Once upon a time, I was living a very luxurious lifestyle. I had a successful career with a big salary, which meant that I had the financial means to basically travel anywhere I felt like, and I could purchase whatever clothing I wanted — all while living a luxe life in Chicago.
After a health crisis rocked my existence, my entire lifestyle changed. In just four years, I had spent all my savings on getting well. The money went toward hospitalizations, doctors visits, supplements, and all the other expenses that my insurance didn't cover.
I had to give up my career in medical sales, and settled into a new lifestyle with a drastically reduced monthly budget. When I was first getting used to my "new normal" (i.e. living with a chronic health condition), my biggest fear was that I'd never again live the good life.
I was so wrong! And I am grateful for the opportunity to have learned that you can live a healthy and posh lifestyle on a shoestring budget. You just need to be smart with the resources you have. A little humility goes a long way, too.
Below are my top 9 tips to live well on a shoestring budget:
1. Find a financial plan that works for you and stick to it.
I've followed Dave Ramsey's financial budgeting plan for the past 15 years actually. It's a 7-Step Plan that helps you save, budget, eliminate all debt and create a financial life that equates to financial stability regardless of your salary. It's clear, simple, and the steps are followed in order, it allows you to live well on any budget.
2. Negotiate at the farmer's market.
You can eat organic produce and other healthy foods on a shoestring budget! Promise! If you're near any farmer's markets, stroll in toward the end of the day when they're packing up. Tell them you have a small budget, but it's important to you that you nourish your body with organic greens and fruits. And then ask them if they'd be willing to sell any of what's left over at a negotiated rate. It's worked for me.
3. Learn how to eat well on a budget.
Another resource I found to be helpful was Eco-Vegan Gal. In a series of short, internet videos, she explains how to eat easy, cheap and healthy vegan meals. I followed her tips and have found that I now eat better on a budget (less than $250/month) that I did when I had an unlimited budget. Other resources I like include Balanced Babe, articles that I found along the way like this one, and simply having conversations with plant-based food bloggers to brainstorm how to eat on a budget.
4. Find ways to exercise and relax in nature.
Do you live near hiking trails or a beach? Grab your loved ones and spend a day hiking or lying on the sand reading a great book. If you want to have a romantic evening with your special someone, purchase an inexpensive bottle of wine. (I love the label "The Three Wishes," which has several options under $7.) Grab a blanket and go sit at your favorite park to sip and chat. If you have a bike, you can cycle for miles to explore new neighborhoods.
5. Join meetup groups!
They often host free events where you can mingle and have a blast! You can go to MeetUp.com and browse any activity that you like! I also did a very simple google search of "Free Events in Chicago" and turned up a treasure trove of fun things like group picnics in the park, 5K runs without a sign-up fee and amazing book clubs. You can still enjoy your surroundings without spending a penny!
6. Let your friends know about your new financial limits.
If you can afford to go to restaurants, order an appetizer or split an entree with a friend who you've already informed of your budget. It's a lot cheaper than getting your own meal. When you travel, stay with friends instead of shelling out for a hotel room.
7. Shop at thrift stores or high-end clothing swaps.
You can look the part without paying for it! Shop at outlet stores or consignment shops. Another tip: wait until the end of each season, when the sales are out of this world! Learn to live with a few quality basics in your wardrobe that you can transition from day to night with a simple accessory or even makeup change.
8. Focus on accessorizing rather than buying new outfits.
You'd be amazed what a brightly-hued scarf can do for a basic t-shirt and skirt.
9. Work hard.
I have humbled myself in ways that have shocked even me. And you know what? It feels really good. If your budget is not providing the lifestyle you want, consider projects for people in your community. You can tell them that you have a small budget and would love some extra "shoe money." Offer to babysit, dog walk, organize closets, clean their home, etc. And lastly, if this is option is available to you, try to get a better-paying job. (I realize that with some health conditions, this isn't always possible. In that case, maybe you can focus on finding smaller work projects with family and friends.)
There are countless ways to live a healthy and amazing lifestyle on a small budget! Give them a try and what you might find is that your life is much more rich then when you had an abundance of money.