How We’re Living Lovely on (Very) Little

Last week, I told you how we were on a budget-induced sweet potato diet. Though that isn’t far from the truth, it made me think that I’ve never really shared how we’re making my freelance business work for our family and the lessons we’ve learned from our failures. And believe me, I’ve failed. A lot.

To give you some history, I decided to stay home with my daughter after we lost our childcare three days before my maternity leave ended. It was a terrifying decision to make but I had always known that I’d eventually want to become a freelance writer so it seemed like the best time to make the jump.

In the beginning I tried selling cosmetics to supplement our income until I found writing assignments. I took jobs by word-of-mouth, Craigslist and Elance. Three years later, I’ve managed to build relationships with a handful of local and national clients for whom I write copy, edit and design DIY projects. You may be wondering why I’ve focused my energy on writing for businesses instead of writing for magazines since I have a magazine background. To tell you the truth, I had two reasons: First, businesses tend to have better budgets for writers than magazines. Truthfully, I get paid more to write catalog descriptions than I do for writing features and I am more likely to get repeat assignments. With a very limited schedule, I need to make sure I’m getting the best possible pay for the time I take away from my family. Second, writing copy for businesses doesn’t demand so much of my creativity, leaving me some “juice” to work on other projects I am passionate about…like my novel.

My writing assignments were much easier to handle when Ada was a baby. Writing from home with a toddler in tow is nearly impossible some days and sadly, my more creative endeavors (like this blog) often take a backseat to the demands of my family and work schedule. I write when I can now, which means staying up late or getting up early. I’m not proud of this fact, but it sometimes means putting Ada in front of the TV until I can wrap an assignment. This is where grace comes in; like any working mom, I wrestle with guilt and sometimes I have to just give myself a pass to do what needs to be done for the greater good of our family.

The biggest challenge of freelancing is the irregular paydays. My husband’s employer pays once a month rather than bi-weekly. His paycheck covers our mortgage, healthcare and utilities. My income covers gas, groceries and the little essentials so if my invoice gets lost in someone’s inbox or overlooked and I don’t have a check by the middle of the month, things are getting pretty slim. Remember, my income covers groceries, gas and other essentials so a tough month means an empty refrigerator, buying gas $5 at a time and doing our best to stretch diapers, toilet paper and other little things until that HALLELUJAH moment when I open the mailbox and see my paycheck.

So, how do we make it work without being up to our eyeballs in debt and living on Ramen and bologna?

  • We never buy what we can’t pay for with cash. If I want to redecorate a room, upgrade a piece of furniture or go out for a nice meal, I find a way to get my hands on the cash first. I sell things on Craigslist, Ebay or take on odd-jobs until I can make it work. Two months before we started our kitchen remodel, I started selling everything that wasn’t nailed to the floor and paid up front for everything with extra money that didn’t come directly out of the family budget.
  • For Christmas and birthdays, we ask for things like Home Depot or Lowes cards or other little luxuries we don’t buy ourselves. K-cups…that’s what I got for Valentine’s Day last year and I was thrilled.
  • We use a Roku to watch shows, movies and more on Netflix rather than paying for cable.
  • We eat what is on sale or in season. We don’t make pre-planned weekly menus and stick to a basic, reusable grocery list. We try to keep things as flexible as possible to account for what is on sale and sometimes shop two or three different grocery stores to fill the fridge. The bulk of our grocery budget is spent in the produce or meat departments with very little spent on processed foods.
  • We make 90% of our meals at home. This is a necessity for us anyway since half our household is gluten-free.
  • We rarely buy anything new. I shop thrift stores, flea markets, garage sales and the Restore for everything from furniture to clothes. As a general rule, I never pay over $100 for a piece of furniture I refinish.
  • We’ve accepted that me being home with our daughter and taking control over my career means sometimes doing without. This is sometimes a tough pill to swallow but it’s given us a whole new prospective on wants vs. needs.
  • Instead of going to the movies, we rent movies from a Redbox and usually have a code for a free rental.
  • We’ve learned to barter our skills and don’t put ourselves above doing odd jobs for extra income. From babysitting to refinishing furniture, I’ve done it all for an extra buck.
  •  We’ve learned to ask for help when we really need it. Whether it’s a few hours of babysitting, leads for freelance work or $50 to get us through until our next check comes, we’ve learned to ask for help from family and friends when we really, really need the help. Of course, this is always a challenge but it takes a village, right?!
  • We do most jobs by ourselves. When we have extra money, we invest it into tools to help us with our many DIY projects.
  • We’ve built a good relationship with our neighbors. They use our pool, we use their truck. They borrow our nail gun, we use their table saw. They make us salsa, we grow the tomatoes.
  • Instead of building a house to our specifications, we bought an older home. Sure, there is work to be done but we came out with a full basement, huge backyard, pool, lots of square footage and our mortgage is only about $120 more a month than it was at our starter home.
  • We’ve adopted this line from a Jack Johnson song as our family motto: We’ve got everything we need right here and everything we need is enough.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll try to break down in more detail, showing you how we decorate, eat, create and entertain on our less-than-flexible budget. And if you have specific questions about freelancing or living lovely on little, PLEASE don’t hesitate to ask!


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3 Responses to “How We’re Living Lovely on (Very) Little”

  1. Valarie January 17, 2014 at 6:50 pm #

    Being gluten-free myself, I’d love to know what your basic grocery list looks like. I spend more time than I’d like planning, buying, and cooking paleo meals each week. Although, right now I don’t have the time, usually, to go to more than one grocery store.

  2. Kayla Anderson January 18, 2014 at 1:19 am #

    love this. In a similar place as you and living on less while trying to pay back loans/debt from Skyler being in school. Looking forward to this lil series. Love you.

  3. Harry Jacobson-Beyer February 20, 2014 at 10:12 pm #

    Wow! You guys are amazing.

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