Ways to save money on a tight budget

How to live on little money

My family lives in a paradise, with a good standard and on a tight budget. Four years ago we came to the USA with two suitcases and no car. Now we are doing well, not because of the income but because of our savings.

A wealthy person is one whose expenses are less than their income. – Ben Franklin

I lived abroad in Krakow, Poland for a decade and moved to St. Augustine, Florida.  My brain is still processing the differences in economic wealth, however, one thing is apparent, economic hardship in the USA is not as bad as the media would like you to believe. I have written on these subjects before ad nauseam but I now see it with my own eyes. So here is yet another post on how to save money but also consider my posts on how to get rich .  Feel free to ask any questions.

The following details my methods of savings. Do you think my methods are for the extreme poor?  I am a consultant for investment banks, and I make close to 200k a year at times and I write my own software.  Nothing is beneath me or above me. You can think like that. You just have to do it. If I can do it so can you. I would and have worked at Walmart if I had to.

This is what we specifically do to save and earn money. I am walking the walk. This is not some hypothetical list.

    • We growth most of our own food with backyard gardens   – These our some of are gardens, we creatively use a lot of our yard. We beautify it with roses from Walmart in the front and stones and shells.  You can have all the greens you need from your garden each day. Think how much you spend on food a month. It is your biggest disposable income expense. I think $1,200 dollars for a family is normal.  We grow our on food. For one hour of gardening a day, we have organic good from the garden. We compose and garden and the food taste better than even Wholefoods Market.
Gardening for money
Either grow food in your back yard or a community gardens


  • We fish for food   –  If you use the right bait you can catch twenty fish in a few hours. Write me for my method. I have it down to a science.  Even if you do not live by the Ocean, there is a river or lake you can drive to.  People lived on Fish as protein and you might be healthy because of it. We fry it in coconut oil and home-made bread crumbs. We by the cheapest fishing poles at Walmart for 10 bucks. The little ones, so they fit in the car easy. People make fun of us until they see us pull one fish after another. Write me for my secrete.
Fishing can give you a lifetime of free food. We also compose what we do not use.
Fishing can give you a lifetime of free food. We also compose what we do not use.

Make things at home – We make yoghurt and bread. You do not need equipment, just an oven.

Yogurt saves money made at home
We even thought of a mini cow (yes they have them) – but making yoghurt saves a lot if you skip the Ice cream



I use herbs instead of drugs – Make your own choices but I do not spend money on drugs.

Herbs not drugs to save money.
Natural medicine many times trumps expensive drugs.

Use Linux – I have not used Windows OS in years. I have a three thousand dollar Mac for my business, but use Linux Mint as I like it better. I pulled a seven year old computer out of my closet and put Puppy Linux on it and runs better than the other computers. Basically, if you can not afford a phone or computer, get a donation one and install Linux. It will be faster than a new Windows computer in most cases.

Dump your phone and cable – I have neither. I use Google Voice and Skype for free and Netflix.

Medical – I opted our of Universal health care for ethical reasons and do Medi Share. Look into it.

If you must shop – do not use coupons – I buy basic things of quality from Wholefoods or make things myself from HomeDepot.  For example, do not buy a plastic composted dig a whole instead and add worms.

What do you do for fun – Beach,  hiking,Chess ( we all play chess competitively), read books from the library, travel (camping). Our lives are non-stop fun.

The above are just a few ideas.

Budget –  Kind of boring if you as me to make a budget but I did one in LibreOffice and have it on my desktop. I have three sceneries, 1) when I have a job 2) when I do not work but have extra, 3) survival

You can start by trying out a personal budget software I recommend, it is free and in the cloud, but I try not to get too much into the details of penny saving, I am more a big picture guy, like not having a car or sending kids abroad for college. However, I like this software as it gives comparisons of how you stack up against the guy next door and might motivate you to save more money towards investing.

Government help – No thanks

I was sitting in WalMart the other day waiting for my wife and chatting with the lady next to me, I had mentioned I was from Europe and she said at least there the government will provide and help families. I did not want to engage her on this. But the bottom line is what about providing for your own family with a little frugality? Examine what you have and what you need and what life is about.

What is poverty?

The word “poverty” is a political buzzword use by politicians. I am not heartless, mind you (read my post on how to help the poor), I have just lived in places in the world that are really poor and under spartan conditions so I can compare. To some extend Americans are spoiled economically , myself included a good part of my life. The purpose of this post is to convey some lessons I learned living abroad about living frugally and how I apply it to the my new American lifestyle. In a nutshell, how to save money on a budget and live well.

save money utilities
My wife holding one of our energy-saving bulbs-plan to save – plan to win, do not plan to fail.

I think it was in Joseph Murphy’s book ‘Power of the subconscious Mind’ he wrote ‘poverty is a mental disease’. I thought that was a pretty bold statement and found it a little brash. However, what he ment by that is, you can achieve anything you want if you have the right attitude and set your expectations. It was not to be taken (too) literally.

The ways to save are nothing I do not do myself, although you do not have to follow them. If you want more money in the bank, you need to tighten your belt a notch and see your assets rise despite the economy. You can save money on by eliminating things that you think you need, but really do not. It is a little bit testing the limits of frugality in a Henry David Thoreau, Walden Pond sort of way and not for everyone.

Mark’s fix cost
Rent (luxury condo on the beach 2 bed 2 bath) $850.00
High speed > 15mb/s – Internet $29.00
Water/Trash (partly included in the rent) $43.00
Electric (I am in Florida so no heating and I will rarely use A/C as I am on the ocean) $70.00
Netflix $8.00

Note: This does not include expenses associated with my business I run at home, but these are a separate method of accounting.

Therefore, for $12,000 dollars a year fixed cost you can have a pretty nice life.  That is a life in a tourist town on the beach with a nice standard. If you want to cut costs you could cut the rent in half if you go 20 miles west of here out towards Palatka, and cut out the high-speed Internet and Netflix or really cheap on electric. But I think for $12,000 dollars fix expenses you can have a nice life for your family if you choose the right place. If you live in the pricey North East or California, I would move.

  • Step one to saving money: You need to start thinking in terms of lifestyle and real tangible assets not in terms of earnings and cost. Think about what things cost in your area and is it worth it? This means you could rent a small apartment in Boston or San Francisco or live in a nice place house with a yard in North Carolina or Kansas if you will, I prefer Florida right now. The income side is obviously important but it is beyond the scope of this post as there are too many factors to weigh, but it would suffice as to say I see a lot of upper middle management types in Connecticut busting their hump for the same life style people working in lower middle management  in the south for example. Forget the nominal income and expense numbers and think in terms of real assets, stress, people’s friendliness in the area and weather.
save expenses on insurance and cars
One of our bikes, cars are great, but if you are on a budget, consider the alternatives

Variable costs are what often blows a families budget.  If you a keep your food bill modest and shop at the Dollar store, Wal-Mart or learn to sew, you can live for 500 dollar a month variable cost. We keep ours pretty modest, as our entertainment is Netflix, walking, framers market,  biking, fishing, beach activities, library, artistic events. St. Augustine is a big art town and there is always something to do.

dollar store saves money
What is wrong with shopping for toys and gifts at discount stores like dollar general? I loved it when my grandfather when I was a child would go to the five and dime store and buy toys.

That means for anything over 500 dollars a month variable cost goes into savings and investing accounts. If you make 5,000 dollars a month cash flow that is a lot of money. If you invest that money wisely you will be rich eventually. But even if you make 18,000 dollars a year, life is not that bad and certainly nothing that I would call poverty.

buy value brand groceries
The Wal-mart or Publix or WholeFoods or wherever you shop for food has good quality control over their store brand food. It makes shopping easier in many cases. We buy only organic either way.

You do not want to deprive yourself. You do not want to live like ‘they call this stuff hamburger helper but it does all right just by itself”. You want to explore life on a different level.

A few more things I do to save money on my home budget which might be viewed as heretical to some

  1. Move south or to a cheaper area look at things like cost of living comparison on a budget and see where you can live cheaper.
  2. As a general savings rule live like it is the 1970s. Look at all the gadgets and expense that have incrementally become ingrained as a necessity, that lets me honest really is not.
  3. Stop wasting money on soft consumable items, like magazines, pay for downloads, to XBox programs. You would be surprised how this eats your cashflow.
  4. No cell phones – and question why these companies are rich? –  iPhone or blackberry, nor do I have a landline, rather I use Skype in. I was a mobile phone junky and when I gave it up I was so stressed and nervous for a few weeks, now I do not even know why I had one.
  5. Cars are nothing more than an expense and a deprecating asset and they do not help your level of fitness – No car. This is sacrilege. Did not have one as a Stock Broker on Wall Street nor as a director in Boston nor as an entrepreneur in Krakow, just wanted to see if we as a family need one in Florida and to date not an issue. Saves about 400 dollars a month depending on your use and repairs and how you amortize the cost of your vehicle, insurance and gas. However, if you need to commute to work or live in suburbia it makes it harder. My friends use public transport or bike. I know it is harder in some places that others, but consider what I wrote about lifestyle. Also for 500 dollars you can get a scooter that goes 49 miles an hour and in most states that does not require a driver’s license until you hit 50 mph. I know of people who commute this way. However, my friend Peter and my Christine both do not have a car and are professionals and do fine also, so there is something to be said for this. I think this is the bitterest pill to swallow for Americans. I do a weekend rent a car when I want to travel or do extra shopping. It is eons cheaper than owning and in my opinion more fun as I get to test different models.
  6. Drink filtered water – Best beverage there is.
  7. No brainer for saving money – No TV or Cable bill
  8. Energy Saving light bulbs – good for the world as well as you.
  9. Be green to save money – I use the lights rarely and natural light works fine. In fact when I lived in dark cold Europe we did this, so in sunny USA you can to. It is better to be in harmony with the natural light cycles of early to bed and early to rise.
  10. Heating water during none peak load use times is a waste of money – Hot water heater circuit breaker switch is off unless we are taking a shower
  11. Look at the labor-saving devices you use – for example, Dishes by hand – I do not use our dish washing machine as it is a good break from the computer to go wash some dishes and good for my hands to do something besides surf the web.
  12. The Amish way to save money – Do not use a clothe dryer. Use the spin cycle in your washer and hang the clothes, even in an apartment we have a small hanging rack. Many other things from push vacuums and lawn mowers but I am not there yet.
  13. Buying processed food increase your food bill 500% – Food is my biggest variable cost. When I was buying expensive food I got fat. Really, I had extra money and bought tasty easy to make snacks and juices and got fat.   Food  in bags and cans are about marketing and ill-health, just make things like chicken soup at home. What can I say, I married a country girl and she likes to cook for the family and with rice or noodles and chicken makes great soup.
  14. Have a garden for health and cost savings–  even inside grow herbs, we always have something growing by the windows.
  15. If you like fishing do it and cut expenditures on your biggest variable cost. Of course I live in a fisherman’s paradise and it is a hobby of mine, but it really reduces you budget to have fish and chips a couple of nights a week. I am not a hunter, do not have the heart for it, but I can fish perhaps because I grew up on a lake doing this.
  16. Natural air is cheaper than conditioned air – Central heat and air is over rated. Keep the windows open and run a small fan in your bedroom for the summer and a small energy heater in the room you hand out in the winter. Its 90 degrees and it feels good. I think over 90 I would turn on the air. It’s a matter of what you are used to.
  17. Netflix for cheap pleasures – I do spend on this, as well as high-speed internet but only streaming, the DVD program is too pricy. Hulu and library DVD can fill the gap.
  18. Buy high quality basic items than lower end exotic or rare cheap. That is it is better to buy potatoes of reasonable or high quality than shrimp of poor quality.
  19. Water savings – Lower the water level in your toilet tank, if you do not know how to do it place something in the water tank behind it to displace the level.
  20. Heat savers under the doors – in the areas of your home you choose to heat and cool I use these things that prevent drafts under the door.
  21. Plants and trees in the home to increase air quality and make it feel cooler during hot days. We have lemon, line and orange trees as well as plants.
  22. Heat pumps are expensive but save money in the long run. You can read up on how your cooling and heating can be cut to a fraction with good insulation and a heat pump.
  23. Buy and sell things on Craigslist – I bought a new washer from Sears, furniture from Ikea, but a used couch from Craigslist. If you need something as long as it does not look junky, used is fine.
  24. Need a new computer? – First consider something like puppy Linux or Macpup. It looks like an Apple but runs faster and is free and will get less viruses and is more secure as it loads into RAM.
  25. Maximizes your deductions from your paycheck. Take out as much as you can before it hits your bank account. I was saving like 18% on my 401k for a while.
  26. Do not over insurance
  27. Do not buy or rent too much house – this is a huge mistake, consider the standard you live in and compare it to the way the rent of the world lives and are happy, maybe you do not need too much space? Most Eastern Europeans grow up in a family apartment 500 square feet, you do not need to do that but if your cashflow is pinched consider alternatives.
  28. Shop at Indian stores if you have one in the area, they are usually cheaper for things like beauty care products, herbs, and good.
  29. Make your own pizza and bread. My wife does and so can you.
  30. I often make my own – wine as it is healthier and cheaper, I make it from wild rose, pomegranate and apples for example.
  31. Gifts are an industry – and people spend a lot on these, while home-made cards and spending time with people is more values.
  32. Coupons are usually on premium groceries items – I have rarely found these too cost effective especially regarding the opportunity cost.
  33. Consider education abroad – You can get an education that is richer and more full of experience for your kids if you send them abroad for University, you would be surprise how many Americans go to medical school in Poland for a fraction of the price.
  34. I use LibreOffice and mint.com as my budget software and planning tools – but you can use anything you like.
  35. Retirement is more a 1950s idea. Work or purse your passions as long as you can. Or consider retiring abroad if you are hurting for cash.
  36. Donate money – It does not hurt if you can afford it and I believe in Karma.

To make money, try Fiverr, User testing online, Elance, sell things on ebay, retail arbitrage, Uber etc.  This is more about savings but making money is also easy if you try,

The main thing is to achieve a high level of lifestyle without feeling poor, but with saving money. This is what saving money on a tight budget is about.  A lot of this will be based on your world view. If you feel poor examine the way you see money and income and what it means.

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5 responses to “Ways to save money on a tight budget”

  1. Adam

    “Natural air is cheaper than conditioned air – Central heat and air is over rated. Keep the windows open and run a small fan in your bedroom for the summer” Not so sure about this one Mark.

    It may be colder in northern Florida in the winter but generally speeching on the east coast if you do not use the AC, moisture will take over. I know some Europeans that found it cool to sleep with there windows open in the Islands until there house started to look like a botanical garden and there shoes looking green with a variety of mushrooms.

    Its not going to happen overnight but it eventually will.

    Over all its a great place to live. Best of luck in you new Floridian life.

    1. Mark Biernat

      Well advice herd and taken. I think October to May we are OK but May, June, July, August, September you migh be right. I got my Florida driver’s license and will enjoy no state tax here.

  2. Mark Biernat

    We rent a two bedroom, two bath condo and there is three of us. Our first electric bill for the month is $23.60. We use energy-saving lights, do not run the dishwasher or clothes dryer and only the ceiling fan and do not have a TV. So besides running our laptops and radios, there really is not much use.

    We wanted to see how low we could keep it if we needed without any loss of lifestyle. We live a fairly normal happy life but just do not consume a lot. We are not hippies mind you, but living a nice life.

    I imagine that is the lower limit.

  3. Long time lurker, I love your website. I really enjoy listening to your gratitude about life and your personal wisdom. I’ve learned a lot from this site. Thank you Mark. I would really enjoy more content on ideas on how to save money, living on a tight budget,etc. Just a thought. Thank you again.

    1. Mark Biernat

      I will. I can recommend Uber and ride share programs like this. However, if you do, write me and I can share my invite code. You can make just as much as an office job and turn it on or off as you like.

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