Auntie Em's Guide to Life

A guide to all the important things in life- marriage, family, cooking, gardening, reading, travel, Christian living… And whatever else grabs my attention!

Take Care of Your Pennies

on January 2, 2013

take care of your penniesA wise man once told Mr X, “Take care of your pennies and your dollars will take care of themselves.” Mr X worked for this man all through high school and held him in high esteem all his life, so that line has always been a guiding principle for us. You can save money on your home purchase a couple of times in your life, on your cars once every few years, but you can take care of your pennies every day. We have spent a lifetime taking care of our pennies, and it has always paid off!

Let me tell you a little about our financial journey, and what I’ve learned. If you have trouble in this area, I think I can help you!

When we got married, at ages 19 and 21, Mr X was working in a machine shop making $5/hour (but with unlimited overtime!) and I had 12 piano students at $25/month. Not a lot of money, even in 1980 dollars! We had no long-term plan. (Dumb) Our expenses were low, though, and thank You, God, my parents were paying for my college. He had dropped out after 3 semesters. We had already dated 5 years and very quickly I was desperate to have a baby. Mr X said we had to buy a house first, so we began saving as much money as we could. In about 16 months of marriage, we saved $7000! I can’t tell you how, except to say we had a goal that was very important to us.

I laid out of school about a year after Sis was born, until my FIL asked when I was going to go back; that it would be a shame to be so close and not finish. I started back immediately. (Note to self: The words you speak have great power; you never know how much impact they might have on somebody!) I graduated 3 months before the Boy was born, then had Sunshine 16 1/2 months later.

During that period I continued to teach piano lessons and play an occasional wedding. Mr X began working as a carpenter and eventually started his own contracting business, but money was very tight for many years! Here are some things we did that I would advise anybody to do:

  • Tithe to your church before you pay anything else.
  • Buy less house than you can afford, and do repair and decorating work yourselves.
    We bought a small, older, frame house for $25,000. Our down payment was almost 30%. (Dave Ramsey says don’t buy a house unless you can pay at least 10% down.) Do you remember the interest rates in 1982? 17%!!! I’m pretty sure Dave would have said wait a while lol! We refinanced when the rates went down, and paid extra when we could. We gradually painted and wallpapered, replaced flooring, and in a large project expanded the original 900 or so square feet to 1200, replaced the siding and put insulation (there was none), replaced the roof and windows. We did almost all the work ourselves and didn’t borrow any money.
  • Take anything free that anyone offers you. If your pride rears up, remind yourself that you are being so environmentally responsible! Don’t be picky– just take it! You can pass it on if it won’t work for you, but if you say no, they might quit offering.
    Clothes
    I probably didn’t buy any new clothes for my kids! My sister’s 2 girls are right ahead of mine, and friends had kids older and younger. Then I passed them on to friends with smaller children. We just passed them around.
    Food
    When we had a church dinner and there was food left, the kitchen helpers would often ask if we wanted it–and of course we did! Even if its more than you can use now, freeze some for later. Grow some yourselves– a great activity for the kids, too!
  • Don’t be picky about gifted furniture and big stuff.
    We were given a table and hutch, a living room set, and a 1/2 ton truck from non-family members! Relatives passed on vacuums, a dining room set, and bedroom furniture, plus some family heirlooms from grandparents: a roll-top desk, a cedar chest, and 2 rocking chairs.
  • Buy as good quality as you can afford in things that will last.
    Mr X was in the construction business, and he relied on his tools. He learned quickly that it was smarter to spend more for better quality, and he has kept that philosophy forever, whether its kitchen equipment, cameras, or tools. Clothes are an area where you have to decide what you want– if you enjoy shopping, or being trendy is important to you, then it makes sense to buy inexpensive clothes. I hate to shop, so when I find a pair of black pants that fit my short body, I snatch them up and almost don’t care what they cost. Almost. A good rule of thumb is $1 a wearing. If you’ll wear those $50 pants 50 times, that’s okay. And when you’re like me and have clothes older than your students, you are in good shape! Mr X encourages me to get clothes or shoes in more than one color when I find a style and size that works.
  • Borrow or rent what you can if you don’t really need or want to own something. Netflix gives you innumerable movies for the price that one might cost. Your library is free, and many libraries offer inter-library loans so they can get books even if they don’t have them on their shelves. If you are tiling your kitchen, using a tile cutter is a good idea. If that’s all you will do, buying one is not.
  • Share the cost of high priced items. Mr X and his dad have a mutual-mooching agreement whereby they can use each other’s tools and equipment. *NOTE I understand that the “bro-code” is very particular about sharing tools, and please be extremely careful if you go in together with someone else to purchase something. Be clear about storage, maintenance, loaning, usage, etc. Saving money is not worth losing a friendship.

If you’ve never read any of the Tightwad Gazette books, let me recommend them! They helped me figure out my philosophy.


33 responses to “Take Care of Your Pennies

  1. This is SO great. We too still have hand-me-down furniture a decade+ later. Great advice!!

    • Auntie Em says:

      We’re still using lots of ours too… the thing with furniture is once you use it, it’s used! If you like the way it looks and it works, you might as well save some money too!

  2. great tips! we are huge penny pinchers too! saving for our first house as we speak!!
    thanks for sharing your secrets :)

    • Auntie Em says:

      Thank you! I like to say I’m the queen of tightwaddery– but you sound great too! I’ve got some more coming on this topic, so stick around! I visited you too and like your year-end and new year posts! And your babies are A-DOR-ABLE! How close are they? My first 2 are 3 years, but the 2nd and 3rd are 16 months… So hang in there– the diaper bag phase will be over before you know it, and it gets easier!

  3. Rejoycin says:

    I am so bad in this area– we don’t parallel here! I am too generous to the point of foolish at times. And, if I want something I just take a chance and so far it has worked out… kind of : ( But, I do believe in tithing and trust God to take care of the rest– but I think I may be a challenge for Him !

  4. Becky says:

    One of our goals for this year is to work on our finances. I would like to get better about paying for things with cash, instead of credit. it is easy to swipe that card, I praise The Lord that we are not in credit card debt. thank you for this post and for linking up today!

  5. Great advice. My husband is a financial guy. He has our funerals planned. Me….not so much. I had to learn the hard way. No one told me that when we first got married, straight out of college, we would be poor. I expected to “keep up with the Jones’. This is good advice you put out there.

  6. This is really good advice. We’ve done many of these things too. I live for hand-me-downs. Seriously. I even get them for myself. I’ll try anything. If it doesn’t fit or work for anyone in my house, I’ll pass it around the neighborhood.

    Great post!

    Your blog is seriously a wealth of information.
    ~FringeGirl

  7. My dad always used to say that when I was younger! He’s good with financial advice, too :)

  8. LubbyGirl says:

    I really enjoyed reading this. We started a budget that works for us in Oct 2010, and it has helped us build up an emergency fund that we never had before. Our weakness (actually, hubby’s more than mine) is eating out. He likes it so much that we’d do it two or three times a week, if he had his way. Thankfully, we’re a little more sensible than that, and we budget for it so it’s ‘kinda’ kept under control.

  9. Wow – I love this article! There is so much wise advice here! We have hardly purchased anything for our children: from toys and clothes to highchairs and cribs. What I didn’t “pick” (and yes, literally from a garbage pile) I was given by my sister who has older boys. I have a garage full of clothes waiting for them – up to 6 years. Every time the youngest outgrows something, she just passes it on. And I love about the house, too. We just purchased a very small older home that needs a lot of repair. We made sure that the mortgage plus our load to do emergency repairs right away was not more than our rent was in our old apartment. It will definitely be a long-term project and much of the work we can do ourselves…but it’s rewarding. In the spring I’lll start my garden and we’re planting some fruit trees…but one thing I really need to do is learn how to do my DIY projects. I am not good at that at all. Pinterest should help. lol!

  10. Lori says:

    We, too, have followed many of the same financial principles as you have, with the same results. We always paid extra on each mortgage payment, even if it was only $25. When you extrapolate the interest out over 30 years, that $25 makes a huge dent! As a result, we paid our house of 5 years early and save who knows how much interest. Since we couldn’t afford to save for college, paying off our home early became our college fund. When the girls were ready to go, we channeled the house payment money to college instead, since we had paid the house off 6 months before the first one began. God has been so faithful to bless our stewardship, and we’ve never lacked for anything. Praise Him!

  11. This is soooo good! When we got married, I remember there were about 3 things we bought brand new. A large chest freezer, a mattress (it was discounted because of being a showroom display for 3 years) and a bakers rack (I couldn’t find a used one, or even anything that would substitute). That was the only new things we bought. Everything else we had that was new would’ve been gifts.
    To this day, garage sales and craigslist are still my best friends! :)

  12. Good tips. We buy 99% of our clothes at thrift stores, all of our furniture is second hand, and we’ll drive our cars (bought used) until they fall apart. :) We bought the cheapest house we could find here and have done all the additional work needed ourselves that we could. Paid cash for all improvements. Much of what you are suggesting. All good. Thanks!

  13. So many people live on the principle of debt, but you have just outlined how not only to get out of debt, but to live completely without it. We did what you’ve suggested all of our married lives, and at the same time, saved a bit as well. What we’d saved grew while we were doing other things–just living and bringing up our family–and now we are living off the interest from our savings. And it just happened while we did what we believed was right, and understanding the differences between needs and wants.

    • Auntie Em says:

      I like that “grew while we were doing other things.” That’s exactly what happened. That little slow and steady, like the tortoise. Thanks so much for visiting and commenting, JoAnne!

  14. You sound like you have been so responsible for your money, good stewards. Thanks for sharing these wonderful tips. They are needed in a day when young people are wanting to have so many things new along with a big house and lots of payments. Thanks for linking up with me over at WholeHearted Home. I always love to read the wisdom you share.

  15. [...] week’s most popular project was Take Care Of Your Pennies shared on Auntie Em’s Guide To [...]

  16. Great post and I have read all of the Tightwad Gazette books! The buying less than you can afford is so true! Found you from the PF link party.

  17. Thanks for the post, which I found on Practically Functional. I, unfortunately, need to take better care of my pennies and you gave me some great food for thought!

  18. […] like  taking care of your pennies will make your dollars add up, I have to believe that a little exercise spread out over the day will […]

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