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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. 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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  • Karen in WI November 16, 2017

    I just posted a reply on another's comment about health insurance. Please check out Samaritan Ministries ( or Christian Healthcare Ministries ( We have Samaritan and love it. If it's just you and your husband, it would be 440 per month and it covers so much more than any insurance. If you have a serious pre-existing condition, then look up Christian Healthcare Ministries.

  • Linda Shields November 13, 2017

    Brandy, I just love you for always faithfully choosing the positive/faith/optimistic side of life. Especially when difficulties come. Those are the times that make us or break us, depending on our response. Positive or negative. Three years ago I suddenly lost my precious adult son. That is the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with. Sometimes the grief comes even in my dreams. Yet I find that if I think of someone else who needs an encouraging word and send them a card, or if I work on a project at home such as you mentioned it turns my grief into productivity. Without faith I could not do it, but the Lord is faithful. Even broken hearts heal with time and a greatful heart. Thank you for being such a light in the darkness for us all, and for making this a place where women nuture women.

  • Melinda November 13, 2017

    Thank you for your thoughtful post. Like several others, I find it relevant to all sorts of upheaval, not just financial. We are a family in upheaval. I could not recognize the link for watercolor portraits. Was it on the YouTube channel or should there be another link? I am interested in finding it for my daughter and I to do together. Thank you.

  • Kim November 13, 2017

    I would say you forgot one of the most important things from your list and that is reading your blog. It truly is a gift to each one of us. I hope you realize what an important service you provide to all of us. You enrich our lives weekly and we all appreciate it greatly.

    I think serving others is a great way to focus on something other than our current situations. It helps me.

  • Juls Owings November 17, 2017

    Kim so true about this blog and Brandy. I read it when I get up and then when Hubby gets home we talk about what I 've read.It's a positive conversation so starts the whole day on a positive note for me and ends the day on a positive note for Hubby as he works 3rd

  • Tammy November 13, 2017

    I agree with Kim. Reading your blog is a blessing. Thank-you for your post. It made me think about things I can do to make my husband happy and myself in the process. Little things like decorating the table with my best dishes and a table cloth to make a simple dinner seem special. Enjoying the outdoors. Enjoying the warmth of my apartment. Being content with what I have is a blessing.

  • Tammy November 13, 2017

    I hope things get better for you Brandy, that your income improves.

  • Lea Stormhammer November 13, 2017

    This is a wonderful post!

    When our income was cut by 75% three years ago, I made a "Not to Buy" list, listing things I did not need to buy in the foreseeable future. The list included our home (though we do have a mortgage), items of furniture (listed individually), dishes, cooking pot, pans and implements, garden tools, and the list went on and on. It really helped me see how blessed we are and how little we actually needed to purchase. Really when it came right down to it food, utilities, the mortgage payment, gasoline for the cars, maintenance we needed and couldn't perform ourselves and a few clothing items as the children grew were it. Such a blessing!


  • Maxine November 13, 2017

    Excellent post, Brandy. I have been married nearly 50 years. Looking back on 5 decades of marriage, I can honestly say that some of our best times were our worst times. Our life together hasn't been a bed of roses, but pulling together to make it work--whatever "it" happens to be--has always brought us closer.

    I was at a high school reunion last week. I grew up in a lower class/blue collar neighborhood. Two girls (yes, at 71, they are still girls) mentioned that they never knew until they were grown just how poor they were. I expect this applies to your children as well.

    Now, a suggestion for utilizing free things without added costs. Have your children go online and reserve books at the library. Then, ask your husband to make a stop on his way home one day each week to pick up the books. (You mentioned that the library is on his way). Some books will be immediately available; others might get picked up the following week. I agree that libraries offer many good programs, but when every penny counts, you still can read! BTW, I used to read books at night under the covers with a long as the batteries held out! LOL We lived a couple of miles from the library. We'd walk to the library and then, overloaded with books, take the bus home. (Too many busy streets to ride our bikes).

  • Brandy @ The Prudent Homemaker November 14, 2017

    Sometimes we do that, but not too often. Recently, I've been downloading e-books, as has my eldest, and my husband is considering the audiobook download option.This means we don't even have to go in for some things.

    Reading definitely still happens every day; we have a home library!

  • J November 14, 2017

    Maxine, your comment about not knowing you grew up poor reminds me of my own family. Both my parents come from very humble backgrounds. Only as an adult have I realized how "poor" my grandparents were. When I was a kid in the 80s we would go to visit my great grandmother and cook on the wood stove. We had chamber pots in the house (yes, in the 1980s, not 1880s). I had no clue that this wasn't how all country folk lived. My great-uncle once told me a story that when he was 18 and serving in the Air Force, he surprised my grandparents with a visit (my grandfather moved to Windsor from the Nova Scotia countryside). As an 18 year old kid, my uncle thought my grandpa had struck it rich because he had a toilet in his house. This was in 1958. Anyway, I didn't clue in to any of this until I was an adult. All I remembered was all the love and fun I had with my family. It never, ever occurred to me that nobody had any money.

  • Elisabeth November 14, 2017

    I´d like to add one thing that really brings me joy even though we have a lean time, too: surrounding ourselves with like-minded people! That includes your blog and several blogs of your readers, but also parts of our families and friends. It´s really uplifting to have people who just understand and enjoy the same, simple things we do!
    Especially with young children there´s much we can´t and don´t want to spend money on. It´s a huge blessing to have friends who enjoy playing games or going for a walk or to a nearby playground with our families.

    Serving and giving are two ways we learned to really enjoy, too. And learning new things - absolutely! I´m so glad we have internet and are able to improve our English, watch youtube-videos or pinterest posts... most times I don´t miss anything. Whenever I do, I try to be thankful. That´s something I focused on more recently, partly because of your blog.

  • Libby November 14, 2017

    Brandy thank you for sharing this. Sending prayers your way for a change in finances soon.

    I find it so easy to isolate when I have financial challenges. Breaking my isolation is key to my mental health: telephoning or Skyping with friends and family brings me joy, attending/hosting a pot luck meal, and participating in a 12 step program.

    Writing in a journal - and going back to read older journals - helps me have perspective. I need the reminder sometimes about just how strong I am when times get tough.

    Finally - the separation of self-worth from financial worth is important.

  • Jeananne November 14, 2017

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  • Tara from Massachusetts November 14, 2017

    Brandy- Your post is so beautiful. This one was such a blessing. In the season of gearing up for the holidays, I'm so grateful to think about and remember what my mother did to make Christmas truly special. When we were kids, she had a tiny wooden creche for Baby Jesus. Every day she would ask us what we did that day to help other people. If we had done something for others that day, we were allowed to put a little bit of fresh hay in the creche to make a soft bed for Baby Jesus. I think this program was started at our church.
    My favorite quote is: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." Not sure where the quote is from or who said it, but I always try to remember that. Thank you so much Brandy for sharing your life and wisdom with us and for reminding us that joy is beautiful and free.

  • Margie from Toronto November 14, 2017

    This is a very timely post for me as I've been forced into an early retirement with debt that I had anticipated paying off before retirement - plus my pension will drop more next year once Govt. pension kicks in - one will only half replace the other - so it is time to get creative!
    I don't drive but get a monthly transit pass as I live in a big city - although I am evaluating the kind of pass to buy as I think I can save a bit by making an adjustment - at least until I turn 65.
    I'm lucky in living in an area of town with quick access to 3 green space areas for walks, picnics, free swimming & tennis etc. There are also many wonderful libraries within easy reach as I am a voracious reader (although at the moment I am still working my through my huge stash of books that have been piling up at home).
    This morning I attended a free writing workshop - including a lovely catered breakfast sponsored by CARP (Cdn. Association of Retired Persons) and a media conglomerate known as the Zoomer Plex. This also includes a couple of radio and TV stations which also offer access to free concerts and tv programming at the complex - all with refreshments provided.
    The Cdn. Opera Co. has a number of short free concerts & talks during the week and we have 3 Universities which offer a variety of talks, exhibits & music evenings - and most are free. Where I live University courses are free after 60 - although you do still have to pay for books and any supplies needed.
    The city puts on many free events, exhibits & concerts - especially during the summer at Nathan Phillips Square (at City Hall) and down at the waterfront. On the 25th there will be a concert & fireworks as they light the Christmas tree - oh and the Santa Claus Parade is this Sunday and attracts around 100,000 people!
    Both the main Art Gallery & Museum have free entrance at certain times during the week and other museums are free if you take the time to get a pass available at your local library (but on a limited basis).
    The church that I have started attending is famous for their weekly free concerts & they offer other musical evenings for a nominal fee (as do many other churches in town).
    Because I have a transit pass I also use it to ride streetcars & buses to parts of town that I've never visited before (it's a very big city) and getting off and exploring different parts of town is endlessly fascinating.
    At home I'm tidying & making it as comfortable as possible - one where I can have friends over more often for potluck suppers & games nights. I am also taking up baking again and I'm looking forward to working my way through some new recipes (while watching the pennies) - it's something that I've always wanted to have the time for.
    And finally, I'm taking up writing again - I may get lucky and eventually sell some bits of work but even if it's just for myself I want to give it a whirl.
    People sometimes need a bit of encouragement (or a wee kick in the butt) in order to look for things to do - it's much easier to just sit home and moan. Thank you for this post Brandy.

  • Lynn November 14, 2017

    I understand the feast or famine cycle of real estate being married to an agent. Great reminder. It was gang busters this summer and just stopped suddenly. We always have a slow down after school starts, but this usually slow. I hope and pray for work for your husband. I love your website! It is a cup of cold water in a thirsty world.

  • Lorna November 14, 2017

    Brandy thank you so much for a wonderful post and I hope your families income picks up shortly :) . It gives us food for thought on other ways we can save in general and keep a positive attitude which is most important in times of trials.

    We too are cutting expenses back as far as possible to save a good deposit for our home so all advice and suggestions are greatly received and appreciated.

  • Jennifer November 15, 2017

    I so enjoyed this article, thank you! I know all this stuff, but it's so good to be reminded.

    We're not in a time of low income (and I am so sorry that you are), but I always believe in being able to be happy without a lot of money. Then we can set aside what we have to be ready for those rainy days. You are the expert at doing this beautifully!! It's always an inspiration. Thank you!

  • One of God's November 15, 2017

    Thank you Brandy and all the rest who've submitted both encouragement and useful Ideas. I happen to be in a belt tightening stage of my life.

    Some things I do which are either free to me or which reap mighty rewards are as follow. Weekly I partiipate Bible study at a local church with other ladies who share both similar and different interests and concerns. Twice a month a group of ladies from our church meets for board games and delight. We call it Play Day.There's a weekly opportunity to play board games with other seniors who meet at the community center and a weekly ladies' coffee at a local bank. There are occasional free concerts and performances at local churches (sometimes they feed me too). Don't forget free community activities such as festivals and parades. There are opportunities to read with youngsters in the schools to help the literacy program. As a paying member of two programs, I get benefits. The Native Plant Society of my state provides amazing opportunities to do things while volunteering for free. Twice a month I join with others to dig in the dirt at a nearby preserve. We visit and share knowledge and plant materials while we work. Once I was privileged to attend Family Day at Bamberger Ranch, home of largest man-made bat cave. Hope to get to again. This weekend I plan to work on developing a specific kind of plant hike at the Gault Archeological Dig site. Again, I do these extra things for free. By having paid for another year's membership in an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, I get the occasional free ticket to a Shakespeare play or to some well-done concert as well as many possible tours which are either free or low-cost.

    I pay attention, both by reading the newspaper as well as fliers and by listening and asking questions. It's amazing what all there is to do at almost no cost. Volunteering wrks well for me. At church I join in the Handcrafters group which you might call a prayer shawl group and the Landscaping Team.

    Have you noticed that I hardly have time to clean house or read or even breath? BTW, I don't have TV at all.

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