11 Ways We Survived Being Broke

Last week I shared our new financial goals now that we have a new car in our family. While I was writing that post, I was reminded of how far we’ve come since our “just-married” days. That led me to think about how tight everything was back then and what we did to survive.

For those of you who don’t know, Roman and I got married when we were 19 and only halfway through college. No, I was not pregnant. Yes, we were only babies. Yes, our friends thought we were nuts. No, we don’t regret it. There. Now you’re caught up.

So for all the starving artists, broke college students, and practically the entire middle class of America (ahem), here are 11 things we did to survive the financial strain of being married while still in college. Maybe there’s something here that will help you too?


1. We worked our butts off.

I’m only trying to be a little bit funny here. Seriously, we worked. We both took five classes each semester (or more) and we both worked. I was able to do my classes online, so I worked a full-time job. Roman had to be on-campus during the day, so he worked two part-time jobs: one on the weekends and one early in the mornings before class started. Translation: we rarely ever got a date night. Not even a stay-at-home date night. Because when we were home, there was always homework. Booooo.

2. Everything was cheap.

In the middle of such tight times, now is not the time to demand your entire menu be organic and awesome. As awesome as that would be, you will probably not be able to afford it. We ate macaroni and cheese 2-3 times a week. Hamburgers and french fries were fast and cheap. And going out to eat for dinner? Yea, no-can-do. Unless it’s the dollar menu. Or if someone else is buying. #holla  Also, we rented a roach-infested, moldy, double-wide trailer to keep rent cheap and didn’t have satellite TV. Yea, I know, fancy.

3. We recognized this was only temporary.

Most extreme financial situations like this are only temporary. It’s good to keep that in mind while you eat your third helping of mac n’ cheese for the week. Yes, it stinks that you can’t do all the things you want to do. But making it through this season with little-to-no debt is 100% worth all those BOGOs of Velveeta.

4. We asked for help when we needed it.

Have I ever told you guys how awesome our parents are? OUR PARENTS ARE AWESOME. There were times when they bought us groceries. There were times when they invited us over for a dinner that did not consist of mac n’ cheese. {Vegetables….what??} They paid for our cell phones and Roman’s parents made the truck insurance payment as well. Seriously, they were our financial lifesavers many many many times. Side note: if you have someone helping you with bills, don’t squander their generosity by treating yourself to a shopping spree. If you have money to buy all those new clothes, you have money to pay your own bills. Which is a long way of saying: only ask for help if you genuinely need it.

5. We had a budget.

A very strict budget, at that. I would literally walk in the grocery story with $50 for groceries, and if the total came up to $50.01 I would either A) find a penny in the bottom of my purse or B) put something back. {I’m sorry Oreos. I tried….better luck next week.} Having a strict budget is key to making sure you are only spending what is necessary and that you have money set aside for those really important things (like keeping the electricity on.)

6. We talked often.

Staying on the same page with our budget was just as important as having a budget in the first place. If you’re married, it’s so important to find that common ground and be in agreement with your finances. Seek that unity!! You can do all the hard work and all the budgeting you want, but if you and your spouse are not unified on your finances, it’s probably not going to work.

7. We paid our tithes.

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” (Malachi 3:10) We fully took God up on this promise from His Word and He was faithful every time. From someone mailing us a six-month-late anniversary check for $100, to that one time Roman’s truck made it two weeks on one tank of gas (a true miracle, trust me.)…God was always so faithful to His promise and we were always taken care of.

8. We had fun every once and a while.

You can only live on such a strict budget for so long before you burn out. So try to budget for a little bit of fun every so often as well. Roman and I went camping for our one-year anniversary. We borrowed a tent, rented a campsite at Panama City for the weekend, and ate sandwiches/grilled hotdogs the whole weekend. We barely spent any money, but we had fun and felt refreshed coming home.

9. We didn’t lose our scholarships.

As difficult as it was to work and be in school, losing our scholarships would have ended our college careers because we were unwilling to take out several thousand dollars in student loans. So if we had a test coming up and wanted to watch a movie on TV, guess which one won? {We would watch the movie and then pull an all-nighter, duh.} Kidding. Sort of. Maybe. But really, we worked hard and kept our grades up and kept all our scholarships. #winning

10. We used a little bit of credit.

I would be dishonest if I didn’t disclose this point. We wound up having to go into debt a little in order to get through those first two years. One of Roman’s scholarships ran out right before his last semester so we had to take out a small student loan. We also used a little bit of our credit line in extreme emergencies. The key is to only use credit as a last resort, and to only take out what you need. I know someone who had a full-ride to college, but took out $40,000 in student loans so she could buy a new car, new laptop, and spend all she wanted shopping and partying. DUMB. Do not do this. Don’t ever never never ever never never do this. Okay? Thanks.

11. We took the first job we could find after graduating college.

Roman went to school for forensic science. We both graduated in May of 2012. He just started his career in his field this past June. For the math-impaired, that means he had a two year gap from the time he graduated to the time he started using his degree. Know what he didn’t do? Sit at home and wait for a job in his field to drop out of the heavens…as so many of this generation’s degree-seeking young adults tend to do. He took the first full-time job he could and worked his tail off while continuing the search for his dream job. {And the Lord blessed him with an awesome boss and great co-workers at that first full-time job, I might add.}

This is the part where I get nervous because I want to be politically correct and not hurt anyone’s feelings. **Eek** But y’all. It’s going to take a whole lot of the “work hard” part and a good dose of discomfort to make it through a situation like this. Don’t think that you are entitled to a great financial picture just because you live in America. When you start at “the bottom” or are stuck at “the bottom” through poor spending habits, it takes a lot of literal work and some inconveniences to climb out. It was hard wanting to go out on date nights but not be able to afford it! But I truly believe that no matter how bad your financial situation is, you can work hard and be diligent and make your way out of it. In some small way, I think Roman and I are proof of that.

Please don’t misunderstand me: the first two years of our marriage were great. Great memories were made. Great experiences were had. There was a ton of learning and growth during those first two years. But financially? Financially those years were really rough. But we made it through and we are thriving today. I think that’s important for me to say. Our macaroni and cheese eating days are long gone and now we have moved up in the world and eat kale sometimes. So ya know…the real American dream is being lived in the Casterline house.

Hopefully something I said here will inspire, encourage, or motivate you. Or maybe it just serves as a great reminder of your younger days and how far you’ve come as well. At any rate, I’m sure we all know someone who might benefit from this post, so be sure to share it with them!

What did you do/have you done to survive financial hardships? Any great financial advice for someone else who might be going through a difficult time? Or maybe you have a “how I survived” story to share as well? I’d love to chat with you in the comments!




  1. I loved reading these and LOVED that you talked about tithing in the midst of financial hardship!! Thanks for inspiring me today and encouraging me in this difficult financial time that I find myself in!!

  2. Jennifer

    Hey Sarah! These are all great points! I just recently got married and although at a later time in life, merging two budgets was hard. I bought my first home at 19 and had my son at 21. Brian and I got married- I at age 26 and he 27. When we realized our finances weren’t working we turned to our resources. I rented out my home (for more than my mortgage payment) and we moved in with my parents. It was a big ego/pride thing to set aside. I lived on my own for so long but it will be worth it. With both had small credit cards, two financed vehicles and my husband had to get hearing aids right after we got married. If we continue to live with my family for 1 year and 4 months we will have everything paid off and be debt free. We still contribute with utilities, groceries but they don’t make us pay rent. They’ve been a blessing! So we can’t wait! We keep reminding ourselves the lack of date nights will be worth it!

    • Jennifer, I really admire you for making such radical changes in order to be debt free! Your story is so inspiring!! And you are so right….the lack of date nights will be totally worth the financial peace you gain in the end!

  3. very good perspective. Many people are not willing to put in the work. i am so glad Roman found his dream job! My husband interned at church while in college and 1 month before he graduated he got his dream job offer. Not everyone is that blessed. However, he is in ministry so we still don’t have a lot of money. But our parents like yours are amazing! They have been blessed with a lot so they help us out with extra things when they come up. (like my wisdom teeth surgery) They also recently bought my husband this AMAZING guitar just because. I wish more people didn’t have the entitlement mind set. Nothing good comes without hard work. That is mine and my husband’s mantra these days/ Great post!

    • I’m so happy for him as well. Not many people get to do something they love.
      It definitely sounds like you have some awesome parents like we do! They truly are such a blessing and I’m so grateful for them.
      Thanks for reading! :)

  4. Wow this is awesome and something that every American needs to hear! I’m in my first year of marriage and my husband is still in school and though I have a good job, a lot of these things still apply. We just have never gotten into the habit of spending a ton of money on entertainment, cable Etc so that makes a simple lifestyle easier for sure! And I 110% agree with you on the tithing! Loved this post!

    • Thanks Sarah! It really does make life so much easier when the TV is gone. It makes me wonder why we wasted so much to get it in the first place!

  5. Courtney

    I enjoy reading your posts about being married young….they make me feel not so crazy about my impending marriage lol. My fiance is finished with school, thankfully, and beginning his career, but I worry about how everything will work out since I will still be in school, and have no idea if my schedule will allow me to work a part time job.

    • One thing that really helped us was creating a budget before we were even married. That helped us to know what to expect and to help plan ahead. Best of luck to you guys!!

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