It can be difficult to live on a low income when all around you people are splashing the cash. At some point in all our lives we need a little help with our money. Which is why we could all use a few tips for living with very little money.
I know it’s hard not to feel like you are missing out when your paycheck barely covers the bills. Money doesn’t buy happiness but life is definitely easier when you have more than the bare minimum.
When lack of money is a problem then learning to live on less and love it more is the goal to aim for.
I walked in your shoes
I know what it feels like to live with clothes that are worn and outdated and no money to buy more (not even from a charity store).
I lived below the breadline as a teenage single mom. I’d have been better off staying on welfare benefits than returning to work when my daughter was still a baby. So I know how hard it is to not have enough money to pay the bills.
Being poor is not funny, it’s a hard life and often lonely as well. I’ve had times when I have had no food in the fridge and only $5 in my pocket. My paycheck still a few days away. And each day wondering how can I survive and feed my baby?
You know what the worse thing is? I didn’t have a clue about living on less and knew none of these tips for living with very little money. So I didn’t do these tips and I got into debt.
But you don’t need to because the following tips will help you see how you can spend very little and still live well.
Some tips you might only want to do for a short while, others you might take on and do forever more. The main thing?
Do what works for you.
Can you live with very little money?
Absolutely you can. But you do need to let go of the idea that you deserve to have stuff and spend money on a regular basis.
Turn that thinking upside down and think about living without spending hardly any money at all. Then factor in the following tips and you’ll see how you can spend as little money as possible.
21 tips for living with very little money
One of the strangest things for someone struggling on a low income is trying to figure out how you can get by without spending any money.
When you don’t have any money, you get fixated on the idea that you have to have money to be able to do anything. Not true, although having some money definitely helps.
These tips for living with very little money will help you see how you can either do stuff for free or for very little money. And always keep the following saying in mind:
Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without
Because if you follow this old fashioned saying, you won’t go far wrong in your quest to live on less money.
1. Don’t buy new, buy second hand
You pay a premium for buying something new. As soon as you use it, it’s no longer new and is worth much less.
Buying used instead of new can save you a significant amount of cash. I’ve gotten some pretty amazing deals on used items. My whole work wardrobe was from thrift and charity stores.
I’ve also bought garden tools, bedding, cat boxes, leisure equipment and much more. Think about it the next time you shop – will it be worth the extra money to go for the new, or buy something used that will last as long as a new one? And save you a chunk of money?
Go to thrift shops, garage sales and charity shops. Be prepared to not find anything on at least half your visits. But when you do find something, you could be saving 90% off the brand new price.
You could use these thrift finds to DIY it to what you want. This is a great way to add your own personal touch without breaking the bank!
2. use your grocery store’s clearance aisle
Stores reduce the price of food near it’s sell by date by up to 90%. Going to your store more often than once a week, and timing it right, gives you the opportunity to grab these discounts.
If you don’t mind some of the food being almost out of date, or dented then you can really save a lot of money.
I make it a habit to always check the clearance aisle first, no matter what I’m popping into the store for. You never know when a bargain is to be had!
For loads more tips on cutting your grocery budget, check out these posts:
3. grow some vegetables
There is nothing more satisfying than picking your own ripe tomatoes, carrots or lettuce from the garden to eat later. Growing your own veggies is a great way to cut down on your food bill costs and increase your vegetable intake at the same time!
You don’t need a large plot or even a garden, you can grow veggies in containers on your balcony. You can grow herbs like thyme, rosemary and mint at home too.
I grow tomatoes, peas, green beans, onions, carrots and lettuce as a minimum. I also have a wide range of containers on the decking where I grow basil, parsley and coriander (cilantro).
If you’re not into growing your own food, you could suggest a friend or neighbor to share their produce with you in exchange for a little help around the garden.
You won’t save as much money when buying from the supermarket but if you do buy veg when it’s in season, then you’ll get a much better deal for your money. Make sure you know when the seasons are so you can take advantage of cheap prices and great taste.
To be fair, you can usually tell what fruit and veggies are in season, they’re the cheapest ones and there’s lots of them available!
4. use your library
You can borrow movies, DVDs, books and even music from your library. This costs you nothing to do and as the titles usually aren’t new releases they’re cheaper than buying them.
I rarely buy DVDs or CDs any more. I’d rather borrow from the library, rent for a couple of pounds or wait until the film hits the free TV channels. But then I am extremely frugal!
You can also borrow games from the library to play with your friends which is a good way to kill an evening cheaply.
If you like books, then your library is a goldmine of joy. I’ve read all sorts of books because my local library had them and they were free to borrow.
If you haven’t got a computer or broadband at home then most libraries also have free internet access. You do sometimes have to book a slot if the library gets busy and their computers are unlikely to be Macs or super fast PCs. But they are free!
In the long run, this really saves so much money!
5. Don’t pay bank charges or ATM fees
If your bank charges you to use some ATMs then find a free machine and save that fee. You might also want to switch to a bank that allows you to use more ATMs free of charge.
According to Bankrate’s recent survey, the average ATM fee is $4.64. Grabbing cash from a machine every week will cost you approx $240 a year. Just to access your own money!
TIP: Many banks also charge you a fee to use their card in another country. If you’re going to be traveling abroad, then compare these charges and get a better deal with a cheaper bank or building society before you go.
6. Don’t be afraid to say no
Saying no can seem like the hardest thing to do, yet it’s probably your quickest way to save money. Have you ever had the feeling that if someone asks, you have to do it or it will cause offense?
By saying no, you’re not being rude, you’re being honest. You don’t have to explain yourself in detail. Literally saying no could suffice. I do appreciate though that sometimes it feels better to qualify it so you could say something like:
- Thanks but I have other plans, or
- Thanks but it’s not in my budget this month
You don’t need to say “I can’t afford it”, although feel free to do so. You can also mention that you’re saving for something, or that you need the money because your car is in the garage.
7. Sell your unwanted stuff
This is a win-win situation. Get some money for your stuff and clear your house.
You can sell most things these days, including all those clothes that are just hanging there gathering dust because they are outdated.
Just think how much cash you would have if you sold everything in your wardrobe that you don’t wear. (Much more than you think!)
There are some amazing online auction sites for selling your goods. Or go to a yard sale or flea market and sell them there. You usually get money on the spot, which always feels better than money into your account, to be swallowed up by your bills.
8. Earn some extra cash
Part-time work can be an easy way to earn extra cash. There are jobs that you might not even know exist where you could get some money on the side. These include:
- Gardening work such as pruning and mowing lawns (check for restrictions in your area)
- Pet sitting & dog walking
- Clean houses or holiday homes
- Grab a couple of shifts in your local bar or restaurant
- House sitting – someone’s pet or plants while they are away on vacation
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If you’ve got children or young adults at home itching to make some money, get them to check out my post on the many different ways teens and kids can make money.
9. cut cable, streaming services and broadband
I know having wifi at home, cable and streaming services is pretty normal. But if you want tips on living with very little money, we both know you can save $100+ a month if you cut them out.
Free wifi is now available in many public places (the library, restaurants, cafes etc). Sure they might not be as convenient as sat on the sofa at home. But for extreme budgeting, it’s a viable option.
If you aren’t comfortable with the idea of using public wifi then dial back on your cable and streaming subscriptions instead.
Cable and streaming services can add up to a significant amount of money each month so consider if you need all of them, some or even any of them. Be ruthless and cut back on this expensive area.
10. Take advantage of free events
Many museums, art galleries and even tourist spots offer free events. Your local community can be a hive of free fun too. You can also go for a walk when it’s warm or find an interesting book store without paying to get inside!
With the weather warming up, getting out for a walk is an easy way to relax and feel that you are living well with no money spent. Why not invite a friend along?
Free entertainment is everywhere if you take some time to look! Create a list of things you like to do or keep a list of free events happening near you.
11. walk or bike
Don’t use your car for short journeys. Instead walk or cycle. You will get some exercise and save money on gas as well as wear and tear to your car. And you’re not polluting as much.
If it’s too far to walk, try walking part way and taking a bus or using public transport instead of your car the rest of the way. Some cities offer free parking at public transport hubs so again think about how you can use public transport for some things if need be.
13. always cook at home
I know it feels easier to go out for dinner or pick something up on your way home but cooking your meals at home will save you money.
You can cook a meal for about $3 at home, or spend $15 on a ready made dinner and tip. It will take the same amount of time to cook your own meals as it does to wait in line to order them and pick up.
Preparing meals ahead of time will also save you money. Making a double batch of a recipe and freezing it will be cheaper than paying for takeout. And much quicker than cooking from scratch 7 nights a week.
14. use cheap, basic food items
Your grocery spending can make or break your monthly budget. Expensive food items can add up to a lot of money very quickly. Whereas cheap food basics cost very little. Focus on using things like:
- canned tomatoes
- canned tuna
Meals using these as the main ingredient will cut your food bill down significantly.
15. always use your leftovers
You can make your meals go further by saving the leftovers for lunch the next day. Leftovers are one of the cheapest ways to eat. Indeed, I often deliberately cook more precisely so we do have leftovers!
Take it one step further and batch cook your meals. Batch cooking is about making double (or triple) quantities of your favorite recipes and freezing them.
That way you can get some cheap meals that you can take out of the freezer and pop in the microwave whenever you want to eat them. Just thaw it as needed and voila: a home cooked meal for not much money, effort or time!
16. use a shopping list and stick to it
I know you know about writing and using a shopping list. But do you actually stick to it? Fully?
When you are trying to spend as little money as possible, writing out a shopping list for everything you NEED and sticking to it will save you money.
17. Double check your shopping trolley
No matter how good I try to be with my shopping list, somehow a few things (or a lot) find their way into my trolley which most definitely are not on the list.
Checking through my trolley before I hit the checkout gives me the chance to see these items and remove them.
It’s quite easy to leave the supermarket with $20 worth of stuff that you didn’t need. So always check your trolley and be ruthless in removing items that are not a necessity right now.
For more information on this neat trick check out My 5 Minute Grocery Store Hack That Will Save You Money.
18. Drink water
If you are in need of living on an extreme budget for a month or two then instead of juices, soft drinks and alcohol, drink ONLY plain water (not bottled!).
You will save money on every drink you have if you give up soda, fruit juice and booze. It can be harder to cut out alcohol but I would encourage you to try giving it up for one month just for the huge savings you can make.
19. Get outside to exercise for free
There are so many wonderful free outdoor activities that you can do. Walking, running or jogging outside, and how about wild swimming? The only cost here is for the workout clothes (if you need them).
You can make do without specialist gear for most exercise, swimming being the exception me thinks. Another great thing about exercising outside is no gym fees!
20. Cut out alcohol
This is tough advice because we all know the feeling when you have a glass of wine with dinner, or a beer at the bar watching sport on TV. It’s more than just the cost of alcohol that needs to be considered here (and that’s a big cost in itself).
There are also hidden costs associated with alcohol such as:
- More likely to eat unhealthily (late night snacking!)
- Money arguments with your partner
- Increase in health problems (fatigue, tired skin, puffy eyes)
- Poor sleep patterns
I am no doctor or dietitian but I know I always feel better when I have a good run of nights without drinking any alcohol at all. My sleep pattern is what I notice most, I just sleep better if I haven’t had a drink.
21. Buy in bulk
Buying items in bigger quantities can work out cheaper per unit. When you’re on a tight budget buying in bulk can really help you cut your expenses. Items perfect for bulk buying could include
- toilet paper,
- dishwashing liquid
- canned food
TIP: when buying things like canned food and toilet rolls, make sure you know it’s cheaper than the standard price. Check the unit price (price per kg) against the what you normally pay. If it’s cheaper by at least 10% then consider stocking up.
22. Living on Little – adopt minimalism
One of the best ways to save money is by embracing minimalism. This doesn’t mean you need to go to the extreme and have a completely empty house.
You can focus instead on clearing out items that you don’t use and sell them for extra cash, or toss them out as junk. I also try my best to never purchase new things unless absolutely necessary.
This saves us plenty since we are no longer buying anything just because our home needs more “stuff!” And if I do buy ‘new’, I first look for new to me i.e. used rather than brand new.
How to live on very little money
Living with very little is tough, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. There are plenty of ways to live on a small budget and still enjoy life.
My favorite tip is to always cook at home so you don’t waste your food or throw away leftovers. This tip alone can save you hundreds every month. Thousands every year!
I hope you’ve learned some helpful new tips for living with very little money that you can start applying to your life right now.
For more frugal living tips check out these posts:
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Last Updated on 12th August 2023 by Emma