I’ve talked a lot about where I came from with regard to money. My early days of motherhood were tough – I’m talking about eating out of a trashcan level poverty. When my girls were a bit older, things were better but still extremely tight. It took me almost 20 years to finally get my financial s*** together to the point that I rarely need to worry about paying the bills.
But the point of this article isn’t to talk about the struggle – it’s about the upside of frugality – the things I was able to do that most people say they “can’t afford.” This isn’t about being boastful – I just want to show you how far handling your money well can take you.
Over the years, a lot of folks have thought that I was “rich” or got a huge divorce settlement or had family money. I’ve been able to provide my daughters with some incredible privileges during their childhood and early adulthood. Once I got a handle on things, I’ve been relatively comfortable. I’ve driven reasonably nice vehicles, lived in decent neighborhoods, and traveled regularly.
For years, I never made much money. But we still lived large by focusing our finances on the things we found the most important.
I bought a house.
The first milestone I was able to hit with frugality was buying a house. It wasn’t a fancy house, it wasn’t a beautiful house, but it was mine. I managed as a single mom making less than $30,000 per year to save up the downpayment to buy my home. I did this by strictly rationing the budget toward essentials only for a year and socking away every spare penny. We lived there happily for 3 years and we fixed up every single inch of it.
It’s important to note that years later, in the terrible year after my father passed away, I was unable to keep the house. It was foreclosed on because I couldn’t afford the increased insurance costs (an additional $600 a month) after a flooded basement sent my rates skyrocketing. Just because things are better doesn’t mean you’re never going to backslide.
I took the kids to Disneyworld.
I was able to save up enough money to fly us from Canada to Orlando and spend a week at Disneyworld with the girls. None of this trip was put on a credit card. My daughters had yard sales, lemonade stands, and did all sorts of chores for neighbors in order to earn their spending money on the trip.
I survived two rounds of layoffs.
I used to work in the automotive industry – this was around 2008 during the previous financial crisis. I managed to hang on to everything through two rounds of layoffs during which I brought in only 60% of my usual income through unemployment. I had a big pantry full of food and household goods, as well as an emergency fund, and this allowed me to use the limited money coming in to pay my mortgage and utilities during the layoff.
I started a business.
The third time I was laid off, I decided enough was enough. We’d just spent a year dealing with terrible losses: my father, my daughters’ father, my house, and my car. I felt like an epic failure but the truth is, no amount of frugal living could have saved that year. As I mentioned, this was around the time of the last financial crisis, and although the same thing was happening to a lot of other people, it felt like I was all alone in my struggles.
I went into frugality overdrive, sold a bunch of our things, and rented the least expensive home in Ontario, Canada. It really was – that’s how I found it. I sorted through rentals on Kijiji (sort of like Craigslist in Canada) and I found a home for less than $600 a month. It had internet and that’s all I needed to begin my new business. I started doing some freelance writing, got hired to work remotely by a news website, and got the encouragement to start my own website. I started my first site, TheOrganicPrepper.com, with less than $20 and a whole lot of help from a mentor. That website went on to do pretty well and I’m still running my own business online ten years later.
I stayed home with my kids.
Once I was able to start my business, I had a privilege that is pretty unique for us single mamas. After my children’s father passed away, I was able to work from home and be there for them. I was able to take them to school in the morning and be there waiting with a snack when they got home. I was able to homeschool one of my daughters, who was not thriving in the public school system.
We weren’t living fancy, but those years I got with my kids were priceless.
I put two kids through college debt-free.
About the same time we first moved out to the boondocks of Ontario, my oldest daughter began college. Luckily she got a scholarship that covered a lot of the cost, and by living extremely carefully, I was able to pay for the other stuff so that she could begin her adult life without being overwhelmed with student loans. Six years later, I was able to pay for school for my younger daughter here in the US, too.
At the time, they didn’t realize what a big deal it was, but as they watch their peers struggle to get their feet on the ground while inundated in debt, they’re very grateful to have gotten a debt-free start in life.
I have traveled to 9 countries this year.
Now that the kiddos are grown, out on their own, and working in their respective fields, I don’t have to worry as much about providing a stable “home” for them. The nest is empty and the birdies have flown off to their own nests. I sold my stuff, got a tiny storage unit for $31 a month, and gave up the house I was renting in the United States. For my 50th birthday, I gave myself “complete freedom.”
Well, it’s not exactly “complete” – I still have to work, but I get to work from much cooler places. Over the past year of nomadic living, I’ve traveled through Croatia, Bosnia, Greece, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, Canada, and the US. I’ve lived beachfront, in a beautiful midcentury modern condo, in an apartment with a rooftop view of the Acropolis, and in the spare room of one of my daughters with a mattress on the floor. I wouldn’t change a moment of it and by the time you read this, I’ll probably be heading out on my next adventure. In this article, I explain how I can afford to live in these awesome places on my single mama budget.
The key is to think about what you CAN afford.
By living frugally, I CAN afford to say yes to many things people with my income could not. By choosing what I say NO to, I can afford the things I truly want.
Don’t go into this with the deprivation mindset, because if you do, it’ll be like torture – you’ll see it as a punishment. Instead, embrace it and see it for what it is – the conscious decision to put your money toward the things that mean the most to you.