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Ten Ways to Add Joy to Your Life When You Don't Have a Penny To Spare

Over the past decade, there have been many years where I debated every penny of expense.

Our income was so tight that even "free" things were evaluated for the cost that they had. An outing to see something still cost gas money to get there, when we didn't have that money to spare, was definitely not free. The same went for a trip to the library; even though it is just a few miles away, it still cost money in gas. Every penny needed to be evaluated and every expense spared if we were going to be able to make ends meet.

Our income is again at that stage. A variable income can be up or down. It can be just enough, not enough, or more. 

You may find yourself in the same situation now or in the future. Perhaps you have major car expenses or medical bills. Perhaps you have had a decrease or loss of income. 

Perhaps you have all of these things right now.

As we have moved back into this stage of low-income this year, accompanied by a child's trip to the hospital, other medical bills, and some vehicle repairs, I have looked for no-cost ways to add joy to our life. We've been in this situation before and we know what we can do to bring joy into our lives without spending money.


 Gallery Wall Detail The Prudent Homemaker


1. Take Advantage of Free

When there isn't money for any extras, free deals offer a great pick-me-up.

Free Photo Prints

Many places offer free photo prints. Walgreen's regularly has coupon codes for a free 8 x 10 print (often right before a holiday). I've used these to hang photos in my house as well as to give as gifts. 

Many places offer 100 free prints when you start a photo account with them. These don't have to be redeemed all at once. Both Sam's Club and Walmart have this option for local pickup (so no shipping costs; online companies often offer this option to new customers, but you'll need to pay shipping).

Free Seed Exchanges

Some libraries have free seed exchanges, and there are many online sites where you can swap seeds (postage may be required unless you have a local exchange). Here's how I save seeds from my own garden.

Free Movies and Concerts at the Park

A community or city near you may offer free movies and concerts in the park. These are often held in summer, but in warmer climates, they may start in fall and include early spring as well.

Free Movies from the Library and Red Box

Looking for some fun family entertainment? Try borrowing movies from the library or using a free Redbox code. You may even want to start a tradition of a weekly family movie night. At my house, we do this each Friday night.

Free Magazines

Recyclebank regularly offers free magazine subscriptions for points redeemed after you read about recycling information on their site. 

Your local library is a great source to borrow free magazines; as long as it is a past issue within the last year of a magazine that they carry, you can check it out and enjoy it at home.

Free Gift Cards

Swagbucks is a way to earn gift cards by searching online, taking surveys, etc. I've redeemed points for Amazon gift cards, as well as a restaurant gift card and gift cards to Lowe's and Sam's Club.

$10 off $10 purchases that stores offer are a good way to find something you want/need. Use them on a clearance item to make them go further!

Friday Freebies

Kroger grocery stores and affiliates in the U.S. have a free product you can add to your card each week. You need to add the product online on Friday, and then you can pick it up anytime in the next two weeks. I like to pick up two at a time when I'm already planning on being at the store to save on gas. Around Christmastime, many of these freebies are for candy that is perfect to use as a stocking stuffer.

Enjoy the beauty around you

Watch a sunrise or a sunset; take the time to watch a bird or a bee.


2. Organize

Organizing your surroundings gives you a great sense of peace and calm, and it doesn't have to cost anything.

Tidy a drawer or a closet for a sense of peace. While you're at it, pull out anything you're not using and let it stop cluttering your life. 

Organize your meal plan. Plan out your meals using what you have on hand. Unable to shop? See my two weeks of pantry-only meals and two weeks of bean meals recipes.

Organize a schedule to accomplish more in your day. You can see mine here.


3. Sell Something

Sell something you're no longer using, such as outgrown/unwanted clothing, infrequently used kitchen supplies,  You can have a garage sale, sell on a local Facebook garage sale page, sell on Craig's List, or sell on Ebay (or whatever online sales resource you have available where you live). If it doesn't sell, or you don't want to sell things, you can donate your items to a thrift/charity shop, and quite possibly receive a receipt you can use to deduct that amount from your taxable income--which nets you more of the money you've earned come tax time. Even if it's just a little income, it's still an increase on something you weren't using anyway and the money can be used towards your needs.


4. Practice Gratitude

Write three things for which you are grateful in a journal each day (if you don't have a journal, search for a free journaling app or start one on your computer).

Thank people around you for the little things, even the things that they should be doing and/or do every day (such as thanking children when they do their chores).

Send an online message to a friend to thank them for their friendship.

Al Fresco in August The Prudent Homemaker


5. Make Every Day a Celebration

Use cloth napkins if you have them.

Set a nice table; if you have flowers or greenery in a garden, cut some to bring to your table.

Play card games or board games in the evening.


A Penny Saved The Prudent Homemaker


6.  Practice the Principle of Waste Not, Want Not

Use fewer utilities

Reduce expenses, even if you think you've already cut everything

Make soup stock with bits of leftover vegetables

Collect seeds from your garden 

Make breadcrumbs with the ends of your bread

Combine errands to save money on gas as well as give you more time



 Earrings 2 The Prudent Homemaker


7.  Make something over that you already own or use something in a new way


Turn an old pillowcase into a nightgown

Turn an old sheet into cloth napkins, a slip, handkerchiefs, etc.

Make broken jewelry into something new

"Necessity is the mother of invention."

Use a fancy cup or jar to organize something or as a planter


8. Serve Someone

It's easier to be happy when you're more concerned with the welfare of others than your own happiness.

Make a dessert from items you have on hand for your family--or a friend--and give it to them.

JustServe.org is a great place to find service opportunities near you. In our city, some of the service activities available include collecting clothing, school supplies, feminine hygiene supplies, and easy to eat food for homeless teenagers (there are over 2500 homeless teenagers in our school district); there are opportunities to serve refugee families by sharing household items you no longer need, tutoring refugees in English, etc.


9. Read

When you're focused on a story, you can enjoy a different place altogether. I find that reading fiction helps me come back to my own life with a bit more spring in my step and excitement for life.


Pink Rose Cupcakes The Prudent Homemaker


10. Learn Something New

There are so many free ways to learn something new, and learning something new can make you so excited about life, no matter what your circumstances. You can learn from library books, learn from You Tube, learn from a blogger, etc.  

Here are a few to try:

Break out your children's watercolors and try painting a portrait like this (they're super easy!) or follow some great tutorials on YouTube (I love this artist's channel)

Learn or improve a foreign language

Learn to draw or do a new art form (I have a page of simple art projects on my Pinterest board here).

Try a new recipe using ingredients you have on hand.


Financial trials are difficult, but they don't have to take all the joy from your life. Look for ways to have happy moments each day in spite of the trials of the day!


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  • Lisa November 13, 2017

    These are such good tips. Some of the happiest times in my life have been during financially challenging periods.

    Brandy--what do you attribute your downturn in income? We are still in a real estate boom here in Georgia, but I worry that it is a bubble once again. I worry that we bought last summer at the height of the market and that things could go down in value dramatically.

  • Brandy @ The Prudent Homemaker November 13, 2017

    Lisa, as long as you're not planning on selling anytime soon, you can wait out a drop in income. Prices are holding steady around the country right now, and a drop is not expected.

    The number of home sales (nationwide) was down considerably this year, most notably during the summer, which is usually when sales are highest.

    We personally have had a loss of our top-producing agents; one moved out of state, another accepted a full-time job elsewhere, and the others are doing about a 1/3 or less of their normal sales. Real estate is not a steady income, and we know that. That's why we do our best to be prepared to weather the low-income storms.

  • Jeannie November 13, 2017

    I will add one more to the list. Yesterday afternoon we took our dog Scooter for a walk. When we opened the drawer and pulled out the leash, he began to dance, prance, spin and jump. It's hilarious and free watching his excitement.
    Jeannie @ GetMeToTheCountry

  • Becky November 13, 2017

    These things are so true! I think the most meaningful one that has worked the best for me over the years is cultivating the spirit of thankfulness. It really works, whether the trial is financial, or otherwise. Also, giving and thinking about others is right up there as well. It's so important to not give in to despair, but instead to look on the bright side of things. It takes another kind of courage to do that, though, and I've know people who don't choose that way to live.

    I well remember an instance over 30 years ago that helped form who I am. I was visiting a friend who was not financially well off. Neither was I. She spent the weekend I and my 2 daughters spent with her bemoaning the fact all day, every day. She served meals consisting of macaroni with tomato sauce over it. No spices, no cooking other than boiling the macaroni. Then...again..constantly commenting on how this was all she could afford, etc. I went out and bought a bag of groceries, but could not afford much, either. It was a great leaning experience for me. I thought "bologna!" I don't have to eat like this, or act like it either. I continued to spend time learning to can, freeze, cook, etc. and stretch those dollars. I u-picked, learned to garden, and practiced a cheerful attitude. Although the weekend was rather painful to experience, I am grateful for the lessons I learned there--they've served me well for many years.

    I love this post. It is so encouraging and uplifting and holds truths that we all need to be reminded of no matter where we are in life. Thank you for sharing.

  • Thrifty Lisa November 13, 2017

    Becky: I totally agree. There are always others worse off than we are in some way or another, and when things really feel desperate, just being thankful for the bare necessities helps. And helping someone else, even with a kind word, an inquiry as to how they are doing, makes a person feel better.

  • J November 13, 2017

    Great ideas. I especially love #2. Organizing a space always makes me feel better!!!

  • Sheila November 13, 2017

    This is one of my favorite posts you have ever written. I would like to say that most of these could apply to those dealing with sadness and grief. We are dealing with a wayward adult child that has broken our hearts. This has about destroyed our joy and our finances trying to help , but at some point there is only so much you can do both emotionally and financially. I will be reading and rereading this post.

  • Anna November 13, 2017

    Sheila, you are on my heart today. We are in the same situation. When you have put your life and resources into your children, the lack of gratitude, or interest in you, from them as adults can be heartbreaking. I have spent almost a year in tears and depression over our youngest son. I am beginning to see some daylight but it is still hard to be around other parents who are bragging about the closeness they have with their adult children. Especially around the holidays.

  • ant November 13, 2017

    I agree with you Sheila.....one of my favorite posts too! I also agree about these helping with sadness and grief. I lost my Dad 6 months ago to a horrible cancer! We also moved my father in law in with us 14 months ago. So lots of grief, sadness, stress etc. I quit my job to spend my time helping our parents as much as possible. I agree with an above post about walking the dog.....I was able to rescue an 11 year old dog and walking her and just spending time with her are the highlights of my day! I am in the process of decluttering, selling a few things, donating things. Even if I can’t spend like I used to on things for the home a clean organized home goes a long way! Throw in some diy projects and I am getting the cozy home I long for.

  • Juls Owings November 13, 2017

    Sheila add us with this also. Heart broken Again and we did what we could because of the grandchildren and dogs but have paid the price of a broken trailer that can no longer be used (literally broke an axle) and spent money on gas that would have been for our gas to see grandkids next month when we have no income. PLUS added expenses of 2 dogs that haven't had their shots or anything...

    I have Philippians 4:11-13 in purple (even though black is my favorite color) posted on my wall where I can see it several times a day.

  • Sheila November 13, 2017

    Thank you all for your kind and thoughtful comments. I hope each of your situations will someday improve. I am sure many other readers can relate to these situations.

  • Kathy November 15, 2017

    I am so sorry to hear about your struggles with your adult child. Trouble can come in many ways - if your adult child's problems stem from substance abuse, please consider Al Anon - a program modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous designed specifically for the loved ones of a person with alcohol and/or drug abuse. As they say in meetings "The program works if you work it - and you're worth it."

  • kim November 17, 2017

    I second trying All Anon for families of alcoholics. I attended it during college when I had immense guilt about leaving my mother in her depression and alcohol with a marriage that was falling apart to my stepfather. It helped me see that I need to take care of myself and my own emotional well-being. I was not being a service to anyone if I was sad all the time. Now I have my own family and realize even more the importance of maintaining positive emotional health over all other things such as earning more $ or working harder to achieve more recognition. Children of alcoholics more often become academics or tend to intellectualize things is what I learned. So being in touch with your feelings and giving them validation is important. My heart is with those families dealing with addiction.

  • Cindi November 13, 2017

    Such a wonderful, timely post! Thank you!

  • Renee November 13, 2017

    Brandy, I think I say this every time that I comment or write to you! You are an inspiration! Thank you for sharing yourself with the world! I'm sorry for the lean times you are experiencing right now. I wonder, do your kids even notice? I love, love, love your attitude. Nature and books could keep us busy forever, I think! I love how you create such a lovely space for your family! I'm truly grateful for your influence in my life!

  • Sandra November 13, 2017

    Thank you for a timely and meaningful post, as always. You write so well and obviously from your heart and your own personal experiences. We have prospered over time, but it is due to carefully managing our resources. We give thanks for our good health and the comforts we are able to enjoy today. We take nothing for granted and give thanks for each good day.

  • Jenni@DitchingOurDebt November 13, 2017

    I love this post, and would add that even when you have money to spend, these things are worth doing. There is such a pressure to consume during the holidays instead of produce. When I lived overseas for 5 years in a Muslim country, our Christmas celebrations were very small but meaningful. We had a gift exchange and the maximum you could spend was $5-$10. My favorite Christmas was when I visited a group of European friends overseas and we celebrated Christmas with a candlelight feast and European Christmas carols. I don't even remember what I got for Christmas that year.

  • Tammy November 13, 2017

    My favorite Christmas memories include Christmas Caroling and hot chocolate!

  • Myra November 13, 2017

    Whenever I begin to feel my joy slip away, I stop and get out my thankful journal. I begin listing all of the things I am thankful for, no matter how small it may be. I also have started sticking post it notes with things I am thankful for in places I will frequently see.. my computer, my desk at work, my calendar, etc. No one else might see them, but I will and they make a difference. The one on my desk simply says "Thank you for the opportunity to make a difference." I teach first grade in an urban school and there are days that I have to look at that hot pink sticky note and remind myself why I do what I do. It works!

  • Rhonda A. November 13, 2017

    Brandy, I especially love your last point...learn something new. There are so many things that you can learn that will help during a financially difficult time. The feeling of accomplishment as you master a new task, understand something better or try a new recipe is such an amazing way to ward off feelings of depression. I love learning new crafts, but I also enjoy reading articles on how to live and cook frugally on Pinterest, which is completely free to use. All of this helps me feel like I am in control of my life. After all knowledge is power! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us.

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