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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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  • Kathirynne March 17, 2014

    Brandy, what are your thoughts on tithing when on ...

    Brandy, what are your thoughts on tithing when on a "not high" income?

  • Serena March 05, 2014

    Leaves go into the compost pile here and also get ...

    Leaves go into the compost pile here and also get used for mulching plants to keep down the weeds and keep the moisture for the garden. I also throw out any plant-based scraps into the compost pile. That makes a rich soil to enrich your veggie garden, which is also a way to save a lot of money, even if it is very small or a container garden.

  • Serena March 05, 2014

    Another use for baking soda is as deodorant. I kee...

    Another use for baking soda is as deodorant. I keep a jar in the bathroom and right after my shower I dip my fingers in it and spread it around my wet pits. I've used it for over 15 years and it works the best of anything for body odor. If you want it to deal with perspiration then mix it half with cornstarch or arrowroot. It is the healthiest, cheapest, most effective deodorant I have found.

  • Myriah February 23, 2014

    I made your recipe for laundry detergent, grating ...

    I made your recipe for laundry detergent, grating a bar of Ivory soap instead of Oil of Olay as that's what I have on hand. I really like how clean and fresh my clothes get, and without the perfume scents of the other brands. My cost was $11.50 + Ivory, but I live in a mountain resort community. Next time I'll get ingredients in the city to cut cost. Am tracking how many loads I get from this batch. Thanks for the recipe!

  • Jennifer Thompson February 21, 2014

    Julie, I tried the 'cut the milk with water...

    Julie,I tried the 'cut the milk with water' thing and it tasted horrible, nothing at all like 2% milk. Is there a trick? It tasted like nasty water.

  • Amie January 25, 2017

    Shake the milk before mixing half w water. I find my straight tap water doesn't taste good. You need filtered water. Let chill in fridge after.

  • Kelly February 16, 2014

    When I made my batch of laundry soap, I wore a fac...

    When I made my batch of laundry soap, I wore a face mask. I also used Fels Naptha, which I grated by hand.

  • Julie Horton February 16, 2014

    Andrea, We were used to drinking 2% milk so ...

    Andrea, We were used to drinking 2% milk so I buy whole milk-divide it into two milk cartons and add milk to the rest of the carton and shake well--tastes like 2%.

  • Marivene February 16, 2014

    Hanging wet laundry to dry cools the area where it...

    Hanging wet laundry to dry cools the area where it is drying, through evaporation. Energy is required for water to evaporate, & that energy comes from the warmth in the air. It is the principle behind using a swamp cooler. When you spritz your self with water, the energy required to evaporate the water comes from your body heat, so it cools you off. When I worked as a NICU RN, it was critical to gently dry premature babies in the delivery room, before they lost body heat due to evaporation, since all babies are wet when they are born, & hypothermia can kill newborns, esp premature ones without enough brown fat to keep themselves warm.

  • Andrea February 15, 2014

    Hi Rebecca, I've been struggling with reducing...

    Hi Rebecca, I've been struggling with reducing dairy in our budget as well. I've gotten a TON of amazing tips just through reader responses on this blog. Some things I've started doing include: Reducing the number of meals I make that require cheese or sour cream. I used to do a "Mexican Night", an "Italian Night", and "Pizza Night" just for simplicity in planning my menu. However, all three of these often incorporate cheese. I've been revamping my menu to replace these recipes with soups and stews, lentil-based meals, and other vegan recipes. I simply checked cookbooks out of our library and found recipes I thought my family would like. There are many ideas on the internet as well and I have some friends who are vegetarian which helps, too! I also started removing 2 cups of milk from an unopened gallon of milk and replacing it with 2 cups of water. Since I make my own yogurt, the 2 cups of milk that I take off the top is just what I need for my yogurt and the kids never know that I've added water to the milk! While I haven't weaned us off of dairy completely, these are a few of the things I've done to reduce the spending in this area. I could easily spend upwards of $75/month on dairy alone. This month it's less than half that! I buy all my cheese in 5 pound blocks from Sam's, but because cheese freezes well, I don't have to buy it as often. I also buy a 24 oz. canister of Parmesan cheese from there, but I recently found the 8 oz. ones at Winco for $2, making it cheaper than Sam's. If you have either of these stores near you, I highly recommend checking them out. Good luck!

  • Becky @ Becky's Place February 15, 2014

    I'm trying to teach myself to look for used or...

    I'm trying to teach myself to look for used or alternatives before making a purchase. For example, my son is signed up to begin track & field next month. He has outgrown nearly all of his athletic shorts, down to one pair that fits. I figured it'll cost around $15 per pair (I wanted him to have 2 more.) if I can find them on sale. It occurred to me that there might be an okay selection at this time of year (winter, lots of snow) at a thrift store. So we stopped at a Savers, which I think benefits veterans (bonus!), and were able to find two pair in very good condition for less than $12 total. Not only did we spend less, but we kept those couple pairs of shorts from possibly ending up in a landfill somewhere and, I like to think, saved a little in production costs ultimately by not purchasing a new pair - ha ha.

  • Athanasia February 15, 2014

    Thank you Stacie. My mother came across it as a c...

    Thank you Stacie. My mother came across it as a character in a book. My sister is Petronia.Also since my father was a big opera fan I am thankful to not be Brunhilde!

  • Allison February 15, 2014

    I've developed lots of little money-saving hab...

    I've developed lots of little money-saving habits like these :) (although I could be better on some things).I only wash my hair every 5-6 days. This might not work for everyone, but my hair looks/feels good and a bottle of shampoo lasts me a very long time. I also can take shorter showers on days that I don't wash my hair. And I wash my hair when I have time to air dry it- so no blow dryer electricity needed. I usually leave my coat/ hat/ gloves on when I drive in the winter so that I don't have to turn the heat on in my car very much.For anyone who has Kroger in their area: I realized recently that you can get 50 fuel points each time you fill out their receipt survey. There is a limit of one per week, but still, 100 fuel points adds up to .10 off a gallon at the pump. I'm hoping to use these surveys to get up to at least 200 points each month. (This would mean a savings of about 2.60 for me when I buy gas).

  • The Prudent Homemaker February 15, 2014

    Rebecca, I LOVE dairy products and we could easily...

    Rebecca, I LOVE dairy products and we could easily spend $100 a month just on those. Because our income was cut so much, and all I have had is $100 a month, I have had to limit the amount of dairy that we purchase. With a higher income, I will gladly add those things back in.

  • Yolanda November 04, 2014

    My mother told me many times that if you are paying a mortgage (or car payment or any other credit payment) always pay a little extra. Even $1 will help you in the long run and if you can make a double payment, it makes a big difference! We have always tried to do that. Of course, the best thing to do is to stay out of debt to begin with.

  • Harry November 19, 2014

    Another hint: don't wash clothes till they're dirty. Underthings may need to be washed every day, but do pants and sweatshirts? Probably not.

    If you know you have a lot of dirty work to do, set aside a pair of dirty jeans and a t-shirt or sweatshirt for that purpose. Don't wash them till the dirty job is done.

    Drain or blot greasy food on used paper rather than paper towel or cloths. Or use one layer paper towel/cloth with used paper underneath. If you have a fireplace, this greasy paper makes lovely fire starting material.

  • Myriah November 29, 2014

    I just wanted to share that I love your laundry soap recipe. I use Ivory soap instead of Olay. So far I've gotten 90 loads from buying the first batch of supplies and I have enough supplies to make two more batches, so it will be close to 200 loads by the time I need to replenish, and my cost is about $13.00. I bought supplies at my grocery store and Walmart, I live in rural Colorado, but I imagine if I went to a larger city I'd be able to buy the supplies for even less. My clothes have never been cleaner! So grateful for your blogs, recipes, and photos. They keep me inspired.

  • JA March 02, 2015

    One that I use all the time, from the wonderful (and wise) book Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression, "wipe out the inside of an eggshell with a forefinger to extract every last bit of the eggwhite."

  • PJ June 12, 2015

    I have a lot ways to cut what we use.
    *I always cut the amount of what we use down until I know what the least amount we can use is - especially for soaps and lotions.
    *make what you can, but not what doesn't work for you. I make toothpaste, laundry soap, some hand lotion, my own mixes and even baking powder - but not face lotion.
    *use the inside of paper grocery bags for draining oily foods and than use the bag for starting fires.
    *save any aluminum pans that come your way to take camping. I put them inside our cast iron frying pans to avoid tedious clean-up.
    *cut any old clothing pieces into 4" squares and save until you can sew the squares into strips and than into a "quilt" cover to resuscitate blankets that are wearing out. Use a top sheet for the underside. We go through a lot of blankets. When my son went to college, he asked for a quilt. I had been saving squares of denim and made him one.
    *save buttons and zippers from worn or outgrown clothing.
    *Make your own dog food.
    *have each family member reuse their bath towels for a couple times - hang to dry
    *keep food in the kitchen or dining area
    *play cards or board games - the financial payoffs with teenagers and adult children will amaze you (there are lots of other benefits, too)
    *keep your house clean and teach children how to care for their clothing, belongings and furniture.
    *eat healthy, get enough exercise and sleep enough each night. Wash your face each evening, use sunscreen, wear a wide brimmed hat and face lotion. Smile and be kind to others. It is the best way to age beautifully.
    *use dry cleaning bags as trash bags...but, limit the amount of trash you have. Take your own trash to the dump or share with your neighbor. Best to limit the amount of trash you have. Compost, recycle and reuse.
    *Use cereal bags, cake mix bags or any other bags you can get for lining pans (no bake cookies) or oiling pans or...
    *reuse plastic baggies...I almost never buy baggies, but secure them from others!
    *Avoid plastic as much as humanly possible - store in glass jars. Soak the labels off.
    *Have to go out to a dinner and buy your own meal? I usually eat an appetizer as my meal. Much less expensive and a more reasonable portion size too.
    *Never tell your children something is too expensive, money is a tool. If I want my children to have something, we will find the best way to get it. God sometimes gives us money for the full price and sometimes he gives us it for free or on sale.
    *Be positive and remember that money is necessary, but is only a tool. Simple foods can keep you healthy and time spent with the family makes memories that last forever!

  • Kim September 13, 2015

    We keep our water heater turned off, (using the breaker switch) and only turn it on for 10 minutes before we shower or wash dishes. We don't use the dishwasher or dryer and our elec bill for 2 (just me and my 16 year old) was $93 for the month of July in Florida. It's amazing how much money this saves us. The power co even came out to my house and replaced their meter telling me they thought it wasn't working right

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