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Cutting Expenses When You Think You Have Nothing Left to Cut

A Penny Saved The Prudent Homemaker

I know that many of you are really struggling with your inability to make ends meet right now. This post is for you. I hope it gives you hope--as well as some ideas for how to live well, even when you are living below the poverty line.
Some of you know our story, how we went 8 months without any income in 2007, and bought nothing for a year--no clothes, no food, no diapers (for my three in diapers), no toilet paper--and certainly nothing else.

We made more in the four months of income we did have in 2007 than we did for all of 2011, and more than we did in 2012, too, by a considerable amount.

How have we lived on so little?

I've learned to do things differently.

One thing I have learned is that there is always something more that can be cut.
You may have gotten rid of cable years ago (we did in 2007 after only having had it for a few years), you don't go out to eat, you have one car or perhaps no car, you make your own laundry soap, you clean with rags and use cloth napkins, you've recently lowered your insurance rates, you cut everyone's hair at home, you make birthday and Christmas gifts,  you already turn off the lights diligently, you bake your own bread, you have a garden, you cook from scratch, you drink water at all meals, and you don't even own a cell phone.
So what else can you cut if you already don't have those expenses?

One of the biggest things to amaze me is that we continue to find ways to cut our expenses. It's a regular thing for us to do. Both my husband and I evaluate each of our expenses all the time.

If you're struggling with making ends meet due to a loss of income, evaluate your expenses--every single one--on a regular basis.

Even tiny changes make a big difference. You may think something that only saves you 5 cents a day isn't worth doing. However, that one thing will save you $18.25 a year. If you find 20 tiny ways to save that each save you 5 cents a day, you've saved $365 a year.

Of course, not all changes are tiny. Some changes may be a lot bigger than you think!

If I hadn't made changes, I can tell you that we would have lost our home years ago. The changes I've made have been essential to our survival.

If you feel like you've already cut everything, here are some suggestions to cut some more. What seem like simple, tiny changes, will often result in bigger savings than you imagine.

Penny and Penny The Prudent Homemaker



Assuming you're already turning off any lights, appliances, unplugging things, etc., here is more that you can do:

When you eat dinner, make sure that the only lights on are the ones above the table. Turn off any other kitchen lights. When the nights are long in the summer, don't turn on any lights at the table.

Use less light while showering. If you have a single light choice in your bathroom, use that instead of one with multiple lights. If you shower after the sun is up and you have a window, don't turn on the lights at all.

When you're in a room at night, consider what light you really need. If you're reading, turn on a lamp with one bulb instead of the overhead light with several bulbs. If you're cooking early in the morning, turn on the light over the stove, instead of all the lights in the kitchen. During the day, don't turn on the lights--just open the shades or curtains.

Shut your computer off at night, and make sure it's set to sleep if you'll be off it for a while.

I read a study that evaluated the cost of turning lights of and turning them back on versus the cost of leaving them on when you leave a room. They found that if you are going to leave a room, it's worth turning off the lights with incandescent bulbs if you will be gone for 2 seconds, and with fluorescent bulbs, for 2 minutes. When you leave the room, turn off the light.


Use old towels, blankets (baby blankets work too), or t-shirts to roll up and put in front of drafty doors and window sills.

Challenge yourself to keep your house colder in winter. Set the thermostat 2 degrees colder than you usually do. Layer on more clothing, including thermals and wool socks. Put more blankets on the beds. These don't have to be the proper size for the bed; use crib-sized baby blankets and throws if that is what you have.

Open the oven door after cooking to warm the room.

When it gets warm enough to not need the heater, turn it off completely.


Keep the air conditioner set at 79ºF. Resist turning on the air conditioner for as long as possible. When it begins to be hot, but is still cool in the mornings and at night, open the windows early each morning to allow the house to cool down. Close them as soon as it starts to warm. Open them again in the evening when it is cool again.

Only run ceiling fans in rooms while you are in them.


Turn the pot of rice or pasta off a minute or two before it's done cooking. It will keep cooking and use less fuel. You can also turn off the stove on vegetables that you are steaming after the water has boiled; leave the lid on and the vegetables will still steam. Likewise, turn off the oven 3-5 minutes before you're done cooking.

When you're using the oven, use the whole oven. Bake four loaves of bread at once.


Bathe a baby or young toddler in a sink or tub instead of the bathtub.

When starting a bath, fill the bottom immediately, rather than letting the cold water go down the drain. If possible, have more than one child use the bath water. Fill it a little lower than you usually do. If possible, shower instead.

When showering, put buckets in the shower to catch the water while the water is warming up. You can also leave the buckets in to catch water while showering. Use that water to water potted plants, to water your garden, to pour into a top-loading washing machine, to flush the toilet a few times, or to scrub the floor.

Take shorter showers. Challenge your children to take 5-minute showers as well.

Use the water from steaming vegetables, canning, and what is leftover in drinking glasses to water plants.

Fill water containers from the faucet and put them in the refrigerator to keep cold. You won't be wasting water waiting for cold water and the chlorine will dissipate, leaving you with better tasting water.

Thrift Store Skirt Refashion The Prudent Homemaker



If you're finding the thrift store too expensive, try garage sales instead. Aim for prices that are .25 to $1, spending up to $3 or $4 for something more expensive, like a child's coat. Keep a running list of needed items so that you only purchase the number of items you need. To maximize time and minimize gasoline costs, stick to community garage sales, and consider going with a friend. You can drive one time and she can drive the next.

Mend and makeover existing clothing. Turn long-sleeved shirts with worn cuffs into short-sleeved shirts.

Repurpose old sheets into clothing (garage sale can be a good source for old sheets, eepecially top sheets, as the bottom sheet wears faster).

Attend a clothing swap. If you can't find one, set one up and invite other people.

Gasoline (Petrol):

Stay home more.

Take a bicycle instead of driving when possible. Or walk!

Cut your grass with a push mower.


Check out more books at once from the library and renew them online to reduce trips to the library.

Ride a scooter to work. If you get one under 200cc's, it doesn't have to be registered or require insurance, which saves more money. They get 60 miles to the gallon. You'll need to figure in more time to work (they go 20-30 miles an hour), but even a short commute can save you several dollars a day in gasoline. Purchase a used one. Keep a gasoline can at home for fill ups, since they only hold one gallon of gas.


Much cleaning can be done with just water and a rag. If grease is a problem or there is a lot of dirt, a few drops of dish soap in a bucket of warm water will go a long way.

For killing germs on non-porous surfaces, vinegar works well. Soak orange or other citrus peels in vinegar for three weeks to make your vinegar smell like citrus (note: granite and marble are porous surfaces that will be pitted with vinegar and should be cleaned with water, and a mild amount of dish soap).

Cheaper than vinegar and newspaper for washing windows is a few drops of soap in a bucket of water.




If you are still able to shop (i.e. not living from your pantry exclusively) but need to lower your food budget, check out my series on Eating for 40 Cents a Day.

Stop buying things you don't need.


Switch brands to lower cost brands.

Compare the price of toilet paper by the length (not by the number of rolls). I switched to purchasing POM toliet paper from Sam's Club, as it the lowest price I can find.

Regularly evaluate where you can purchase items for the lowest cost. I found, to my surprise, that our grocery store has the lowest price on both mine and my husband's deodorant. They have it on sale as part of a mix and match ten items sale. Deodorant isn't always listed in the ad when they have this sale, but on arriving at the store, I have found that it is often part of the sale. Their sale price is 50% to 60% lower than I have paid anywhere else.

Make homemade hair detangler. You can even make it using free samples of conditioner. It's just a small amount of conditioner (a tablespoon) mixed with a squirt bottle full of water. I used an empty spray gel bottle for mine, but you can also purchase a bottle for $1 in the travel section.

Sign up for free samples.

When you get to the bottom of a container, cut it open to get several more days to a week's worth of product from it.

Take your own bags to the store. Several stores will give you a credit of 5 cents (Target) or 6 cents (Winco) back in credit per bag that you take

Dorsett Golden Apples The Prudent Homemaker 


Look for less expensive sources for seeds.

Grow open-pollinated and heirloom varieties and collect the seeds to reduce your need to purchase seeds.

Make changes to your garden to grow more in the space that you have. This can be accomplished in several ways: growing more vertically (such as pole beans, 6-foot tall varieties of snap peas, and cucumbers), converting more of your non-garden areas to garden by building beds or adding pots, growing food in the front yard, and adding edibles to your flower beds.

Grow more fruit. Add fruit trees, grape vines, and berry bushes.


July Harvest The Prudent Homemaker


Instead of feeling like you can't possibly cut anything else, look around to see what else you can find. Every month I find at least one way to cut our expenses. Last month I saved $110 in utility expenses just by making more small and simple changes.

What have you cut when you thought you couldn't possibly cut any more?

How to Cut Expenses Sidebar

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  • Unknown October 25, 2014

    We cut out more and more as the months go by. The ...

    We cut out more and more as the months go by. The biggest thing we have learned is to rethink each and every purchase we think we need to make. We ask ourselves if we really need it. If we do need it, then we figure out a cheaper or free alternative. Being diligent takes time and effort, but we often have more of those things than we do money. Thanks for all of the great tips in this post and for linking up with us at the #SHINEbloghop. ~Heather @ My Overflowing Cup

  • Dmarie September 18, 2014

    I just throw cloth napkins in with the other laund...

    I just throw cloth napkins in with the other laundry, and it is said to be more economical to wash a FULL load. Since we've been using cloth for 20+ years, I feel sure they have paid for themselves many times over. But that's me...I have a thing about not spending money on "one time use" products!

  • todayrocks May 29, 2014

    Vinegar works really well for me. I have long, thi...

    Vinegar works really well for me. I have long, thick hair and have always struggled with using conditioner to keep it soft and tangle-free but having to wash my hair every other day because of my oily scalp. So I quit buying expensive shampoos and conditioners, donated the ones I had to the local shelter, and now I simply mix 1/3 vinegar and 2/3 99-cent Suave shampoo in a bottle and it's 100 times better than any other professional shampoo! I also brush and detangle my hair *before* getting in the shower, and "comb" the strands with my fingers during rinsing, so there's no need to detangle it afterward. The combination vinegar + shampoo is also wonderful for washing delicate fabrics - this I heard from a specialist, and it does wonders for my business casual clothes.

  • T Silva May 26, 2014

    I found for our hair it wasn't the detangler s...

    I found for our hair it wasn't the detangler spray I had to change but our brush. Spent about $8 on a square brush called tangle teezer. Made all the difference in the world. Before I would spend about an hour untangling my daughters hair, now it's 2 mins.

  • Pam November 12, 2014

    I am so glad you posted this I was looking at the brush for my granddaughter and wondering if it actually worked.

  • Luisa Esquire April 25, 2014

    Hi! I am captivated by your blog. You are an inspi...

    Hi!I am captivated by your blog. You are an inspiring, hard-working and industrious woman. I admire you! I feel that my life is very different from yours: I am an artist, my husband and I have one child (and are scared to have more!), and we live in San Francisco. Living in a city with astronomical rent prices, we have made many financial sacrifices to keep me at home with our child, something that feels like a rarity when living in an expensive city where usually both parents MUST work. I am so proud of this achievement. The point I wanted to make was that even though I feel very different from you, your lifestyle and outlook on life/family resonates with me so strongly and I think that is a testament to your gift as a writer and photographer, as you are able to express your vision so authentically through your blog. I wish you and your family all the best and look forward to reading more.Sincerely,Maysha

  • Amy West December 01, 2014

    Don't be scared to have more children. We had 4 and homeschool now too (sending them to public school isn't free we noticed), and found that the first baby was the most expensive. After that, we were already used to one income, and we could reuse most of the clothes & furnishings and for our last, a boy, gifts and friends and the thrift store supplied most of the clothes. They really don't need much in the way of clothes. Even our 17 year old has little in the way of clothes - she buys her own now. 12 & up buy their own clothes with earned chore or job money just like the NoGreaterJoy.org parents expected to teach diligent care of clothes & hard work ethic. I learned to make our own baby food too which was super easy, much easier than I had thought. And older babies/toddlers eat better from your plate while sitting with you, so more nutrition and less waste and worry. Nursing makes caring for baby easier and cheaper too, and healthier by far, for mom & baby (plus the bonus of much less stinky diapers that are also easier to wash, and urps don't stain their shirts or yours either, which saves $ and time). A good book to read, very entertaining as well as educational is "Everything But Money" by Sam Levenson. Our kids like the book too. Children need very little material wise after love & attention & training/education. Children can even be a financial blessing as they get older and enjoy learning great skills which are useful to their future and the family's present. Children need to be needed, not just wanted. It helps them feel smart too. No one likes feeling like a burden. I grew up without chores, without being needed. Go ahead and make some lifelong friends for your child and yourself and for the world.

    Psalms 127:3-5 Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.

  • Julie Horton April 14, 2014

    Jennifer, No trick, my kids couldn't tell the...

    Jennifer, No trick, my kids couldn't tell the difference nor can I. Shake it really well. 2% milk is watered down so why pay for water?

  • The Prudent Homemaker March 22, 2014

    Heather, I used to do this with my grandmother. Th...

    Heather, I used to do this with my grandmother. Thank you for mentioning it! I love what you did with the money

  • Unknown March 22, 2014

    I "new" thing we are trying to do is col...

    I "new" thing we are trying to do is collect aluminum cans. We go for walks daily or bike rides usually we find 1-2 grocery bags each week. WE bring them home and crush them, then put them into a huge black trash bag. WE do this until we have 3 black bags, then we take it to the recycling place. Last time we made $14.86 which we used to buy milk, bread, eggs and cheese. It's been beautiful weather here in Arizona so we already have filled 1 trash bag these last 2 weeks. It's SLOW progress but I feel like we're cleaning up the earth and getting paid to exercise at the same time! ~God Bless, Heather~

  • Wendy Hallgren March 21, 2014

    How do you earn that many swag bucks a day?

    How do you earn that many swag bucks a day?

  • The Prudent Homemaker March 18, 2014

    The Lord gives us all that we have. He asks us to ...

    The Lord gives us all that we have. He asks us to show our faith by paying Him first. “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10).The only way to gain a testimony of tithing is by paying it. When the money is super tight, that testimony will grow more firm and even quicker as you pay the Lord first. For me, it is not scary; I have paid tithing for 19 years (since I was baptized). As you pay faithfully on your increase, you will no longer be afraid to do it. It is easiest to pay the Lord first, rather than last. He loves you and wants to bless you. Think of the widow's mite. Christ said that she was blessed above those who had given of their abundance, for she had given all that she had. God will bless you beyond measure as you pay your tithing. Put the Lord first. He has promised blessings to you if you are faithful in paying your tithing. Why wait any longer for those blessings? Pay tithing on your next paycheck and see the blessings He has in store you.

  • Ann March 22, 2015

    I've tithed for 30+ years and the Lord has been faithful, even when our family had only a part time salary. About 5 years ago I also learnt about "First Fruits", giving a special offering to the Lord at the beginning of every Hebrew month. I started out with only a few dollars a month and now am able to give a greater gift. It seems that when we trust the Lord with our month, by giving an offering He takes care of the rest. Glory of Zion in Corinth, Texas has good teaching on this Biblical, yet not widely taught, principle of God's grace to us.

  • Kathirynne March 18, 2014

    I really want to pay tithing, but I'm worried ...

    I really want to pay tithing, but I'm worried about having enough to pay for the necessities of life for my family if I take 10% right off the top. (I'm a single parent and money is -ALWAYS- tight). Does it get easier (less scary) to just pay tithing the more frequently one does it?

  • Janet November 09, 2014

    I was single with 5 children many years. Pay tithing first, then watch as the Lord opens up ways in your mind to stretch what you have. Plus, there is nothing as lovely as feeling the peace of obedience. Always pay tithing first.

  • Brandy @ The Prudent Homemaker November 09, 2014

    I agree with Janet.

    Does it get less scary--yes. When you trust in God first, you have more faith, and you cannot have faith and fear at the same time. Ask God to increase your faith in this, and as you live the principle of tithing, you will see the blessings, and no longer be afraid, for with God, all things are possible.

  • Tricia March 13, 2015

    I promise if you are diligent in your tithing you will see blessing. The Lord tells us to give with a pure heart like the widow and the two mites. She gave what she had and though it was nothing in the eyes of man she gave more then the very rich because it was her all. The Lord says he will return It to is ten fold. That doesn't mean we should do it with that intention but we should give with out worry and or hesitation. The bible days if he is concerned and cares for the sparrow and what it eats how much if more does he love you , his child? He will meet the need even when their seems to be no way. I encourage you to take a leap of faith I'm certain you won't regret it.God bless

  • Thank you for your testimony of tithing, Tricia.

  • The Prudent Homemaker March 17, 2014

    ALWAYS pay the Lord first. If you want a testimony...

    ALWAYS pay the Lord first. If you want a testimony of tithing, pay the Lord first. Then pay your bills. There is never an income where you don't need the blessing of paying tithing.

  • Ann March 22, 2015

    I was struggling with tithing & giving at one point in my life and I received a revelation from Jesus, about it. Because He made the sacrifice of His life for us by His blood, we actually don't need to tithe, He took care of the curse that comes with not tithing. But He also showed me if we don't tithe we are NOT allowing Him to bless us. It's like we've put ourselves in a box that doesn't let in His blessings He wants to give us. We harvest what we sow.

    Look at tithing (and First Fruits) as a key that unlocks blessings the Lord has that He really wants to give us. This goes beyond $$.

    I pray right now for the Holy Spirit to give us His grace to tithe & be generous in what we have to give others.

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