Home » Back to Basics

Back to Basics

DSCN2378I’ve had a few people email me and ask how we manage to survive on our extraordinarily high DTI. So I thought I’d share with you a little window into the life of the deeply in debt, lifestyle-wise. Here’s how we avoid spending money so that we can make a dent in our debt:


– We make a once a month meal planning menu and shop once a month as well. Aside from a few trips in for fresh fruit and some milk or bread, all of our grocery shopping is done in one fell swoop. If we stick to our list, we can feed our family of six for roughly $400 a month.

We eat cheap and we buy in bulk when it’s cheaper. We buy the 25lb. box of rice at Sam’s Club, along with the 84 oz. box of oatmeal. We buy generic when we can handle the taste (in some cases, generic tastes even better), and we buy meat in bulk as well. Meals consist of lots of rice, noodles, potatoes and soups.

We control portions and do our best not to waste food. If a recipe calls for a stick of butter, we use half a stick and add a bit of milk. We use less veggies, meats, and dairy in nearly all the recipes we make. We’ve even made pancakes from scratch without milk and eggs, using water instead. It works, and it saves us money. And 9 times out of 10, we eat all of our leftovers. Throwing food away is a rarity.


The heat goes down at night and when we’re going to be gone for more than a couple of hours. We’re also saving up to install a wood-burning stove in time for next winter. This isn’t cost-effective for everyone, but since half of our 7.5 acres are wooded, it’ll be a huge money-saver for us.

Lights out unless absolutely necessary. This is the rule. If you visit our house, you may have to pee in the dark. (Just kidding, of course 🙂 ). But seriously, folks, lights will not be on in this house unless they absolutely need to be. Is this annoying sometimes? Yes, but desperate times call for desperate measures.  Our one exception to this rule is living room lights on when we watch TV.   And after 3 months of lights out (this was quite common during the Depression), lights on during TV time feels like a huge splurge.

Home repairs are DIY if at all possible. If not, we’ll work to negotiate with the repair person by asking if we can buy our own parts or do some of the work ourselves.


No I-phones or smartphones here. Internet access on your phone is not a necessity, for most. We have the pay-as-you-go call and text phone for me. Cost? About $100 a year. We buy 1000 minutes and I don’t use them unless necessary or unless someone texts/calls me.  Rick has a work phone, so we’re covered there.

Entertainment, minimal. Our average for the year for our entire family of six so far is about $40 a month. Probably should be less, given our situation, but we’re trying to stay sane. 🙂

Kids’ activities. NO, these are not necessities. We paid for the swim lessons we committed to in the fall, but unless something seriously beneficial comes up, there will be no paid activities for the kids this year.

Personal care. No. The haircuts and highlights are NOT necessities. Do I miss them? YOU HAVE NO IDEA. I think I actually willed some blonde into my bangs this week. :-). But by doing all of our own haircuts and me skipping the highlights, we’re saving several hundred dollars a year.

Without spending too much time on my soapbox, let me just say that I really believe that part of the reason Americans are in the financial mess they’re in today is because we’ve lost all sight of the difference between what is truly a need and what is truly a want.

My dear friend Michelle gave me a wonderful book the other day, entitled, “How to Cook a Wolf” (affiliate link).  The writer has a wonderful story she tells that really helped me grasp the magnitude of how far from reality we’ve come in terms of entitlement:

Once, during the last war (WW1) when rationing of sugar and butter had been in effect just long enough to throw all the earnest young housewives into a proper tizzy, my grandmother sat knitting and listening to a small excited group of them discuss with proper pride their various ways of making cake economically.  Each fel that her own discovery was the best, of course, and insisted that brown sugar or molasses with soda was much better than white, or that if you used enough spices you could substitute bacon fat for butter, or that eggs were quite unneccessary.  Finally, my grandmother folded her knitting and then her hands, which was unusual for her because she believed that no real lady’s fingers should ever be idle. 

“Your conversation is very entertaining, indeed,” she said with somewhat more than her ordinary dryness.  “It interests me especially, my dears, because after listening to it this afternoon I see that ever since I was married, well over fifty years ago, I have been living on a war budget without realizing it!  I never knew before that using common sense in the kitchen was stylish only in emergencies.”

Isn’t that classic??? 

That one profound line in the book opened my eyes to just how greedy, wasteful and ungrateful we as a nation have become!

Yes, getting back to basics in our family has been difficult.  There’s a lot we miss that we used to do.  However, getting back to basics has also brought us a profound sense of peace.  We feel SO much better knowing that we are being good stewards of all that we have.  And on the rare occasion when we do get to do something that’s a non-necessity, it tastes all the more sweet.


  1. Great post Laurie & thanks for sharing! Speaking from personal experience, I know it’s not easy to cut back and be at the basics BUT it is possible like you say. I am still the same way with the lights to this day…my wife even calls me the Light Nazi! 🙂

    • Laurie says:

      The Light Nazi – that’s hilarious!!! Every time we holler about the lights I have flashbacks to my childhood of when my dad would be a light nazi, and us kids would all say “I’m NEVER gonna freak out about the lights like dad does”. 🙂

  2. That’s a pretty impressive cut back in expenses. I don’t think I could live that cheaply unless I had to. I do like the idea of the once a month meal plan.

    I wouldn’t even try to cut my own hair. Nor would I cut my kid’s hair (if I had kids, that is). My parents cut my hair and it always took way longer than it should and involved way more arguing and yelling than called for. I consider it a peace of mind expense.

    • Laurie says:

      :-), Yep, peace of mind expenses are well worth it. My mom and I were just talking today about the first – and last – time that my dad cut my little brother’s hair. I think you can figure out the rest of the story. 🙂

  3. Well done Laurie. It is never easy to cut down on your expenses, but it is necessary to dig out of debt. Those times are not fun, but when you are out of the hole, you can turn the lights on again. We still keep the heat down low during the winters. It works for us and saves us a lot of money.

    • Laurie says:

      It’s neat to hear that you still keep the heat down. Yeah, it’ll be nice when we can turn the lights on again, but I have a feeling we probably won’t. 🙂

  4. Great job Laurie! We switched to pay as you go cell phone service 3 years ago and we only use them for emergencies. In fact this year I did not even renew mine. If I go out without my husband I just grab his. I have never sent a text msg in my life, so even if we had that capability, I wouldn’t know how to use it LOL

    • Laurie says:

      Funny, Sicorra, I’m the same way about texts. :-). I feel so out of the loop sometimes! It’s neat how when you go without a seeming necessity how you learn quickly that it’s not that big of a deal to live without it.

  5. Laurie says:

    Alan, you guys are doing great!! I’ve learned, and you will too, that cutting expenses is a process. It doesn’t usually happen all at once, but instead, you cut a bit here, and a bit there. You guys are totally on the right path. If you want help with budgeting and cutting food costs, just email me anytime. I’m glad to help. We’ve gotten down to $450 a month for Rick and I and our 4 kids.

  6. Pauline says:

    I hate waste too, and to consider how much I would have to work to pay for things I don’t need usually makes me want to try and be resourceful.

    • Laurie says:

      That’s part of the reason you’re in the financial situation you’re in today, Pauline. Great decisions produce great results. 🙂

  7. Good for you. We pretty much did the same thing and went back to basics making sure we were sticking to our budget, planning, using our resources wisely and working as a team to achieve our goals long-term and short-term. There has to be a middle ground with everything but there also needs to be some form of a plan, at least for us that’s what works. Keep up the great work. Mr.CBB

  8. You’re doing such a great job. We’re really wasteful with leftovers (we’re trying hard to be better, but old habits die hard). I’m stickler for the lights. It makes me nuts when I come home to find bf has every light in the house on. Thankfully we have a small house, so it’s not as bad as it sounds, but still, it adds up.

    • Laurie says:

      Isn’t it funny? Rick too, as frugal as he is, will leave lights on, and it drives me crazy too! I suppose though, with all of their other good qualities, we can let this one little fault slide. 🙂

  9. Pingback: Frugal Friday: Blog Posts That Ruled This Week, $175K Mattress Edition - Frugal Rules
  10. You’re doing an amazing job, Laurie. I know it hasn’t always been easy, but it will be worth it in the end. It’s true when times are good (or we’re piling on credit card debt) a lot of wants seem like needs, but when we’re forced to cut back, it’s amazing how former needs become wants rather than an actual need. I admit the hardest thing for me would be giving up highlights too. It’s pure vanity, but it’s the honest truth!

    • Laurie says:

      Shannon, I really appreciate your support. Today is one of the days when overcoming our mountain seems impossible, yet we’re committed to hanging in there. And I know exactly what you mean about the highlights. What is that all about? I’m half tempted to put them into the need category. 🙂

  11. wow, I think you are doing some really great back to the basics moves! We only have lights on in our livingroom when we`re home, other than that we turn off everything, only to turn it on if we`re going into another room. I only cut my hair once a year, but I get it done when I`m visiting family in Spain, because it`s A LOT cheaper than Norway. $28 vs $105!!

    In Norway, rationing food was normal until 1953! 8 whole years after the war ended, our country was in such a poor financial state, that this was the norm. My dad who was born in 1946 remembers all of this, and has told me a lot about how my grandma always made ends meet.

    • Laurie says:

      Oh my goodness, $105 for a haircut, that’s ridiculous! My dad was born in 1946 too. It’s interesting that yours still remembers all of this and shares it with you.

  12. Fehmeen - Management Mafia says:

    Laurie, I think it’s great that you’re helping others through your own story. We often know what the right thing to do is (when it comes to money matters, like avoiding extravagance and keeping a healthy savings account) but we don’t follow those ideas because we foolishly convince ourselves we’ll manage without them. But to read about someone who’s been there, done that, it really makes you change your mind about irresponsible living. Thanks for inspiring!

    • Laurie says:

      Thanks so much for the encouragement! Yes, it’s difficult to change your money situation, isn’t it? Glad you found the post inspiring. 🙂

Comments are closed.