We’ve all been there: bills are due, things around the house keep breaking, a child gets sick, we of course need to eat, and basically the expenses just don’t stop rolling in.
I would say our “low” point was right after our first daughter was born (this was about four years ago). I had quit my full-time job when she was born and was just starting to break into freelancing. My husband was working for himself in construction and remodeling. We had just gotten back from a week-long family reunion (that my parents so graciously paid for or else we would not have been there) which meant my husband missed an entire week of work. We had savings, but for a few months, we were forced to make so many withdrawals that we were practically down to nothing.
I hated that feeling. Every day I woke up with a pit in my stomach. We lived in a very, very modest house (we purchased our first home for less than $150K), we ate pasta with sauteed onions for dinner multiple times per week, we didn’t go out to eat, and we by no means went shopping for fun. We were on a super tight budget, and even then we were still just scraping by.
Can anyone else relate to this?
Stressing about money sucks, period. And heck, I’ll say it, being on a tight budget sucks, too!
Fast-forward four years later (now), and we’ve completely changed our situation. I can honestly say that I haven’t been stressed about money (in that sense) in a while, and it feels incredible. I’m sleeping better, I’m happier and have a healthier outlook on life, my relationship with my husband is better than ever, and I’m truly enjoying life.
Want to know what I did to stop stressing about money? Grab a cup of coffee, this one’s a long one…
Stop Stressing About Money Strategy #1: Get Your Spending in Order
I don’t care how much or how little money you make; you have to live within your means. When we were struggling four years ago, we could have gone into debt. But, because we had some money saved up and truly lived as best as we could within our means, we didn’t. It didn’t feel good to dip into savings each month, but it was necessary at the time to survive.
So, how can you get your spending in order? Below are five specific questions to ask and evaluate in your own life:
How much debt do you have? Perhaps one of the reasons you’re drowning is because so much of your money goes to debt payments. Whether it’s credit card payments, student loans, auto loans or heck, even furniture financing, debt completely sucks away at your income. If you had NO DEBT, think about how much extra money you would have each month. It’s probably a pretty spectacular number, even if you’re making an average salary. Aim to have as little debt as possible.
How much are you spending on food? I know, I know, we all need to eat. And trust me, now that we’re in a good financial spot, I don’t really care how much I’m spending on food (there, I said it). I went to Starbucks today, my family and I went to a bakery last night randomly, and tonight we don’t really have anything in the pantry so we’ll probably grab something on-the-go. BUT, if you are struggling and stressing about money, you CANNOT spend freely on food. Instead, make a meal plan each week, bring your lunches to work, do NOT stop for coffee, and choose to eat cheaper foods (not less quality; but less price). Here are some of my favorite budget-friendly meals and snacks:
- Homemade banana bread
- Yogurt parfaits (vanilla yogurt, frozen blueberries, cereal on top)
- Pasta w/ sauteed veggies and sauce (this lasts us a few days!)
- Hot dogs (a favorite dinner of mine!)
- Steamed broccoli with tons of seasoning
- Pasta salad w/ tomatoes, olive oil, basil and shredded parmesan
- PB&J sandwiches
- Frozen meatballs over white rice with soy sauce
- Frozen pizza (can’t beat $3 a pie!)
What do you do for fun? I know many people who love spending money on entertainment. If you can afford it, go for it. But, if you’re stressing about money, you have to find free things to do in your area. Ideas include:
- Go on walks
- Take the kids to the park
- Go on drives (yes, I know this uses gas so do so sparingly)
- Spend all day making soups and breads for the week
- Binge-watch a show on Netflix
- Go to the library or bookstore and read
- Clean your house and do yard work
- Call a friend
- Do an exercise video on YouTube for free
- Play cards with your spouse
- Organize your kids’ rooms
- Visit a free museum or search for free events going on in your city
How much are you spending on student loans or auto loans? If you’re spending a fortune on monthly student loan and auto loan payments, I have two suggestions. For starters, refinance your student loans into a lower rate. This will lower your monthly payment and free up some of your monthly income. And secondly, downsize your vehicle to something less expensive. Unless you’re driving a 20-year-old vehicle, you could probably save thousands of dollars by trading in your current vehicle for something less expensive and still be able to get from point A to point B.
Once you do those things, your focus should still be on paying off these debts. However, while you do that, you’ll free up some of your income.
What are your fixed monthly expenses? Here, I’m talking things like your cell phone bill, your utilities, cable and internet, and the like. Write every single fixed monthly expense down and look for ways to save line by line. The first thing to go should be cable. We cut cable years ago and still don’t have it. Instead, we use Sling and Netflix and life goes on. Call your cell phone and insurance providers and ask if they can lower your bill. Cut back on utility usage by turning the air up a degree or two from where you’d normally keep it. Cancel your gym membership.
Congratulations! Learning to cut your expenses and save money is the first step to living a stress-free financial life. Once you get your spending in order, it’s time to move on to step two; then, we’ll look at how much money you should be saving each month and finding that delicate balance between spending and saving.
Stop Stressing About Money Strategy #2: Earn More Money
We all know my absolute favorite way to save more money and not live on a budget: earn more money!
I’m just going to say it: Earning in this day and age is EASY! There, I said. You can hate me, but I truly believe anyone can make extra money if they put their mind to it.
My husband and I have FOUR extra streams of income in addition to our full-time jobs. That right there is the reason we don’t live paycheck to paycheck. It’s the reason we can afford to go out to eat. It’s the reason we can save a sh*t ton of money each month. It’s the reason we’ll be able to take our daughters to Disney World and on fun family vacations. Neither of our salaries are something to write home about, but because we have side income, we’re able to do quite well 🙂
Our extra sources of income include:
- Freelance writing. Last month, I made almost $2,000 in about five hours freelancing. Yes, the client paid extremely well. But, I’ve been at this for four years now. Back in the day, I’d write an article for $25. Because I put in the hard work, I can now charge upwards of $300+ per article. You can view last month’s income report here.
- Blogging. This is my absolute favorite way to earn money. I have some affiliate programs in place (meaning I made a small commission when someone makes a purchase through my link) and will randomly get emails that I made $5 here or 30 there. Over the month, it adds up! I also make about $200 per month from ads I have placed on my site. And, my traffic is low and I probably only spend 5-10 hours a month on my blog. It takes a while to build up your content (I’ve been blogging for two years), but once you do, it can be an incredible source of income. Last month I made over $1300 from my blog!
If you want to start a blog, use my tutorial on how to start a profitable blog! I’ll walk you through getting your blog up and running; and then I’ll send you my book – The Beginner’s Guide to Blogging – for free! My book will help you get your blog set up, looking pretty and ready to start making money!
If you’re new to the whole idea of blogging for a living, that’s OK! If you like to write, I would highly highly consider starting a blog. Choose a topic that you’re passionate about and could write about for a good while. Then, once you have some good posts (ie content) under your belt and you’ve developed a following, you can start to make money. Blogs make money in all sorts of ways – including displaying ads, writing sponsored posts (this is where a company would email you to write a post in exchange for money), selling your own products, selling other people’s products (this is called affiliate sales), and more. The options are endless. Trust me, if you like to write – start a blog!
- Construction. My husband does residential construction as his side gig. He posts ads on Craigslist and on our neighborhood newsletter to advertise. Since he’s been doing this for a while, he’s usually able to bid the jobs and then hire the work out. For his “regular” customers, he’ll do work on the weekends. If construction isn’t your thing, think about what areas of work you do excel at. Our old neighbors mowed people’s lawn on Saturday mornings. Perhaps you could babysit or pet sit. Or, maybe you could sell Rodan + Fields or something similar!
- Sell items on Craigslist. This is sporadic, but John oftentimes runs into houses where they’re getting rid of old appliances or furniture so he takes them and we spruce them up and sell them. You can totally do this with furniture and make a decent income from it, especially since people usually give away stuff they no longer want for free. Then, you can sand it and repaint it and sell it for possibly hundreds of dollars. A friend of mine used to purchase antiques at garage sales every weekend and then re-sell them. She consistently made $800+ per month.
Those are our side jobs, but like I said, there are literally thousands. If you’re a busy mom like me and you love to write, I would highly recommend freelancing and blogging.
Other ideas for earning extra money include:
Become an Uber driver and start making money immediately! You can wake up and drive in the early morning before work, spend Saturday driving people around, or just give people rides when you’re already headed somewhere. While I personally have never tried this, I know plenty of people who are making $300+ per week as an Uber driver.
If you’re going to shop online, you may as well make some money while doing so, right? Sign up for Ebates here and start making money on purchases at Old Navy, Macy’s Walmart and more! And, if you use my link, you’ll receive $10 off your first purchase!
Write an eBook
I wrote my very first eBook – The Beginner’s Guide to Blogging – in January 2016. It’s by no means made me a millionaire (ha), but it has brought in a good chunk of extra money. And the good news is I continue to sell a few copies of my book even now!
Writing an eBook was way less difficult than I expected. It did help that I had a blog already and an audience to sell and promote to; so if you are serious about writing eBooks, I suggest you start a blog to act as your landing page for your work.
The beauty of eBooks is once the work is done, you just have to worry about promoting. And if the book is good, you’ll continue to earn an income from it for years to come.
(And remember, if you start a blog using my tutorial I will give you my eBook for free!!)
Get a part-time job
If I didn’t have little kids, I would totally work at Starbucks in the morning on the weekends! I worked there all through out college and loved it!
If you have some extra time during the week, why not work at your favorite coffee shop, restaurant or retail store? You’ll meet new people, get a discount on that product, and make a few hundred extra per month!
Finding a Balance Between Spending and Saving
Phew! If you got through all that – congrats! Maybe grab an extra cup of coffee (I know I am!) before we continue…
Ok, once you’ve worked your way through every line of your budget, found ways to cut back, and created an extra source or two of income, now what? Trust me, it’s easy to spend everything you make, even if you make a lot. So, you have to set yourself some boundaries.
I’ll take a look at myself, first. I said above that I love going to Starbucks, out to eat and to various bakeries throughout the city (ok, I’m pregnant, give me a break!). Since this is fun for me and something I value, I don’t stress about this. However, I do NOT shop very often, or really at all. If I NEED an article of clothing, I buy it; but I certainly don’t buy clothes simply because they’re “cute.” I also don’t get my hair colored (I get it cut at Great Clips once per year), I don’t get manicures or pedicures, I don’t get massages, etc. Food really is the main thing I splurge on.
My husband and I also want to spruce up our house, but since we are about to have a third baby and our savings isn’t exactly where we want it to be, we’re waiting. Granite countertops would be nice, but for the time being we’ve decided to wait. I think that’s a really important mentality to have – not everything has to be done “right now.” When deciding whether or not to make a big purchase, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is it a need or a want? Obviously, granite countertops are a want. A new AC unit, however, could be a need. That’s the first thing you’ll want to figure out. If it’s a need and you have the money, it’s safe to say you should probably make the purchase.
- Can it wait? Most things in life can wait. Seriously – what’s the rush?
- Do you have a six-month nest egg? If you or your spouse lost a job today, could you survive for six months? If not, I would highly recommend postponing the purchase to focus on saving.
- Does it align with your future goals? If your goal is to retire early, perhaps you should just continue living in your non-upgraded house. If you’re in your forever home and love working, then perhaps it’s a splurge you’re willing to make. Make sure your purchases now make sense for your future goals 🙂
We don’t save a set number every month, but instead we save as much as we can while still living a full-to-us-life. My advice to you would be to have a “goal” amount in mind, and then plan accordingly. Save first, then spend.
I don’t go to Starbucks every day even though I could. Instead, I treat myself to it about once or twice a week. If I go early in the week, I don’t really think about it toward the end of the week. Why? Because saving is a priority to me.
Another tip would be to make sure you’re saving for something specific. It makes it way easier and more exciting when you’re working toward a goal! Right now, we are tossing around the idea of buying some land in the mountains here in North Carolina. Eventually, we would love to build our dream cabin on the lot and retire there. It’s a pipe dream, sure, but it’s sure as heck making me want to work hard and save as much as we can!
Now, I want to hear from you! Are you currently stressed about money? What can you do to relieve some of that stress? What questions do you have for me?