SuperMoney Interview Series: Nina Nelson of Shalom Mama About Saving Money and Living Frugally

Nina Nelson is a simple living author, expert, and consultant who’s mastered the art of saving money and living well with a large family. We had a chance to sit down with Nina and hear her suggestions on saving money, repurposing items, and living debt-free.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Why did you decide to start Shalom Mama?

I’m a natural living author, wife, and mom of four. Eight years ago, we decided to get out of debt so I could stay home with our kids (we only had two then). We made a plan, took a hard look at our expenses, and after some serious slashing, our budget was under control enough that I could quit my job if my husband took on a second one. He was soon hired for an on-call position that was exactly what we needed.

I was thrilled to stay home with my babies. And then I got really bored.

I’d always loved writing, so I started a blog as a creative outlet and shared what I was learning in our attempt to save money and live more intentionally. I’ve been blogging ever since.

What might you say to people who associate frugal living with a pauper’s lifestyle?

It’s all about your attitude. When I went frugal, it was with that pauper’s mindset: “I’m only making these choices because we need to get out of debt and I can’t afford what I’d like to have.” Eventually, I saw that the more intentional I was about spending, the more I could afford what really mattered to me – like travel and fun experiences with my family.

So to those who might think that, I suggest thinking beyond the sacrifices and focusing on what living frugally will get them. Everyone’s goals are different, but they all run in the same vein of having more freedom to pursue what matters most to them.

Finish this sentence: “The biggest hidden waste of money in a household tends to be …”

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Waste. If you think about it, how much waste a household produces is a good indicator of how intentional they are about spending. All those years ago, I realized I was essentially paying for products twice – when I bought them and when I threw them away. I began buying food in bulk whenever possible with reusable bags. Huge money savings! If something had a bunch of packaging that wasn’t recyclable, I just didn’t buy it, which saved more money.

So if you’re not sure how you can save money, check your garbage can.

Could you share with us one of your favorite recycling or repurposing tactics in your home that helps you save money?

Yes! Here’s what we like to do:

  • Buy reusable items and use them often, such as mason jars, well-made reusable grocery bags, water bottles, etc.
  • Only buy items that are reusable, recyclable, or compostable
  • Compost food waste
  • Cook food everyone enjoys and make sure to eat the leftovers
  • Buy less in general to avoid waste (natural money saver)
  • Buy used, high-quality goods that last

What are some of the money-saving techniques or approaches that families don’t use or utilize enough?

I’ve mentioned waste reduction, which is a big one people tend to overlook. A few other techniques that have worked well for us (that some thought were a bit radical) were:

  • Cooking from scratch. Everything.
  • Ditching disposables. Even diapers and paper towels.
  • Driving less and selling a car (we don’t have public transit in our rural area or we would have just used that).
  • Relocating. We sold a house and moved to a smaller, less expensive one. (We even lived in a school bus turned RV for a year, but that’s a different story.)
  • Embracing the DIY lifestyle. Why buy when you can make it?
  • Not shopping. We bartered, borrowed when we could, or just did without.

Is it possible to go on fun family outings and/or entertain guests while on a strict budget?

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Absolutely! We entertain often and focus on doing free things like playing games and serving simple drinks and foods from the pantry. In fact, last October, we did a “No Spend Month” where we didn’t spend money unless it was on the things we’d already decided to buy. We had friends over the first week, told them what we were doing, and suggested a potluck with things we already had in the fridge. It was a blast!

While living frugally, how often do you or your family “splurge” on something – and on what object, service, or activity to you tend to “splurge?”

Our biggest splurges as a family are restaurants and movie theaters, which we do every few months. When we do, it’s budgeted and done frugally. We’ll go to the theater on a discount day, or when they have a movie we want to see, we’ll go to the $3 theater. With restaurants, we avoid kid meals and just share a few large plates of food. Everything else we tend to do together is free.

What are you doing with all of the money you are saving by living frugally?

It’s been different over the years. We started by taking all the money we saved to pay off debt. Now, we’re focusing more on savings. Our goal is to buy a small house and travel to Europe as a family. Neither of these will be cheap, but we’ll find ways to save money.