On Frugal Living

Last night I had a steak dinner. In my quiet, tiny kitchen, the red meat sizzled in a cast iron pan while au gratin potatoes bubbled in the oven. I couldn’t help imagining the scene that would unfold. I would serve it with steamed veggies, and my husband and I would enjoy the rest of a decadent cheesecake for dessert. My son would beg for bites of the delicious, velvety goodness. I hummed to myself while I cooked, the smells of my cooking tantalizing my senses, feeling my daughter bounce around in my belly after I took a cold drink of water.

I felt very fancy. And as I stood in my kitchen taking stock of it all, I did something I usually do while I waited for the heat and the stove to do their jobs. I calculated how much the meal cost me. Au gratin potatoes— one dollar. I bought a box at Aldi. I forgot to buy butter so I didn’t even technically make them correctly, but they tasted great. Steamed veggies— another dollar. A frozen California medley from, yes, Aldi. The steak? Vacuum sealed Wagyu beef that was given to my husband over a year ago by his generous employer. The cheesecake—I made it this weekend as a special treat. It cost about five dollars to make. So, the grand total for the steak dinner I’d been craving all week came to seven dollars, even if we counted the whole cheesecake. But we’d been slowly eating it all week so I don’t even know if we can count it.

Photo by KWON JUNHO on Unsplash

It’s tempting, in moments like these, to take credit for the meal by patting myself on the back for my frugality. To remember the painstaking budgeting I’ve done every month for all of our bills, for scouring the shelves for the best meals to fill our bellies. But I didn’t fill my freezer with high quality cuts of red meat. I didn’t get my husband his job that brings a steady paycheck every two weeks. And I certainly didn’t get to a place where I can joyfully manage the household’s money without an immense amount of grace from God.

Since getting married, my husband has been laid off a couple times (from no fault of his own). One of the times was about a month after our son was born. Another was at the beginning of last year. Now he is in a job where he excels. He has a Christian boss who treats his employees with respect. And even though the work is seasonal (lawn care), his boss makes sure to find them things to do in the shop all winter so he doesn’t have to do any lay offs.

My dad taught my siblings and me pretty early on how to save and how to budget. When my husband and I were both working everything was pretty easy. Once I had our son, I started staying home and the budget got tighter, but it was still manageable. We’d planned for it! All of our financial plans before we got married worked on solely my husband’s income. This made it easy to save before we had kids, and made the transition easier. After my husband lost his job in the first quarter of 2023, it was tough. When he got his new job, everything got easier again. But inflation, a new baby, random car expenses, (I mean, this is just life, right?) kind of threw me for a loop. I spent the last couple months of the year constantly moving money around to cover unexpected costs. So one of my goals for 2024 is to trust God more wholeheartedly with our budget.

It started at the grocery store in those last months of 2023. Echoing the advice of my sister, when my grocery bill crept closer to the limit I’d set, and I had to make choices on what to put back, I’d thank God that He’d given me the resources to make use of Aldi’s great prices. When I found meat on sale, I counted it as a blessing from God. How good is He, to let me find the red sticker so I could stock our freezer? And then as we moved into the new year, I asked God to help me be a better steward of His blessings, and to please help me figure out how to reset our budget.

And He did. I don’t know really how it happened, but suddenly when I made our budget spreadsheet, everything was perfectly in line. My husband’s paycheck covered all the anticipated expenses, without any moving money around until his second check of the month. Now, don’t get me wrong, we weren’t in dire straights. We had enough money coming in, I was just struggling to figure out everything on paper, and it was resulting in a lot of annoyances and stress.

But last night, as I sat with my family and ate a delicious, frugal steak dinner, I felt blessed beyond measure. I am breathing a little easier, trusting God more, and trying to be intentionally grateful that He’s given us what we need for me to be able to stay home with our kids. Not only that, but He is helping me to be better at managing with this relatively new budget. I’m so thankful for a God who not only cares if I am fed, but he cares whether I smile while I eat.

I am thinking of sharing some of my favorite “frugal” recipes that have kept me sane on my tight grocery budget in an upcoming post! Let me know if that sounds like something you’d like in the comments :)


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