Frugal family budgeting (and sticking to it)

As the cost of living seems to rise every month, budgeting and how to manage money well as a family is a constant topic of discussion in our home. Like many, we cringe when unexpected things need repair or replacing, and we often look incredulously at how others around us seem to be spending money we simply don't have. 

How are they doing it?

To be honest, I'm not sure. Unless they are super wealthy, I suspect a lot of people are financially stressed beyond measure and are simply hiding it well, hoping things will resolve themselves in time because they don't know what else to do. But that's clearly a flawed strategy, given there are no solid signs that inflation is on the way down anytime soon and interest drops if they occur, will likely be very slow and small.  

Frugal family budgeting (and sticking to it)

Once upon a time, early on in our marriage, we used envelopes for cash. But these days so much is done via EFTPOS or automatic bank transfer the physical envelope system no longer works for us. Especially when we might be going in different directions at the same time. 

Recently we sat down and explored some apps to help us budget better and settled on a free budgeting app by the name of Goodbudget. You can set it up to work with your pay cycle and add various envelopes to suit your needs. Then as you spend money you manually add it into the correct envelope and list what it was for. There is a little maker on each envelope that tells you if you are ahead or behind budget. Then when the next fortnight comes around any areas you overspent on or saved in will be rolled into that fortnight. Great if you manage to save money, but less fun if you had extra costs. It updates in real-time so anyone who is sharing the app with you can see where the budget is at. 

It's been a game-changer for us.  

There are so many beautiful natural places to explore, even if you are in the city. There are free parks, beaches, national parks, forests, rivers, botanic gardens and more which are often quite closeby. 

I feel more control over our budget, and those little things that quickly add up are easily documented and kept in check. Because it updates in real-time we can see what each other is doing and adjust (if needed) our actions accordingly. I think one of the most helpful things about the app is the little tracker on each envelope. For example, this fortnight we have unexpectedly spent more on fuel than we intended at the front of the fortnight. The reasons were good, but it doesn't change the fact we are now significantly behind budget on our fuel budget and need to balance it out, so we are looking for ways to challenge ourselves to achieve that. 

Another thing we do as a family is cultivate contentment and enjoyment in what we have. I know I talk about this a lot but that's because I believe it is so incredibly important. We talk well about our home, garden animals and life. Anyone who has been following for a while will know our home is tiny, imperfect and a work in progress. But imperfection doesn't negate the ability to enjoy or value something. Life will never be perfect and most of us will never live in a magazine-worthy home. (heads up, stylists spend hours bringing in items to style rooms to make them look that way, even homes in magazines don't look like that on a day-to-day basis.) Despite the imperfection, we make the effort to highlight the things we do have and enjoy them deeply. 

enjoying a cuppa is a simple pleasure, and easily done at home.

Our lives and that of our children are bombarded with advertising and media designed specifically to create a sense of dissatisfaction in us so we will buy a lot of things, much of which we don't need. Generations of the past simply didn't have this level of advertising to contend with, so our generation has to work out how to pave a healthy way forward for our children.  In response, we need to proactively and deliberately cultivate a sense of gratitude and thankfulness about both the big and small things. Some ways we can do that are;
  • Cooking simple nourishing meals with love and care. 
  • Ensure beds are clean and comfortable and bedrooms are a cosy retreat. 
  • Comment positively about our children's favourite clothing items so they remember to appreciate what they have.
  • Op-shop, thrift and buy what we can second-hand. It's amazing what people sell cheap or give away. If you can be patient the exact item you need will often pop up soon enough. 
  • Read books to/with our children with patience (even if it is 'Where is the Green Sheep' for the one billionth time) 
  • Make our homes cheerful and comfortable in a way that suits our lifestyle. It doesn't have to be perfect. 
  • Hang the children's art in a cheap frame and swap it out. Our children love to give us things. Pictures, rocks and interesting tidbits are often all they have access to. We need to celebrate it! 
  • Arrange some thrifted or sentimental items on a pretty cloth so you can enjoy them on your table.
  • Light some candles to create a magical atmosphere at night. Kids love the twinkly magical ambience and it also sets a sweet, romantic mood for couples. 
  • Sit together and play a board game, cards/UNO regularly.  
  • Tend to a garden, whether it be a few plants in pots, a courtyard or a big garden. create a space you enjoy and invest time into it.
  • Go out in nature and enjoy all the free fun and beauty it has to offer. 
Cultivating contentment is a beautifully frugal way to live. We learn to become self-reliant on our own hands, imaginations and sense of creativity. We look to nature for entertainment, and we look for connection in relationships which inturn brings riches and joy beyond material measure. 

Another budgeting tip is being honest about where you are with your friends. Recently I had to have a conversation with a couple of dear friends that I could no longer afford to do our dinner out, even though we would go to a cheap place to eat. Though they are in a better financial situation than me, they thanked me for sharing with them and quickly made arrangements for us to eat at their homes instead. This week I will make up a jar of delicious pesto with fresh herbs from my garden. I'll pack it with some cooked chicken, tomatoes from the garden and a bag of pasta to cook up at their house so our meal is beautifully fresh. (I go to their place because they live in town and we meet while our children go to an activity) I may not be able to be generous financially in this season but I can be generous with my time, friendship, love and the resources we do have like my garden.  I can offer to help repair things or help them with things they might want a second pair of hands or eyes on. I have always found that when I dare to be entirely honest, those friendships that truly matter deepen and become something incredibly beautiful. 

This Sunday we had homemade mac and cheese for dinner, but usually, Sunday dinner is pancakes. It's great fun for the kids and incredibly thrifty. You can add fruit and yoghurt to make it healthier. I got chicken for 9.99/kg, pork for $7.99/kg from Aldi this week and potatoes for $2/kg at Coles. The OC shampoo and conditioner our family uses was for sale this week at Coles too. If you can buy an extra of items when they are on sale you will have them on hand to get you through until it next comes on sale. I'll bake a simple vanilla butter cake for a sweet treat one night when the oven is already on to save gas. 

If you are feeling the pinch like many of us are, be honest and face up to it. Clawback control wherever you can and make a plan. Ignoring the reality won't make it any easier. (I know because I tried for a bit) There are many ways we can cobble together a beautifully simple life that truly reflects our values and who we are in our heart of hearts. But it's something that needs to be created slowly over time, it can't be purchased from the store. 

I hope this finds you well. If you feel like sharing how you're cobbling together a life that resonates with you and managing your budget I'd love to hear about it, I'm sure others would find it helpful too. Because I'm taking a social media break for Lent, I won't be sharing this post on the usual social media platforms. So if you know anyone who this conversation might benefit, please do feel free to send them this way. 

Much love, 

Budget-friendly resources

This is an excellent Budgeting app available in your app store for free. 

A recent post I wrote on this topic. 

Rhonda Hetzel has two excellent books about frugal, green, simple living and also a comprehensive blog. Have a search through and you will find a wealth of information on how to write and implement a budget in great detail. 

Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape
A straightforward, not too dry money guide. Check out your local library first. 


  1. Another great post Emma. I'll tell you how others are doing it - No they're not super wealthy but I'll bet they're living putting everything on credit cards. Their debt must be the stuff of nightmares!
    I always love the pictures of your home - it always looks so peaceful & such a welcoming place. There is so much beauty in simplicity. I love to burn candles too - it creates such a nice atmosphere. Yes I've had to have those conversations with friends before ... that I can't eat out all the time. I don't even want to to be honest. What you are taking to their home for a meal sounds just so wonderful! Which reminds me ... I need to make some pesto from all my basil !!!
    When I have my grandsons here I don't want to spend money all the time - going to the movies is & should be a treat! We find lots of ways to enjoy our time together that are free - libraries, the parks, walks by rivers, crafting at my table, baking together - the ideas are endless & all FREE! Wishing you a great week Emma. xx

    1. Thanks Julie! It's hard to tell isn't it? Though also single income families are increasingly rare these days I think so there are fewer people living like we do. Many people have more disposable income I think.

      It can be peaceful, though it can also be very chaotic. Ha! Going to the movies is a real treat for us. When we lived in SA there was a little theatre near us that used to do $10 tickets on a Tuesday which could be fun for a treat! It has been years since we have gone to the movies. It is so expensive here. I hope you have a lovely week too Julie! xx

  2. I'm really enjoying your posts Emma. Thank you for putting time into them. They are always thoughtful. I miss being able to comment on Rhonda's blog but totally understand why she has disabled that feature. With the cost of living crisis and world affairs it's nice to feel part of a community I can relate to. I've always liked the word modesty. Not meant in a prissy way but modest in wants, person and approach. That can mean in everyday things as well as demeanor. Sometimes I think it is a rather misunderstood word. Modesty, thoughtfulness and gratitude are a lovely combination. I think television, social media and credit cards entice people into desiring and thinking they can have it all now and for some the best of things. The concept of saving up and purchasing what you need and the thrill of a wish being met just isn't for some now. I hope your week has been a good one. Ingrid.

    1. Thanks Ingrid, Im glad you are enjoying your time here, I appreciate it! Rhondas blog is much bigger than mine and I can only imagine how long her comment section could take to answer! It does give a nice sense of community and it is something I enjoy. That is true, modesty is often used differently these days isn't it? I agree those attributes are lovely for sure.

      We are currently saving up for some new batteries for our solar system, though it will remain a modest system as we can't afford too much and we have learned to make do anyway. But gosh it will bring a sense of relief and security and be a huge goal ticked. I hope you have a lovely week. xx

  3. I hope you and your family are well and things are ok for you. I imagine you are busy with family life and all it brings. Sending you blessings.

  4. I just found your blog through Rhonda's blog and this post really resonated with me. We are a one-income house now, so we are having to be very careful about our spending. You have offered some great suggestions for enjoying a rich life on a budget. I think inflation is finally making many people feel the pinch, as I have seen many complaining about high prices on my social media. The Goodbudget app looks great! I'm checking it out now and I hope it will be a good thing for my husband and I to use so we can both stay aware of the spending. This is the first post of yours I have read, but it won't be my last!


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