My husband and I were married in 2009. During that first year, we both worked part time. In 2010, we decided to go to school full time, and squeeze work in when we could. That meant about 10 hours a week for my husband and 25 or so for me. After a few months, due to some personal issues, I had to quit my job. My husband’s income was all we had.

When it came time to do our taxes that year we found out that we had only made $11,000 combined! Granted, it was just the two of us that year (I was pregnant with our first), but looking back on it I realize that there are many habits we learned that year that have helped us get through the rest of our college years.

I think needs vs. wants was the most important thing that we learned. This one was also the hardest, since we were in college. All around us we had friends who were spending money they didn’t have on things they didn’t need. We learned early to define what exactly our needs were. We figured out that those “needs” are the same for everybody; food, shelter, water. That’s it. There were periods of time when we went without things that many people would never part with (cell phones, for example). We often got invitations to go out to dinner or to movies or on trips and we had to say no. And before you ask, no, I don’t feel like we missed out on the “college experience” unless you count the part where you graduate with tons of credit card debt. In that case, yes, thankfully we missed out on that.

One of the things that has saved us the most money was our choice of shelter. The town we lived in had many apartment buildings, and we looked into almost all of them. We quickly realized that we would not be able to afford any of them on our income. We briefly looked into subsidized housing, but felt that it wasn’t right for us. So we kept looking. We stayed with friends for a little while until we felt we found the best solution. We bought a trailer in a run-down trailer park. We paid $3,000 for it over the course of a year. Between that payment and our lot rent, we paid $500/month for shelter. It had two small bedrooms and a bathroom that was falling apart. The washing machine was in the bathroom and the dryer was in one of the bedrooms. But, it was cheap. The cheapest one bedroom apartment we could find was $700/month. So in that first year, it saved us over $2000 and the next year it saved us over $8,000 since we had it paid off. And the best part is that we just sold it for $6,000.

We also saved money at the grocery store. Many of our friends were spending over $600 a month on food. We had friends that had kitchen cupboards that were completely bare because they went to the store every time they were hungry. Not only did that waste both gas and time, it is also was very expensive to buy food that way. In order to save money on food, I did a few simple things:

– I always used a list.

– I bought generic whenever possible

– I shopped by myself (it’s much easier for one person to stick to a list than two)

– I menu planned for a month at a time

– I utilized leftovers (this alone can save you hundreds of dollars a year)

– I also used for a little while. They made shopping really easy and I felt like we could eat better but still save money.

We ate a lot of “poor college food” such as Ramen noodles, mac and cheese, rice and beans, and other simple things like that. We often went to restaurants with friends and didn’t order anything, or just ordered an appetizer and water. But guess what. We survived.

Besides shelter and nourishment we also felt that we needed some sort of transportation, seeing how my husband was a pizza delivery guy. We would have survived without it, but it wouldn’t have been fun. At the time, we had a Jeep Cherokee. It was a gas guzzler. On top of that, it often broke down and needed replacement parts, something that cost us money that we didn’t have. So, we sold it for $4,000. We searched and searched for a car that would suit our needs better. And eventually, we found it. We bought a 1985 Chevy Sprint for $1,500. It was not fancy in anyway, but it was in good shape. It only had 30,000 on the original engine when we bought it. And, the best part: it got amazing gas mileage. We went from spending $150 a month on gas to $40 or so. We not only had the money from the sale of our Jeep, we also saved money every month at the pump.

Another thing that I learned during this time was the credit cards are deadly. Both my husband and I had three cards each at the time and we often used them for little things. But those little things added up. Every time we got any extra money, it went to paying them off. We didn’t want to live that way, so we froze our credit cards in a block of ice. Now they only get used in true emergencies. I was hesitant to do this at first. I was afraid that something horrible would happen and I wouldn’t have my credit card. But guess what? We survived. Nothing has happened where I absolutely needed a credit card. Many people in the world survive just fine without them, and we do too.

Another want that can often be a need is clothing. Eventually clothes wear out or you or the children outgrow them. Here is my secret to saving money on clothes: buy used. We never buy new clothes. We go to thrift stores for all our clothing. This is a habit I know I will keep my whole life, no matter how much money my husband makes. We have found amazing deals on clothes that have barely or have never been worn. There is no reason not to at least check local thrift stores before heading to the mall.

I am so grateful for the chance we have had to be poor. My husband just graduated with a teaching degree, so our life style is not going to change much from this. His first job will likely pay him around $40,000…if we are lucky. We now have two kids and we have decided that no matter what, I am going to stay home with our kids. I am so glad that we had the opportunity to be poor in college. I know now that we can live off of almost nothing and be just fine.

Markell blogs at A Mouse in my Kitchen.

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  1. Wow it must have been hard living like that. I never knew you lived in a trailor. My husband delivered pizzas and made some good money doing it. It was nice of you to share your story.

  2. I appreciate the story, and glad to glean knowledge when I can, but I’m a single stay at home mom who lives on $18k/year with my two little ones. I nor anyone who knows me hardly considers us ‘poor.’ I live in the nicest subdivision in our town, and have more than most people who make $40k/year. It’s all about how you spend what you have. Thank you for sharing! It’s good to see other perspectives on things.

  3. By shopping clearance sales, I am able to buy new clothing at Kohls
    for less than the cost for used at many thrift stores. For example,
    I recently bought three new t-shirts at Kohls for $2 each.

    Buying gently used clothing at garage sales is even cheaper.



    1. For baby showers we go to Salvation Army and Goodwill stores and buy the new baby a ton of clothes at LOW
      prices: sleepers, dresses, pants, sweaters, hats, mittens, all sort of things. There’s so much in good clean
      shape and a new baby and young toddler do not care what they wear.We put the ton of clothes in a garbage bag with a giant bow. The new mother has all sorts of clothes to last many months a sizes, and she get more because of the low prices.

  4. Im so glad to have stumbled upon this post. Although currently my husband is making a very comfortable salary for just the two of us, he’s considering leaving the military so we can settle down in one place. We’ve been preparing to start challenging ourselves to live on $1000 a month (not including our housing) in order to build a strong nest egg and to see what it will be like when he goes back to school and we’re living on a much smaller salary. I’m hoping to get rid of my student loans by then and learn to save money at the grocery store. Get post.

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