Five years ago, I was flat broke.
I just had graduated university, and somehow lucked out by falling right into a writing gig. At the time, I was beyond ecstatic, but in the years since I’ve come to realize exactly how underpaid I was. Still, I had an income that allowed me to work on a flexible schedule from home, plus the very last of my student loan. I decided it was time to do something with it.
So, I made an investment. I rented a small office space down the road from where I was living, bought a full set of studio equipment and set up a new photography studio site.
The budget beginning
Rent on the studio was just under the amount I was earning per month when taken monthly (which I’ll get to in a minute). It allowed me enough breathing space to buy food and pay my phone bill.
But the thing about the rental contract I signed was that it wasn’t divided equally by month. I had one month free, then four months paid at a higher rate, then one month free, and so on. So, for those few months where I was paying, it was more than my income.
Not a problem, right? I had the whole free month to save up and then I could use the extra in the bank to keep up with the rest of the payments!
Except, it didn’t really work out that way.
I signed the contract in November, and by January I realized I was heavily snowed under. I needed to make a budget, and fast. I divided up what I had and did all of the maths.
That’s when I realized I had $10 to spend per week for the next nine months.
How I saved
It was a pretty horrifying realization. I cried all night when I saw the numbers. That money had to cover food, clothes, toiletries and any other essentials that I possibly could think of. Absolutely anything I wanted to buy had to come from that money. And I had to start right now.
These are the steps that I took to stick to my budget from the start:
- I started shopping at discount supermarkets. Unfortunately for my health, that meant more frozen or dry food and pre-prepared meals, and fewer fresh fruits and vegetables. But choosing the lowest possible prices in my area meant saving immensely on every meal.
- I bought two packets of biscuits a week. A pack of biscuits was 50 cents, so it only took up $1 from my budget, but biscuits can supplement any meal. Pretty soon, I was eating biscuits as a snack anytime I got hungry outside my three meals a day.
- I made my three meals a day as small as possible. If I had pasta, I only could use half, or even a third, of the jar of sauce for one meal. Then the next few days had to be pasta meals with the same sauce, so I never wasted anything by having it go bad.
- I got creative with the food that had been sitting at the back of the cupboard for months.
- I never threw out any food, no matter how far past the “use by” date it was, unless it had visibly gone bad.
- I wore the same clothes for a year.
- I stopped getting my hair cut so often.
- Now and then, I went hungry so I could get laundry tablets or shampoo or other essentials that took the money away from my food budget. Biscuits were my friends at these times.
- I learned to love and appreciate even more the generosity of friends or family members who took me out to eat, brought me groceries or gave me gifts. (Once, I cried when my parents restocked my food cupboard as a surprise.)
- I booked extra work as often as I could to get extra money into the budget, even if it meant working a seven-day week several times in a row.
And then, success
So, how did all of this help me to prepare for success?
One, it taught me how to budget. Even now, with my business doing well and money in the bank, I shop frugally and I try hard not to waste food. I also carefully consider big purchases – do I really need it? Can I get it cheaper somewhere else? This results in more money in the bank overall.
Two, it taught me the importance of pricing. Working that first job, I didn’t realize how much my skills were worth. Today, I can earn in one hour what I earned in a day there. I’m never afraid to quote a higher price to a client, and I raise my rates regularly as I gain more experience.
Three, it gave me The Fear. Anyone who has had to scrape by on the minimum knows this fear. It’s the fear that if I don’t work hard today and if I don’t keep all the plates spinning, I will be living that life again tomorrow. That fear doesn’t go away – and I don’t want it to do so. The Fear keeps me on my toes.
Because of The Fear, I refuse to be anything but successful.
What about you? Are you on your way to being successful because of living a super frugal lifestyle?
Rhiannon D’Averc is a full-time freelance writer and photographer, based in the UK. After a year of strict budgeting, she moved on to higher-paid work, grew her business and became self-sufficient without incurring debt. She now is working on breaking into the fiction market.