What It's Really Like to Live on a Shoestring Budget

Who said you can’t feed a family of seven on $4,200 a year?

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Annette offers another approach for stocking up: "If you know your consumption rate and have a way to store the items, vacuum-sealed meats will save for a year, so you may want to buy in bulk if there's a great deal."

Shopping at all the right places. The Economides use a number of traditional hotspots for snagging deals, such as garage sales, church rummage sales, and consignment shops. When their son needed a tuxedo to wear for the community band's concert, they found one at a thrift shop for $30. Steve says there's often more bargaining room with local residents than online vendors, as many people are willing to reduce their asking price for a good neighbor.

Nonetheless, the family does a large majority of their shopping online. Like other consumers, they visit popular websites such as Craigslist.com and eBay.com, but use a slightly different approach—basing their timing for purchasing certain products on when a deal crops up for the item they need. For example, when their printer's toner cartridge was low, Annette held off on replacing it until she spotted a new one on eBay for $40, about $30 off the retail price. They also used bricks they bought on Craigslist when re-landscaping their backyard.

[See Skip the Store: Buy These Items Online to Save Time and Money.]

"We realized that if you want something and you don't have the money for it, there's always someone who's getting rid of that thing you want," Annette says, emphasizing she never buys an item online at retail price. "If you're patient, you'll find it."

The bottom line: Whether you're on a shoestring budget or looking to put away some extra savings, these strategies are easy to implement. "It's such a lifestyle that we don't even think about it anymore; we just do it. We save our tin foil that we use for our baked potatoes. We save our paper grocery bags and reuse those," Annette says. "We have very little trash."