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How to Save Money When You’re a Self-Employed Mother of 5

According to Janine, a small business co-owner living in Tennessee.

An illustration of a coin being dropped into a piggy bank.

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Welcome to Racked’s How Do You Shop? series, in which we ask a variety of people some deeply personal questions about how they earn, save, and especially spend their money. If you know or are someone with an interesting relationship to $$$, email alanna@racked.com.

This week we spoke with Janine Thornhill, 58, a remarried mother of five (and now mostly empty-nester) who lives in Franklin, Tennessee, and co-owns a design agency with her husband, Terrell. Here, she discusses financial rebuilding after divorce and how to save when self-employed.


Annual salary: About $80,000 to $90,000 a year.

Housing costs: $1,600 for the mortgage, taxes, and insurance each month, plus $600 for utilities and business expenses like telecommunications.

Most she’d spend on jeans: $100 at the most.

On a T-shirt: $50

On a fancy outfit: Without shoes? $200. With shoes? “A little more.”


Do you have any debt?

Not really. When you’re self-employed it’s difficult to establish credit, especially when you go to buy a house. We have a small credit card that we opened and started putting our bills on so we could rebuild some credit.

How much do you put toward savings each month?

That’s a really difficult question — I got a small 401K from my ex. I’ve been rebuilding since getting married [to Terrell] in 2010, so I don’t do formal savings. [When we got married,] we did not have a pot to pee in. Divorce can wreak havoc on your finances.

I do need to start — we’re coming out of the woods, so I do need to start contributing to that. We’re not big spenders. We don’t spend it unless we have it.

When did you start saving?

I’ve always approached savings in a practical way, at least practical to me. My ex worked at a corporation and had money auto-withdrawn, and that made it something you don’t need to think about. When it’s all on you, it makes it more difficult to think through that and be purposeful.

It’s different for self-employed people, too, I’d imagine: You have some months where you’re spending less and have more work, or it’s the holidays and things might slow down and you end up spending more money.

It absolutely fluctuates. The goal for a business like ours is to be on retainer so we’re not feast-and-famine-ing.

How much do you spend on clothing each month? How do you manage your money when it comes to shopping?

As I said, I try not to spend if I don’t have it, so I don’t have a formal budget for clothing. My husband and I became vegan in June. He makes great vegan recipes, so I’ve had to buy some new clothes [because I’ve lost weight]. It’s something like $300 a month.

One of our clients is the American Hair Loss Council, and we have an annual conference. I generally shop a couple times a month and more before the conference. For that, I don’t spend more than $100 per outfit. The only time I spend more is for special occasions. My son got married in LA a couple years ago, and that was a fancy wedding. So the most I spend is on things like that.

All of your children are adults now, too, correct?

Yeah. [Our youngest,] Isabelle, is 19 and lives with us; sometimes I’ll pick something up for her.

Anything you’ve learned about finances or saving that could benefit other women?

When I get caught up in, “Oh this is so cute, I need this [clothing item] now,” I pull back and say, “How trendy is this? Will I wear this next year?” If so, “How necessary is it?” That’s why I shop at places like Forever 21 sometimes. If it’s something super trendy, I’m not going to spend a bunch of money on it because next year I probably won’t be wearing it. In reality, most of us wear 20 percent of our clothing 80 percent of the time. Remember, things never stay the same. You’d be surprised by how little you can live with.

With my second marriage, we had to start from scratch. We chose not to have cable TV. Terrell lived out in the country and we didn’t even have trash collection — we couldn’t afford it! We burned the paper trash, composted what we could, and the rest we had to take to the dump! When we got to the point where we could pay $50 a month for trash collection, it was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m in heaven.”

When you find something you like, ask yourself, “Can I live without this? Am I going to love this next week?” I give myself a dose of reality. I think of something I purchased, something I just had to have, and think, “Do I still feel the same about this? Can I even remember what I got for Christmas last year? Do I still love it/use it/wear it?” It’s good to remember that when I’m shopping. If I get home and go, “You know, I shouldn’t have bought that,” I don’t mind returning stuff either.