How to survive on a low income! These tips will help you live on a tight budget, manage your paycheck, and know exactly what to do after job loss or unemployment.
When you’re trying to live on a tight budget, it’s a constant battle to keep your head above water.
Stretching your income so it lasts an entire month feels like a game of Tetris.
It’s easy to lose hope…
…and trust me, I’ve been there.
The day after we signed the mortgage papers on our house, my husband lost his job.
(And unfortunately, that wasn’t our last battle with unemployment.)
But I’m here to tell you that you can survive on a low income.
These are the exact steps to take if you get laid off, or struggle with managing your paycheck.
By following these strategies, you can keep your head above water.
There is hope!
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👉 Join our FREE 3 Day Budget Quickstart Challenge! It’ll walk you through creating a custom budget for YOUR exact situation.
How to Budget Money on a Low Income
1. Look over every expense
The very first step is to see where your money is going.
Look at your bank account or credit card statement for the past 1-3 months.
Even if it’s painful to face past frivolous spending, know that you can improve it from here!
Put your spending into categories like:
- Dining out
- Personal care and health
Now, prioritize them.
Think about the basics you need to survive.
Housing, food, and basic transportation usually top the list.
2. Cut anything extra
Now you have an overall picture of your spending.
It’s time to make some cuts.
Note: These cuts aren’t a permanent life sentence. But the goal for now is to plug the leaks so you can get ahead.
What parts of your past spending did you determine were unnecessary?
You have to be a little ruthless in your expense cutting.
It feels frustrating in the short term, but just think how good it will feel to have less financial stress.
Here are some examples of expenses to cut:
- Restaurants, takeout, and fast food
- Convenience foods, fancy coffee, cocktails
- Services you can do yourself (ie. your nails, lawn care, car washes)
- Gym memberships
- Excess streaming services (pick 1 or 2 to keep)
- Any recurring charges you don’t love or need
- Cable television
- Entertainment (ie. movies, concerts, vacations)
- New clothes
3. Make some calls
You might be surprised to learn how many things are negotiable.
Call your cell phone, car insurance, and cable/internet service providers and ask what other packages they have.
You can save substantially by changing or downgrading your plan.
Mention that you’re planning to switch providers. They often magically come up with something within your budget.
Call your credit card companies, and try to negotiate lower interest rates.
(That alone could save you thousands!)
Are all of your bills due around the same time of the month? Call and ask to change that. Most companies are willing to change your due date.
Related: Free Printable Monthly Bill Tracker (to keep track of what’s due!)
If you’ve lost your job, call your creditors and see what your options are.
Many mortgage companies, student loan providers, and auto lenders have programs designed to help the unemployed.
You may get to delay payments for a few months while you get back on your feet.
Note: Don’t delay payments unless absolutely necessary. The balance of those payments will be added to your account. (You don’t get to skip them altogether.) Plus, interest continues to accrue.
4. Take stock of your food supply
Food and groceries are one of the easiest expenses to control.
Look through your pantry, fridge, and freezer, and make a list of meals you can make from those ingredients.
You already spent money on them, so get creative!
Brainstorm a list of budget-friendly meals.
If you’re used to dining out, or making fancy meals, it’s time to go back to basics.
Write a list of meals with inexpensive ingredients. This might mean dinners like eggs and toast or grilled cheese and soup, instead of steak.
Here are some posts filled with low-cost meals for inspiration:
- 40+ Dirt Cheap Meals to Make When You’re on a Budget
- 31 ‘Eat from the Pantry Recipes’ to Stretch Your Grocery Dollar
- 30 Delicious Ways to Use a Pound of Ground Beef
- Super Easy & Cheap 4 Ingredient Chicken Recipes
5. Make a new budget
If you find yourself unemployed, this will be a temporary crisis or emergency budget.
If you regularly live on a low income, this can be your usual monthly budget.
Here’s the basic framework of how to make a monthly budget:
- Add up all your income for the month.
- Calculate your fixed expenses (ie. housing, utilities, transportation, cell phone).
- Subtract your fixed expenses from your total income. Use the remainder to determine how much you can spend on variable expenses like groceries, clothes, entertainment, etc.
- Fund your emergency savings. Try to keep your expenses as low as possible to allow you to save something. Even $10 a week is better than nothing.
6. Make minimum debt payments
Under normal circumstances, I’d recommend paying extra on your debt.
The faster you can knock it out, the less interest you’ll pay.
Let’s face it, interest is very expensive.
But if you’re faced with job loss, you need enough money to take care of the basics.
Whenever possible, continue to make at least the minimum payments on your debt.
Otherwise, you’ll get hit with late fees over and over.
When you’re in trouble, call your creditors and see what options they can offer you.
If that doesn’t work, consider reputable debt consolidation options help from a company like Debt.com.
7. Find ways to earn more
But what if you find yourself with far more bills than income, and you’ve cut back on everything imaginable?
The next step is to find ways to earn more money.
That could be anything from babysitting, cleaning houses, dog walking, delivering pizzas, to any creative idea you can come up with.
Any extra income you earn will make more room in your tight budget.
Here are a couple posts with money-making ideas:
8. Sell things
There are probably tons of things around your home that you could sell.
We all accumulate items that we think we’ll use but don’t.
Go around the house and make a list of everything that you can sell.
There are a variety of apps and websites that allow you to list your items for sale.
Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace are a good place to start.
Some common items that you can sell are:
- Clothing and accessories
- Gaming systems and video games
- Kids toys
- Musical instruments
- Home decor
- Yard and garden tools
- Sports equipment
- An extra (or too-expensive) car
9. Ask for help
There are many programs designed to help people struggling with their finances.
You can look into temporary assistance with groceries, health care, utilities, and housing.
Don’t be afraid to let the people who care about you know that you’re struggling too.
You may be surprised how willing they are to offer help. Most people have had periods of financial struggle at some point in their life!
They may be able to:
- Give you some food from their pantry
- Watch your kids while you go on a job interview
- Hire you to do yard or house work
And if nothing else, they’ll stop asking you to go do things you can’t afford!
10. Use your time productively
If you’ve recently experienced job loss, you’re probably finding yourself with more time on your hands.
While your first goal should be finding ways to earn extra money, you can also fill your time by getting your home organized.
We all have those areas we’ve neglected, and it will really boost your pride to tackle those spaces.
(Grab this FREE whole house decluttering kit to walk you through the process!)
Spend some time organizing the systems in your house too.
That way, when you do go back to work, you’ll feel less overwhelmed.
See how you can survive on a low income?
I hope these simple ideas have made you feel more organized and in control of your financial situation.
We’ve plugged the leaks, found ways to save and earn more, and set up a realistic budget.
Please remember that this isn’t permanent.
These strategies and action steps will set you up for financial success going forward.
When your income does go back up, you may even find that you don’t miss all the things you cut back on.
Keeping your expenses low will always allow for more margin in your budget…
…and more dollars in your bank account!
P.S. Don’t forget to join the FREE 3 Day Budget Quickstart Challenge! It’ll walk you through creating a custom budget for YOUR exact situation.
For more budgeting and money-saving tips, check out:
- 10 Money Myths That Are Keeping You Broke
- How to Live on One Income: 11 Tips for Living Well on a Budget
- 10 Things to Do to Finally Get Control of Your Finances