Brianna Bell - The Penny Hoarder

My husband Daniel and I met at 19 and were married by 21.

At the time, many people urged us to rethink our young marriage. Nobody was against us getting married to one another, but most seemed against the idea of marrying at such an early age.

The most common reason for cautioning us? Money -- and we didn’t have very much.

We’re now both 26-year-old parents to two daughters, Penny (3) and Georgia (18 months) -- and still broke.

We don’t regret marrying young, and we certainly don’t regret having children. But we understand what everybody was talking about when they said it would be difficult.

Being married with children, it’s been important to carve out one-on-one time together to talk, laugh and be the young people we still are. Over time, we’ve found plenty of ways to enjoy each other without spending a dime on dates.

14 Cheap Valentine’s Day Date Ideas

As Valentine’s Day approaches, consider spending the month focusing on your loved one and less time spending money on “the most romantic day of the year.”

Here are 14 free date ideas to get you started.

1. Feed the Kids First

Arranging for a babysitter is expensive -- and stressful -- not to mention actually going out for a nice dinner and having to pay for that, too!

Instead, make a cheap and fast dinner for the kids, then put on their favorite movie in another room.

Spend an hour or two with your spouse making a delicious homemade meal together. Then sit down to have an adult conversation at the table.

Make it romantic -- light candles, get dressed up and play soft music.

2. YouTube Exercises or Dance Classes

YouTube is a great free resource for finding instructional videos.

Instead of plopping on the couch as soon as the kids are in bed, roll out a mat and do couples yoga.

Or, get your heart pumping dancing to some zumba classes or salsa lessons.

3. Take Photos of Each Other

If one or both of you enjoy photography, grab your cameras and take some photos together.

You don’t need to be a photographer to take a good picture. Read about good photography basics, get outside and have some fun.

4. Come Home for Lunch

If you and your spouse are lucky enough to work in the same city, come home for a quiet lunch together.

Because I work from home, my husband will sometimes come home for a quick bite while our kids are in daycare. It’s a nice way to take a break from our work and catch up in a quiet house.

5. Have a Games Night

Most of us have a few board games collecting dust in a cupboard somewhere.

Dig them out, and start a game night. If you find games boring, look for a fun twist, like these board game hacks.

6. Watch the Sunset

This is a pretty cliché recommendation. Plus, it’s usually cold, the ground is hard and a twig keeps poking me in the butt.

Still, the sunset is beautiful; there’s a reason it’s a cliché.

If you live in a colder climate, take a drive to the top of a hill and stop the car to admire the view.

If the weather is warmer, climbing a hill with your own two feet will make for a romantic moment with your significant other.

7. People Watch

Go somewhere public, and spend time people-watching together, like the mall food court at the mall or an outdoor park.

Make up fun stories about the people passing by, or come up with funny conversations they might be having.

It may sound like something only couples in movies do, but some improvisational humor may be just what you and your partner need.

8. Create Art Together

Buying art supplies is expensive.

Instead, get creative with the supplies you have. Raid the kids’ art stash, and create something fun together.

Whether it’s coloring a picture, making a pipe cleaner family or finger painting, enjoy a crafts night with your partner. Display the art you create together to remind yourselves of your fun night.

9. Make an Epic Blanket Fort

It doesn’t matter how old you get, an epic blanket fort always makes for an evening well spent.

Bring in lamps, Christmas lights and lanterns. Make popcorn, and watch a movie snuggled in your fort -- or even consider a sleepover.

If you have kids, they’ll think you’re the coolest parents ever when they wake to find you sleeping in the living room surrounded by bedsheets, pillows and rearranged furniture.

10. Read Old Love Letters

Consider heading to bed early and snuggling under the covers, reading old love letters and journals.

It should make for beautiful moments of reminiscing, lots of eye-rolling and laughter.

To up the ante, write individual love letters to each other at the end of the night and exchange them. Keep them in a safe place to read years from now.

11. Be Rich for a Day

J. Lo had a blast pretending to be rich in “Maid in Manhattan” -- why not try it out yourself?

Spend some time putting together outfits fit for the rich, get dolled up and head out on the town. Take expensive cars for a test drive, or go to open houses in a ritzy area.

Fake British accents are a bonus.

12. Have a Competition

Have a friendly competition with your partner.

Face each other in a video game battle, or see who can make the most delicious dinner. Duel it out on the basketball court with a friendly game of 21.

Whatever it is, keep it light and fun. Remember: We’re all winners here.

13. Recreate Your Favorite Romantic Movie Scenes

We all love a good romantic comedy, right?

Recreate your favorite movie scenes with some role-play fun. Cameron Diaz and Jude Law in “The Holiday,” anyone?

14. Have a Lip Sync Battle

Jimmy Fallon, Ellen DeGeneres and even Tom Cruise have mastered the Lip Sync Battle.

Thanks to Fallon’s show, everybody is all about that Lip Sync. Why not have a fun night battling your partner?

Get rid of your inhibitions -- nobody else is watching but the love of your life. Just have fun, and start pretending to sing.

Your Turn: Will you try some of these free date night ideas? Let us know in the comments!

Brianna Bell is a professional writer living in Guelph, Ontario. She is married to her college sweetheart and has two kids under three. You can visit her blog: mrsbriannarose.blogspot.com

As the mom of two young daughters,  understand why the average American family spends roughly 3.8% of their annual household income on clothes.

Children are constantly growing, and their clothing needs change nearly every season.

Since we’re a lower-income family, my husband and I decided early in our parenting journey to spend as little as possible on our kids’ clothes. My children -- Penny, 3, and Georgia, 1 -- are both well-dressed, typically wearing the latest fashions and the best designer brands.

Yet I spend virtually nothing.

How do I do it? Let me share my secrets.

10 Smart Ways to Get Inexpensive Children’s Clothes

Here are 10 ways to get children’s clothes for free or next to nothing.

1. Host a Community Clothing Swap

This is a fun way to exchange clothes! Gather together for a few hours of light refreshments and swapping.

Invite friends, neighbors and community members who have children within a certain age category. Considering the ages of my kids, I would invite families with newborns to children about 6 years old.

Time your clothing exchanges about two to four weeks before the start of a new season. This way, your children will have some new items at crucial times, such as back-to-school season and summer break.

2. Sell Used Clothes at a Consignment Shop

Trade in your pre-worn clothes at consignment shops in person or online. Depending on the clothing’s quality, staff will usually offer you a store credit of 40%-50% of the selling price, which you can then use toward new clothes.

One store my family frequents is Once Upon a Child. This buy-and-sell children’s shop offers 30% of their selling price in cash. I take the money they offer me for my used children’s clothes and head to their 70% off rack, where I have found entire outfits for $1 and T-shirts for 40 cents, often brand-new with tags still on them.

3. Trade Your Services for Outgrown Clothes

Find a friend who has children one or two sizes up from yours, and offer to trade your time and effort for their kids’ outgrown clothes. For example, two nights of free babysitting for a garbage bag full of used clothes.

If babysitting isn’t your thing, consider what you bring to the table, whether it’s making them frozen meals for a week, cutting hair or changing the oil in their cars.

4. Create a Facebook Clothing Trade Group

Many local Facebook groups cater specifically to moms and parents.

Consider creating your own group focused on trading children’s clothes, with an emphasis on free clothing. People can post a photograph of an outfit and what they’re seeking in return.

This has the same feel of a community clothing swap, except it’s ongoing and you can request specific items, like rain boots, from a much larger group of people.

5. Repurpose Old Clothes

My children are always in need of pajamas. The problem: They rarely go on sale, and it’s hard to find used ones in good condition.

The good news is pajamas are for sleeping -- not wearing outside -- so who cares what they look like?

Consider putting your kids to sleep in T-shirts and track pants that are stained or worn out. Or, search through your own drawers and find some old shirts you don’t wear. Use them as nightgowns or cut them in half. If you have any sewing abilities, you can even create a shorts and T-shirt set.

6. Create a List and Sort Through What You Have

Sit down for a moment and write out a list of clothes you think your children need. Perhaps you think they don’t have enough shorts, so you write down, “needs two extra pairs of shorts.”

Set aside an hour and go through all your children’s clothes. Make sure to check their dresser, under the couch, in overnight bags and in the dirty laundry. Sort and count all their clothing and write down each item in columns.

For example: 12 T-shirts, 10 pajamas, 15 shorts

Look at your original list. You wrote they needed extra shorts, yet you found a bunch you forgot about, and they actually have more than necessary!

Keep that list in your wallet, and when you feel tempted to buy them another pair of shorts, remind yourself: They already have 15 pairs!

7.  Borrow One-Time-Use Items

We all have those annoying events where our children need a pair of white shoes or a black dress, and you know they will never have to wear that item again.

Instead of blowing money for a single-use item, ask friends on social media or in-person if they happen to have that item in the correct size. Borrow it for the event, write a nice thank you card and offer to do the same for them next time.

My daughter has worn dresses slightly too big to events; nobody noticed, and my daughter loved knowing she was borrowing her older friend’s dress for the day.

8. Request Items for Birthdays and Christmas

Some might call this tacky, but I call it smart: If you have family and friends who typically buy your child a gift, make sure it’s something he or she needs.

Before a holiday, consider sending a quick email to your closest family members to let them know some of the items your child is running low on. Perhaps Grandma’s birthday present can be a new winter coat or a pair of rubber boots.

9. Check Craigslist for Free Items

Sometimes people post free clothing out of the goodness of their heart. Check out Craigslist every so often to see if someone giving away clothes for free.

10. Use Referral Programs

Look for online clothing retailers that provide referral credits, which can lead to free clothes for your family. Thred-up is one example of an online retailer that sells used clothing and offers a great referral program.

Your Turn: What are some ways you get free (or nearly free) clothes for your children?

Brianna Bell is a wife, mother and freelance writer specializing in articles on personal finance and family. She has been featured in the Globe & Mail, and has been referred to as a “tiger mom of personal finance.” You can find her blog at mrsbriannarose.blogspot.com and on Twitter @briannarbell.

The holiday season is an expensive time of the year.

For the sake of frugality, I make presents for our extended family and friends, and my children and I bake cookies to drop off to neighbors and caregivers.

It’s also a time for charity.

We’re reminded during every grocery visit to pick up some peanut butter and cereal for the food bank; we’re asked to donate an extra $1 after our transaction at the store; and empty shoeboxes sit in an inviting pile at our church, begging to be filled with toys and toiletries.

It doesn’t take long for families to become overwhelmed by all the options for giving.

Most of us are willing to help in some way. San Francisco sees a 56% increase in charitable giving during the holidays. Many other major cities across America document an increase in charitable giving during the happiest time of the year, too.

But if you’re frugal or find yourself short on cash around the holidays, you might not want to open your wallet to give back.

Here are eight alternative ways you can be generous and help others without spending any money.

1. Volunteer at a Food Bank or Soup Kitchen

Consider spending a few hours this year volunteering at your local food bank or soup kitchen. Being able to actually serve and meet the people who are benefiting from the donated food might open your eyes to the need, as well as help you appreciate the importance of giving.

Volunteering is a valuable way to “donate” to an organization when you can’t afford to support it financially.

2. Donate Toys, Clothes and Christmas Décor

Look through your house and donate toys and clothing in good condition that you don’t use much anymore, or unused Christmas decorations. Most of us own more than we need, so consider passing along items that are useful, but not necessary for you.

Some even say donating is cheaper than selling used items.

If you know of a family that can’t afford decorations this year, gather some of your excess and bring holiday cheer into their home.

3. Invite a Family Over for Dinner

Opening your home to friends and family who may be struggling this Christmas season is a great way to share joy, and it doesn’t cost much. My favorite websites for cheap meals are Budget Bytes and $5 Dinners.

We try to invite friends over who could use a free meal, might be struggling through a loss or are without family on the holiday. This is my first year celebrating Christmas since my own brother’s death, and I know having friends over will bring me comfort, too.

4. Dress Up as Santa or Mrs. Claus and Visit a Children's Hospital

Children find joy during the Christmas season; however, some struggle to find the magic when they’re ill.

Thankfully, some children’s hospitals allow visitors to bring arts and crafts, put on a puppet show, or even dress up as Santa or Mrs. Claus. Check with your local hospital.

5. Use Your Creativity and Knit or Sew Clothes for Preemie Babies

Both of my daughters received a knitted hat minutes after birth. We cherish these knitted hats and keep them in a box to remember the day they were born.

However, some children are born too small to fit into these knitted hats.

When a family member close to us had preemie twins, my mother was enlisted to knit a few hats to cover their heads. Since then, I’ve always remembered how important it is to have a hospital supplied with small preemie knit hats, and even preemie outfits.

If you’re able to knit, whipping up a dozen preemie hats for a baby will be fast and easy, and you can use leftover yarn scraps to do it. It won’t cost you a thing!

6. Visit a Retirement Home and Offer to Run Craft Time, Play Music or Organize Something Special

Every few months my mother-in-law visits a senior living home to sing for them and visit with residents. She finds her visits are even more cherished during the holiday season.

Many people living in these homes have lost family members; having a cheerful face can help brighten the season for them.

7. Volunteer at a Community Holiday Festival

My favorite part of the holidays is finding out which local festival is happening each weekend. Our family tries to keep our weekends open so we can enjoy them -- plus, they’re almost always free.

If a particular festival is special to you or your family, consider volunteering your time.

Our children are quite young, but as they get older we’d like to get them involved in our local Christmas parade. This shows them fun and free events take a lot of work, and helps children understand the importance of community involvement.

8. Take Your Family and Friends Out Caroling Around the Neighborhood

Spread holiday cheer by gathering a group of people and going door-to-door caroling in your neighborhood. This is a nice way to reconnect with your neighbors.

We’ll take our children caroling this year (even though none of us are particularly talented vocalists!).

Your Turn: What do you do to spread holiday cheer?

Brianna Bell is a freelance writer and corporate blogger. She specializes in personal finance blogging and storytelling. You can find her work in The Globe and Mail, The Guelph Mercury and on her blog at mrsbriannarose.blogspot.com.

December is my favorite month: the time of year when my family draws close and participates in fun holiday traditions.

We celebrate Christmas, and my husband, Daniel, and our two children (Penelope, 3, and 18-month-old Georgia) enjoy the holiday as much as I do.

It’s exciting to introduce young children to the holiday season. Each year feels fresh and new for them, and you can see it on their faces! As parents, we document and remember the traditions we create in our home.

It’s easy to get stressed as the holidays approach, with high expectations and heavily advertised sales at every store. Our family has chosen not to allow our holiday spirits to be dictated by the number of presents under the tree, or the amount of money in our bank account.

Instead, we take part in frugal traditions during December to create happy, life-long memories.

Here are some of our favorite money-saving traditions.

1. Baking Our Favorite Cookies

Buying baked goods is expensive, while baking your own is pretty cheap. During December, flour and sugar are on sale at our local Walmart, so we also stock up for the rest of the year.

We usually spend one weekend of the month baking and decorating our favorite cookies together.

Shortbread cookies are easy to make, and our kids love helping mix the dough, cutting out fun shapes and sprinkling on decorations.

We buy pretty containers at the dollar store and give batches of cookies to family, friends and neighbors as homemade gifts.

Money Spent: Less than $25

Money Saved: About 15 gifts at $10 each gift, for a total of $150

2. Making Handmade Ornaments

One of my favorite holiday traditions is making salt dough ornaments. We love this simple and easy recipe that uses common kitchen ingredients, like flour and salt.

We always make a few ornaments to hang on our tree, but we save most of them for the special people in our lives, and use them as gifts for grandparents, aunts and uncles, and child care providers.

Money Spent: $0-$10

Money Saved: About 10 gifts at $25 each gift, for a total of $250

3. Hosting a Holiday Open House

The holidays always offer many events and parties to attend.

So many, in fact, that it’s often still hard to connect with friends and family when everyone has so much going on.

So, we’re planning to host an early December “Holiday Open House” to connect with everyone before the busy season begins. And, this gathering can work no matter what holiday your family celebrates!

All friends and family are invited to drop by at their convenience. People often offer to bring an appetizer or drink, and I usually feel guilty saying yes.

However, this time I’ll accept any offer to minimize the cost of hosting the party.

Money Spent: $50 or less

Money Saved: The cost of gas to visit individual friends and family, and a gift for another party

4. Saying “Yes” to Thrifted Gifts

Our family has no problem saying yes to thrift gifts. Instead of buying expensive new toys, clothes and books, we shop thrift stores to find the best deals.

We wrap thrifted gifts for our young children, and are happy to give inexpensive gifts to one another.

We’ve also found some great ideas for other recycled and homemade gifts here.

Money Spent: $50 or less for a family of four

Money Saved: More than $150

5. Watching Our Favorite Holiday Movies

As snow starts to fall and we turn on our cozy fireplace, it only feels natural to put on our favorite holiday movies.

We have Netflix, which offers many movies to enjoy throughout December.

Our favorite family film is Elf, and we turn watching it into a big event each year. We grab our warmest blankets, build a pillow fort and snuggle together with popcorn and our favorite holiday drinks.

Money Spent: $5 for popcorn and hot chocolate, and Netflix offers a free, one-month trial -- or here’s a way to get Netflix for free

Money Saved: More than $30 to see the latest movie in theaters

6. Volunteering for a Meaningful Cause

One of the most important parts of the holiday season for us is giving back. It feels good to show love and kindness, and we share the lesson with our children by caring for others in need.

We volunteer whenever we can, and get involved in local events with our kids. It might mean delivering boxes of food to families in need, or helping at a local food drive.

Whatever we do, we show our children generosity is the greatest gift.

Money Spent: $0

7. Decorating Our Christmas Tree

My favorite childhood holiday memory is decorating our Christmas tree each year. I loved the smell of fresh pine needles, and digging out all our Christmas ornaments from years past.

Unpacking each tissue-wrapped ornament was like unwrapping a special, familiar gift. These memories can last a lifetime, which is why decorating our tree is a special occasion.

We don’t worry about having a perfect tree -- our children usually end up hanging all the ornaments in one cluster, and it’s beautiful all the same.

We just enjoy our time together, with Christmas music in the background and warm hot chocolate in our mugs.

Money Spent: $0

Your Turn: What are your favorite frugal Christmas traditions? Let us know in the comments!

Brianna Bell is a wife, mother and freelance writer specializing in articles on personal finance and family. She has been featured in the Globe & Mail, and has been referred to as a “tiger mom of personal finance.” You can find her blog at mrsbriannarose.blogspot.com and on Twitter @briannarbell.

My love of garage sales was born around the same time as my first daughter.

Since I was already awake bright and early, I managed to get out of the house on Saturday mornings and get first pick of my neighborhood garage sales, where I found many amazing and nearly new baby items for low prices.

Around the same time, I also started joining mom-to-mom groups on Facebook and perusing my local Craigslist. Those same items I was picking up for $1 at garage sales were selling for $10 to $20 in my Facebook groups! It didn’t take long to realize I could make a great profit this way.

If you’d like to do the same, here are my top 10 favourite children’s items to find at garage sales and resell.

1. Disney DVDs

Disney’s “vault” is a brilliant marketing scheme. Each year, only certain Disney films are available for purchase, while the rest are locked up in the proverbial “vault” for up to eight years.

If someone is dying to purchase a copy of The Lion King and it’s in the vault, they’ll need to start searching online.

This is where you come in. If you ever find an excellent condition Disney DVD, especially one with a recognizable title, it’s best to snatch it up for the lowest price possible.

Resale Value

I sold a copy of Alice and Wonderland for $25 after purchasing it at a garage sale for $2.

I would never purchase a Disney DVD for more than $5 at a garage sale, and my goal would be to resell it for more than $20.

2. Lamaze Toys

Many people receive Lamaze toys as baby shower gifts. These toys are very expensive and trendy. However, some people receive so many that they end up selling them brand new at a garage sale for $1.

Keep in mind, it’s always a good idea to look up any children’s items and toys for safety recalls. Take a quick look on your smartphone before purchasing.

Resale Value

Sell these toys to other moms online for $5 to $20, depending on the toy’s size, condition and popularity.

Do some research online, and only purchase a Lamaze toy if it’s in excellent condition with no wear, scents or stains.

3. Children’s Furniture

If you’re creative and willing to do a bit of extra work, you can buy children’s furniture, repaint or repurpose it, and then resell it.

I’ve bought and repainted wooden dressers, and I’ve also found unique items such as a puppet theatre stand.

Resale Value

Often, you can find deals as low as $5. Once you’ve repainted the item, you can usually sell it for more than $50. Make sure the wood is in good condition and good quality.

4. Vintage Fisher-Price Toys

Vintage toys are super popular online. If you can find a good condition vintage pull-toy, plastic or wooden Fisher-Price toy, or even better, a full play set, you’ve struck gold in the vintage toy world.

Sesame Street Fisher-Price is in particular demand, but always keep an eye out for anything that looks vintage and isn’t extremely worn.

Resale Value

The toy’s value depends on its condition, type and whether or not the set is complete. You can sell a vintage Fisher Price play house, “little people” included, for more than $250 on eBay.

I haven’t found many vintage toys, but I live in a trendy area where people know their value. The key is finding an older area where people won’t know the value of Fisher-Price toys.

5. Children’s Books

People nearly give away books at garage sales. Stand-alone books aren’t worth much to resell; however, if you have a bit of spare time and are slightly organized you can build up your book collection to resell later.

The best plan is to group similar books together and sell them in a bundle. It’s important to know the types of books that are in demand, but I’ve found comic books, Sandra Boynton board books, chapter books come in series, Little Golden Books and any classic books such as Goodnight Moon are in high demand.

Resale Value

This depends on the books and the collection you have. For example, a collection of five Sandra Boynton board books can resell for $20.

Keep in mind you need books in excellent condition. However, you can typically buy them for five to 10 cents apiece.

6. Lego

Everybody loves Lego! But if you have children, you know how expensive these toys are.

The beauty of Lego is the blocks haven’t changed much over the years, so you can put together sets without worrying too much about when they were manufactured.

Finding inexpensive Lego at a garage sale is a big deal, so make sure to look around for a bag of bricks. Consider starting a collection at home, building it up as you find small additions at different sales.

Resale Value

It’s hard to determine the value of Lego since it depends on many factors. For example, if you can find an entire set, box included, you can likely resell it for 60% of its original price.

You could also sell assorted Lego pieces by the pound, typically at $5 to $10 per pound. Star Wars Lego is in high demand, and has a greater resale value.

7. Lincoln Logs

Another miniature building toy, Lincoln Logs are very high-end and expensive toys. However, you can find them at garage sales in giant bags for a low price.

Look for entire sets and original packaging if possible. These toys typically sell for more the newer they are, so being “vintage” isn’t as important.

Resale Value

You can sell assorted pieces by weight, typically $10 per pound. Entire sets in original packages sell much better, and smaller sets usually go for about $25 to $50.

8. Dolls

Depending on your area, dolls can be a lucrative business. Most people will sell dolls at garage sales for practically nothing, not realizing their value. Look for brands like Corolle, American Girl and Groovy Girls.

Some people sell vintage dolls, but you need to do your research and find out what is in high demand and valuable.

Resale Value

It’s best to pay less than $1 for these dolls, unless it’s an excellent condition American Girl -- then I’d consider paying up to $10.

You can usually resell dolls for $10 to $75, depending on the brand. If you can collect dresses and accessories that go with that brand, you’ll have a better chance at selling for more.

9. Brand-Name Clothing and Shoes

It takes a special eye to make money selling secondhand children’s clothes, but if you’re knowledgeable in trends and fashion, you can resell clothes for a great profit.

The key to success is knowing which brands are in demand right now, and which clothes were manufactured recently. For example, Gap Kids and Gymboree can do well, but not if the outfit was made in 2007.

Resale Value

Try not to pay more than $1 for an outfit, but buying for much less is ideal. Having the original tags on an outfit will guarantee more profit, especially if the price is visible and high.

You can resell outfits for $10 to $15, unless the brand is a pricey one, when you can sell for higher.

10.  Melissa & Doug Toys

These high-quality wooden toys are hot right now. I often find them at garage sales and they’re in high demand online.

Look for toys in good condition with all their pieces. Toys in poor condition with missing pieces won’t sell well.

Resale Value

Depending on the toy, you can typically resell them for $15 to $20. The bigger the toy, the better the price; try and avoid small Melissa & Doug toys, since they won’t resell for much.

By the end of my first summer of buying and reselling garage sale items, I had made approximately $300. I wasn’t chasing big money or going every weekend, and I know people who make $1,000 per month by being savvy and knowing what towns and toys to search for.

Either way, being paid to shop can be pretty fun and there’s nothing like the thrill of the next great find.

Your Turn: What are some garage sale items you’ve found and resold for a profit?

Brianna Bell is a wife, mother and freelance writer specializing in articles on personal finance and family. She has been featured in the Globe & Mail, and has been referred to as a “tiger mom of personal finance.” You can find her blog at mrsbriannarose.blogspot.com and on Twitter @briannarbell.

In 2011, I was a 21-year-old newlywed with a household income of $30,000.

Fast forward to 2015, and my husband and I have two small children, three-year-old Penny (a future hoarder) and one year-old Georgia. My husband brings in $42,000 per year as a full-time youth pastor and I just recently entered the workforce again as a freelance writer, on track to make $23,000 per year working 15 hours weekly.

To most, we are considered a low income family. A year ago, we were struggling financially, barely making our bills and going down the scary road of putting all emergency expenses on a line of credit.

But with some hard work and a few lifestyle changes, we’ve managed to adjust our spending and save $1,045 per month. We no longer have a line of credit or credit card debt. We make a minimal monthly payment on our new van and we’re saving up to buy our first home, while still maintaining an emergency fund.

Here’s how we slashed our monthly budget and got back on track financially.

1. We Downsized to a Smaller Home

We aren’t ready to buy a home yet, which made it easier to choose a smaller rental and focus on amplifying our savings.

We downsized from a 1,400-square-foot, three-bedroom and two-bathroom townhome to a 1,000-square-foot, above-ground basement apartment with two bedrooms and one bathroom. It’s a little tighter, but 1,000 square feet is enough for us, and the savings are substantial.

Savings per month: $550

2. We Cancelled Our Cable

We had a basic cable package we really didn’t need, so we made a quick phone call and cancelled it. We received Apple TV as a Christmas present and we now have Netflix, which is way cheaper and more convenient for us.

If you’re considering cutting the cord, make sure to do the math on the associated costs first.

Savings per month: $30

3. We Cut Our Home Phone Line

In the cell phone age, a landline is a pretty archaic piece of technology. We were a little late to realizing this, but once we did, we cancelled it and are enjoying the savings.

Savings per month: $25

4. We Negotiated With Our Internet Provider

We did a bit of shopping around first, so we knew about offers and deals from a variety of Internet providers, and then we called our current company. Since we’d already cancelled our phone and cable with them, the rep was eager to keep our business as our internet provider!

By simply asking for it, we managed to save $30 per month and increase the quality of our service.

Savings per month: $30

5. We Called Our Car Insurance Provider

After shopping around some different insurance companies, we called our car insurance provider and let the rep know we had found cheaper rates elsewhere.

Instead of losing us as customers, the company reduced our rates and we gladly saved ourselves the trouble of switching insurance providers while still enjoying equal savings. We saved $50 per month during our original phone call, and after buying a new van with a better safety rating, we were able to reduce our insurance cost by an additional $50 per month.

Savings per month: $100

6. We Started Making a Meal Plan and a Grocery List

Many North American families overspend on food, and we were following the pack. The fix was pretty simple: a better system to minimize food waste and keep us eating at home.

We now create a meal plan and a grocery list, sticking to these two things like our life (and bank account) depend on it.

Savings per month: $200

7. We Switched Grocery Stores and Started Price Matching

We had been shopping at the expensive grocery store, simply because we liked the clean aisles and organization, but it was costing us.

We got over ourselves and started shopping at the discount grocery store, which offered much lower prices as well as the chance to price match with other stores. I use an app called Flipp to make price matching a breeze.

Savings per month: $100

8. We Stopped Buying Cereal

This seems like a small detail. Yet, when we bought cereal, we found we would plow through our milk and fill up on sugar for breakfast -- and our grocery budget was creeping up.

We replaced the cereal with less expensive breakfast options like eggs. Consuming protein in the morning over sugary processed carbs is also more satisfying, saving us from grabbing a snack shortly after breakfast.

Savings per month: $10

Small Changes Add Up

Making these changes has helped us save an average of $1,045 per month, which works out to approximately $12,540 per year.

Some of these changes take a lot more willpower and sacrifice than others, and typically the harder the change, the bigger the benefit. But we’ve found we’re happier with the outcome, and we’re enjoying living more within our means.

Your Turn: Have you tried any of these strategies? How much did they help you save?

Brianna Bell is a wife, mother and freelance writer specializing in articles on personal finance and family. She has been featured in the Globe & Mail, and has been referred to as a “tiger mom of personal finance.” You can find her blog at mrsbriannarose.blogspot.com and on Twitter @briannarbell.