Live on What You Make


Sometimes we buy a lottery ticket.  Just for fun.  Just to see.  But every time, it cheats us out of a few dollars.

You can always tell when the Power Ball reaches an extravagant amount of money, because the convenient stores near where I live are packed. If you were hungry, it is possible to starve to death before you could pay for your gas station corn dog – it’s that busy.

Living on what you make – sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes it is absolutely not easy (which is why it’s sometimes fun to daydream about winning the lottery). Most of us wouldn’t mind making a bit more money because there is always something that we’d like to do with a little extra.  I have realized, especially after the job loss our family has faced, that we don’t really need much. We can live off of what we make. But sometimes we need an extra reminder, some motivation, or a little direction, and know-how to help us realize that, and to keep us on track.

Our paychecks seem to dwindle so quickly that we don’t even have enough time to enjoy them. Sometimes, though, if we follow these guidelines, we’ll surprise ourselves with what we have left over.

The Firsts.

In high school, I saw a demonstration that has stuck with me. I can’t even remember who was speaking or what it was for, but the woman who was speaking to us filled an aquarium with little balls, which represented all of the things that were of lesser importance in our lives – things that we chose to do in our spare time, the fun stuff that we like to do while putting off the more important things. Then she tried to place bigger balls, the really important things in life, in the aquarium, but they wouldn’t fit. So, she emptied out the little balls, and put the bigger ones in first. Then she dumped all the little ones back in and shook the container as she explained that when we put all the important stuff first, everything else would fall into place. And it did – all of those balls fell right into place, everything fit.  So, right now I’m thinking in terms of money, and I’m referring back to that presentation of the importance of putting first things first.

What are your most important bills, and why? If you ask yourself why something is important, then sometimes you come to realize that something it really not that important after all. For my family, it’s our mortgage, power, water, food, internet, and auto loan. After we pay all of those things (aside from food, we’ll get to food later) then we can think about other things.



It’s just a stab in the dark, but I am going to guess that your list of importants is similar? Maybe not the same, because we all have different needs. For example, perhaps the internet isn’t on your list – it hasn’t always been on mine; in fact prior to the loss of our main source of income, we didn’t have it, but now it’s a means to a job, therefore it has become a necessity. What about a vehicle, can you get by without a car? My family can’t – we need wheels.

Food is a first, but in a category all its own.  I find it horrifying how much money is spent on food. It doesn’t have to be that way, I just know it! After all of our bills are paid, my family usually sets aside $200 for groceries. That feeds my family of four, for at least two months. We don’t eat fancy, but we eat well.

How about I make a menu plan and a grocery list, sometime in the near future? It will be like we are shopping together – I’m going to consider this a date, because getting to go grocery shopping is a big deal to me. I even get dressed up to go, because getting to go to town doesn’t happen very often for me.  

movie night

The Seconds.

I consider seconds the things that I can do without – the little balls, the stuff that fits in after the important stuff is taken care of first.  But the seconds and I have a like/dislike relationship.  Take for example, satellite (does anyone else automatically hear this song in their head upon hearing satellite? I’m so sorry, it’s just one of my faves, and I can’t say satellite without thinking about it). Satellite television – not thrifty at all – but it’s something we pay for, because we like to cuddle up as a family at the end of a long day to watch some Duck Dynasty — but we could totally do without. My cell phone – I’m happy to have one, and it has come in incredibly handy – but the cost of my current plan is outrageous, and completely unnecessary. I’m currently searching for something with a nicer price. Any suggestions? 

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Seconds make me feel down right guilty, I could be putting all the money I spend on these towards something a lot more useful. Do they do this to you, too?  What are some of your seconds – the things you can do without?

I am not a perfect example of thrift, obviously… satellite television, outrageous phone bill. But basically, my family and I understand what we can and cannot afford to do with our money – we live on only what we make, we pay for the things we truly need first, along with the things that we owe on, and then out the nice little surprise of leftovers, away for future use.

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Live on What You Make

Melanie Denney lives in the smallest of towns, with her two little darlings. She has a Bachelor's degree and happily works as a full-time mother and a freelance writer, specializing in sociology and recreation leadership. ... More

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  1. LIZ says:

    nice, article, you can have things but if you watch what are you spending you can have very nice life

  2. Carina says:

    Interesting how you only comment on the people praising you. I too would like to know how you spend that little on groceries. The only way I see it possible is if you all eat Top Ramen 24/7.

    I do appreciate the reminder that we need to prioritize what we spend our money on.

  3. Lilyanne says:

    $200.00 for 2 months for a family of 4???? For fresh veggies/fruit, meat, dairy, dry goods…. hmmm I’m sorry, but I need evidence or I’m just not buying that.

  4. Micah says:

    We just switched from Verizon to Metro PCS and it is $40 per phone a month with insurance included on the phones! We are VERY happy. We are saving at least $60 a month and with Verizon we only had basic flip phones….we also decided to go for our first year of marriage without cable and then never felt like we needed it! Fourteen years and seven kids later….we are still very happy with the choice! 🙂

  5. Destiny says:

    We have Boost Mobile. It has no contract and a shrinkage plan. If you make 6 on time payments, it shrinks from $50 a month, to $45, then to $35. I am paying $35 a month for unlimited talk and text. They have really nice phones to choose from too! We also do not have cable and that saves us money.

  6. I’m really bad with seconds. And there are things on that list that should be firsts, but aren’t.

    My fiance has to FORCE me to buy clothing. I just don’t feel ok about spending money on myself. I just bought two pairs of shoes, because my other pair has holes in it.. I do not get haircuts as often as I should (like.. once every 2 years). I really don’t look awful or anything, but I don’t look great either.

  7. dragonlayre says:

    Can you give shopping tips on how you only spend $200 every 2 months for groceries? I can’t even do that for a family of 3 for one month and we don’t go out to eat. But we definitely save money not having cable or satellite and just having netflix. We also switched internet to save. I’m always looking for better ways to save!

  8. Lisa says:

    I really liked the analogy to the aquarium with the balls…
    Reminds me of a post I read recently on babies on how much we spend on them:
    When spending = more working = less time with kids, we really need to take a critical look at what we’re buying and if it’s really enriching our family’s lives more than quality time would.

    On another note- $200 for a family of 4 for TWO months is insanely cheap for groceries. We are 3.5 (two adults with a dog that eats homemade food-grade food anda baby on the way 🙂
    And we spend about $300 for ONE month. We hardly buy an processed/pre-packaged foods, and I make most meals from scratch and at home. Aside from the dog, we’re all vegans, and we don’t drink alcohol, so you’d think our food bill would be lower. Hrmph. I guess we eat “fancy” specialty stuff like Pad Thai and Vietnamese Pho, and homemade smoothies… *confusion*

  9. Robert says:

    $200 to feed a family of four for TWO months?

    If my math is correct, that comes to $25 per week….for a family of four. Dare I say ‘impossible’? Details please.

  10. Lynette says:

    I find this interesting and as well we put $200 aside for groceries

  11. mommy nhoj says:

    I like the “dressing up” part 🙂 Thanks for writing this article! But kidding aside, we aim to keep at $200 dollars for the groceries but we can’t just keep it because baby care for a month is more or less that much! If baby’s stuff are taken out, maybe we are somewhere around that figure – monthly. For cable, satellite tv is not allowed in the apartment so we are settled with smart TV and netflix app. We haven’t bought an indoor antenna but that’s on next month’s list. For the internet we pay less than $50/month. Maybe it’s too much but at least we can watch streaming movies/ shows. For mobile communication, we pay $50 – unlimited text and talk – no data, no contract!

  12. EbyMom says:

    This article is so interesting and will definitely be of great help to my family. We are living on one income and it hasn’t been easy but I guess getting rid of those unimportant spending will be of great help. It is just making it part of us.

    • Oh, EbyMom, thank you so much for your comment. I’m so happy this has helped. If there is anything I have learned through my experience, it is that we actually don’t miss most of the things that we thought we couldn’t live without. Sending love and happiness to you and your family!

  13. Lauren says:

    I needed this article at this exact moment! I have been considering not returning to work after our second baby is due in February but trying to figure out how to give up that income has been difficult. This puts things into prospective. Thank you!

    • Thank you for your comment, Lauren!

      My greatest goal with this blog, is to help give someone a little hope through sharing my experiences. My family has lived on two incomes, one income, no income, and right now, we are living on one very small income. Money is tight most of the time, and we’ve had to give up some things that we thought we thought we couldn’t live without, but amazingly, it has brought an unexpected closeness and happiness to my family. Giving up an income is scary, but just like everything else, it has its pros and cons — they just need to be weighed.

      I wish the best to you and your family; and congratulations on your February baby!

      If I can offer any more insight, feel free to ask — I’d be delighted to help.

      Thanks again, for sharing your thoughts.

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