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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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  • Ellie's friend from Canada November 13, 2017


    I felt really uplifted reading this blog today. I have been disturbed by someone in our group who won't do even a minor task (and one time over the next 7 weeks) because she doesn't want to become over-committed. She told us this right after returning from a cruise. It happened to be right after the rest of us had volunteered for something and had worked really hard for the past 2 months. So it was like a kick in the shins to us. I was pretty discouraged about it and, in fact, was so shocked, that I was speechless which was probably a good thing.

    But when I read your blog just now, it was as if the worry just lifted from my soul. I am going outside soon and watch the birds,
    and breathe the fresh, clean air. Later, I am going to put on a pot of veggies and make soup. I will sit and appreciate the blue sky and think with sadness about how India is experiencing record pollution, how people in China don't see the blue sky except rarely because of the pollution. I will be happy that concern with and actions about climate change may result in far less pollution and hope that children everywhere may someday breathe clean air.

    Thank you for your blog. It brings interest and happiness. Happiness should not be deferred but should be be a day to day experience.

  • Cindy S. November 13, 2017

    I literally list the things I am thankful for before I go to sleep at night as often as I can, especially when I am feeling anxious about money. I always pay the bills first and use the rest for groceries. This can lead to some pretty lean weeks but all in all, we are doing fine. God has blessed me with a wonderful husband and great kids. We have our challenges, but we have a home, it is clean and organized, everyone has what they truly need and no one is starving.
    I feel "alone" sometimes because I like to stay at home and cook and clean and I can't go out to eat or shopping with my friends very often, but they understand.

  • Rachel C. November 13, 2017

    Oh I so needed to read this today!! Thank you for this post!! I will be reading this over and over again! We have a variable income as well. My hubby gets paid every other Saturday and it all depends on how many jobs he gets each day and they are based on a point system where points equal a certain amount of money. Some checks are great especially if he had a great two weeks, and others can be very very small if those two weeks there was hardly any work. I appreciate your website and your blogs so much!! They help when we need to cut back and help me refocus on making small changes that add up to saving money. This year has been very difficult and it just got more so this past week. And we know going forward it will only be more difficult since we now have medical bills that we have to pay every month.

  • SJ in Vancouver BC Canada November 13, 2017

    I grew up with a Dad who was a Real Estate Broker and remember the high-low income cycles. In the long run, though, learning to live on a budget was a blessing I've carried with me into my adult life.

    One organizing tip that I use when I have no money: completely empty a room, do a deep clean and then re-organize the furniture and furnishings using what I have already. It keeps me busy, cleans the house and costs nothing. Win-win-win.

    I'm always learning about new resources. This weekend, I learned about 'Produce on Wheels' in the Phoenix AZ area. They offer 60 pounds of fresh produce for $10. Anyone can participate.

  • Laura M Villotta November 13, 2017

    Such great reminders. For me financially it is health insurance. For 2018 my premiums are goi g to be$800/mos. That is half my paycheck every 2 weeks. As a single mom of 2 kids i make less than $40,000 yr. I am tired of living month to month and it gets very depressing. Thank you for your encuragement.

  • Holly November 13, 2017

    At your income level, if your family's insurance costs more than 9-something percent of your income, then please, please, please check healthcare.gov or your state's exchange to see if you can get better health insurance for much less cost there.

  • momsav November 13, 2017

    I agree with Holly. We get ours through our local insurance co. They do all the work for us for no fee. We’re able to get insurance for 00.00 this next year. We’re just a family of two making under 35k. (We always guess on the high side so we don’t have to make it up later.) It really could save you a small fortune, at least til it’s changed. Our agent told us it can’t be changed til 2019 because of the laws surrounding insurance co.’s.

  • Laura M Villotta November 13, 2017

    I would be interested in details. I am sure it will matter what state u live in. You can PM me at lvillotta1@yahoo.com laurie

  • cathy November 13, 2017

    If you haven't already looked into it, your family may qualify for CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program), which (I understand) covers much of a kid's healthcare. It's a government program, administered by each state. Just do a web search for it and put in your state information.

  • Laura M Villotta November 13, 2017

    This insr is thru marketplace. The premium is $1250. I will be lucky to get a $500 subsidy.

  • Holly November 13, 2017

    So much depends upon where you live. In my county in Michigan, your kids would be eligible for Medicaid and, if you were 60, you'd be able to enroll in a Silver plan with a deductible of $500 and a maximum out-of-pocket of $1600 with a subsidized premimum of $378 monthly. Some Bronze plans would have a $0 premium after the subsidy but have a maximum out-of-pocket of $6650. Healthinsurance.org is a site where you can find out about the plans offered in your area before entering a lot of personal information information first so you can look at "what if" scenarios.

    I ate up much of my IRA paying health insurance premiums prior to the Affordable Care Act's implementation to make sure I was covered while taking care of my elderly mom so I understand a bit of what you are going through when it comes to health insurance taking up such a giant chunk of your income.

    I am glad you have found Brandy's website as a resource to help you make the most of the rest of your income.

  • Juls Owings November 17, 2017

    ours is $2000 and no subsidy. PLUS high deductible.

  • Karen in WI November 16, 2017

    We have a Christian health sharing group instead of insurance called Samaritan Ministries. My husband was out of work a few years ago and some friends told us about it. For a single parent with children you would pay 260 per month. (For a 2 parents family with kids it is 495/ month). The best thing is that for every "incident" which is an illness or injury, you pay the first 300 and the rest of the bills for that incident are shared at 100%. After your family has 3 incidents a year, that first 300 will be shared. If you go in to the doc, and the bill doesn't reach 300 and you are better, then you just pay that and move on. Plus, when you call Samaritan to start the health sharing process, they pray with you for the ill person! Then once the bills are submitted, other members directly send you a check and many send a card with encouragement. I cannot begin to tell you how much LESS we pay for our healthcare and what a lovely process it is to deal with this organization, rather than fight an insurance company. My husband's employer offers insurance, but we have stuck with Samaritan.

    The other wonderful part of Samaritan is that YOU choose whatever Doctor/facility YOU want to go to. AND you and your doctor decide what treatment/test/procedure/medicine you have to take care of your problem. There are no restrictions in this regard and that is very freeing. We mostly see integrative medical doctors and have had acupuncture, supplements, and other health treatments paid for that would NEVER have been paid for by an insurance company. My 17 yo son sustained a concussion in Oct 2016 while playing football and has had pain ever since. In January, we will be going to a clinic in Canada for 2 weeks and then a clinic in Colorado for 2 months to get treatments that would never be covered by an insurance company. I cannot begin to tell you how it feels to have that available to us at this time. The doctors here haven't been able to do anything for him.

    The only thing with Samaritan is that if you have a pre-existing treatment, it will not be covered. One of my sons was pre-existed for a problem, but after he had no treatment for 2 years, that is gone. I also have a pre-existing hypothyroid condition, but it has been under good control. The one time that I got very sick with the flu and just wasn't recovering, my doctor did a lot of labs, supplements, homeopathy and found out that my hypothyroid had been triggered by the flu. Well ,even though my hypothyroid was pre-existing, since it was the flu that caused this episode, Samaritan covered everything but 300 (including the supplements and homeopathy.

    If you do have a serious pre-existing condition that would preclude you from joining, I have a good friend that had the same issue and her family joined Christian Healthcare Ministries (chministries.org) and they have been very happy. CH ministries does not cover things like supplements and homeopathy, but it's a great option if you have a pre-existing condition.

    Please look into these for your family! Health insurance rates are crazy and when one of my sons was sick several years ago, the insurance rejected many of the treatments that we tried, including the one that cured him. I was a single mother for a few years with my oldest son and remember the days of just getting by. God bless you!

  • Juls Owings November 17, 2017

    My sister in law has Samaritan Ministries. They love it.

  • Karen in WI November 16, 2017

    Oh, and under current law, the Christian health share ministries count as insurance, so you won't be fined.

  • Debby in Kansas November 13, 2017

    We're in a lean time, as well. We're using the time to de-clutter the whole house and do all the minor repairs we can with what we have.
    We're looking to downsize in the future/near future and we figure we may as well get started. Even if we decide to stay put awhile longer, there will be less stuff and all the little repairs will be done.

    For a little outside fun, we opened a geo-caching acct. (for free) and we're hoping to do some local hunting. We have a wonderful park with a lake and the library located at one end. So, for a short 6 mile roundtrip, we can take a picnic lunch, watch the ducks, take the pup to the dog park, geo-cache, & stop at the library. To me, that's a lot of fun for very little gas! We'll be watching for some nice days....which means over 40 and sunny for a Kansas winter!!

    I'm also a jigsaw puzzle lover. And we love board games. Those are must-dos around here during winter. Add a bowl of popcorn and hot cocoa and it becomes a fun event!

    I always try and make a seasonal list. I find that the stuff I enjoy most costs little or nothing.

  • Libby December 27, 2017

    Letterboxing is similar to geo-caching but more widespread and often less strenuous so great for little kids or out of shape adults. www.letterboxing.org

  • Robin Briggs November 13, 2017

    Thank you so much for taking the time to compose this inspiring post. It really made me think and it inspired me! In fact, you always inspire me! I never miss a post.

  • C November 13, 2017

    I'm currently learning to do hand lettering. While there are books that teach you, I have found free tutorials as well as simply copied work I've admired. It is incredibly soothing and fun to do and at very little cost - I usually use a regular pencil, a pen, or (if I'm feeling fancy) a crayola marker.

    My wedding is coming up and I'm trying to keep it low key but my dad has other plans and wants bigger and bigger extravagances (last time we talked, he wanted a five tier cake - for decoration!!!) and two weeks away from the wedding, the guest list is still growing. I'm blessed to have a coordinator who goes above and beyond her duties to help me manage his expectations. I am also able to keep within budget because so many friends and church members have offered their help from decoration to setting up to filming a video.

  • Margaret @ApproachingFood November 13, 2017

    Great post, as always!

    I'd like to add that the public library can a great source of free programming. I was at my local library today and there was an artist-in-residence, making art and welcoming people to try it out for free. There was parent/caregiver and child get-together as well in the morning for ages 0-9 months, 10-3, and 3-5 years with songs and story-telling. There were advertisements for learn-to-code programs for kids, learn to use a 3D printer programs for kids and for adults, and weekly STEM-based programming for middle-school kids, all FREE! And that's just the programming that I came across today at the library, and I know for a fact that there is tons more. Not all libraries have as extensive programming, but all libraries will have some sort of programming. It's definitely worth checking out!

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