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Living on next to nothing can seem impossible these days, but is it really? These simple tips can help you learn how to live within your budget, even when it’s limited.
Simple Tips for Living on Next to Nothing
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 inspirational stories for someone. When you read the story, most of the time, the family gets 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 don’t live where you can make $100k a year?
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 (in 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 so we could 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 cheap camper) to get us back on our feet.
Are you 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 (i.e.: $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.)
When you are grocery 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 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 and may be able to skip days from work due to illness.
Tip: Looking for more meal ideas? Here is a list of meals that you can make for under $1 per serving. Not all of them 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 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 bottle of lotion.
It also might help to make your own products that use the same or similar ingredients.
If you are unable to make the initial investment in 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!
Tip: Check out this huge list of DIY recipes to get started making your own products.
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 me! 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, you can only do so much mending 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 with 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.
Tip: You can learn more about setting up a clothing exchange in this post on Organizing a Clothes Swap.
If you don’t have anyone to exchange clothing with, there is 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 unneeded clothing items for sale. Once they sell, you can turn around and use the same money to buy the clothing you need. It could be from 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. (i.e.: 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 Little House Living readers to share their best tips for how to live on almost nothing. Here’s the great advice you had to share!
Tip: Join our Simple and Frugal Living group on Facebook and join in on the conversation!
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.
Tip: Letting go of excess stuff? Learn How to Declutter Sentimental Items Successfully
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.
Tip: Learn more about Bartering in this post Learning How to Barter Successfully
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.
Tip: Looking for homemade cleaning products? Check out these 9 DIY Recipes For Homemade Cleaners That Actually Work
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 possible. 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 bigger and 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. Grow your own produce, and then can and dehydrate what you’ve grown. Cook from scratch.. and bake. It’s cheaper than mixes. Use coupons for shopping in stores. Spend time with your family and have fun times; there is no need to spend lots of $$ on going to places where you can have game nights at home. Make one trip to town to stock up on items, save on gas, and keep yourself 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 that 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 of 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.
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What are your best tips for living on next to nothing?
Merissa has been blogging about and living the simple life since 2009 and has internationally published 2 books on the topic. You can read about Merissa’s journey from penniless to freedom on the About Page. You can send her a message any time from the Contact Page.
This post on Simple Tips for Living on Next to Nothing was originally published on Little House Living in August 2017. It has been updated as of September 2023.