9 Tips to Surviving on a Low Income Budget

Elle Scott

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No amount of wishing or crying is going to fix the problem of insufficient income.

Insufficient income usually looks like this — you don’t have any money the same day you get paid. You’re usually broke, sad, and in the red a day after you got paid.

Now, this could also be an issue of improperly managing your money but I’ll address that in a little bit.

I’ve seen people struggling with low income complain that cutting expenses doesn’t matter when you don’t make enough money.

Statements like that are common and I do empathize.

The mindset of living on with low-income while raising a family can be extremely negative. It’s the negativity that spurs these types of thoughts about budgeting, getting out of debt, saving money, etc.

However, the reason cutting expenses are recommended is that many times people spend way too much on unnecessary expenses. One unnecessary expense is eating out which adds up quickly depending on the frequency.

The reason this is a common unnecessary expense that people don’t pay much attention to is that most times the individual amounts aren’t huge.

It’s easy to believe that $5 for a meal is nothing compared to $200 at the grocery store.

But if you’re spending $5 twice a day for five days a week for four weeks, that’s $200 spent on quick meals that likely aren’t for the entire family.

At the end of the month you’ve spent $400 on food — $200 for your personal outings and $200 on groceries. You could’ve easily spent $200, meal planned, and gotten a better value for your money spent.

Budget plan

A budget is basically your roadmap to financial stability. It is essentially the pathway to financial success for many people, including those on a low income.

There are plenty of budgeting methods available but the basics remain the same. You never want to spend more money than you earn.

Following the basics of budgeting will help you save money, even with a low income.

The best thing you can do for yourself and your family when living on a low income is to create and stick to a budget plan.

You can only do so much with the income you have. And, you don’t want to waste money by not tracking your spending habits.

Let’s look at some helpful tips for budgeting on a low income.

Living on a low income budget plan isn’t something to feel ashamed or embarrassed about.

With effort and without any extenuating circumstances, you have the ability to earn more money.

Surviving on low income while raising kids is an art within itself. You’ve got to be resourceful and frugal to make ends meet.

Plus, your mindset has to be positive and strong.

It’s not always easy but you can’t allow the amount of your income to define you.

Make yourself this promise — read the following list with an open mind and zero excuses. From this point on I can’t, that won’t work, and that’s crazy is prohibited from your vocabulary.

Closely monitor your money

There are a few things you need to do before creating a full budget. However, once you do those things, you can begin to track your finances.

You can use software to create a spreasheet to easily track your finances. But using a spreadsheet is not the only way to track your money. Pen and paper works fine when you're new to budgeting or trying to quickly figure out your finances. You can purchase a notebook for $1 and use that to write down your daily spending and income.

Stay away from debt

Anything that is considered debt inducing; stay away from it.

Whenever handling debt is mentioned so are student loans. Student loans aren’t going away any time soon because for a lot of people earning a higher education equals taking on student loan debt.

There are grants available to students and some are available to single moms returning to school. I would recommend doing your research on grants and scholarships before taking on a student loan.

Recent data for student loan debt totals a whopping $1.64 trillion.

Student loan debt isn’t the only type of debt but it is the most discussed. Basically, if you can't afford something and you buy it anyway, you're putting yourself in debt. At some point those financial loses are going to catch up with you.

Work to get out of debt

When you’re out attempting to enjoy life and you see that out-of-state number on the front of your phone as an incoming call; you quickly silence it.

But somehow, that one call has dampened your mood.

The bill collector calls that ring your phone all hours of the day are stressful. But why are you avoiding the calls?

Because you don’t have the money?

Are you embarrassed you don’t have money?

Stop living your life like a fugitive and answer your phone and read your mail.

The debt isn’t going to disappear if you ignore it.

Increase your income

You’re reading this because you want to improve your finances. Lacking enough money to support your family is not how you wan to live.

Yet, many low-income earners adjust to living life underpaid.

Being content with low income isn’t okay when you’re raising a family and struggling. At some point trying to cut costs will only go so far.

You’ll need to earn more money.

Look online for work from home opportunities that you’ll be good at doing. You can also look at working extra hours at your day job to earn overtime.

Automate your savings

If your main financial goal is to save money while on earning a low income, automating your savings may be the best option for you.

Saving money isn't impossible because you don't have a lot of it. It only means that you may need to start out saving less.

The amount you save can be small to start. Back when I worked as a temp and earned money weekly, I automatically deposited $5 each pay to an account I didn't hold a card to. I purposely didn't order a card because that account was specifically setup to save money, no matter the amount.

In time, I increased the amount to $10 and kept increasing to an amount I could comfortably handle.

Think about the small things you purchase daily. It can be coffee or gum, or anything you may enjoy which to you doesn’t seem like a huge expense. But when you calculate the costs, it does add up.

Lower your housing costs

I worked as a housing counselor years ago. Most of the people I helped find homes were living on a low income and raising kids.

Reviewing their paperwork showed me that these people all had one thing in common (other than their low income status) — their housing costs exceeded their income.

You might not be in a situation where you can move homes, but you can figure out other ways of decreasing your housing or in-home costs.

Find affordable entertainment

Sometimes we might associate budgeting with a burden. We don’t want to do it because it involves too many restraints.

We can’t have fun.

It’s like thinking I’m already broke so why am I doing this at all…I can never save money, let alone get out of this mess.

However, there are plenty of ways to have fun while living on a low income budget. Look for free and discounted local entertainment you can enjoy with your family.

Shop with a list [online and in-person]

Whenever I shop, whether it’s online or in-store, I make a list. I don’t care if I’m shopping for a couple of items, I still make a list.

Creating shopping lists help to control impulse buying. Therefore, if it’s not on your list, you shouldn't buy it. Make sure to shop at stores with the lowest prices and use rebate programs when available.

Research and apply for government resources

If you live on a low income and need help with basic living expenses, you may qualify for government benefits to help cover food, housing, medical, and other costs. 

You may have applied to receive government benefits previously and was denied, but I would urge you to try again.

Policies change often and a few dollars difference could determine whether or not you’re eligible for assistance.

The purpose of most government assistance programs is to help those who are in need of support become self-sufficient.

To sum it up

Earning a low income and tryig to raise a family and live well is tough. Following these tips will help make it a little less tough and keep you from falling further below the poverty line.

I understand when you’re drowning in bills with your income at a standstill, that light at the end of the tunnel may seem dim.

It's not.

Keeping working toward reaching your financial goals by sticking to your budget and you should start to see some sort of financial relief.

Good luck!

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