. Sarah – wow! You sound like a very resourceful and strong person. You should be very proud of the way you handled yourself given very tough circumstances.

    I think the inspiration people can draw from your article is even more valuable than the tips.

    Best of luck to you.

  2. jr from ar says:

    Great tips…I was raised dirt diet poor so I understand personally everthing you said…Your entry reminds me, “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going!”

  3. JP in MT says:

    There is a difference between being broke and not having any money. I see more “broke” people with max cable, fancy cell phones, cars, etc, than ever before.
    I’ve been close to where you were. I came back from an overseas tour to find all my credit maxed out, no money in the bank, 2 kids to take care of, and a wife (soon to be ex) with a boy friend who still wanted to live in my gov quarters. And this was in mid Nov, with Xmas coming and all. I still remember the feeling when there was $25 left over at the end of the month (I got paid once a month). It’s been almost 23 years and it still gets to me.
    I’ve gone hungry and I’ve been without money. I had a conversation with a young man one day, who said “You don’t know what it’s like to be broke!” I said “Yes I do. It sucks. That’s why I chose to never be there again!” The look on his face was precious, I guess he never thought that being broke was a choice, his.

  4. Just wanted to say that the utility bill is a good idea. In our neck of the woods, if your credit extends past a year without you using it, they pay interest on it. I have used this method rather than a savings account because you can’t draw the money out, you can only use it to pay the bill with so that protects it from being used for frivolous things. I am glad you are not the squeamish type like some of my grandchildren who watch my wife’s squirrels whan I mention that I am saving them as an alternate food source. They nearly gag and come up with the remark, You would actually eat them. I tell them I was raised on wild game of all types as a kid and so too was my wife and we assure them we would indeed eat them if we got hungry enough. You mentioned your hunting skills you had acquired. We used to catch rabbits in wooden box traps even though were illegal, but we had to eat. As kids my brother and I developed a way of catching a covey of quail with a seine net by positioning the net on the upwind side of the patch where they were hiding and having the dogs flush them out. Seeing only the dogs, they flew low and slow right into the net and we would quickly flip top and bottom together and roll it up. We would then carry it back to the house with the live quail and dress them. Most we ever caught at one time was twenty seven. Don’t see coveys like that anymore.

    • Harold,
      You stated, “They nearly gag and come up with the remark, You would actually eat them”.
      I’ve had similar squeemish folks, and my response is that in a pinch it’s eaither the wild game, or you. If you can keep a straight face, then they generally take pause for a moment, trying to decide if you’re kidding or not. Best thing at that point is to go about your business and let them wonder.

  5. Another way is to watch for “Lost Leaders” and end of season clearance.
    Last fall when hunting season was gearing up a lot of the big box stores had really good prices on Shot Guns, and ammo was on sale.
    End of camping season lot of stuff goes on the clearance rack
    End of the heating season I was buying prepackaged Kerosene for the same price as the gas station, but did not have to provide the can, which was 33% savings, heaters were on sale too.

  6. Sounds like a lot of us were raised dirt poor. It may not have seem like a good thing at the time, but it was great training for future preppers. I prefer wild game meat to most farm raised when properly prepared. You sound like a strong and courageous women and I applaud you. Thanks for a good article.

  7. Good for you taking matters into your own hands. It is amazing what we can accomplish when we put our minds and bodies into surviving.

  8. Sarah,
    Although it’s been years since I’ve been in that situation, I too used to pay that little extra on a utility bill. I could have as easily put the $5.00 in a savings account or even an envelope, but once it’s paid on the bill you can’t raid it and spend it on something else, so I still think it’s a good idea in certain circumstances. In addition, at the end of the month you’ll find that you really didn’t miss that extra $5 or $10, and it probably stopped you from some useless impulse spending. Most people have been in this type of circumstance at some point in their life, and when you are you can either whine and complain and blame, or analyze your situation and do something about it. For the most part those who whine and complain don’t show up on this and other similar forums, because that too takes more effort than they wish to use.

  9. Outstanding resourcefulness and self-reliance Sarah. The world could use more people like you. Heck, I wish that I was more like you. May you and your family have good health and good fortune.

    p.s. Check country fence lines in the spring. They used to be a good source of free asparagus.

  10. I am so sorry but this story deligted me, I am chuckling over the road kill. And I just plain laughed over the tuna helper with no tuna.
    I did not starve as a kid but things sure got tight and you could sure hear your stomach complain.
    When we were flush mom would make spanish rice and if we didn’t have all the fixin’s to make it up it was red rice.
    Let me tell you to keep yourself out of debt is such a wonderful feeling. Years ago I enjoyed Sundays the best THE MAIL DIDN’T RUN. It was truly a day of rest.
    In the past I have had to pay just part of the utility bills and finally decided that it was best to pay everything and figure out how to get throught the month. As when you start slipping it just continues month to month. I am far better off with paying them up front and making do than it growing into a monster.
    Good girl Sarah for being so inventive and resourceful.

  11. Suburban Housewife says:

    Sarah –
    I totally get the mental game element of saving, and your utility bill trick is very clever.
    In the 34 years we’ve been married my DH and I have never seen eye to eye on money, until recently. I’ve always been a “stasher” and he’s always been a “spender”. He works hard for the money and wants to enjoy it – I have a hard time arguing with him. We live in a fairly big luxurious house and drive fancy-schmancy leased cars. He smiles and sleeps like a baby – I lay awake at night staring at the ceiling formulating “what if” scenarios in my mind. It’s an evil thing – because I do enjoy the “stuff” – wouldn’t do it for myself, and would like to spend our $$ a little differently – but he enjoys it and I “benefit”.
    I watch for sales, research the daylights out of prices before I buy anything, and ask for coupon savings back in cash (when I use them) and stash it away, I scrounge bottles and cans out of the recycling bin and take them back for cash – again right to my stash. When we eat at home I try to transfer the amount we would have spent if we went out to our savings account. All mind-games, but I figure it’s not real savings unless you actually save it.
    Then the other day the DH said to me – “Go upstairs and get $xxxx from my stash please” – WHAT???? Yes!!! The man has learned! and is now squirreling away his own stash – YAY! and it’s only taken 34+ years!
    There is hope 😀

  12. I learned the value of saving because of my family’s struggle to get ahead. My mother was careful while my father spent money on things he wanted without thinking about the consequences. My mother stockpiled non-perishable food “just in case”. The problem was that the just in case times came too often. I can remember eating cornmeal mush and scrambled eggs (we had chickens) every meal for several days because there were more days in the month than there was grocery money. I too stockpile non-perishables, buy store brands, and shop Big Lots for occasional really good deals on name brands that we really like (Great American soup which my husband loves for 95 cents a can). I still darn socks and underwear even if the pundits say that no one is that hard up yet. I also keep a small reserve fund in cash for a time when we are really strapped for money. Our town forbids chickens (although you can have three dogs of any size you choose); so our only home source of food is our garden, which provides some vegetables for about 10 months of the year. We grow a lot of potatoes since they keep well. Chard is great since it produces for most of the winter months unless there is a really hard freeze (20 degrees or so).

    • Cold Warrior says:

      Mary, cornmeal mush, or fried grits, either way are still good in our home.

  13. recoveringidiot says:

    Sarah L, I love posts like yours! We never know when things can turn for the worse, not a general collapse but a personal disaster.

    I went for a year making huge payments on bills #2 ran up. It took all my income plus I was forced to sell something every month or so to get by. I sat in the dark cold and or sweating to keep the power bill as low as possible. At the time my company was subsidizing my ISP bill so I could use the internet as a resource nearly free(Thanks MD! I picked up a ton of info that helped me get by). I had stored food before things came apart, mostly rice some beans and a bunch of canned stuff. When I started digging into that pile I learned two things quick, first was how fast I got sick of rice and whatever or whatever and rice and second was how fast that stash went away. My job makes lunch with customers almost a requirement so I would act like I didn’t feel well and ask for a box to take the leftovers home. My family helped when I finally told them what was happening but they were all broke due to health issues. They did invite me to eat a lot, God bless them. Long story short, you can get by on much less than you may have thought and prepping now might help you get through a unexpected personal SHTF episode.

  14. Cold Warrior says:

    About 25 years ago I read a book called “The Millionaire Next Door”.
    It was based on research by some College and showed examples of everyday folks who were growing their wealth, and high wage earners who had no money in the bank. What it all came down is life style and spending habits.

  15. Repair Mama says:

    As a kid, I went hungrey at lot at the end of the month, and came up with ways at 9 yrs old to put an end to the being hungrey crap. I started out by shining shoes in bars. I could get all of the pop I could hold, and make a litte bit of money to boot. 25 Cents a pair. tips were not too bad either. I would hit the 7-11 or the fried chicken place to eat dinner and then head for home with a pocket of quarters. I did this in the local neiborhood on foot till one bar maid gave me a bike that had belonged to one of her kids that had out grown it. I started to ride with my shoe shine box (made at the local boy’s club wood shop. they let girls in on mondays) on my back and peteled my way to better bars that had people with more money. Shoes were then 50 cents and the tips were even better. Some of the places had food buffets on friday and saturday nights. bbq little smokies, chicken wings, meatballs, deep fried cheese balls, and the like. I would eat my fill. and take some home if they were not looking at me too close. I even got peanuts and popcorn. and all of the pop I could hold.
    After a few years of this, I got the job to help clean up one of the bars in the better neigorhood. The inhouse band practiced in the basement and I would throw out all of the beer bottles, take the glasses upstaris, clean up, sweep up, and then start upstairs on the first floor. I even got to keep all of the money that I found on the floors. That sometimes could be a good haul too. I had a job to clean out the flower beds at the sidewalk in front of the ice cream parlor there on that street too. As I got older, the people that ran the ice cream parlor had me babysit their son on friday night so they could have a date night. They paid me well for a teen kid. They thought I was really responsible.

    I built my empire by raking leaves, shoveling snow. I even shoveled snow for the local drugstore before school if it snowed in the night. they would pay me when I got home from school.
    I had decided that I was not going to go hungrey again. I hated the way that being hungrey keep you from sleeping at night. I hated being cold, so I bought my own cloths to help my parents. I purchased my own school supplies and even gave my dad money from time to time to try to help out. I felt sooooo gooooood to be able to buy some food and bring it home for everyone to eat. When dad would get layed off at work, we would spend our time picking up bottles for deposits, collect cans and glass to sell at the recycler and do lots of dumpster diving on the weekends at the bars in town to get enough bottles and cans to sell.
    My dad and I were a team! He was my best friend and he taught me alot about not haveing anything, but being o.k. We made it! I could do it again if I had to because of what we lived through. the 70’s sure did suck, but I am better for it today.
    Thanks for your story. It reminded me that we all can live though and survive more than we think that we can. Find the little pleasures in life. If you dont have the money for flowers, stop by the neibors and smell theirs!

  16. Saving money means saving income by any means. Saving money helps to people upgrade his/her life. It makes life comfortable. We can use our money when ever we need. Saving money is one of the good behavior which help people habits of save money which is going waste. If we save our money it helps when we need. Money is such things which we use in our daily life to maintain life or to run life.
    For more you can see
    Our save money helps in our emergency time. Saving money helps us to establish big business. We don’t know when we need money but when we need money then we can easily use that save money, it help us to be proud with own self.

  17. Encourager says:

    Sarah, thank you for this article. We were very poor when I was a child, my dad was laid off often. There were four of us kids. I think the worse part was hearing our parents fight because dad refused to go get food from the government program as “He had his pride!” And we had empty bellies and no heat in the house in winter. I was a skinny, scrawny little thing, always sick with something. I remember making a vow of ‘I will never be hungry again!’ and today I look it. (lol, I think…)

    You did very good, Sarah. Hold your head up because you took care of your family when there was no one else but you. You survived (you are a survivor, in the best meaning of the word).

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