Six People. $550 a month. How we do it!

How our family of six lives on $550 a month! ~ Our Cozy Den

Last year I wrote a post about how we live on $650 a month. I got a lot of feedback from it — both incredibly positive as well as harshly negative. I’m a sensitive person, so negative comments are really hard on me. For that reason, I was hesitant to even post today’s budget update. However, I’ve had a few readers ask if our budget has changed since that time — and it has. So here I am to share our new 2016 budget!

Our new total budget is $550 a month. Here’s now it breaks down:

Groceries = $175/month

I’ve been blogging my weekly menus for about 7 months now, and boy has it made my grocery bills shrink! Something about the accountability of knowing I will be posting pictures of everything on the blog really keeps me from putting extra stuff in the cart.

My main tips to keep grocery bills low are to buy in bulk and cook from scratch. I do not use coupons, but I do make the most of what we buy. I stretch the meat in my recipes to make it go farther. I don’t believe in overeating. (Americans eat an average of 34% more than they need.) I check store ads to I can price-match and get the best deal, especially on meat and produce. You can see more of my grocery savings tips on this page.

 

Utilities = $150/month

This section did not change much from last year. Our electric bill is $60, natural gas (heat) is $50, and water is $40. I work hard to make our home energy efficient. I teach the children to be cautious in their use of utilities. (They have to do push-ups if they leave the room with the light on!) These are my tips for saving money on electricity and water. We have all of our utilities on budget-billing plans, so that we pay the same bill every month. It keeps us from having high bills in the winter! We do not currently have an air-conditioner, which also saves us money in the summer. I’ll be honest, sometimes my house is sweltering in the summer or freezing in the winter, but those are sacrifices we are making in this current season of life.

 

Insurance = $100/month

We have insurance through the military-supportive company USAA. They have great rates, and $100 gives us excellent coverage on both our van and our home.

 

Cell phones = $40/month

I have a prepaid plan through the company Red Pocket. With under $40/month, I get unlimited texting and calling, and more than enough data. My husband also has a prepaid phone, which he tops up once a year for $80 (averages out to $6.67/month). It’s not included in our monthly budget because it is so minimal and he only pays it once a year. Read all about how to save on cell phones here, and finding a plan that works for you.

 

Vehicle Fuel = $30/month

My husband doesn’t work, but he does currently attend seminary. We bought a home close enough to his school and our church so that we would walk, saving us a lot of money in gas. We walk every time we have the opportunity! We only own one vehicle, and we practice something called hypermiling when we drive it to save even further. When we do fill up, we use a website and app called Gas Buddy to find the cheapest gas in our area.

 

Internet = $35/month

I shopped around to find the lowest rate at the speeds we wanted. We watch all of our TV on the computer, as well as my using it for work, blogging, school, etc. We often have 4-5 devices going at once, so it’s pretty fast for what we pay!

 

Miscellaneous = $20/month

We do our best to be content with what we have. If we “need” something, we wait a little while to decide if it’s really a need, or if it’s something we can live without. Usually the things that end up in this category are new shoes for the kids (purchased on clearance for $2 or less) or printer ink or things like that. Trash pickup also comes out of this category — which is $6/month. {Click here for my tips to reduce your garbage bills.}

 

So that is our new bare bones budget, which adds up to $550 total. Our income has plummeted the past few months, and sometimes we only make $200-300, but somehow we always make it each and every month. God is good! 

 

{P.S.}

I wanted to add one more thing – back when we had a mortgage and our house wasn’t paid in full, we still had extremely low expenses. Our budget was closer to $1100 instead of $550, but we still had bare minimum expenses in most areas so that we could save-save-SAVE! (At the time we were making about $4,000 a month and saving over 70% of it.) That’s part of how we got to where we are, and in the position that we could pay cash for a house.

 

{FAQs} 

I’m happy to answer questions, any time! Here are a few that people have asked in the past:

  • What about property taxes? 
    • That is paid annually from our tax return (we usually get $8-10,000 — which is more than our annual income at this point).
  • Do you have health insurance? 
    • We have always had free healthcare from the government because of my husband’s and my military service.
  • What internet service provider do you use? Is it a promotional rate? 
    • Our $35 rate is not promotional. It’s from ATT U-Verse.
  • What about memberships? 
  • Which category is your homeschool books? 
    • We buy as little as possible. I get most of my homeschool supplies from the library and secondhand. I also scan in books as pdf files so we can use them over and over again.
  • What about clothes? 
    • For the kids, they survive on hand-me-downs or my stash of stored items collected from yard sales. For my husband and I, we use cash and/or gift cards that we receive for birthday/Christmas to buy new things. We don’t do it very often though! I get 1, maybe 2 new items a year.
  • I know you travel a lot. How do you pay for that? 
    • We use tax return money to fund our annual vacations as well.

 

How our family of six lives on $550 a month! ~ Our Cozy Den
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21 thoughts on “Six People. $550 a month. How we do it!

  1. Sarah says:

    Question-Does the Grocery budget include that which you get from WIC? Do you have a plan for getting to a place where you won’t take from social services?

    • ourcozyden says:

      The amount we get from WIC is about $25 a month. Many of those items are things we wouldn’t buy if they weren’t free, so the amount we actually save from WIC is closer to $10-15. As for using social services, my husband is in seminary full time right now studying to be a pastor, and he graduates in about 18 months. When that happens, we have plans to reenter the military full time as a Chaplain (he has been active duty for 12 years, and is on reserve status right now). So being jobless is temporary!

  2. Carmella C says:

    You have done a great job being stewards of your money, I could learn a few things from you my self. I know that negative comments can be disheartening, but you are doing what you can to meet your goals and for a better future. You are also showing your children how to be good stewards over what God has provided you. Keep doing what is in God’s plan and ignore the naysayers, who secretly wish they could make it work for their life. BE BLESSED!

  3. Cherie says:

    I just read your post and actually pinned a couple of others and I just want to say “great job”!! You are doing something very few people can do today, and being open and honest about it is refreshing. I definitely can learn from you as my family is in a scaling down/minimal phase of life. I look forward to reading more of your posts! A couple of questions, what do you do when your kids are invited to birthday parties? I try to stock a “gift closet” when I can but sometimes come up short in this area. Also, what about your kiddos birthdays? Parties or not? Thanks! Keep it up, your an inspiration to those of us who really want to cut back!

    • ourcozyden says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words! I’m happy to know I can help people, if only in small ways. 🙂 To answer your questions about birthdays, my kids only attend parties for their closest friends — one or two friends per child. I stock a gift closet as well. I like to watch amazon sales and pick up gifts that are worth $25-30, but I only spend $5-10. (I post lots of these in my Amazon Deals group here.)

      For my own kids’ birthdays, we do a small celebration. The birthday child picks an activity they want to do (something like ice skating, the movies, bowling, etc.), and they invite a friend to come along. We have cake and dinner at home. I think that big parties are a waste of money, but I do other small things to make sure that they feel loved and valued and special.

  4. Starla says:

    I love how you and your husband work together. I want to downsize so bad, cut as many expenses as possible, but the family is not on board. I want to invest in a tiny home and live on as little as possible. Thank you for all your advice and information.

    • ourcozyden says:

      It can be really hard when both people aren’t on board. I would suggest calmly talking to your husband about some of your concerns. Dream together about the future — where do you see yourselves in 20, 30, 50 years? What steps can you take to have a secure future? Are you saving now to live the way you want to live then? I also really recommend taking Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University TOGETHER. It’s not free, but I promise it’s worth every penny. And pray often: God will help you!

      • starla says:

        Thank you for the advice I have done all that you suggested but for some reason its not working it goes deeper than that but so far I’ve paid off $12,000 on my own and I do have the Financial Peace University home edition which I am about to begin again in the next several months.

  5. Sara says:

    Thanks for the add on IG! Read through some of your stuff and it’s great! Just paid off all our debt using some of Dave’s concepts. Where does tithing to your local church/giving/gifts fit in your budget?

    • ourcozyden says:

      Our income is irregular, as we have a few small streams coming in — but none of them are guaranteed or the same every month. $550 is our bottom-dollar baseline, the absolute least we live on right now. Sometimes we have a good month and we bring in $800. Other times we have a bad month and bring in only $100. In the good months, we sock away every extra penny into various accounts. As for tithing and giving back, we have separate bank accounts for that. Right now we give $100/month to our church, $114/month to Compassion to support 3 impoverished children, and $30-50/month to random acts of kindness. Those all come out of savings. For gift giving, I do everything I can to save on gifts (read my post about that here and also check out my Amazon Deals page here). My budget is usually $10/recipient for birthdays & Christmas, limited to about 10 people a year. That includes grandparents, aunts & uncles, & kids’ friends. Because of savvy shopping the $10 gift is usually worth $25-$35, so not some cheap trinket. 🙂 Money for that also comes out of savings, but it’s minimal.

  6. WOW! OK This is so inspiring as I am SAHM myself and we are a family of 6 as well. It’s been HARD right now on us. We are in debt and by God’s grace my husband has gotten a better job BUT it feels as we are doing worse because he is in his training stage which will last a year (it’s a city job so in the long run we will able to breath but right now OH MY) He’s almost done he should be fully trained by end of the Summer. What I am working on is finishing up my CC debt which is down to $3000 but I only have a tiny income of $270 so that $3000 looks like 30,000 lol.. Both my Husband and I are trying to get our credit repaired (ahh young and dumb messed up our credits BAD) so we are able to save to purchase our own home as right now we rent. Thank you for your tips and I will see what I can work into my schedule! OH thanks for the follow on IG see God works amazing ways as that made me go look you up! 🙂 Have a wonderful weekend.

    • ourcozyden says:

      I’m happy for you that you are moving in the right direction!! Just starting to dig your way out, no matter how small the shovel, is a huge step! You can do ALL things through Christ! It’s nice to connect with you too!! 🙂

  7. Jen says:

    I am curious what part of the country are you living in? I can definitely apply several of your tips to our budget, but in our area, $120 a month is a great price for our 900 sq. Ft. House just for electricity and gas! My husband is also in seminary, but he is also working full time, sometimes two jobs.

    I also wondered what curriculum you use that you order from amazon? I am assuming you build your own curriculum-which is what i did this year, but I still ended up spending about. $200 or more per kid. Just wondering where i can be looking?

    Thanks for opening up your budget book!! 🙂

    • ourcozyden says:

      We live in Findlay, Ohio. For homeschooling, I use mostly Evan-Moor books — I love that they are hands-off for me, for the most part. It can be hard juggling multiple homeschooling kids, and with Evan-Moor they can just do the next day’s lesson without much direction from me. I also scan the books and print off copies so we can reuse them for several children, and get as many as I can from the library instead of buying. There’s more detail on what exactly we use for homeschooling on this page here: http://ourcozyden.com/index.php/homeschooling/

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