The Limits of Frugality: What’s Next When You Can’t Cut Any More?

Jen writes in:

Since our son was born, we’ve been trying to function as a one income family, but it just isn’t working. We’ve cut out every expense we can think of and are jumping through every hoop we can find to save money, but we’re simply not making ends meet. What’s next? Surely it can’t be impossible to do this.

You’re not alone in feeling this way, Jen. Many people make a plan for functioning with a low income, then as prices increase at a rate faster than the increase in salaries in your household, it becomes progressively harder and harder to keep up. You keep throwing every frugal technique you can find at the problem, but at some point, there’s a line that frugality just can’t carry you over and you’re stuck.

So what do you do when you reach that point? Here are seven tactics that I would try.

Get a part time job that doesn’t require you to take the kids to daycare. That usually means an evening or night job as a gas station attendant or a grocery re-stocker. Those jobs are fairly high turnover (because many of the people doing it are high school students and college students who are just seeking a quick buck in their pocket), so there are usually slots available if you look around. Most employers will be happy to give you a part time schedule that works for you. Consider a 7 PM to 11 PM shift or a 2 AM to 6 AM shift.

Look into self-employment opportunities. Perhaps you could open a very small-scale home daycare, where you take in just a few children during the day. A small number of kids would provide companionship for your own children without taking away too much from the focused time and attention you give to them, plus it would bring in some additional income.

Consider eliminating what you consider a “basic” service. Many people can’t imagine living without a cell phone or without high speed internet access – they consider these services to be essential. However, such services can easily be eliminated in most people’s lives. Look through every monthly bill you have and consider carefully whether you need that service – or whether it’s just something you’ve become so complacent about that you think of it as a need.

Find a family in a similar situation as yours and work cooperatively with them. For example, you could share a warehouse club membership and take advantage of the low prices there by buying bulk items together and splitting them among the families. You could also get into a routine of potlucking dinners together so that you can make your meal dollars stretch a little further. You might also want to consider reciprocal free babysitting with that family to further cut costs. There are lots of ways that you can share (and reduce) costs with another family – just sit down and talk about it.

Ask for help. Talk to your close friends and family about your situation and see if they have any ideas. Everyone’s situation is unique and you may find that the people closest to you have novel ideas about how you can improve your situation. Don’t be ashamed, either – quite often, working couples are actually envious of families where one parent can stay at home and are amazed that you’ve actually taken the courageous step to pull it off.

Plan for future milestones. You may want to consider returning to work full time when a certain milestone is reached – say, your youngest child begins school. If you can clearly envision that milestone, then you can plan accordingly. Seek out personal loans that will help you to get through until that date. Look for temporary arrangements that might be uncomfortable at the time, but can make waiting for such milestones much easier.

Finally, don’t give up hope. You made a series of choices in your life that led you to this point because they were the right choices for you and your family at the time. Consider all of the positive results that have come about because you took the road less traveled, and use that positive assessment to your advantage. Your choices have put you in a better place – you can get through this.

Good luck!

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