When it comes to pinching pennies at home, Merissa Alink tries plenty of tried-and-true methods: buying in bulk, cooking from scratch, growing a garden and preserving the excess.
But she and her family have also taken more extreme measures to pay down their debt - like living in an RV for a couple years.
They've made the decision that they want to live their life based on need, rather than want. This means even when there's something they really, really want, if it's not a need, it doesn't end up on the priority list.
"In general, we try and replace the material 'wants' in our lives with things that are much more fulfilling like family togetherness," she says. "We've found that if we stick to that mindset, it ends up saving us a great deal of money in the long run since we aren't spending our extra on little things that we may no longer want in a week or a month."
Merissa writes about homestead living on her blog, Little House Living, where she offers tips, recipes and hacks for living the simple life. Here, she talks about the benefits of making the most of what you have and shares some advice about RV living.
Tell us about Little House Living...when and why did you start your site?
I started Little House Living back in 2009 as an outlet for me to share my thrifty ways with my friends and family. Since then, it has grown quite a ways from those first few months, but the mission has always stayed the same - to share with others how they can make the most with what they have.
How would you define the simple life? Why do you love it?
For us, the simple life is a life based around family. We may not always have the latest and the greatest, but we make do with what we have. It's a focus on need rather than on want. l love this way of living because instead of focusing on the typical American Dream, we focus on what will make us better as a family and help us live a life that is well rounded and happy. Eliminating "stuff" from our lives allows us to live at a slower pace, and it helps remove the clutter and stress that material items can bring.
How has simple living strengthened your family?
Our family has been able to work towards living the life we really desire by living simply. For us, that means on a little farm in the country that we hope will one day be able to support most of our needs. Seeing my little toddler be more content to play outside making mud pies instead of being inside glued to the TV is just one way of how I can see this manifest in our families lives. We are much more content with being creative and doing the things that we really love instead of wishing for something else that doesn't bring us happiness anyway.
You spent some time living in an RV full time; what made you do this?
We've now lived for two out of the seven years of our married life in an RV. We moved into an RV to be able to pay off excess debt before purchasing a home.
What are the biggest savings you found with RV living?
The biggest savings we found was that it really limited you from buying excess. You have what you need, and you don't have any room for more. That didn't mean I didn't shop while we lived in an RV, but if something came in the RV, something went out.
Living in an RV also taught us many unexpected lessons like living without electricity and living without running water as certain things happened. I know that because of this, we are now much more prepared for emergencies and we know what we can truly do without.
What did you learn early on that you could do without living in such a small space?
Clothing! I never realized how much clothing we had until we tried to fit it into a camper closet. I got rid of so much clothing during the first few months, and now I spend a little time every couple of months clearing out things I'm no longer wearing. Even though we aren't in a camper anymore, we are still in a small space, and I don't want to waste any of it with things we aren't wearing. Each member of our family now has about enough clothing to last a week and a half plus a few extra nicer outfits for church or special occasions. We don't miss having more clothes.
What were the biggest lessons you learned about living in a small space?
Outside time is important. There is so much more to life than sitting inside all day, and when you are in a small space, sitting inside all day is a recipe for going crazy. We learned to get out even more than we previously did and go for walks, blow bubbles with the little ones, create a garden (even if that meant just growing plants in containers) or anything else that kept us outside.
But the biggest lesson we learned is how little we can really live with. When we moved into the RV a few years ago, we cleaned out our entire house and got rid of about half of what we owned; then we did it again and again. Each time, we found more and more that we weren't using or just didn't need to pay to store.
After months of cleaning out when we prepared to move into the RV, we started to live by the rule, "If it's not something useful or meaningful, it doesn't need to be kept." You would be very surprised at how many un-useful and un-meaningful things most of us keep in our homes! Even now that we live in a house again, we still live by this rule, and it's amazing how much stress we save ourselves from going through by just keeping the clutter out.
What factors should others consider before moving into their RV full time?
There are many things that should be considered before moving into an RV. I highly recommend borrowing one from a friend for a little while first and seeing how your family does in it. This will also give you an idea of what things you should look for in a camper when you purchase your own, not to mention be an eyeopener of how little you can really have in an RV.
You will also need to consider where you will be able to park the RV, how much rent and utilities are going to cost, and if you plan on living in it year-round or just in the summer/warmer months.
If you plan to put the RV on your own land, you will need to make sure you have appropriate electric and utility hookups, and if you are at a campground, you will need to know if the monthly price they offer covers utilities or if you will need to pay for that. If you plan on living in a cold area in a camper in the winter, you will need to make sure you are fully prepared for that and have an RV that is self-contained and can function through the winter without freezing up.
It's also important to realize the unexpected will happen and you will have to be OK with that. For example, I was used to grocery shopping once a month; in the camper, I had to shop at least once a week because we simply didn't have the space. We also thought we were fully prepared for winter in the camper, but in mid-March with 30-below-zero temps, we still got frozen water pipes and had to live without running water for many weeks. Just like with any living situation, the unexpected can happen.
What are some of your long-term financial goals, and how do you hope to meet them?
We hope to be completely debt free by the time we are 30 (four years to go!). We don't want to live a life burdened with debt, and we are trying to work as hard as we can now to get rid of that debt. We also hope to move further towards being self-sufficient or "off the grid," so we rely on things that we can produce ourselves here on our little farm instead of buying things at the store so we can save instead of spend our hard-earned cash.