How Do They Do That: Joyful Dinners


I’m super pumped to have Karen from Joyful Dinners join us this week to share how they do it!

How Do They Do That: Joyful Dinners


Mount Hood

Day trip on Mount Hood

I loved the post on How they Do it? This is a subject so near and dear to my heart, so before I jump into answering your questions, let me just give a little back story.

My husband is a teacher. I’m a career foodservice professional. When we moved back to the Northwest almost 11 years ago, I decided to make a life long dream come true in opening my own business. This was a difficult decision to make because in my previous job as a General Manager I made a lot more than my husband did so we were reducing our income by more than half. But we had prepared by eliminating all debt except our mortgage and we knew it would be worth it. Long story short – I opened a small restaurant in Feb 2007, the economy tanked, I worked 16 – 20 hours a day (really) for 3 1/2 years and never paid myself a penny. When I finally closed in late 2010, we were over $300,000 in debt. Through a lot of hard work and me getting a job that paid well we were able to again achieve a debt free status (other than mortgage) in March 2013. For two years my entire paycheck went to pay off debt. Ironically the day after I paid off my last bill I lost my job. It was devastating because we had been dreaming of all the things we would do with all the money we would now have. After a few months of me being home trying to determine what I would do, I asked my daughter and husband over dinner what type of job they thought I should look for. My daughter said “one that makes a lot of money.” When I told her that meant I wouldn’t be here in the mornings before school, or after school and I would go back to working a lot. She pondered this and said “I think we really have everything we need so you don’t need to work.” (that still makes me tear up) My husband said, “I love our life like this. It feels great. You take great care of us and the house and garden. You’re so much happier. I’m happier. Michaela is happier. Why do we need more money? So here we are, a cat, a dog, and a teenager on a teacher’s salary.

We pay cash for everything.

1) What about retirement? Are you saving?

This one is tough. I’m fifty and my husband is not far behind. I used all my retirement to fund the restaurant. Ouch. So I don’t have any retirement, but we have been saving 10% on my husbands. It is constantly a source of anxiety.

2) How often do you vacation? Where does the money come from?

Our last big vacation was 3 years ago. We camp. We visit friends. We try to do fun day trips – lucky for us we live in paradise close enough to the mountains and the beach for day trips. We save for all trips. Sometimes if there is a little extra in the budget for a month we will plan one of our fun day trips. We try to make life a vacation. I turned 50 last year and everyone I knew who was or had turned 50 had done some huge exciting trip for their birthday. My excitement was a sunrise hike with my dog. Priceless. Really.

How Do They Do That?

Day trip to see the Indians play the Mariners.


Best/cheapest hotel anywhere!

Miles at sunrise

Miles at Sunrise

3) Are you planning for college?

My parents have contributed every year to a college savings plan for our daughter. We started about 4 years ago contributing as well. If we need to save for something big and unexpected we will stop contributing for a while. (a month, maybe 2)

4) Do you have a car payment?

Have not had a car payment in 10 years. Never want to have one again. Currently this is tough – our cars are 13 and 15 years old with high mileage. We need to replace both of them. We’ve been saving….

5) Are you house poor? What’s that mortgage/rent like?

We have a small/modest house 1500 sq ft with only a $900 mortgage. Other than being debt free, having a low mortgage enables us to live fairly well on a modest salary. Our house is 45 years old though and keeping up on maintenance and improvements is really difficult. I want a new kitchen sooooo badly!

Home Mortgage

6) How do you fund Christmas?

We save $100 a month for Christmas. That gives us $1200 for everything Christmas related and it feels like luxury. Perhaps the only time of year that I feel like I can spend freely. My daughter believed in Santa Claus until she was 12. She said she knew there was Santa Claus because the things that Santa got for her were things we would never have been able to or would have bought for her. Christmas was magical for me as a child and I always wanted to pass that on so I would rather have $25 less a month in groceries if it means more money at Christmas. Plus it allows us to have more in order to give to others who are less fortunate.

7) Let’s talk home improvements?

Few, but when we save up for something and make it happen it is the most rewarding feeling. I love my new carpet so much more because I waited, saved and lived with the #$%^ carpet that was there for a long time.

8) Do you save for school clothes?

We don’t save, but with only one child it hasn’t been hard. We have always received a lot of great hand me downs. We shop at consignment stores, Target and look for sales and deals. We usually just fit in $100 both in the August and September budget and keep our spending for all clothes (back to work duds for dad too!) under that $200. My daughter is an amazing deal finder/frugal spender/get just what you wanted for less.

9) Do you deal with college debt?

None and haven’t had in a long, long while. Paid it all off before making a cross country move.

10) Is your emergency fund where it should be?

$10,000. We hardly ever – I can think of twice – take money out of it. When we have, our first priority is always paying it back. I would like to have more in it, but with needing to buy two cars, update a kitchen, bathroom…. that’s just not realistic to save for more there too.

11) Do you carry credit card debt?

None. I think I answered that one in the introduction!

12) How often do you eat out?

Once a month at someplace cheap (under $20 for all 3 of us). Other than that – maybe once a year.

13) Do you mow your own lawn and clean your own house?

We don’t pay anyone to do anything for us. Having someone clean my house would be nice, but not nicer than what I can do with that same money. I think it would take a very large increase in our budget to ever get to the point where that actually was something we would consider funding.

14) Name a Frugal Fail?

Every once in a while I’ll blow my grocery budget by mid month and then have to get really creative.

15) Your Question: Do you get an allowance?

We all get one. HUGE. The difference between not having one and having one is transformational. I will never, ever, ever go back to not have a little cash that I can spend however I wish.

In regards to my seemingly continuously asking the question of How do they do it: My husband reminds me continuously that a great many people choose to use credit to do and have, and that we could make that choice also if we really wanted to. If I really, really wanted a new kitchen we could take out a home equity loan and do it. It is a choice we make, both to live on one income and to live cash only. We can make a different choice at any time.

Joyful Dinners

Eat good food. Be Kind. Dance Often.

Karen @ Joyful Dinners

In regards to my seemingly continuously asking the question of How do they do it: My husband reminds me continuously that a great many people choose to use credit to do and have, and that we could make that choice also if we really wanted to. If I really, really wanted a new kitchen we could take out a home equity loan and do it. It is a choice we make, both to live on one income and to live cash only. We can make a different choice at any time.

Thank you so much for sharing, Karen! It sounds like your family is doing so many things the right and thoughtful way. I especially love your last sentence: ‘We can make a different choice at any time.’ So powerful and true!

How do YOU do that?! Inquiring minds want to know about the choices you make.


Brave souls, willing to bare it all, click below:


How Do They Do That: It’s Your Turn!


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How Do They Do That: Joyful Dinners
12 comments… add one
  • kay ~ Mar 17, 2015, 1:55 pm

    Wow, I love this personal stuff! It gives me an excuse to be nosy and not get in trouble for it. Thanks for sharing, Karen! It sounds like you guys have put a lot of careful thought into what you value most in life. 🙂

  • How Do The Jones Do It Mar 17, 2015, 8:51 pm

    Didn’t she do an excellent job with this?! We can learn so much from what others are doing!

  • Abbey Mar 18, 2015, 1:40 am

    Sounds a lot like us only we use credit cards to get the incentives. I would never use a credit card and carry a balance, EVER! We pay off our charges every month and currently the cash back we earn on our card covers an entire months worth of groceries. Feeding a family a 5 for free one month a year is a big savings. We also invest money in an HSA which is just tax free money to spend on health care and no matter your age you can and will use this at some point. We also have a 529 plan for each of our kids through UESP (they have great rates) for them to use toward college someday. We have refinanced our house a couple times and pay less on our mortgage now than we did for rent when we got married 15 yrs ago. I’m a stay at home mom as well and my husband is in law enforcement so we understand the pain of poor government pay. We were lucky to have had family help us when we were starting out so we were in debt to them and not a bank. Paid off family loans quick and started saving everything we could. Debt free is the best place to be. I always tell people you can get there if you work at it! Set small goals and keep reaching.

  • Julie@FrugallyBlonde Mar 18, 2015, 4:37 am

    Thanks for sharing! My husband and I try to remind ourselves often of the “if we didn’t do x, we could do x”. It’s so easy to find one small aspect of someones life and be envious.

  • Chela @SmashOdyssey Mar 18, 2015, 11:04 am

    Great post! I especially love your stance on allowances. I recently started factoring an allowance in for both me and my husband and it has made a world of difference for us! Thanks for sharing!

  • How Do The Jones Do It Mar 18, 2015, 3:26 pm

    Thank you for sharing Abbey! I’m thinking you could join in and answer all the questions. I would just love it! It sounds like you have lots of good ideas and wisdom!

  • How Do The Jones Do It Mar 18, 2015, 3:33 pm

    Oh the choices we must make! Isn’t it funny how others seem to have it all together but we know that just isn’t the complete truth.

  • How Do The Jones Do It Mar 18, 2015, 3:35 pm

    I’m glad to hear there are others that do the allowance thing! It truly does make a huge difference. I don’t feel guilty anymore. Nope. We can save for the desires of our hearts!

  • Joy @ Joyfully Green Mar 18, 2015, 5:20 pm

    Great tips from Karen! I especially liked the part about setting aside money each month for Christmas so you don’t break the bank at the end of the year. Thanks for featuring her, Jayleen!

  • How Do The Jones Do It Mar 18, 2015, 5:38 pm

    Karen is one smart cookie! Now I need more brave souls to feature;0)

  • DD May 9, 2015, 10:16 am

    Sorry to hear the bad luck that Karen has had but so inspiring to read how she has persevered! We didn’t have a car pmt for long time and I got impatient and bought a used updated vehicle that we realized later was way overpriced cuz there were hidden repairs. :-\

    This year I prayed for victorious change and the strength to go thru with our decision to change. We used credit cards but always paid them off every month. I haven’t cut them up yet but I have tucked them away in a drawer. I’ve been zero-base budgeting every dollar that comes in and life has been different! Our language has even changed. “That’s not in the budget!” ;). The kids notice the difference in us using cash now. Budgeting has transformed us. We don’t feel guilty when we go out to eat on occasion, and we’ve been able to give abundantly to our church’s expansion. I’m excited to see where we’ll be this time next year and the lessons we’ll learn along the way. Thanks again for the motivating post!

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