When you’ve hit the bottom of your budget and are living on next to nothing, it can be hard to see all of those articles that you find around the internet proclaiming “Couple Pays off $100k Debt on $25K” or “Woman Lives in a Mansion on $30K”. While they might be inspiration stories for someone. When you actually read the story, most of the time, the family comes into a large sum of money from selling something or something similar. So what happens if you don’t have a yacht that you inherited that you can sell? Or how about when you have a family of hungry mouths to feed and you don’t live where you can make $100k a year?
Simple Tips for Living on Next to Nothing
I’ve been there. If you are new to LHL you may not have read my story yet or perhaps it’s been a while so I will give you a refresher.
My hubby and I were married when we were barely 19. We had 2 big cross-country moves in the first 3 months of marriage. After we settled into a rental (which we exchanged part of the rent for work), we were not doing well. It was 2008 and jobs were hard to come by in our area in the middle of winter. We did whatever we could to make and save money. We had side work, delivering newspapers, clipping every coupon imaginable, and more. I used to sign up for free samples just to have things like shampoo. We were broke and finally ended up on food stamps for a while until we could get back on our feet. It was a trying time but an experience that we learned much from.
Getting Out of Debt
Two years later, at the very end of 2009 we were completely out of debt. (besides a car loan) And we were able to purchase our first house. We didn’t inherit any money or things, we didn’t have any jobs that made us rich, we didn’t win the lottery. We scrimped and saved and did whatever we could (including living in a camper) to get us back on our feet.
Are in the middle of a trying time right now? Living from paycheck to paycheck? Or even wondering where the next paycheck is coming from? I hope that today’s article will give you a few ideas and some (realistic!) inspiration to get through this time.
Stick with Simple, Healthy Meals
Many people assume that packaged products are less expensive than healthy foods. While it can appear that they are cheaper since they are all packaged together (ie: $2.50 for Hamburger Helper). They are not when you get down to crunching the numbers. (Here’s my own breakdown of what make-your-own Hamburger Helper would be.) I also have several different recipes like this one in my book!)
When you are shopping, stick with staples like beans and rice. For produce, buy inexpensive fruits and veggies such as bananas, carrots, and celery. These items are much easier on your budget than the more expensive produce and generally, they provide the same amount of nutrition. It’s important to choose healthy foods, especially when you have a very limited budget, as you might be able to save on future healthcare costs.
If you are looking for more ideas, here is a list of meals that you can make for under $1 per serving. Not all are healthy, but they might give you a bit more inspiration for cooking from scratch.
Make Your Own…Everything
Making your own products such as shampoos, soaps, etc, is usually more inexpensive than purchasing them from the store. (Unless you choose expensive ingredients/herbs.) Yet, most of the time people are off-put by the initial investment cost. Although a jar of coconut oil may make you 10+ different products, paying the $15 upfront cost may seem like a hardship if you normally spend $3 on a tube of lotion.
If you are unable to make the initial investment on the supplies, see if a friend or two will go in with you on the cost. Not only will your initial costs be less but you will have fun creating the products with your friends!
I have a huge list of DIY and “make your own” recipes right here on Little House Living!
Pay Nothing for Clothing Unless You Have To
When you have little ones, clothing costs can grow to astronomical levels. This is especially true if you have some rough and tumble little boys like I do! The most affordable option is to learn how to repair your clothing by mending hems, patching holes, and taking care of spots and stains right away. (FYI: I have a recipe for a Stain Remover in my book that is amazing!)
But as the kids are growing, it’s inevitable that you will have to buy new clothes for your little ones. Even if you don’t have little ones at home, there is only so much mending one can do before new clothing is necessary. You could pick up something on clearance or from a thrift store, or even buy used clothing online, but you can also get great clothing for free! Here’s how:
Have a clothing swap! Find friends that have little ones in similar sizes, and set up a clothing exchange where you can “shop” each other’s clothing. No money is exchanged, just much-needed clothing. You can find more info on setting up a clothing exchange here.
If you don’t have anyone to exchange clothing with, there is a still a simple way to get money for clothing. Have you tried selling things on a local Facebook “garage sale” group? All you need to do is list your un-needed clothing items for sale. Once they sell, you can turn right around and use the same money to buy the clothing that you need. It could be from the online sales or from actual rummage sales.
If you don’t currently need any clothing but it happens to be rummage sale season, it can still be a good idea to use this strategy. Buy clothing in the next sizes up for your kids. They will be wearing them before you know it! I always buy as many clothing items from rummage sales as possible and I almost always purchase clothing a year ahead. (ie: right now my oldest wears size 4/5 so we are purchasing size 6 when we find good items/deals)
A Few More Tips for Living on Next to Nothing…
I asked our readers on our LHL Facebook page what your best tips were for living on next to nothing. Here’s the great advice you had to share.
Eating Out, Convenience, Bills, and Upcycling
Not going out to eat too much or bringing home takeout or fast food. Not buying too many convenience foods. Making most from scratch. Growing a big garden, composting and having chickens. Learning to safely pressure can and water bath can. Buying canning jars used or with coupons and a sale. Making your own cleaning products and soaps. Not paying full price for anything and if you can’t afford it you can’t have it, NO credit cards. We never buy a vehicle on a loan, always cash. Paying ALL bills immediately when that check comes and then budgeting the rest carefully on paper. Never buying clothing new unless it is underwear or socks. Constantly checking free ads on craigslist and local sites. Upcycling anything you can. Wearing clothing more than once before washing. Timing showers or doing army style. Not needing every new gadget and tool that everyone else has. Learning to borrow from a neighbor or family when you need a tool. Living in a small home and not thinking bigger is always better. Learning to let go of excess stuff (my biggest struggle of all). – Heidi M.
When doing groceries, be precise. Only buy exactly what you need. Don’t get carried away at the shops. Take your time and make a list. – Naomi K.
Bartering and Thriftiness
Meal plan, use coupons, cut out all nonessentials, barter for things or services you need. I dog sat for my neighbor and she cut my kid’s hair. Make/bake as much as you can from scratch. Shop yard sales and thrift stores. – Stephanie K.
Happiness and Free Fun
Learn to be happy regardless of your situation. Stop trying to look for the next bigger better thing and prioritize. Needs/vs wants. Coupons don’t do it for us as we try to make as much from scratch (from food to cleaners). Learn skills! Utilize the local park systems and libraries and make our own fun. – Lacey M.
Paying Bills and DIY Maintenance
Always make sure there is enough for bills plus a little extra. I set aside money each pay period for bills. Even if it won’t be used that week. It made the week with all the big bills less painful. If you have a car do as much DIY maintenance as you can. Even going to a decent shop for oil changes might be an expense but those routine checks might catch a small problem before it gets big and way more expensive. Plus, your car lasts longer that way. – Susan C.
Grow Your Own
Buy only what is necessary and hopefully find it on sale. garden for your produce and then, can, dehydrate your own produce, cook from scratch.. and bake, cheaper then mixes.. use coupons for shopping in stores, spend time with your family having fun times, no need to spend lots of $$ on going to places when you can have game nights, at home. Make one trip to town for stocking up on items, saves on gas, and keeps you from splurging when you really do not NEED that item. – Carolyn S.
Attitude and Togetherness
Attitude makes all the difference. As a disabled single mom of 4, I try to show the kids the bonuses and good parts. We make delicious meals from scratch, always learning something new and it tastes much better than anything we could get in a restaurant. Clothes are bought at thrift stores and all my kids love that the stiffness is all out the clothes especially jeans! We are closer as a family. The simple fact of planning a menu together thrills them because everyone gets a choice. Same with sale ads. – Jaime G.
What are your best tips for living on next to nothing?