How does a family of three adults and two children, two dogs, a cat, and 5 hens, make it on one gas station manager’s salary? How about if they live in Northern California where a house cost an average of $600K in some areas and $350K in less expensive areas?
Now, we don’t live in a city or the bay area. I used to when I was single and it was long ago when it was still affordable. I don’t think it would be possible today. The housing market is at an all-time high…again, and rents have skyrocketed as well. And this is everywhere.
We live in the Sacramento-Sutter area and Sacramento is the new hot spot with rents quadrupling and homes that were $200K a few years ago being now $350K or double what they were. When we were ready to buy it was the worst time ever but rents were scaring me. I literally foraged and hunted for a house out of fear of homelessness. When the family is on one income it’s a precarious balance.
Today, I’m sitting here in our very own cottage listening to Cuban music and sipping coffee as my children re-enact some sort of dinosaur ritual at the kitchen table instead of eating their organic eggs that our hens blessed us with.
Our cottage is adorable and very blue. We have a backyard farm complete with hens and fruit trees along with my winter gardens. The home is a 1941 stucco two bedroom with one little bathroom that we all fret over. This house cost $135K in a HUD bid that I won by a miracle of God, literally. Our mortgage is a small $918 a month and that is taxes, MIP, and insurance included. This is unheard of in Northern California.
For us to live on one income and thrive, we have had to make choices, sacrifices, and live a very simple and frugal life. We don’t suffer at all. We live better than most and we have no stress because we have no debt (well, the house, yes) and our cars are paid for.
The choices and sacrifices were that we chose to move to the town my husband worked so we could eliminate the commute and the town was still fairly cheap because it’s not a fancy town and it only has a few charming parts. It was not my dream village by far. It is being improved vastly these days because they are trying to get in on Sacramento’s newfound popularity and wealth (just an assumption). I welcome improvements to this place. There is a lot of run down areas. I won’t say poverty because America doesn’t know what real, true poverty is. We are surrounded by a lot of lovely farms and orchards as it is a big agricultural area and there are many sweet and charming little towns. There are pros and cons to this area and you have to find the sweet spots and look away from the ugly parts.
I was outbid on all the houses I tried for. This house was in a nice enough neighborhood but it had been home to many vagrants, prostitutes, and drug dealers, oh my. It was bank owned and just sitting there with no interest from anyone. I really think it was saving itself for us. The Universe in all it’s mystery shroud it in some veil and no one noticed it. I was the only bidder that night so I won the cottage. It was in bad shape and some of our friends later admitted they didn’t understand why I’d get us into that mess.
So, we moved to a town that was far less expensive, not our dream town, but it would do. We found a fixer-upper that was bank owned. We moved into a neighborhood that has been really cleaned up but is not everything I dream of. Those are sacrifices as far as I’m concerned.
We had to work very hard to make this house clean, charming and productive. I love this home now and I like my neighborhood, I know half the street and the town is small and not crowded and crazy like Sacramento. I like that. And as I said, I’ve found wonderful little towns nearby like Grass Valley, Nevada City, and others. I’ve found rivers and forest, trails for hiking.
Sometimes you find a diamond in the rough right?
So, we have a small mortgage, we pay less than we ever paid in rent. Our rents were usually around $1300. We had to do a lot to the house but we chose to not put down the full 20% so we would have the funds to fix the place up. The home had good bones so it was mostly a lot of scrubbing, boiling, painting, mowing, hacking things down, planting, and fences. We spent under $20,000 in the renovation in the end and a chunk of that was for the handyman.
Now, the cars are paid for, we have no debt, we have a tiny mortgage, it gets easy when things are set up this way. All we have after that are utilities, groceries, insurances, and building a savings. I also donate to several organizations. Normally I feel good with $200 going out to help efforts for animals and children and other countries. When my children are older we could travel and do good works, until then I open the purse strings.
Utilities are very low because I’m very sustainable in how I use electricity and water. Even with my nine fruit and citrus trees and gardens we only use $10 over the flat rate. We rarely water the lawns. We take quick showers, I bath every other day but take camper baths daily. We don’t use much electricity, my windows are always open for sunshine and fresh air. I love my big candles. We watch very little TV and I have my cable stripped to the basic and when the contract is up it’s gone.
Groceries can get pricey as we love our organics and our gardens are still new and young and the fruit trees won’t be bearing fruit for a couple more years. We used to buy cruelty-free meat, grass fed, free range. But now we are vegan…the boys vegetarian. The cleaner we eat the less the grocery bill. Rice, beans, and potatoes were the main staple already and great plate fillers. We bake our own bread and keep it pretty simple with wheat and yeast, and produce is always in season for great taste and less money. My goal is to grow a large amount of our food and do some canning in the near future.
We drive locally and that saves on gas. We walk when the weather permits. My husband should bike to work, he’s shameful driving the .8th of a mile to the station but he does go at 5 in the morning and has to do pickups and deposits so I guess a bike wouldn’t work for that.
We do not go out to eat, party, bars, movies (although this is a luxury I need to reincorporate). We do not smoke, drink, pot, pills, drugs…that is a huge money saver right there. We may do Taco Bell once in awhile.
Grannie and I cook everything and mostly from scratch. We don’t spend money on junk food or convenience foods.
We drink water and coffee. We don’t drink soda or juice. It’s expensive and not good for us or children.
When I buy clothes or household items, toys, and such I go to thrift stores, GoodWill, garage sales. I haven’t been in a department store in forever and I can’t stand places like Ross or Khols.
We buy quality. I’m not a fan of Walmart although I do find some good things there like scented wax for my wax warmer. I’ll buy a bathroom rug or my favorite creamer but I get a little freaked out in those big, cheap stores.
I do enjoy Dollar Tree for party decorations and I get my holiday decor at thrift stores. I throw a lot of potlucks and use real plates and utensils, not paper and plastic. We use cloth napkins and dish towels. I buy a roll of paper towels every blue moon and they are just for nasty jobs. Even my mop has a washable cloth and my dish rags are washable. I have never purchased a sponge or anything disposable. My vacuum for the rug has an emptiable canister and no bag. I use a broom for the rest of the house as my floor vacuum broke.
We recycle, reuse, compost and waste nothing…almost nothing. I don’t use cloth diapers and that is a huge money saver but I lasted two months until the first bout of diarrhea hit and I was done.
I do hang my clothes out on the line. I never buy bottled water, I have a Britta filter on my tap.
Oh, what else…hum. I water down my dish soap, shampoo, baby bubble bath and wash. I reuse filters in the coffee pot and just add more coffee grounds and I grind the coffee super fine so I need to use less. Every penny counts right? When the shampoo is almost out I add water and use this as bubble bath for the boys.
We take good care to maintain our vehicles so they last. We don’t buy new furniture or cars or clothes. New toys come around Christmas.
Now that I have my own home and a yard I’m doing all I can to make it into a food forest in time.
My husband makes a bit more now as a manager but we are talking $2600 to $3000 a month. I have worked hard for the last two years on my writing and self-publishing and I now make some royalties monthly and we have that in a separate bank to build the savings. Every year when we receive our tax return I use it to fill up our secured cards with the bank (they are like credit cards but you use your savings) and our household savings.
I am now a caregiver and work 14 hours a week taking care of Grannie and taking her to appointments, shopping, and out for fun. She lives with us which makes it easy to care for her and I enjoy having this job since I haven’t had a side job in years, however, it is only a two bedroom and one bath and Grannie had applied to senior housing. This is only a temporary resting place for her until she finds her perfect home.
I may not have any new advice and I’m not sure there is a lot of it out there. I have read stacks upon stacks of thrifty, frugal books, articles, and blogs. There is only so much out there and it gets old. This is because all our frugal ways are from our grandmothers and great-grandmothers. It’s all recycled and updated for this modern time.
But if you take all that advice and use it you will create a life that is easy and free of debt and stress. Frugal isn’t deprivations. It is living under your means and being creative about it so you have the time and funds to do what you really love. For me, that is raising my boys and writing.