Our family of four (and our pup) downsized from a 15 acre farm to a 36ft camper about six months ago. Since the move, we have found that we are benefitting in many ways: more family time, less “stuff”, more focus on others, and (one of my personal favs) we are able to save a ton of money! *Disclaimer: A ‘ton’ to us is likely much less than it is to the average household income as we are a one job, one car family.
Several people ask us about how we are able to live this lifestyle and afford to be full-time RVers with kiddos while only one of us works. I am a teacher at an inner city school, so it’s not like the one job is raking in six figures. Just like anything, this lifestyle took sacrifice to accomplish, but anything worth doing requires risk.
So, here are the top nine super easy ways living minimally saves us moolah and it can help you save too!
If It Ain’t Auto-Pay, Use Cash:
In the beginning, we moved three states away from where we’d previously been settled for over 6 years so we had to get all new everything–bank, address change, post office box (read: THE WORST). Once the banking was set up, we put all of our bills on auto-pay. We’d used the profit from the sale of our home to pay off all of our debt except one. So, we know that each month, our regular bills will be taken care of after my paychecks are deposited. After that, we withdraw the cash amount we have designated for groceries, gas, and other expenditures.
From there on, we use that cash for those things. We stick to a monthly budget which we resolve to update together each month. Friends, let me tell you that when you have to actually see cash money leave your fingertips, you will think twice before flippantly handing over a plastic rectangle with magical money you don’t have to think about right at that moment. The Almighty dollar is very mystical like that.
Plan A Date Night (That Is Sometimes Free):
This is a no joke scenario. Parenting is hard but marriage can be a war-zone if not heavily protected and nurtured, especially where finances are concerned. You have to invest in yourself and your partner or you will both be crying for help and looking for the escape hatch. However, dating your spouse should be fun! It shouldn’t be added stress.
My husband and I are both pretty low key when it comes to fancy stuff. Obviously, we live in a camper on purpose. However, we still enjoy getting all gussied up and going out on the town every now and then. We also have a few expensive affinities like live music, craft beer, and really great whole food. So, that being said, we plan for it ahead of time.
We make sure that one night a month (or sometimes every six weeks because our kids are insane and lovely weirdos and sometimes we feel guilty asking for backup), we go do something for us. It might be a music festival or a brewery tour, or a night at a nice restaurant and a movie (because my husband is a child and likes to eat an entire tub of popcorn). Those kind of dates usually run us about $125 or so each. We plan those into our budget so our savings doesn’t end up taking a hit and we don’t have to charge anything.
What we do most often, however, is stay home and stream TV or watch a Redbox movie. We fix a really great steak (which I undoubtedly bought on sale), buy my favorite wine, and eat a nice dinner after we put the kids to bed. We devote quality time without the necessity of a high-priced outing. The simple act of planning ahead and incorporating a few free date nights into the mix has saved us heaps!
Have a Designated Night Out:
Turns out, our kids like to eat out too! So, as a mama who loves the thrill of a great deal, I searched our local restaurants for those who give free (or super cheap) kids meals with the purchase of an adult entree on a specific night of the week. There are a ton of these in most cities, by the way, so this will come in handy when we hit the road this summer.
We plan a night of the week where we go out as a family and we just make a night of it. We let the kids pick from the options with free or reduced dinners that night so they feel a part of the planning, and we save ridiculous loads of cash. For real, one of our fav spots is a local chili joint and their free kids meal night saves us at least $10 each visit.
So, if you are a numbers person, think about how many nights a week you hit the drive thru because…kids. If it is 2 nights a week for your family, at a savings of $10 per meal, that is $80 a month in savings for a two child household! For us, that looks like paying for our our monthly propane bill plus a tank of gas or two in our van. That adds up quickly!
Less Space = Less Spending:
We live in just under 300 square feet, so that isn’t much space for four people and a dog. We make great use of all of our storage, shelving, and vertical space, however, it becomes very easy to tell our son that he cannot have a toy because “its too big” or “we don’t have room” instead of the old “because I said so” routine. Plus, it is a concrete reason. He understands the why of our response.
We used to budget for over $200 in miscellaneous spending per month and we likely tripled that some months. Darn you, Amazon Prime! Now, with the exception of Christmas having just passed, we spend well under $100 a month on non-necessity items. It is crazy awesome to live without credit card debt looming over our heads!
Click List It, Homie:
If you don’t already do this, GET ON THIS TRAIN! This is a service many grocery chains have where you submit a shopping list online and someone who works there shops for you. You simply drive up to the spot, and they load your stuff up. Already paid online, including deducting my paper and online my coupons. Say whaaattt!?
This is coming from a mega Type-A control freak with some mildly insane amounts of anxiety, but I had to just let my groceries go. It wasn’t worth the hours I’d spend at the store, after list-making, coupon clipping, and on-and-on. This saves me a crazy amount of time and, in the last three months we’ve used this service, we have saved over $800 just in groceries and paper products.
So what’s the difference? Well, since I submit my shopping list to the store employee to get it for me, I don’t have the option to buy extra items because they are on sale, or think I will make some recipe I never will, or get a bag of chips on my way out because I went into the food store while I was starving!
Seriously. Sign up, like, yesterday!
Less Space (Also) = Making Mulah:
In order to reduce our house space by over 1800 square feet, we had to do many purges. In the beginning and at the end, we were able to make pretty impressive wads of cash from our big ticket items. The trick is to price them to sell and to create your own social media outreach. I have sold things on the Facebook marketplace and, honey, when someone rolls up kicking trash out of the floorboard of their front seat to offer you half of the agreed upon price for something, you get outta there fast.
We created a Facebook group for people we knew and friends of friends and listed our items there. We grouped small items, priced large items to sell, and sold clothing and shoes by the size lot. We sold enough to pay for our moving truck, our gas to drive across three states, and the lot rent for the first month after we moved.
Stick With Baloo-Bare Necessities Only:
When you live in less than 300 square feet, the term “necessities” takes on a whole new meaning. We have compartments for most everything. So, if paper towels are on sale, I still only buy what we need. This was a major adjustment for me since I love a deal and, if left unattended, I can lean on the side of hoarder. However, items always go back on sale.
My husband is a self-proclaimed diva when it comes to accessories like shoes, sunglasses, and belts. While it took him some time to purge, each one of us have about 50 items of clothing each. This includes under-things and shoes. So, after Christmas, we naturally did a whole-house clean out. If we hadn’t, our home would have stayed overrun with “stuff”. It gave me anxiety.
We are finding that we need much less and we use what we have so much more. Our kids aren’t wanting for more toys. They simply play more with the ones they have. I don’t miss my formerly endless scarf collection because I now get great use out of the ones that made the cut. My husband makes due with the 5 pair of shoes he kept and he knows (because he is very hard on athletic shoes), that when he wears a pair out, he will have the freedom to give them away and replace them with what he wants.
This ‘less is more’ mindset has totally transformed everything from our shopping habits to how we decorate and how we dress; and we love it!
Less Stuff = More Time:
This is one of the best motivations for going tiny, in my opinion. The freedom of having less stuff, less debt, and less outside responsibilities means that you have more time to do what you want to do. This means, we no longer live off of excuses of laundry or house work, yard work or overtime. We don’t have the things to cloud up our judgement anymore. So whatever we choose to do is chosen with intention.
Our little family has read more bedtime stories, had more dance parties, and taken more hammock naps in the last six months than in the six years we have had children. We have done exciting new adventurous things we wouldn’t have otherwise been able to afford, and we do lots of free things like snuggling on the couch for movies (because we no longer have 5 pieces of living room furniture).
These intentional time together means we are purposefully making choices with our family in mind. So our budget is friendly to these kinds of outings because we have the freedoms to cater to them now. We still don’t (and likely never will) do big, fancy trips or over-the-top parties, because that just isn’t us. However, we don’t have to worry about being spontaneous now because our minimalist lifestyle has afforded us that freedom.
Eat (And Cook) The Seasons:
My husband and I are both born against-the-grain hippies at heart so it is in our blood to want to go to farmer’s markets and do our best to live sustainably. However, we are currently fairly nomadic so we don’t have the option to grow much of our own food. We can still save money by eating along with the seasons.
During the summer, we buy local farmers market produce where the food is fresh and the prices are low. Everything is negotiable and the people are unbelievably friendly. We know we are eating fresh, pesticide-free produce that is supporting our neighbors and it costs us next to nothing. It is here that we stock up, chop up, and freeze what we buy. It saves us a ton and we are eating whole foods!
Downsizing from 2000 to 200 square feet was the easy part. Friends, when I say I was just freely giving stuff away, I am talking about trash bags and totes full. “Get outta my house!” I mean, if you could haul it, you could have it!
However, the adjustment to actually living tiny with two kids under 7 and a dog (and a husband) can be tricky at times. At the end of the day, I wouldn’t want to live any other way. Being able to save money and leave less of an impact in our environment is just the icing on the cake!
Brynn Burger lives tiny, loves big, and laughs always. Writing with honest hilarity and violent vulnerability about parenting, adulting, downsizing, living tiny, and raising an extreme child is her attempt to escape the painful isolation that comes from a life of hiding to instead connect with people who are raw and real. Check her out at www.themamaontherocks.com.