Lessons We Learned When Money Was Tight

Lessons we learned when money was tight. 

About a year ago,  we got a check in the mail, and Forrest goes, “Well, this enough to cover x months of rent. That’s what I always used to hope for every month – enough money for rent.”

We really were bringing in very little. Forrest and I were both in college, we had a baby, and most of the time, we just hoped that we would have enough money for the next month.

It might be easy to look back on that time and think, “That was pretty terrible!” However, some of my happiest times were during that time…and I feel like some of that was due to us living in humble circumstances. You come to realize that money is important, but it isn’t everything. The people you surround yourself with, and the decisions you make are. 


We’ve come a long way since that point – we aren’t rich, but we have enough for our needs plus some. We bought our first house almost a year ago, and even though it wasn’t in cash, we were able to put a good downpayment. That was a huge accomplishment for us.

A few months ago, we were able to buy a car, in cash, and it was so rewarding. It wasn’t a new car – it’s about nine year’s old – but it was something that we felt so happy  to be able to do. It may not seem like a big deal, but it was the cumulation of a lot of hard work – and considering our financial situation a few years ago, it felt huge.

But I believe some of the lessons we learned when we were struggling to get by taught us a lot. Here are a few of those things, in case you are in the midst of financial hardship.

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You can get by on little

There are very few things you actually need. You don’t need a new fancy phone every year, to eat out every night, or a nice car. All you really need is food, water, shelter, clothes, and some kind of transportation. In some cases, you can even use your own two feet for transportation!

We only had one car (and still do). Forrest would often take it to work or school, and I had no desire to stay stuck in the house all day. But I had a stroller, and I walked a lot.

No matter your financial circumstances, it’s important to know how to separate wants from needs. It’s important to realize that you shouldn’t buy things if you can’t afford them – and that using a credit card will often get you in more financial trouble.

We didn’t need a lot. And that’s something I often try and remind myself of now – even if you can afford something, it doesn’t mean you have to.

How to live Frugally

I feel that because I was forced to live frugally, it made me want to live frugally when I didn’t necessarily have to. We certainly make enough money to live comfortably now, but because I know how to live a more frugal life, we continue to do so. Something I’ve learned – just because you have money, doesn’t mean you have to spend it.

I learned how to always get the best deal. Whether it’s through haggling, searching the Internet for the very best price, or how to buy things from garage sales, Facebook yard sales, or Craigslist, I still never will buy something at full price. I still take surveys to make a little extra money here and there for fun money.

If we never struggled with money, I don’t think I would have felt as much of an urgency to learn how to do make our dollar stretch a little further. Do we splurge more than we used to? Yes. But I still do my very best to help us live frugally.

No matter the circumstance, everyone should know how to live on a small income. You never know when your financial situation might change.

There are Good people in the World

We were the recipients of a lot of kindness from others. When Jack was born and had to be hospitalized with RSV, I wasn’t working and Forrest had to take some time off. We weren’t making very much money at all to begin with, and to lose a little bit of income for that short period of time was difficult.

Someone from church came by one night with bags of groceries for us. It meant so much to us, and it reminded us that there are people out there who are willing to help. It made us determined to pay it forward to others when we were able.

I’ve been told many stories from friends and families who have been recipients of the kindness of strangers and people they knew when they were struggling to get by. There are so many good people…and sometimes, it takes being in a difficult situation to see that.

Live below your means

This is my number one tip for living frugally and saving money. I actually just wrote a post about it. You may think that you have to spend every dollar, but I believe that there is almost always something else you can cut out when you have to. Is it fun? No. But by making sure you don’t spend every last dime, you learn how to live more frugally and save money.

Perspective is everything

Sure, we didn’t have a lot of money. We had friends buying houses, going on cruises, and doing lots of fun, expensive things.

However, I was still happy. I had a beautiful baby boy and a loving husband. We had a house of our heads.

You can always serve others

I think one of the best things you can do in any circumstance is serve others. Serving doesn’t have to require writing a big check to your favorite charity. It can be as simple as doing a random act of kindness for a stranger or neighbor.

In our church, we are asked to pay 10% of our income each month in tithing. Let me tell you, when you aren’t making hardly anything, it can be hard to do this. However, we dutifully did (and still do) this every month, and I believe with all my heart that it is one of the reasons we were always able to make it through to the next month

Hard Work Pays Off

We worked hard to get to where we were right now. We had no desire to be poor financial circumstances forever, and we were determined to get to a more comfortable situation.

It required taking risks. When we graduated from college, we made the decision to invest our time into building our blog instead of having Forrest go to graduate school or find another career. I’m pretty sure most of our family thought we were kind of insane for awhile there, but we were determined to make it work, and it has.

I know there are many hard workers out there who just can’t seem to catch a break. However, I believe in the majority of circumstances, if you make goals to become more financially stable, you can meet them. It just takes a lot of work!

It Could Be Worse (And Things do Get Better) 

Throughout my life, I often have the mantra that “it could be worse.” In fact, sometimes that’s more of a downfall! However, when we were struggling to get by, I could still see the blessings. And I felt like it could have been much worse.

I know that in the midst of having financial struggles, it can feel like they will never end. You can look around you and feel like everyone has more money, and that your situation is super hard. And, it often is super hard. However, I am here to say that things DO get better. Make small financial goals. Read books on getting out of debt, building savings, and knowing how. One book I highly recommend is “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill – it is excellent and teaches you how attitude and mindset can make a huge difference.  He emphasizes the idea that you should “know very clearly where you want to go.”

Becoming financially confident does require having a vision of where you want to be.

To get out of hard circumstances, you do have to recognize that you are in them. We knew that we weren’t making much money, so we knew we had to make steps and sacrifices to get there. I highly recommend checking out Sun Trust’s OnUp movement, which is all about creating gaining financial confidence. There are some incredibly inspiring stories on there!

It’s Easy to get into Debt

And it’s hard to get out of. When we had Jack, we ended up taking out a student loan to help us make ends meet. It was super easy to get approved for that, but it has taken quite awhile to get out of that – even though the sum wasn’t super crazy.

It’s so easy to swipe your credit card. I got into some credit card debt my freshman year of college, simply because I wasn’t being smart with my resrouces. Since then, I’ve been very vigilant about only using our credit card when we have the money to pay it off – those interest rates are nasty!

Sometimes it’s inevitable that you may have to get into debt – but there are smart ways to go about it. Talk with a financial counselor and from the start have a pay off plan. If you go into debt knowing when you will pay it off, it’s a lot easier to deal with.

Become Financially Confident 

April is Financially Literacy month – it’s a great time to take a look at your life and decide if it’s going in the direction you want. If not? It’s never too late to change. Take this financial confidence quiz from Sun Trust to see where you are. As I’ve mentioned before, having a clear, attainable goal in sight (or lots of them) can make a world of difference.

Join the movement

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of SunTrust. The opinions and text are all mine.


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  • Thank you for sharing your personal experience on how to make ends meet while being on a tight budget. Even though my finances are tight at this moment, I know that when I go to sleep, I did my best. There are times when I felt defeated, but it was important for me to stay positive.

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