How can you save money while earning barely enough to live on?

Karen Madej

According to a 2018 survey of 2,000 Americans by MidAmerica Nazarene University (MNU), men want to earn $445,000, and women desire $279,000 per year.

We need to pause for a reality check here. The average middle-class salary checked in at $61,372. Boom! There goes that dream.

Young people with or without qualifications often start out working minimum wage jobs. Single parents might work in a local shop while their kids are at school. Older folks could need a boost in their lives —that cruise they’ve always dreamed of or the rent for a small plot to grow vegetables. Even middle-aged men and women dream of the perfect salary.

The Pew Research Centre 2018 study shows 29% of lower-income households in 2016 earned an average of $25,624.

So how can you save money while earning barely enough to live on?

It depends on how determined you are to reach your goals. Do you have some goals? You could want to get a better job or try out a side hustle. Yet you work all the hours and couldn’t possibly study or work more.

“Saving money is good. Saving dreams is not good.”
Richie Norton

Let’s focus on your dream

Can you see it? A work-from-home gig where all you need is a computer and a pair of snug headphones. No computer? You could beg, borrow, or buy a secondhand one. Ah, but you have no money to buy one. If you have some clothes or other items you don’t need, try selling them.

Perhaps you imagine yourself as a gardener or clothes designer. Perhaps you want to own a pool cleaning service for all those rich folks? Or set yourself up as a cleaning service. You can also shoot for the stars, but you might need to study or learn new skills. The dream comes from inside you. Your dream will fuel your new lifestyle.

Start with the basics

What stuff in your home do you have to have for survival? The leftover items will go on Craig’s List or Gumtree, eBay, to a consignment store, or you could barter for something you want. How do you feel with less clutter? More optimistic?

Next, we’ll look at income versus outgoings. Make a list of what you spend your hard-earned money on each month.

My Money Matters spreadsheet looks like this:
Image Author’s Own


For some, renting is a choice; for others, they have no choice but to pay someone else’s mortgage or line their pockets. To get a mortgage, you have to have savings to pay the deposit. You also have to have a secure job or make enough money to satisfy the bank. It’s unlikely anyone will ever qualify while earning minimum wage. Unless they make considered sacrifices and save.

You can benefit from renting if you don’t want the inconvenience of maintaining a property. Perhaps you don’t have the skills, or you’d rather do something else. If you have a spare bedroom or unused living room, you could split the rent (and bills) between two.

Property ownership can mean a lot of additional work and expense, especially when it’s old and you have to pay someone else to repair and maintain it. Again, if you have a spare room, you could rent it out to a handy person for free in exchange for their skills. Or charge for the room and pay someone else to bring your investment up to date.

Save on the commute

The closer you live to where you work can save on bus fares or keeping a vehicle running. A brisk walk to work keeps expenses down and builds up your daily steps. It’s easier to change your location when renting, but these days many city dwellers are selling up and buying bigger and cheaper in the suburbs or even a different county!


Energy payments are low in the summer, plus you can build up a credit cushion when/if you earn more than you need. In the UK, many people suffer from fuel poverty. Often it’s as bad as a choice between a warm home and a meal. Heat or eat is a popular phrase.

If you work from home, try running on the spot for five or ten minutes during breaks. After work, a powerwalk will burn calories and warm you up. If you have Netflix, a useful way to keep the heating off for longer is to jog on the spot while watching your favorite show. To reach the goal of 10,000 steps, you can save 1–2 hours of expensive heating.

Food and drink

To save more, we could reduce the amount and quality of food and beverages we consume. But you only live once, right? One of the biggest savings we can make is to drink water. Not bottled water — that’s expensive, comes in plastic, and shouldn’t exist (just saying). As long as the water from your tap is clean and doesn’t make you ill, it’s the cheapest choice both for your health and pocket-wise.

You could invest in a reusable thermal travel cup and make your coffee at home. An expensive machine is unnecessary. A ceramic or stainless steel pour-over cone sits on your cup to make you a fresh cup of coffee. It’s a great investment and will save you a lot of expense buying your morning brew from a coffee shop.

My self-imposed income of £800 per month (£9600/$13,248) from my private pension covers almost all of my outgoings. The additional spend came out of my NewsBreak earnings. What I didn’t spend, I saved.

Goals and saving

Fourteen years ago, I earned £40,000/$55,201 per annum. It didn’t make me happy. It paid for all the items society expects us to own; the car, the mortgage, expensive holidays, and eating out or junk food deliveries. Suits for work, outfits for nights out on the town, beauty treatments totaled more than £40K. Credit cards maxed out, always shopping around for the next 0% transfer deal.

You’d think money used on stuff would make you happy. Maybe you even dream of buying everything you see other people wearing, using, or owning. My advice, save instead.

Focus on what you want to do with your life

Learn a trade, practice your skills, study accountancy, marketing, or learn programming — Javascript is a must for 2021.

According to a recent ZDNet article, Coursera offers 1,700 free online courses. The most popular is The Science of Well-Being. Students learn a lot about wanting and buying stuff and the psychology behind their wants. The course could help you choose to save instead of buying another piece of crap plastic from China.

EdX and Harvard offer Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies for free. Future Learn offers some exciting free courses ranging from How to Succeed at: Interviews to Social Wellbeing.

Your goal encourages your saving habits

If you can study for your goal for free to start with, that’s even better. You can buy a lot for $25,624 or even $13,248. The power of determination will set you free.

“Small amounts saved daily add up to huge investments in the end.”
Margo Vader, Check Mate: For Graduates and Young Adults

What spending and studying choices will you make to enable you to save more? I’d love to hear in the comments.

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Passionate about climate change and living a debt-free, sustainable life. Determined to learn how to and build an adobe house or Earthship. The goal is to live off-grid and off the land. Energy for heat and to power electrical devices and appliances will use solar, wind, and hydro-powered electricity. No trees will die to make my home.


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