How To Do A Lot With A Little Money

How to do a lot with a little moneyThe day after my husband and I got married we moved to Mexico. My husband is from Mexico and was recalled there for work. I was only there on a visitor’s visa, so I couldn’t work and didn’t know enough Spanish to have gotten a job even if I could. So for most of the first year we lived on one salary, and though it was a great salary by Mexico’s standards, it was only about $1,400 a month. Even with our little salary, we had big dreams, so we quickly had to learn how to do a lot with a little money.

And yet, it in that first year we were able to buy and spoil a puppy and visit Europe. How did we do it? A budget.

2013-10-22 06.31.23I have budgeted since I was about eight and wanted an American Girl palm pilot (for those of you who are too young to remember, that was the precursor to smart phones). The summer before my senior year of high school, I wanted buy a laptop so I made a $20 bill last through ten meals. I was no stranger to stretching a buck.

My husband on the other hand…

It was like pulling teeth to get him to implement a budget. He fought me tooth and nail for months. His expenses had (almost) always been paid by his parents or the company, leaving his income to be disposed in any way he pleased. And he was certainly pleased with all the gadgets and luxury it could bring.

Then all of the sudden, the rent had to be paid, groceries had to be bought, cell phones needed contracts, and now it was all for two. It was a hard awakening.

I tested out a lot of different budgeting apps and settled on YNAB, which we still use today. It enables me to set and balance the budget on my laptop and add expenses on my phone as soon as the money was spent. It’s a great system and one I highly recommend.

We set up six main categories and then subcategories under each of them:

  • Tithing–giving, missions
  • Monthly Bills–rent, car payment, electricity, gas, Netflix, etc.
  • Everyday Expenses–groceries, restaurants, fuel, entertainment
  • Sunny Days Fund, so named because these are the things we’re like spending our money on–family Christmas presents, birthday presents, and our “Happy Funds” this is the little bit of money that each Alan and I get every month to do with what we want
  • Rainy Days Fund, so named for the things we hope won’t go wrong but probably will–emergency fund, home improvements, car repairs
  • Savings Goals–yearly vacation, European vacation, new car, etc.

YNAB allows us to set the budget every month based on the money we made the previous month (which is great now as a freelancer). So we start from the top and work our way down the categories. As the month went by we would sometimes move a little money from this category to that, but mostly it stayed the same. By knowing how much was in each area we were able to not overspend. In fact, in categories like restaurants and entertainment we would try to underspend. Then at the end of the month, anything that was left over in Monthly Bills and Everyday Expenses, we would sweep out of those categories and into our savings categories.

2013-10-23 06.21.00This way we were able to put a little and a little more in the vacations fund each month. On our European vacation we were still on a tight budget–we stayed on friends couches or in hostels, spent less than $50 a day (a person) in meals, and had only $100 each for spending money. But who cares? We got to go to Sweden, Germany, and Denmark for two weeks!

I’m not going to lie. When you first start budgeting, it hurts. It feels like the budgeting is a big pain, keeping you from all those little pleasures. For a while, it will feel like it’s holding you back–from that extra meal out with friends, from those cute boots you really want, from new phone you’re just have to have right this instant–but pretty soon you’ll see it lets you get to the things you really want–a trip to Europe, a new car bought with cash, a hot tub for the backyard. It’s amazing how those 20’s here and there can turn into 1oo’s and soon 1,000’s.

When you’re just starting out, make sure to set smaller, reachable goals–like weekend trips and a fall mini-shopping spree–to keep yourself motivated. If your only goal is two weeks over seas, that’s going to take a while to get there and you may get discouraged in the process.

2013-10-24 06.59.58Every person’s income, expenses, and goals are different, so every person will work at their own pace. If you need any tips or encouragement to get started on your own budgeting scheme, just let me know. You can do a lot with a little money too! It’s made all the difference in our lives.

What big dreams do you have that you would love to save for? Do you budget? What’s your method? Have you tried an failed budgeting before? How can I help you succeed this time? 

Megan Gonzalez

By | 2015-10-19T23:17:24+00:00 October 20th, 2015|Encouragement, Goals, Travel|25 Comments

About the Author:

I'm a tea-sipping, adventure-seeking, pug-loving kind of girl. I'm crazy for God and want to share his love with awesome girls around the globe.


  1. Irene October 24, 2015 at 3:47 pm - Reply

    Amazing post! You have a great blog:)
    What about following each other on Instagram, Bloglovin, Twitter?

  2. Nichole aka CuppaGeek October 22, 2015 at 2:20 pm - Reply

    This is something we have been trying to stress to our kiddos, especially the teenagers. I’m showing them this post tonight! Awesome job!

    • Megan Gonzalez October 22, 2015 at 5:48 pm - Reply

      I started those habits when I was a teen and now at age 24 I own a house and a brand new car. I’ve travelled to many countries. And I am debt free. Budgeting can be a pain at times but it’s more than worth it in the long run.

  3. Irene October 21, 2015 at 2:56 pm - Reply

    Great post! You have an amazing blog:)
    What about following each other on Instagram, Twitter and Bloglovin? Let me know:)

  4. Alexandra @ My Urban Family October 21, 2015 at 2:29 pm - Reply

    A budget is definitely key! And why does it always seem harder to get men to agree to them? 😛 Congrats on making it to Europe while on one income though – thats amazing!

  5. dixya @ food, pleasure, and health October 21, 2015 at 7:55 am - Reply

    i have been thinking of starting to budget and do adulty things because right now i really don’t do much of that..i will look into the app. thank you for the reminder and how little things can make such a big impact

  6. Angie Scheie October 20, 2015 at 11:25 pm - Reply

    This is such an area of struggle. We have such a hard time with budgets. Pinning!!

  7. Crazy shenanigans October 20, 2015 at 11:21 pm - Reply

    All good points! I need to figure out how to spread money!

  8. Summer @ Coffee With Summer October 20, 2015 at 8:19 pm - Reply

    These are really awesome tips, Megan! I love the categories you’ve broken everything down into!

  9. bethany October 20, 2015 at 3:39 pm - Reply

    I think being frugal is a great opportunity to implement creativity! Your story is inspiring! My boyfriend sounds similar to your man.

  10. Chrissa - Physical Kitchness October 20, 2015 at 3:28 pm - Reply

    Great tips!! I’m a budgeting queen. My hubby on the other hand….Anyway, we stayed at AirBnB apartments during our trip to Italy with another couple that vacationed with us. It saved SO much money!

  11. mandi October 20, 2015 at 3:09 pm - Reply

    we’re big budgeters also, but I love the Sunny Day Fund, haha so cute!

  12. Crystal @ Dreams, etc. October 20, 2015 at 3:02 pm - Reply

    It’s so inspiring to see all that you guys did on one salary just by budgeting wisely. A budget can be hard to fall into, but is totally worth it.

  13. Danielle October 20, 2015 at 2:29 pm - Reply

    This is an inspiring article! I’m trying to really get in the groove of budgeting because it really does help tremendously when you want to be responsible but still have fun. I’m gonna have to check out that YNAB app, it sounds helpful.

  14. Chrissy October 20, 2015 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    Great post! I am all about budgeting – it has allowed us so many things we wouldn’t have been able to get or do without it!

  15. Erica October 20, 2015 at 1:47 pm - Reply

    Great post. I think that your budgeting advice is spot on. You chose what was important to you (like saving for a vacation) and eliminated unnecessary spending.

    I also like how you told the real truth about living on a budget- it is hard to do (mostly at first). I feel like no matter what you are saving for… a vacation or paying off debt, after you see the rewards of making your goal…. budgeting becomes MUCH easier after that.

  16. Elizabeth October 20, 2015 at 12:36 pm - Reply

    Great post! You are the one who introduced me to YNAB – and Thank Goodness. It has saved me since moving into my first apartment. I have found out that I am at times OCD when it comes to saving money. Don’t get me wrong, I like to shop and travel, but when I see those dollars leave my account… ugh! Budgeting has been so crucial for me and it is the reason why I was able to purchase my first car and put almost half down! But ohhhhhh man did I flip when I wrote that check!

    My new savings goal, and you already know this :-), is Europe!! I am so excited about this possible opportunity. Even with my new car payment, I will hopefully be able to save up enough to have the experience of a lifetime – and budgeting is the whole reason I can!

  17. Katie @ Talk Less, Say More October 20, 2015 at 11:28 am - Reply

    Budgeting is tough but at the same time, it’s totally something that’s WORTH it and necessary in my mind. I’ve always been very good with my money but this past year I traveled the country raising money for charity with no personal income so I spent a LOT of my own money and unfortunately the friend that I did it with has left me to deal with the majority of the expenses. Sob story aside, it just means I have a lot of bills to pay back and while currently still unemployed, when I get that job, there will be a tight budget in place to get everything paid off as quickly as possible while still making sure I’m saving for the future. Gotta love it! 😉

  18. Liz Jo October 20, 2015 at 10:00 am - Reply

    Love your goals and ideas for saving money! We had a similar idea as well. It’s so important to have a budget nowadays.

    liz @ sundays with sophie

    • Megan Gonzalez October 20, 2015 at 11:02 am - Reply

      You’re so right Liz Jo! It’s very important if you want to do more than just live on a month-by-month basis.

  19. Chelsea October 20, 2015 at 9:55 am - Reply

    This is an awesome post. A lot of people ask us, how are you able to travel so much? We allocate our money wisely…we dont have huge homes or expensive things…we would rather spend our money on traveling.

    • Megan Gonzalez October 20, 2015 at 11:08 am - Reply

      That’s fantastic Chelsea! This year we’re pouring a lot of money into our house. It isn’t huge but required some TLC because of some wonky things the previous owner did. But next year we’re setting our sights on Europe again! I can’t wait!

  20. Becky @ Disney in your Day October 20, 2015 at 9:46 am - Reply

    A budget really does make such a huge difference! It shows you exactly what you’re spending your money on. I do mine with an excel spreadsheet and when I started it was definitely eye opening.

  21. Emilie Talks October 20, 2015 at 9:08 am - Reply

    I’m all for budgeting! I have always be really aware of what I spend and what I save so I managed to save for a down payment on a house while I was still in school! It was hard to not go shopping with my friends sometimes but I’m so happy that I get to buy a house at 24!

  22. Rachel G October 20, 2015 at 8:42 am - Reply

    I’ve never not lived with a budget–I like knowing how much we spend and where we’re at with our goals at a glance. Right now I’m saving up for a 5th anniversary getaway. It will be pretty modest, since we just bought a car, haha, but I’m so excited for a little getaway and celebration!

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