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Our frugal beginnings

In 2013 I had just graduated with a master’s degree, I had less than $1,000 to my name and I was 7k in debt with student loans. My husband (boyfriend at the time) and I decided to move across the country from Arkansas, where I was born and raised, to the wild west of Arizona. The reason of the move was simple, he needed to be closer to his daughters from his previous marriage and I was ready for an adventure and new beginnings.

We started out by renting a 900 sq. ft. apartment. We weren’t sure where we wanted to live, if this relationship would even work out, and didn’t have the means to fly out more than once to look for houses so for the time being it made sense. It was 2 bedrooms and 2 baths.  However, 1 bedroom we used entirely as a storage room. So I often joke we actually only lived in a 700 sq. ft. apartment with a large storage room attached.

Small apartment layout

Our first home together:700 sq ft of living space

We didn’t want to pay to rent a separate storage building because we were saving money and knew we would only live there for a relatively short period of time.

I had a job offer and plans to start work about 6 weeks after our move. The Hubs (BF at the time) didn’t find a job until the following January, making a whopping $13 per hour as a paramedic (I could go on a rant about how underpaid emergency responders are but that’s not our purpose here). He had had a house in Arkansas that he sold before we moved and I had shared a rental with my sister.  We wanted to save as much of the money he made off his house as possible for a down payment on our first home together. He paid for our moving expenses and our first 2 months of rent. Then I became his “sugar momma” for the next year and a half – $20 dollars an hour is a lot compared to $13!

Our combined gross income was $70,000/year our first 2 years in AZ. Yet we were still able to save over $10,000 in our first 18 months and I paid off my 7k student loans in the first 9 months of starting work. How is that possible?  Glad you asked.  Here are 11 ways we saved:

Money Saving Tips

1. Skip the storage unit

We made do with basically a 1 bedroom apartment because it was cheaper to rent a 2 bedroom for $650/month and use 1 room as storage than to rent a 1 bedroom for $575/month and also rent a storage unit.  We could have also sold items before we moved to make a little extra cash and save space but we didn’t know what all we would need in a home and knew we wouldn’t be making enough money to buy new furniture any time soon. However, for many people it makes sense to just get rid of their junk!

We didn’t use much of the items in storage for a whole year – if you haven’t used something in that long, it makes you think twice if you really need it or not! So we ended up purging about half of that storage room when we bought our starter home.

My parents have rented a storage unit for as long as I can remember. With all the money they have spent on storing items they could have bought all the items brand new and still had money leftover. Wasting hundreds of dollars a year on storing items you may never use again or won’t be using within the next few years is just throwing your money away. Skip the storage unit and only keep items you need. Already have a storage unit? Sell items you don’t need and put that money towards saving for your dreams.

2. Stop eating out so much

It’s way cheaper to eat at home. I had a $75/week grocery budget for our first year.  I’m a dietitian – we eat healthy. It’s doable on a small budget. We limited eating out to twice a month and even then – we were choosy about where we went and skipped drinks, appetizers, and desserts. This also meant not buying snacks/drinks at gas stations or drive-thrus during the week, skipping the $5 coffees, and putting items back at the grocery store that weren’t on sale that week. All it takes is a little planing ahead. Search pinterest and you can even find pre-made meal plans at whatever your current budget is and for your family size.

3. Do-it-yourself more

I colored and cut my own hair for a year. My husband is pretty handy with car repairs and home projects. I’ve made a lot of handmade Christmas gifts over the past few years. I rarely painted my nails, but when I did – I didn’t go to the salon. My mother-in-law happens to be handy with reupholstery and DIY’ed our old couch set from this to this:

DIY and starting saving

Old pattern on love seat. New pattern on chair

Now I have plans to DIY for items I want in my dream home such as one of these murphy beds from Your Modern Family for our guest room or this head board from Home Made by Carmona for our master bed (I just found these links searching pinterest – these bloggers don’t know me!). The possibilities are endless. We washed our own cars, cleaned our own home, did not wear things that needed dry cleaning, etc.

4. Pay cash for cars

I cannot express how important this is, for several reasons. a) No car payment = lower monthly bills = more money to save. b) Debt to income ratio matters when you are trying to qualify for your new home loan! c) When you buy a new car you lose anywhere from 3-10k as soon as you drive it off the lot. It’s called depreciation.

We eventually bought a new-to-us USED car for my husband’s business needs 2 years after we moved, but up until that point we paid cash for all our cars and drove “clunkers”. I still drive a 2006 ford Taurus that cost us under 3k.  I’d rather have a nice home than a nice car.

5. Get rid of cable

And other non-essential bills. We haven’t paid for cable since we moved to AZ 4 years ago. There are so many options now-a-days that are way cheaper! Netflix or Fire TV | Streaming Media Player and more! You could have 3-4 different options and still pay less than cable TV cost.

I’ve been tempted many times to buy subscription boxes or sign up for cheap magazine sales – but skip those too! At least for now when you are in saving mode. Not only do they cost $$ they also add clutter that you will have to either get rid of or move into your dream home one day. I could go on – give your bills a good look – what are you paying for that is non-essential?

6. Combine bills where possible

We moved our cell phone plan to my dad’s.  That whole add a line for $9.99 really pays off (by the way, I love puns!).  We pay my dad each month instead of the phone company and it has been saving us more than $50 a month, or $600 a year!

Another option is to combine all your insurance plans into as few plans as possible. Find a company that will give discounts for auto, home, life, etc. wrapped into one policy.

7. Pay off your debt

If you are paying interest on anything you are paying more than the item is worth. Thankfully we didn’t come into our relationship with a ton of debt.  My husband had a clean slate but I had 7k in student loans.  I realize compared to most, we had a very small amount of debt. However, the same philosophies and tips can apply to all debt.

The second goal here would also be to create less debt! Now is NOT the time to start financing items if you are saving for your dream home. Remember that debt-to-income ratio I mentioned earlier? Check out this post on how it can effect your ability to purchase your dream home.

8. Live below your means

We searched for a moderately priced apartment that had all of the essentials but none of the bling on purpose. We paid $650 a month in rent instead of $950 because we CHOSE to live with less; saving us over a thousand dollars by the end of the year just by choosing a lower end apartment.  Yes we could have had bigger rooms or a kitchen that more than 1 person could be in at a time but we didn’t NEED those things to be happy or healthy. I shopped at Wal-Mart instead of Target and Ross instead of Nordstrom. We did with less so we could have better in the future. Here’s another post on living below your means and why I buy low cost clothing to save money.

9. Consider roommates

My sister and brother-in-law lived with us for a year. We bought a bigger house (that we plan to flip for more $$) which meant a bigger mortgage payment but both families ended up saving money. It worked well for us and our situation but I could see why this wouldn’t always work for everyone.

10. Try a spending freeze

Don’t spend anything outside of the necessary bills for a month. You might be surprised at how much extra you have at the end of the month and how hard this actually is to accomplish. When we first moved to AZ and I hadn’t started my job yet and he hadn’t even found a job yet, we had several spending freezes out of necessity. We found free community events and spent a lot of time at the library checking out new books and movies for free! Saving always seems easier when you’re broke. If you’re interested on my pinterest search yield: Here is additional info about spending freezes. 

11. Make a budget

… and follow it! When we first moved we opened a joint account for all of our essentials and bills. Then we tried to be a frugal as possible for 3 months. At that point we went through our bank account and created a budget. We could tell the average amount we were spending on gas, food, bills, etc. each week and used this as a starting point for our new monthly budget. It also gave us realistic savings goals.

Our joint budget was about $1500/month for bills and necessities.

$650 for rent. $150 for utilities. $300 for food/home supplies. $300 for gas. ~$100 for fun or unexpected expenses. We also hoped to save about $500/month in our joint account for our future home.  Some months this worked well – Some we were buying new tires or plane tickets to visit family. We both put $1000/month in our joint account and anything leftover went into our personal accounts. This worked well for us but might be different for you depending on your circumstances.

I would love to hear your tips for saving money and living frugally. Please add your suggestions in the comments.


 11 money saving tips





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