Do you need to make changes and live on one low income? Here are 44 great frugal tips for living on one low income (and still loving your life!)
Living on one smaller paycheck isn’t as awful as it seems.
The main issue comes down to mindset.
Are you determined to keep up with the Joneses?
Are you worried what your neighbors will think if you don’t have the latest car or electronic gadget?
Can you only think about all of the sacrifices involved?
Then, this might be really hard for you.
On the other hand:
If you enjoy having easy, low-cost fun and reusing items, then you can definitely make it work!
One more thing you need to do is take a great, hard look at wants vs needs.
Do you need the latest iPhone?
No, a cheaper alternative would work.
My sister has a Trac phone (flip phone) that she recharges with minutes when low and it works fine.
Can she access the internet? No, but she makes do just fine.
Getting a good handle on your overall mindset and your ability to truly recognize wants vs. needs will help you be successful at living on one low income.
Why do you want to live on one income?
Do you want to:
- simplify your life
- prepare for having kids
- stay at home with your kids
- just survive (due to a job loss, unexpected illness, or necessity)
First, understand the reason you want to (or need to) live on one income and then change your mindset.
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Practical tips for how to live on a single income
First, you need to have some kind of budget. At the very least, you need to be aware of how much money is coming in each month and how much you are spending.
If you don’t know what you are spending each month, then you can’t even figure out if you can manage on one income.
2. Spend less than you make
Once you’ve figured out your budget, your goal should always be to spend less (much less) than you make.
In other words, live within your means.
Yeah, the neighbors have a BMW, but if it’s not in your budget…
Related: 8 practical tips for how to get a month ahead on your bills
Find a way to cut your biggest expense.
The biggest expense is usually housing. If you can move to a cheaper location or a smaller place then you could potentially save a lot of money in the long run.
If you can’t move, find a way to add cut costs (see #6) or make more money (#11).
If your biggest expense is your debt (CC or otherwise) – tackle that head-on with determination until it’s gone!
4. Set up an emergency fund
Nothing is harder on your monthly finances than an unexpected financial emergency. Things like hospital bills, car repairs, and job loss can really be financially devastating.
Be prepared by setting up an emergency fund!
Related: Emergency Fund Tips: How to set one up and why you need to!
5. Meal Plan
Eating out and buying food you won’t actually eat are 2 big money wastes. You can easily avoid this by meal planning.
Meal planning can be super easy and doesn’t have to take much time. It also saves you time (and money) when you shop because you know exactly what to buy (and can avoid impulse purchases – hello, ice cream!)
Related: Meal Planning Made Easy
6. Find ways to cut costs
First, cut out nonessentials.
Do you have subscriptions to magazines or online accounts that you hardly use?
Do you have cable, but hardly ever watch it (or can find a streaming service for cheaper)?
Do you get a daily coffee at Starbucks?
Make a list of all of your monthly expenses (especially your reoccuring charges like monthly subscriptions) to see what you use and don’t and what you can cut from your budget.
7. Stop buying things
The best way to cut costs is to stop buying things.
Stop buying things:
- you don’t need
- you won’t use
- that are not in your budget
Related: 8 things we quit buying to save money
8. Join a “no-spend challenge”
A “no-spend challenge” can be for 30 days or longer! Basically, you commit to not spending money on anything other than basic necessities (like food).
Challenge yourself for at least 30 days and see what happens (and how much you save!)
9. Get rid of debt
Nothing is more draining on your budget than debt! Find ways to pay off your debt fast and once it’s gone stay out of debt!
Related: 8 tips for paying off debt fast!
10. Pay cash
It’s so easy to hand over a credit card to pay for something (and it doesn’t seem to hurt at all), but using cash is harder and psychologically more difficult!
11. Find a side-hustle
Having a side-hustle might be the key to being able to live off of one low income, especially if you have kids or debt to pay off. Get creative! There are a lot of options.
Related: Easy side-hustles for moms
12. Change the way you do laundry
- washing clothes on cold
- hanging clothes to dry whenever possible
- not using dryer sheets (use dryer balls instead if you want)
- waiting to wash a full load
13. Declutter your home
After my divorce, my girls and I had to move to a much smaller place. In the process, I found out how much stuff we had and packed up 6+ boxes of items to donate that we didn’t need or want anymore (even my girls helped!).
I found that I was holding on to items out of fear I might need them “someday in the future,” but hadn’t used them for years.
Getting rid of them freed space in our little apartment and also made me realize that I often spent money on things I didn’t need. This helped to change my money mindset and be able to adjust to living in a smaller place.
Related: Money habits you need to change
Before you spend money on something, find a way to do it yourself.
Can you try and
- repair an item?
- change the oil in your car?
- do minor household repairs?
- cut your kids hair?
- wash your car?
- file your own taxes?
- groom your pet?
- mow your lawn?
- make homemade gifts for birthdays and Christmas?
There are thousands and thousands of YouTube tutorials for all kinds of repairs and DIY projects!
15. Price compare
When you need an item (after you’ve determined that you really need it), shop around a little bit first. Compare prices (easy to do online) and see what’s the cheapest price available.
I also wait until Black Friday sales to buy certain items (like carseats, for example).
16. Buy used (second hand)
You can also check out thrift shops or discount stores.
I regularly look for things I need on Craigslist, eBay, OfferUp and local thrift stores for items that I really need. This is great for the environment as well since you are reusing items!
17. Cut down on take out (or eating out)
Eating out often (instead of making meals at home) can be very expensive. Even if you reduce take out to once a week (instead of 5 times a week) you can have BIG savings.
18. Take your lunch to work
As with #17, taking your lunch to work stead of eating out can help you save money.
19. Find free fun activities for you family
There are a lot of ways to have free, fun (or super cheap fun) with your family.
Look for ideas at your local library, community center, or playgroup.
Related: Fun, cheap ideas for quality time with your kids
20. Swap clothes (toys, books, etc.) with other moms.
Kids outgrow items so fast! Organize an informal clothing swap with mom friends and swap items!
21. Eat vegetarian once a week (or more)
Meat is expensive. Buy less meat and make simple vegetarian meals once a week.
One of the easiest dinners I make for my girls is buying some veggies and a container of Sabra hummus. Yum!
22. Buy store brands
Look for cheaper store brands of the same items (like toilet paper, milk, etc.)
23. Check out the clearance or markdown section of the store
I often find great deals in the clearance/mark-down section of my local grocery store.
24. Wait 24 hours for purchases
Wait 24 hours before purchasing a non-necessity.
For more expensive purchases, wait at least 30 days. This gives you time to see if you really need it.
25. Wait to buy on sale
- Wait until the end of the season to buy clothes for next year.
- Check ads and prices to see if sales are coming up.
- Purchase items on Black Friday.
- Take advantage of seasonal sales (but only if you really need the item).
26. Avoid emotional shopping
Sadly, I’ve purchased items because I feel stressed or anxious. Online shopping makes this harder since you can buy things at the quick click of a button!
It’s emotionally exciting (or soothing) to shop at the click of a button – but don’t!
27. Use shopping apps to save money (or get money back)
Some very easy shopping apps I like:
Rakuten and Honey have browser extensions which take all the stress away – easy peasy!
Ibotta is an app for shopping at grocery stores – very simple to use.
28. Go green
- Use containers instead of throw-away plastic zip bags.
- Use washable clothes instead of paper towels.
- Use cloth diapers instead of disposable.
Instead of regular paper towels, I’ve had reusable bamboo “paper” towels for over a year and they are quite durable. I wash and dry them with my regular loads and they’ve held up great!
29. Rethink gifting
I always ask for practical, useful gifts.
Why yes, I really need new socks for Christmas. Thanks!
My blender just died and I’d love one for my birthday!
I prefer this than someone just giving me a tchotchke or something I wouldn’t use or need (or would just clutter my home).
Favorite edibles are also always welcome! I love food gifts: my favorite chocolate, a bottle of wine, a pint of ice cream…
30. Negotiate bills
When I worked in customer service, I once chatted with a lady who said because of the weird location where she lived she had to call her cell service every month in order to manually qualify for a particular discount.
But, in her mind, it was worth it for the discount.
See if you can negotiate any of your bills. It can’t hurt to ask!
31. Sell things you don’t need
I use Craigslist and OfferUp for selling locally. I’ve also sold on eBay as well.
32. Subscribe and save on Amazon
If you regularly buy certain household items you can “subscribe and save” on Amazon and save up to 15% on purchases.
33. Get rid of your gym membership
Get a desk cycle or jumprope.
Take walks around the block.
Browse YouTube for exercise videos you can do at home.
34. Turn down the heat
Last winter, I kept our heat low and wore sweaters every day. Doing this saved me quite a bit of money each month.
35. Rethink vacations
Instead of opting for an exotic, expensive vacation, try a local stay home and “staycation”. Stay home and visit nearby places.
Make days trips and come home to stay in your own bed.
Or, try Airbnb or camp in a tent at a nearby campground.
36. Use the library
Lots of free opportunities – for books, CD, DVDs, and often free classes or trainings are offered.
37. Buy in bulk
Bulk purchases can save a lot of money.
38. Accept hand me downs
Not only for kids or clothes!
If a family member is giving away their washing machine because they bought a newer one and you need it – take it!
39. Avoid credit cards
If you want to live on one income, you need to be smart with your money.
This means you definitely need to avoid getting into debt!
40. Minimalize your life
Living with less frees your mind and your home from clutter. You’ll also get used to spending less!
Related: Minimalism and Kids: Yes, it’s possible!
Related: 4 things that you save when you declutter!
41. Avoid comparisons
One of the biggest things I’ve noticed is that people get caught up in what the “Joneses” have. Stop comparing your lifestyle to other people!
If you love your old Subaru and your neighbors have a BMW, who cares?
If you find ways to cut costs while your friends are spending more, don’t worry about it!
42. Needs vs. wants
As I mentioned above, this is one of the main areas that seems to confuse people. Taking an honest assessment of your needs vs wants can really help you find ways to cut costs and save money.
For example, Cable (Netflix, Hulu, etc.) is NOT a need.
Instead of watching movies to “destress” find a new hobby or help out people in need or look through your movie collection or spend time talking (or playing board games) with your spouse…
Daily Starbucks coffee is NOT a need. If you feel that you really need a coffee maybe evaluate whether or not you are addicted… haha… or get a coffee maker and make your own!
43. Create personal financial goals
Having solid financial goals is a great way to help you keep to your budget, stay out of debt, and save money.
Do you want to:
- save for retirement?
- have a college fund for your kids?
- take a fun vacation somewhere?
- put a good downpayment on a new house?
Take 2 or 3 goals and find out ways to save a little money toward them each month.
Write the goals down!
44. Set aside some “fun money”
I’ve always set aside some money each month to use for “fun”. When my situation was better, it was $40 a month, now it’s $20.
You can make it whatever works with your budget, but I do know that if you don’t allow any wiggle room for fun it will be very hard to stick to a serious budget and learn to live on a low income.
Related: Money Lessons for Kids at Each Age
Related: 5 Easy Steps to Teach your Teens Budgeting
Contrary to popular cultural belief, I do believe it IS possible to live on one low income. You might need to change some of your lifestyle and money habits, but it can be done! These tips have helped me live within my budget, pay off debt, and save money! Do you have any other great tips? I’d love to hear them!