Improving your financial situation while living on a low income is not easy. It’s hard. Like, really hard. But it can be done.
Just a few years ago I was categorized as low income, especially considering I was providing for myself and two kids. Even though I was low income I still managed to avoid consumer debt and even build an emergency fund.
The key is, you have to be diligent. And even when you're facing the tough moments, remember you have a plan and can get through it.
These are the tips that helped me the most.
# 1 – Track Your Expenses
When you’re living on a low income you normally don’t have much extra money left at the end of the month. If you’re trying to avoid debt, save money and adopt overall better money management skills, you need to track your expenses.
While it can feel a bit burdensome to track every single expense it’s crucial if you’re trying to save money. You can use a spreadsheet, sheet of paper or make it easier on yourself and use an app like Personal Capital or YNAB.
By simply knowing where everything is and where everything is going, you can start to improve your situation.
# 2 – Find Low Cost Living
The biggest budget category is hands down, housing. Your housing costs can make or break you.
If your housing is currently more than 50% of your total take-home income you need to look for a less expensive place to live. This could mean having roommates for a time.
Related: How I Raise Two Happy Kids On $20,000 Per Year
# 3 – Avoid High Interest Debt
High interest debt will rob you of your future income. While it’s best to stay out of debt altogether, you need to avoid high interest debt like the plague.
This means no credit cards, payday loans, furniture loans, etc.
If you're struggling to get out of debt, look at something like the debt snowball to help you get organized and pay it off.
# 4 – Build an Emergency Fund
Your emergency fund is what’s going to help bring you and your family financial stability. It will protect you in the event your car breaks down, you lose your job, have to make a costly home repair or any other catastrophic event.
Shoot to save 3-6 months’ worth of your income in an emergency fund (the more the better.) Here’s how I saved $10,000 on a low income.
If you're looking for a place to park your emergency fund, check out this list of the best banks for a savings account.
# 5 – Negotiate Your Bills
Everything is negotiable. When you’re living on a tight budget you should try and negotiate all of your expenses.
- If you have credit card debt, call and ask for a lower interest rate.
- Make sure you’re on the cheapest cell phone plan.
- Here’s how to save money on insurance.
- Save on your electric bill.
There's also tools out there that can help you spot subscriptions and bills that need attention, and even negotiate them for you. Check out Truebill and see if it can help!
# 6 – Buy Secondhand
Buying secondhand is one of the best ways to save money and potentially get higher quality items. For instance I buy all of my clothes from ThredUp (an online consignment shop) and I get way higher quality clothes than I would if I bought brand new from the mall.
The next time you need to buy something new see if you can find what you’re looking for secondhand first. Check out consignment shops (both online and in person,) Craigslist, Facebook, Freecycle, etc.
Facebook Buy Nothing Groups are fantastic as well!
# 7 – Lower Your Food Costs
Food can easily come in as the second highest monthly cost after housing. While you’re living on a low income you need to get your food budget under control if you haven’t already.
To save money on food plan out your meals, avoid eating out and limit the amount of shopping you do.
# 8 – Keep Your Credit High
At some point or another you may want to take out a loan to buy a house or a car. To get the best rate you’re going to need a good credit score.
Keeping your credit score high is simple (here’s a step-by-step breakdown.) Simply pay your bills on time, keep your debt low and avoid applying for new credit to keep your score in good standing.
# 9 – Get Help When You Need It
If you’re really struggling to cover basic living expenses then look into getting some temporary government assistance. You can get help with everything from housing to food, if you qualify.
Look at assistance as a temporary support while you work on building financial stability. There is no shame in getting the assistance you're legally entitled too! That's why these programs exist!
# 10 – Look for Ways to Earn More
The biggest thing you can for your finances is earn more money. It can be hard to save money and provide financial stability on a low income. Luckily, there are many things you can to improve your situation.
Consider completing some type of certificate program or education to further your career, switching jobs altogether, starting a side business or finding an online job that pays more than you currently earn.
Earning more money isn’t something that generally happens fast but can make the biggest difference in your finances.
Check out these 5 ways to make $500 per month for a little inspiration on things that you can do.
Alexa Mason is a freelance writer and wanna be internet entrepreneur. She is also a newly single mom to two beautiful little girls. She chronicles her journey as a single mom trying to make it big at www.singlemomsincome.com.