This is our adorable little cottage in the city of Sacramento. It is 860 square feet with a nice little back yard that I have converted to a playground for the kids, space for the dogs, and a small garden space for me.
Bali had a cashier job making $10 an hour and working 60 hours a week. We originally lived in Walnut Grove on the river 30 minutes or more from the city in a large ranch style house that was 1600 plus square feet with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, 2 living rooms, a huge back yard, front yard, and a screened in back porch and a built on shed on the side. Yes, it was luxurious and the rent wasn’t too bad. However, it was an old house without insulation and poor heating vents. We had to buy a lot of propane and wood. The cost to heat and keep it warm was something crazy like $600 a month after all the propane and wood cost. The upkeep on the outside lawns and yards took my husband all day once a week and he only had that one day off. Cleaning the house and keeping it up was a constant and daily process. Then there was the issue of getting to town. We had to plan trips as the nearest town was 30 minutes away. There was nowhere to walk around as it was all agriculture and river. We also lived right on the edge with money being that a whole paycheck would go to just rent alone.
When you are bringing home $2,800 a month and rent is $1350, utilities are up to $600 in the cold season, there is not much for savings. So, too much money and work and not enough saving and fun time.
We had a great time out there though and I made good use of the time with learning to be frugal, bake from scratch, read a lot…that is where I started really learning about frugal living and then downsizing. I also learned to be content just being at home. I learned that a day reading out in the yard with Arjan and Sammy playing was pretty pleasant. I would go out there early in the morning with my coffee just to hear the birds sing and chat.
However, I finally had it with the isolation of country living and we moved into town. We rented a much smaller and cheaper home, downsized all our belongings, and now save over $600 to $800 a month in rent and utilities. Bali’s commute is 30 minutes shorter and the boys and I can walk everywhere in town.
We go to the library and we can walk to at least 5 different parks, the grocery store, and our chiropractor.
We still live very frugally and simply. We could live without the two cars if we needed to. We hardly drive the one. Mostly, we walk places and we play and work at home a lot! The boys spend hours outside in a huge sandbox we built them and I spend my days writing or reading. Now that we aren’t doing yard work and house cleaning all day, I have time to write books and blogs.
To save more money we drink water, cook from scratch, we don’t go out. I have been to the movies recently twice and that was in 4 or 5 years. I had to put my foot down as far as getting out a bit. I have no help with the boys and no time off. I have finally made it the law that I go to the movies by myself once in awhile. This is thrilling to me! It outdoes getting your hair or nails done or date night with the spouse. I am a movie lover and the theater makes my heart pound…or maybe it’s all the milk duds and soda.
Our coffee, work lunches, and meals are all made at home. I give in to the frozen Stouffer’s lasagna now and then when I’m just tired of cooking or really into a book I’m writing and the focus is on the laptop and not so much in the kitchen. It happens.
I do big steps in being frugal and I do tiny things also. It all adds up. My dish detergent has lasted for goodness knows how long because I keep watering it down. I use the same coffee filter for a couple days. I just add grounds. It truly adds up, I swear. Our finances are great right now.
When the tax refund came this year I used it to pay off our tread climber and fill the secured credit cards (mine is not so secured anymore) and savings accounts. I also used the remainder to stock up on toiletries and stockpile my pantry. I was able to use some money on gifting others and some thrift store fun. That is how it goes when you don’t have debt, car payments, or credit cards. When you get extra money you can divide it between filling up the savings more, stocking up, and fun.
Lately, I don’t even drive much. I do my grocery shopping once a week or every 10 days. It’s the fresh produce we run out of fast.
With the groceries, we have been living off a lot of whole chickens, homemade bread, homemade yogurt, potatoes, rice and beans, and fruits and veggies in season. I can make a chicken last 3 days or more.
We have no vices. Bali drinks on rare occasion. We don’t have drug, smoking, or gambling habits and that saves a ton of money.
Actually, we do have some vices; ketchup, ranch dressing, and flavored creamer for coffee. I have taken to making my own ranch dressing, homemade is so much better. I love my Heinz ketchup and I love my Lucerne sugar free creamer so that will remain.
When you live a frugal lifestyle and you must be careful with your money because you are a one income household or on a fixed income or military income, you learn to really, really enjoy being at home and doing free activities.
Some of my favorite home-bound activities are rearranging my house. It’s sort of ridiculous how often I do it. I love brewing coffee, putting on Pandora music on my computer, and starting a project. I love reading fiction and researching all sorts of things online. Looking at other blogs by women keeping homes and raising families is fun. I get all sorts of ideas. Watching a movie with the kids. Taking walks, going to the park and chatting with other parents. TV is enjoyable in increments. I actually do love cleaning and thinking, I love cooking big batches of food for the week with my Cuban-Afro music in the background. I truly enjoy all that is domestic.
My days have a rhythm and routine. We enjoy being home so much that I have to remind us to go out and about. Just recently we stayed in Marin with the boy’s Godparents and spent all day playing at this huge and fantastic park in the trees.
Vacations are visiting friends that are one hour to three hours away. We pack food and groceries to eat on the trip and share with our friends and just hang out. We cook and clean and play with our friends and take walks, play at the local playgrounds and beaches or whatever natural resources are offered. Our vacations cost around $100 and that includes gas.
When we are at home the boys play, play, and play inside the house and outside in the yard. They have a lot of toys, the kind that you can really play with such as dump trucks in the sandbox, blocks and dinosaurs and puzzles in the house, train tracks and even a doll house and dolls. We love, love toys and most of them are from the thrift store.
And this all may seem so boring but to me, it is the best my life has ever been. It is simple and secure. Everything in our life and home has its time and place and there is something so comforting about that. We have our chores, our meal times, bath times, even certain shows and sitcoms we look forward to.
I don’t go out on the weekends, a Monday and a Friday night are the same thing. We don’t go out to dine. Are you kidding? With children, it’s a race to gulp down food and get out before you get 86’d. I don’t buy lattes at Starbucks every day. My husband and I don’t drink and party anymore.
Now I have a small home filled with dogs, cat, children, a husband, and my phone rings with family and friends. Friends and family are what makes our life feel rich and full. A day with my family, feeding them, loving them…that is true wealth.
I write my homemaking books and my fiction under a pen name and I think about what I really want from it all. Do I want wealth, success, fame? I don’t think I really care. I would like to grocery shop and not care what the prices are…but sometimes I do that any way to splurge so I won’t go nuts. I’d love to get involved with movies in some way. I love movies.
Do I mind all of us squeezed into a tiny house? No, I would like an extra bathroom at times….
We are in the process of buying our first home. It is only 160 square feet more than this house and decades older. It will need a lot of work and love. I’m thrilled. It’s been years of living way under out means, buying only sale items, and buying furniture and clothes from the thrift store. Even this house was a thrift find. By the time we were ready to buy a home, we were priced out of the market. It looked hopeless and then I found a HUD home up for bid. I bid on it and no one else did that night so I won the bid at midnight!
We will have to repaint, redo plumbing, fences, insulation, and other work but we have just enough left over in our savings to do it all.
There is something so satisfying about living this way, building and creating a life with hard work and being smart with the money. I would never have it any other way.