I have a confession to make.

As a WOPS (Wife of Perpetual Student) and current bread-winner, I shop at the Dollar Tree.

Not the Dollar Store (where things are cheaper, but don’t actually cost a dollar), but at the Dollar Tree where everything, is, in fact, a buck or less.

So what’s actually worth buying at the Dollar Tree, you ask?  Isn’t it all crappy stuff?

Crappy…hmm. This word requires a bit of a mental shift.

Here’s a few things my middle-classist brain had to learn to wrap around:

  • After poking around and hedging my bets, I found a lot of the stuff is surprisingly co-equal in quality to what you’d find in Target within its store-branding or even the standard name-brand.
  • I realized that the kind of stuff I’d buy there is the kind of stuff that are things that aren’t meant to last forever anyway, regardless of where I buy them.  In fact, most of the things I buy there are the things we all use for a few minutes at a time and toss.

With all this in mind, I figured, why not spend just a buck on things like that?  Isn’t that a fine deal? Why spend any more than that, so long as it gets the job done?

So here’s what I typically get . . . And if I know the normal price of something, I’ll throw it in there, just so you can see that I’m not crazy buying this stuff on the cheap:

1. Paper products: 100-packs of napkins ($2.89 at Kroger), paper towels, etc.

2. School stuff for my grad-student hubby: packs of pens, pocket folders, and spiral notebooks, 3×5 cards, even colored pencils and crayons for me!

3. Cleaning products.  Where else can you get a gallon of bleach for $1 to refill your bathroom cleaning spray or add into the wash?  Or a gallon of vinegar for the same? Some cleaners are even name-brands like Pine-Sol (same size is $2.46 on Google Shopping), Comet ($3.99 on Google Shopping) and and Barkeeper’s Friend ($1.99 on Google Shopping). And that’s not to mention the cheap packages of sponges, gloves, dish soap, and scrubby brushes.

4. Bathroom beauty and hygiene supplies, like the ones pictured here on my sink–yep, all Dollar Tree stuff! Why pay more for pink razors, girls? And baby wash is the BEST body wash in terms of gentleness–even for adults!

photo of dstore buys

And I buy much more in this category that happened to be less photo-handy at the moment, like baby oil (makeup remover), hand soap, toothbrushes, shaving cream ($2.99 at Kroger), mouthwash, floss, hair ties ($3.19 at Walgreens), bobby pins ($1.69 at Walgreens), and even clarifying shampoo ($1.99-4.99, depending on brand . . . I figured out awhile back that even fancy shampoo is in your hair for about a minute or two to clean it, whereas conditioner is what actually is formulated to deposit on the hair shafts and make a difference in your hair. I only invest in conditioner!).

5. Random purchase-musts that come up in the holiday seasons or on special occasions and threaten a tight budget. Next month, why go broke spending $5 per bag of trick-or-treat goodies when you can get that bag of name-brand mini-Smarties or Snickers for $1? Why cough up $3 for a co-worker’s birthday card when you can get one that’s hilarious for $.59? Not to mention Christmas gift bags (typically $3.99 for a pack of plain small bags at Target) and tissue paper and rolls of wrapping paper ($3.00-5.00 in many stores!) at a $1 per roll!  And the holiday designs on these are actually becoming progressively more modern and cute… like something I’d find in a big-box store. Their rolls of ribbon are also only $1, as are multi-packs of rolls of clear adhesive tape.

I can often leave my dollar-saving-haven with a bag in each hand, having paid roughly $10 total, and not having to come back for a couple of months.

So, in a year, I estimate that I save roughly $50-80 just by shopping for these things at my somewhat-shady local Dollar Tree.  That’s cash Boaz and I can use towards more fun things in life than just these boring little staples; don’t you agree?

Until next time, your cheap-o friend,





When I first married Boaz knowing that he would soon matriculate into a full-time grad school program that would take three to four years to complete, I admit, I was nervous.

I looked around for a community of other women who had done this—gotten married with their spouse in grad school full-time—and I found quite a few ladies in the blogging community who called themselves “WOPS” (Wives of Perpetual Students). While I discovered a handful that were living in ways similar to mine, I also found many who were not, including several ladies who had gotten pregnant shortly after marriage, worked at their job up until delivery, then had to live off hubby’s student loans or his skinny graduate living stipend while raising tiny kiddos (man, tough stuff). The ladies who were in my boat—no kids yet and working full-time—had great things to say about filling up the time in the evenings when hubby was studying, being intentional about setting aside time to share with him, and being pretty frugal, and I appreciated that. (Visit the WOPS blogroll here.)

Outdoor dates are romantic, fun and free!

Outdoor dates are romantic, fun and free!

But I wished in all their postings that there was more of a single-stop, step-by-step for the financial planning part of this process, a plan that went beyond just budgeting to get by. I wanted a plan that would help us not only survive financially, but also thrive post-graduation by helping us lay the foundation to maybe, just maybe, get a little ahead. On less than the equivalent of one starting teacher’s salary going into my account (with a huge chunk taken out in taxes and to pay our combined health insurance), this seemed fantastical.


Until I dug a bit and started reading.


And readers, I read, and do read, a lot. Not just advice from other WOPS, but from folks in the financial independence movement. So, for all the other gals out there like me—or maybe just for other people who are working with a small income who want to still figure out financial plan—here are three principles Boaz and I have adopted based on some good advice:


#1. AVOID (OR GET RID OF) DEBT. Simply put, don’t put your foot in a hole. Avoid or (pay off any existing1) student loans, avoid credit card debt, avoid a car payment wherever possible by not buying a “new” car, avoid the one-two punch of a house down-payment-plus-monthly-mortgage-payment by sticking with a little apartment or rental unit (emphasis on “little”, since space equals money in the renters’ market). You get the picture—just live well inside your means, keeping a small footprint as your goal. Being young and in love, you don’t need a ton of stuff to be happy, just each other.

 #2. SAVE UP BY CONTROLLING WHAT YOU SPEND AND EARN. Learn to watch where your money goes and how much comes in. As you do, take some of these steps to save.

  • First, tackle your biggest expense by scaling down hubby’s school fees any way you can without hurting his degree attainment goals (graduate assistantships, special merit scholarships, grants, etc., are all great places to start).
  • Next, expend a bit of energy to make a little extra on the side during some of your after-work downtime (I tutored a couple evenings a week this school year) and have hubby do the same during lighter seasons of study.
  • And finally, if you haven’t already, get out your financial scissors and cut the fat out of your lifestyle expenses. This means sticking to a budget that makes room for savings to grow and even enforcing the act of savings (if necessary) by setting up a direct transfer from checking to savings every month. To create budgetary space for savings, try dropping cable TV in favor of Netflix, Redbox, or Amazon Instant; cutting “entertainment food” like takeout or snacky sweets; and minimizing transportation costs by carpooling or biking more places. There’s a ton more I could put down here in terms of steps to take, but for brevity, I’ll leave them for later posts under my “Frugal” category.


  • Once you have a little to work with, take a chunk of that hard-earned savings account nest-egg and set up a mutual fund or other high-earning account. Chances are, any money that’s sitting in your savings account at the bank is simply sitting there; at least a mutual fund will put your money to work for you, or switching to a bank like Ally with a high-APY savings account will actually yield some noticeable dividends.
  • Lastly, remember retirement by contributing to a plan. I happen to have an employer that matches contributions if I throw in a minimum amount each year. If you have an employer that will match like this, too, take advantage of it, even if (heck, especially if) you’re in your twenties (compound interest/earnings for the win)!


I know this was a rather involved post, but I hope it was worth the read.


For more tips on how to cut the fat in your budget or become more money-savvy overall, I strongly recommend checking out these resources:

  1. Dave Ramsey – because he’s Dave Ramsey, and he’s helped millions save up and tackle their debt using the “debt snowball” approach.
  2. Mr. Money Mustache—a guy with a weird blogging alias who teamed up with his wife to save two-thirds of their combined income during their 20s through sheer “badassery”, then used these funds and their cleverly acquired assets to essentially retire at age 30. Badass, indeed.
  3. The Peaceful Mom – a brilliant SAHM (stay-at-home-mom) who raised four kids on her husband’s $28,000 annual salary without losing her mind or getting into debt.



It’s worth a visit to a tax advisor to see whether filing jointly or separately works out more to your favor when you’re married. Whatever you decide, when it’s over, transfer any tax refunds into your higher-earning savings account or mutual fund.



How much do you really need to be happy?

It’s a question that I’ve lately been asking myself as I glance around our little apartment that is beginning to feel a little full after three Christmases of marriage and several trips home (which invariably involve our parents trying to give us some of their overabundant stuff).

I thought about it again when one of my slightly-older friends was house shopping this week and bemoaning the fact that within the budget range, none of the prospective houses’ kitchens, basements, laundry rooms, bathrooms, etc., were big enough for their three-person household (that only hopes in the future to expand to a four-person).  As I peered at the listings this friend was considering, my eyebrows inched up when I saw the square footage of these homes hitting the high 2,000s to low 3,000s–quite beyond what I’d ever lived in as child in my comfortable four-person family to my recollection. A part of me wanted to ask if their basement would need to house a boat, a secret laboratory, or part of Narnia (which I’ve read can obligingly fit into a wardrobe). (A/N: Naomi’s memory is better than mine: according to her, the house we lived in when I was a teenager reached into this range of square feet after my dad turned the attic to a master bed/bath; this was also the house that had a sitting room we hardly used except for company that I remember having the chore of dusting.  Apparently, we had space issues, too!)

In reality, my friend’s space “requirements” aren’t unusual. In fact, they’ve become the norm.

While perusing Joshua Becker’s blog, I learned that the average American home has bloated from “1,400 square feet in 1970 to 2,300 square feet today” while “the average size of the household has shrunk from 3.1 to 2.5.”  I can certainly believe this, as well as his shocking statistics on the booming storage space industry that’s doubled in the past twenty years. Driving between our apartment and my grandma’s retirement community this Sunday, we passed three storage facilities. . . in four miles.

It made me think of this old parable from Luke 12:15-21:

Then [Jesus] said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.’ And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

I’m ashamed to say that this scripture was not my tipping point towards examining my own life. Rather, I knew it was time to start cleaning out our 720-square foot apartment after I listened to a nifty TedxTalk over lunch that convinced me in a more concrete way that “stuff” truly does not equal happiness – that instead it actually subverts our freedom to live unfettered lives by becoming a liability in the guise of an asset. It’s all a load of stuff that we buy full-price as a novelty, which then immediately depreciates to “used” status. What underlies this phenomenon is a confusion about value, which I think has become the bane of the shrinking American middle class. Just watch us mindlessly shuffling around in Target, filling our carts and garages full of neat-looking doodads, cute clothes, entertainment, furnishings, and sporting goods that after some wear have no real worth to them, cash or otherwise. They wind up a few years later in a garage sale where we sit all day in the hot sun waiting for some other poor schmuck to buy them, chipped and worn.

Sometimes it’s good to open the garage, though. Take a minute to listen to at least the intro of this TedxTalk talk, which I mentioned above:


Did you listen for a bit?


Whether you’ve got debt like this couple did or not, the message for you to consider is the same: how much of what you own actually owns you? How much of it is a drain on your time or on your finances, since it requires you to inhabit, hence purchase, more space? Does it drain your energy, creative or spatial, by crowding you? How much of it actually suits you and serves a purpose? How much of it is just a Jabba the Hutt-sized pile of junk you’re chained to, that you drag with you from home to home out of habit? Maybe you keep it in a martyred state out of a misplaced sense of duty to someone who gave it to you who themselves outlived its usefulness?

Maybe because Ruth’s got some stuff to let go of that reminds her of her days when her dad was alive . . . Or maybe because she’s currently feeling like a bit of a nomad until she and Boaz truly settle somewhere . . . But this message hit home.

After all, really, isn’t the noise and clutter just a bunch of human junk that comforts us with our ability to buy it? Something that feeds our vanity and sense of security? Isn’t it kind of a distraction from what really matters? Something that keeps us from communing in quiet with God and nature?

Case in point, here’s a couple that gleefully gave up loads of stuff. And oddly, they seem very serene.



While going as far as they did isn’t practical, neither is my current closet. Folks, it’s time for a trip to Goodwill and some postings on Craigslist!