life hacks for living on a strict budget

LB Budget.jpg

Trying to budget and save money can be a super high stress process. And yes - there can be a hefty amount of guilt, frustration, and even shame surrounding how we earn and spend our money. Additionally, saving money means an investment of time and effort (including time to strategize and constantly re-evaluate expenses) and when you're on a strict budget, you may also be on a strict time budget. To help out, we surveyed you guys on social media to get your tips for cutting costs. We tried to include a variety of ideas, because what works great for one person may be unrealistic for another. Not to mention... some of us have the personality for budgeting, and some of us feel like we're lacking that "chip". If you're in the latter camp, you're definitely not alone and we're here to figure it out together!

F O O D   &   M E A L   p L A N N I N G

Whenever you walk into a grocery store grab the circular at the front and check what’s on sale. You’ll find that week to week the items change and you can start to see trends as to what will be on sale and when. One week it may be rice so stock up, the next seltzer etc…

I keep all my vegetable ends and trimmings/peels in a bag in the freezer. Then when the bag is full I turn it into vegetable stock.

Plan your meals and recipes around low cost items: potatoes, sweet potatoes, eggs, rice, beans/legumes, tortillas, pasta, oatmeal, bread, chicken, seasonal produce

Have easy, healthy inexpensive things around so that you always have a fast and healthy meal. For me, this looks like minute rice, canned beans of various, canned tomatoes, and frozen vegetables. All of these things last and can make quick simple meals as needed.

Every sunday I make a list of my meals for the week, and plan them based on what we have available at home. Only if I run out of things i can make with the ingredients I already have do i go to the supermarket to supplement. I also make all my own baked goods... which i find are sold at crazy high prices compared to the cost of ingredients.... and i freeze! I leave out only as much as I know we can realistically eat before things will go bad, and then then rest goes straight into the freezer (cheese, milk, soups, baked goods). All leftovers get turned into meals, frozen, or if there's only enough left for one person, gets packed for lunch. Helps save a ton of money on food and prevents waste.

Might sound crazy but dollar tree has some basic baking items (always a dollar!) like pie crusts, cake mixes, frosting, candy, etc. but not major grocery shopping

I cook according to what’s on sale. If cauliflower is on sale, I’ll make cauliflower soup, breaded cauliflower, roasted cauliflower and cauliflower salad that week

I use Ibotta, SavingStar, and Checkout 51. In about 18 months of my regular grocery shopping, I've probably earned $500 back

Leftovers are your friend. Sometimes your friends' leftovers are also your friend.

Write grocery list for the month . Buy in bulk ( non perishable) and do no enter grocery store more than 4 x a month.

Shop your pantry first, make meals with items you already have.

A good tip I heard is only bring cash to the grocery store. That way you know how much you can spend to the max

e n t e r t a i n m e n t

For gifts I don't buy gift cards from the store. I buy them online at gift card exchanges for at least 25% less.


We generally take a couple 2-3 day trips within driving range each year as opposed to long week vacations. We look for Groupons to decide where to go (indoor waterparks for example often have deals during the week that are much cheaper per night) so instead of spending 3k on a trip to Florida with flights etc, we may spend 500 twice per year on a mini vacation. It's fun for us and way more affordable. We try to go different places to keep it interesting. Then every 3 or so years we take a longer vacation.


Get a library card. Check out books instead of purchasing. Check out free museum passes. Free storytimes. Free play spaces for the kiddos, and sometimes they even show movies - All free.


If you shop on amazon, place items in cart and wait a few days to see if you still need it. Oftentimes they're no longer necessary. 

Go camping for vacation. You can pay about $15 - $20 per night and then go around all day to sight see.

c l o t h e s

My kids only wear hand me downs, gifts, and salvation army. They grow out of things too fast.

I buy a lot of my daughter's clothes in the sales a year ahead. She's in size 2-3 now and I've already bought most of her 3-4 wardrobe at half the price.

Thrift stores are your friend.

Consider every item you want to purchase as an investment. Ask yourself, is it a good investment or a waste of money? How much can you see it lasting for? I do this all the time with clothes and everything else.

Shop at thrift stores, consignment shops, and Walmart for cheap kid clothes.

Never go shopping for clothing unless you’ve weeded out your wardrobe within the past 6 months & you’ve shopped your closet. You’d be surprised at how many “new” outfits you can get.

g e n e r a l   b u d g e t i n g

I'm on a cash system. I take out a certain amount of cash each paycheck and that's all I allow myself to spend. Years ago, I used to just swipe my debit card and wasn't aware of what I was spending. I personally have found that when you are handing over the physical cash, you think about it. Especially when breaking a twenty... And avoid Target... you go in for shampoo and come out $50 later! So avoid it at all costs! (confession, I still shop there and sometimes feel like my whole paycheck just went there! Lol)

Know your prices - dont fall for "sale!" signs. Plan in advance, you can shop around (and Craigslist) when you have time. When you are in a desperate rush, you will spend much more!

I buy everything that’s on great sales and with coupons. If it’s not on sale and I do not have a coupon I do not buy it. That’s especially for household stuff. 

My main tip is Dollar Tree.

Use vinegar etc instead of the more expensive cleaning products, fabric softener etc. Save a heap load of money and it is chemical free

I follow ( or at least try to ) the envelope budget, every 3 months I break down every expense. Items that can be cash ( food, gas, allowance, dr copay, dry cleaning etc. )goes into an envelope other stays in my account ( utilities, car payment, insurance) this way I could move money when I need it and it’s already there in the envelopes

Never leave Home without a snack and water cup.  Use the library as much as you can! Crafts, story times, books. Save buying big items for Black Friday/cyber Monday. Check for free/cheap activities in Chicago parent. Cloth diapers! They’re cute and last for from birth to potty training. Use ibotta, receipt hog, Walmart savings catcher. Shop Aldi.

Meals at home, shopping at Aldi, using cash back and savings apps (ibotta, cartwheel, etc), cutting cable, making household cleaning supplies (laundry detergent as well), using cloth diapers/wipes, using as little paper/plastic products as possible, shopping secondhand, taking public transit/biking. A general rule of thumb for me is if it’s saving the earth, it’s probably saving me money.

Groupon. Discount programs. Kohls cash. Gymbucks. 

Taking care of what you have. 

Organization. Lots and lots of that......because if you can't find it because you aren't organized, you will buy it before you find it.

p.s. would you buy or check this book out at the library? 

Nurit Siegal2 Comments