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When Money Is Tight – Tips for Living on Next to Nothing

by Diane

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When money is tight, you need to be honest with yourself and then you need to get really creative.

Obviously, finding ways to increase your income are important, too but sometimes it’s just not possible to commit any extra time or energy to earning more money.

If that’s you, then, these simple tips might help you manage living on next to nothing.

When things are really tight here’s a plan of action:

  • Stop spending
  • Keep it simple
  • Make the most of your time
  • Plan ahead
  • Join a library
  • Build a pantry stockpile
  • Keep your heating and cooling costs down
  • Manage your accommodation costs
  • Save something every pay day.

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When Money is Tight: Tips for Living on Next to Nothing

tips for living on next to nothing when money is tight

Stop Spending

Apply the law of holes: if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

It’s the same with your budget. If you’re finding it hard to make ends meet, stop spending.

Ironically, when money is really tight, we’re often more likely to spend unnecessarily in order to feel better. It’s like eating cake though, spending on a treat feels good in the moment but then, inevitably, the guilt sets in.

You know you don’t need the, whatever it is, and you know you can’t afford it so you end up feeling worse than you did before buying your treat.

Don’t do it to yourself. Put the metaphorical fork down and step away from the table.

If you’re not sure where your money is going, start tracking your spending. Now. The best thing you can do is plug the money leaks as quickly as possible. You wont regret your efforts here. I promise you.

How to Live on Half Your Income

How to live on half your income - the no BS guide

How to live on half your income – the no ‘BS’ guide to help you reach your goal of saving 50% of your income.

Want more tips on living next to nothing? Read these articles: 

Keep It Simple

When money is really tight and you need to provide food, clothing and entertainment to your family; keep it simple.

There’s no need to cook complicated meals. You can make lots of filling and nourishing meals from a simple selection of basic ingredients and you don’t need to spend a fortune.

For example, soups, stews or spaghetti sauce. All can be made with cheap cuts of meat, root vegetables like carrots and potatoes and canned tomatoes.

The secret ingredient for these dishes is time. If you can make them the day before, they’ll be rich and flavourful when you serve them to your family. They also freeze really well.

Speaking of freezing well, here are some tasty ideas for stocking your freezer with healthy, home-cooked meals.

Simple entertainment can also create meaningful family time. You can:

  • Play board games
  • Or, charades
  • Take a ball to the park
  • Go for a walk
  • Tell stories around a camp fire (or candle).

You don’t need cable TV or even Netflix to relax and have fun.

Are you living on next to nothing? Need creative ideas for spending less and living more, even when money is tight? These tips will definitely help.
Are you living on next to nothing? Need creative ideas for spending less and living more, even when money is tight? These tips will definitely help.

50 Awesome Ways to Live Well on Less Money

50 ways to live well on less money

50 awesome ways you can live well even when you’re managing a tight budget.

Make the Most of Your Time

When you don’t have money available, you need to make the most of your time.

This can be a serious challenge if you’re working long hours and/or commuting long hours but the truth is, everything in life needs time, either your’s or someone else’s. If it’s someone else’s you’re going to need to pay for that time.

Think about that every time you pick up something that’s pre-prepared in any way; chopped, cooked or sliced. If money is really tight, you’ll need to forego the concept of convenience.

Cook from scratch with basic ingredients.

Leave the packets with separate individual serves on the shelf.

Plan Ahead

When times are tough, there’s a very real temptation to keep your eyes down and just concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other.

You can’t afford to do that.

You need to think about what’s ahead and plan for it.

Make sure you know when your bills are due and roughly how much they’ll be, then figure out how you’ll pay them.

If you’re getting by on a bare bones existence, most surprises aren’t happy ones. They’re usually unexpected bills. So, get a plan now and start working it as best you can.

The more aspects of your life you plan ahead of time, the less stressful life will be.

If you can remove some areas of uncertainty it will free up a lot of energy that would otherwise be burned up worrying about what might happen next.

Want more ideas on how to plan ahead? Read these articles:

Join a Library

Libraries are a real treasure trove of adventure, knowledge and connection.

Most libraries provide services that go beyond loaning books to the community. They often have special reading events like story-time for children, information nights, author encounters, knitting circles… You’d be surprised.

Along with books, you can also borrow ebooks, DVDs, audio books and magazines.

Plus, most libraries also provide internet connected computers for members to use – free.

And, becoming a member of your local library is free! If you’re not already a member, go join. Now.

Build a Pantry Stockpile

Depending on how tight the money is, try to add some basics to your pantry when you can get them at a good price.

Look for good deals on bulk purchases and buy in bulk when you can.

Always compare the cost per unit, weight or volume of the bulk version to the usual size.

Sometimes, bigger isn’t necessarily better and you’re actually better off buying the standard size.

Also, consider whether you’ll be able to use it all before it reaches its use by or best before date. There’s no value in buying bulk if you end up throwing half the product away.

If you can’t start your stockpile immediately, try to put a couple of dollars to the side each pay day to accumulate so you can buy sale items when you see them in the future.

A well stocked pantry provides choices beyond just-in-time logistics. It also saves you money, time and headaches in an emergency.

A well stocked pantry provides choices beyond just-in-time logistics. It also saves you money, time and headaches in an emergency.

Get all the details on how to Shop from Your Pantry.

Keep Your Heating and Cooling Costs Down

Keeping warm or cool can be a huge contributor to your general household costs.

Regardless of our financial situation, we should all be thinking about ways to keep our homes comfortable with minimal use of energy.

If you live in a very cold climate, make sure your windows and doors are sealed so the heat you’re paying your hard earned dollars for isn’t escaping under the door. Make use of throw blankets if you’re sitting on the sofa. Put on a sweater and thick socks, don’t turn up the thermostat.

If you live in a hot climate, keep the blinds or curtains closed if it’s going to be a really hot day.

If you can, find ways to keep the direct sunlight off the windows.

The best option for being comfortable in the heat (within reason) is to stay away from air-conditioning. If you can avoid air-conditioning you will acclimatise to the temperature. Easier said than done with air-conditioning in nearly every modern workplace.

If you must use air-conditioning adjust the temperature up. The optimal temperature is between 70 – 75 degrees Fahrenheit or about 22 degrees Celsius.

Manage Your Accommodation Costs

Finding cheaper accommodation can be trickier than it sounds. You need to balance the costs involved in moving with the savings made paying less rent.

Depending on your circumstances, you might be able to rent out a spare room or go live in a truck in the parking lot where you work, like Brandon. But, there’s always the possibility that you can’t make any changes. If that’s the case. Let it go for the time being but plan ahead, you might be able to make a change when the lease is due for renewal.

If you’re paying a mortgage you might be able to renegotiate either the interest rate or the length of your mortgage in order to reduce your current payments. It’s worth exploring with your bank. The worst that can happen is they say, no.

Save Something Every Pay Day

When you’re living on next to nothing, saving is probably the last thing on your mind. But, the simple act of choosing to put a couple of dollars to the side as savings can make a huge impact on your mindset and your confidence. Sure, you might have to give up something in order to do it but you’ll find the rewards are priceless.

Commit to saving a couple of dollars, at the very least, every time you’re paid. Put it in a safe place and make a promise to yourself that you wont use that money unless it’s an emergency. And, chocolate doesn’t count.

When Money is Tight

Having to count every penny is not fun. It’s stressful and can wreck your self esteem if you let it.

Remember this though, it is a shame you find yourself in your current situation but you should never feel ashamed. Anyone can find themselves in the same financial position through a job loss, marriage breakdown or prolonged illness.

If you need help, ask for it. There are government agencies and many, many charities that can give you a helping hand so, don’t suffer in silence. Take it one day at a time and make the most of the time, skills and money you have, right now.

You can do it.

For even more money saving tips, check out our Massive Money Saving Checklist. You can even download it and print it for reference.

Remember to follow Smart Money, Simple Life on Pinterest and Facebook for lots more great information you can use to live your best life, starting today!

What are your tips for when the money is tight and you’re living on next to nothing?

Money saving tips for when you're living on next to nothing.
Money saving tips for when you're living on next to nothing.

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Flora | Privatefinancecare - 4:24 pm

I read your 9 ideas happiness ebook as well, and I liked it, so having more here is great! I’m a big believer in voluntarily engaging effort and time in activities just because they’ve been shown to make people happy, so you can guess I really like your work:).


Mayo - 12:47 am

I live a long way from any shopping and 7 mi from anything else. I have to count the cost of gas and car usage whenever I need something. No I can’t move. I am happy living on the farm and love to garden even tho I am in my 80’s. Except for this year when hail wiped out my garden and lots of other stuff. But still have my house. Coffee maker quit so got out my plastic coffee pot that I paid .25 for at a garage sale. Actually have 3 of them. Thrift shops are great and I stop in to 1 about once a month. Also donate lots of unused stuff. Keep track of gas for my car. Never eat out and cook from scratch all the time. Coffee is cheaper at home. I manage to keep busy but also find that friends are passing on and I miss them.

Jenniffer - 4:45 am

I had to be in the hospital for a week due to pneumonia and had an $11, 000 hospital bill. Im so glad a person close to me told me about their financial aid program. They paid my bill in full because of my low income!! What a blessing for me! Also I am trying to not shop at the expensive grocery stores. I work at one and it doesnt really seem to be saving me money to shop there.

Diane Taber - 9:20 pm

We are just starting our debt free journey and don’t really know where to start or turn.and really need to get on a budget.and need to sort this asap as we have one wage to cover everything and need to try and get current with things.as as soon as possible.we want to know to get Dave Ramsey’s book as well so we can join to please.

Vanessa - 11:27 am

Thanks for sharing! This is very helpful. Resourcefulness is a skill!

Gina - 9:35 am

Thank you for sharing.

Gina - 9:32 am

Way to go!
I made calls earlier this year also. Worth every minute!

jane - 9:46 am

This is just a tip for those who like to shop on line and maybe want to save some money, and at the same time make a little back. There is Swagbucks, where if you shop through their tool bar, you get great savings, and earn gift cards as rewards for using their site. There are also grocery rebate sites like Ibotta, Savingsstar, and Checkout51, where you earn awesome rebates on things you already buy when you grocery shop! Walmart has a savings catcher on their web site, you enter your receipt # and if something you purchased is out there advertised for less you will get the savings back. When your savings reaches $5.00, you can cash it out onto a gift card! there are gift cards on Coke rewards also, so save those caps! I just started using these things, and I figure by the end of the month I should have at least $50.00 extra to use for my groceries! Thats nothing to sneeze at when times are tight!

Mona - 7:27 am

To the 2 people that texted about having very limited incomes. I would suggest they call around to food pantries and local churches. often u will be able to get basic food without being on SNAP or any other handout from the government.
Contact AARP as well and see(especially due to the age of one of the people that texted) if there is a way to get help. They do provide for help especially if u are 50 and older. They may also b able to give assistance w/ credit card issues and scams.
I have seen many people get medical help from contacting the hospital themselves to lower the bill,showing them financial need and even “gofundme “sites and others like it
Most states and counties have an office just for the elderly. Check your library or a phone book. Start making phone calls.
Dont lose hope . take some time everyday and see what’s available to u all is not lost!! Good luck.

Claude Lessard - 11:32 pm

Great point of view… Amazing article… Looking forward for more…

mel - 10:47 am

All good tips. Just want to let you know I live this every day. Unfortunately, my state doesn’t like poor people and refuses to acknowledge that we exist. I do not qualify for any help because I do not have dependents. Yet, I don’t make enough to qualify for health care or insurance either. I feel the shame very deeply as I’ve tried incredibly hard to pull myself up by the bootstraps to no avail.

Diane - 2:59 pm

Thank you for taking the time to comment, Mel.

I have never, and will never understand why the governments of some first world countries don’t believe it’s their responsibility to help the poor and vulnerable! I’m very glad to live in a country that, while not perfect, still makes its citizens a priority.

If the government wont help, are there charities you can go to for help?

I wish you the best of luck Mel!

Deborah Morgan - 3:06 am

I am a senior citizen. I live alone and my total income is $1113. I have credit card debt from having to put disposable items on credit (food, toiletries, etc.). I live in a 550 sq. ft., very old house. Three days after I receive my monthly deposit, I am down to about $60 to last the rest of the month. It is a viscous cycle. I don’t know where to start. Any suggestions?

Leis - 10:38 pm

Hi Deborah, you really seem to be living on next to nothing, and that must be very tough. Maybe the best thing you can do is to pay down your credit card debt as much as you can, even if it means living on potatoes and beans for the month just to put $10 towards your debt. When it’s paid off you won’t be paying extra interest it brings with it. I am not a financial expert by any means but once you get rid of those credit payments at least you will have some extra free cash. Also, if you have access to the Internet there are websites where you can do paid surveys. It might take a while to accumulate some money but I’ve been managing about $30 in my bank account every 2 months or so. If you could get that little bit extra it really might help you. Good luck.

Jean - 5:26 am

Deborah- Hi- sorry to hear that you are struggling-Please contact The Consumer Credit Counseling Service- (not any other companies by other names) The service is free. They negotiate with credit card companies to reduce your total debt-in your case they may forgive it almost completely.

Surely you qualify for food stamps- As far as food goes- beans and rice make a complete protein – add cabbage and onions (cheap), bread and peanut butter- you will stay full and healthy

If you have medical bills, so long as you send something $10-25 a month they will leave you alone.

God Bless You

Richard at DIY Money Mastery - 8:33 pm

Some great advice here. One thing I’d add is that you should learn to play frugality like a game. I have a friend who recently got a smart meter for her property. She and I regularly exchange messages about the lowest power bill we’ve had, how much it costs to have a roast dinner, and how much our hot water cost over the last week. It’s almost become a competition. This is the kind of thing that is actually genuinely fun, and is not only free, it actually saves money.

Diane - 10:45 am

Thanks Richard! Yes, I’ve found making a game of it takes the pain out of any sacrifices you might be making.

I used to track my power usage weekly but haven’t done it for a while. Time to start again!

Casady - 2:27 am

Another helpful tip is to have a garage sale! I seriously downsized my belongings, because we needed the cash for bills. If you have a bunch of items or clothes laying around that you don’t use, it never hurts to try and sell it. One person’s trash is another’s treasure! I often use the online garage sale sites, and I highly recommend them if you happen to have a camera and internet access. It freed up some space in my small home and I didn’t even miss the items. Sometimes it’s hard to let go of things, but I’m glad I did!

Diane - 10:52 am

I *really* need to have a garage sale but every time I think I’m going to do it, I chicken out.

I know the extra $$ would be helpful but I usually end up taking stuff to the charity shop instead.

S - 12:53 am

Hello ,im from Germany.don’t think coupons work here 🙁

Denise - 12:42 pm

Everything is a choice. We chose a large house with a large yard. Septic system (free) and a well (minor expense). Plenty of room for a shed full of laying hens. Plenty of room for our multi-generational family, our myriad of hobbies, and unlimited parking. Firewood cuts the heating bill to nothing. Veggie garden, homebrew wine and beer, hunting, and homemade laundry detergent leaves only toilet paper, olive oil, crackers and cheese as our major expenses. A few extra people doesn’t break the bank when they chip in for food, fun, and maybe a little cash. But really, we’d still heat the house even if they didn’t live here. The more the merrier in the country.

Laura - 5:39 am

About the reference to government agencies that help – besides the obvious welfare program, there is also Community Action. This is a national program that has resources for low income individuals including budget coaching, homeless prevention, adult education, computer classes, and job development.

Diane - 6:57 am

Thank you for sharing that info, Laura.

SingedWings - 9:49 am

Using coupons and cash back apps is also an awesome way to help stretch a budget.

Diane - 6:43 pm

Very true. If you have access to them, definitely use them.

Rosemary Campbell - 9:11 pm

I would like to offer this formula for a fortified flour I use which is healthier than white, its delicious, saves me money and everyone says its the best home baked bread they have ever eaten.
5 pounds of unbleached flour I use Kroger store brand. To that add one cup raw wheat germ and one cup raw wheat bran along with a cup of dark whole wheat flour. This makes a bread that is better than plain white, but still looks like white. Even people who won’t eat anything but white won’t know the difference. Also works in coolies, muffins and many other things just like white.

Diane - 7:08 am

I often ‘fortify’ my white bread with oat bran. Hard to see and impossible to taste.

Rosemary Campbell - 9:02 pm

I loved the article. Made me feel good to know I am already following this good advice. At my age of 79 I know shopping for budget food and knowing how to cook healthy meals is the secret to managing the budget and being healthier.
To save money and still cook healthy meals quite often I call myself vegeterian and cut out the expensive cuts of meat and this what many people are doing anyway who want to be healthy. Also learn to mix your own whole grain flours and make your own breads, its not only fun but could be a way for some to make extra money if you have the time since many states now allow some foods to be sold from a home business.

Diane - 7:07 am

That’s a great suggestion Rosemary.

Just be sure to check your local by-laws and regulations. Where I live, you have to have a certified commercial kitchen. 🙁

But… there’s always bartering!

Julie O'Bryan - 1:48 am

Great article!!!! Thank you!!!

Diane - 8:02 am

Thank you! 🙂

Sharon - 12:26 am

Best $$ saving help this past year was to call all my monthly accounts to see if there was a way to reduce payments. Shopped auto insurance for better price saved $400 for year.
Called internet provider & reduced monthly bill by $20.

Phone service monthly bill went up & called to disconnect.
Was offered a “special rate deal going on right now!” Lowered the monthly payments.

Doesn’t always work but if you are polite when asking & thanking the operator for their help you might be surprised.
Never hurts to ask….

Diane - 7:52 am

True it never hurts to ask and it always pays to be polite. I managed to reduce my house and contents insurance by a sizable amount by calling and asking.

Sharon - 12:01 am

Lower your winter heating bill & still be comfortable in your home by wearing a lightweight knit cap The greatest loss of body heat is from your head. If you get the right fit you forget it is on your head. Mine are ladies sock cap.
Look it up. Works so good ya might feel too warm.

Thanks for the cost saving tips.

Diane - 7:50 am

Luckily it never gets that cold here but it’s an important tip. It also reminds me of something my grandmother always said, “if your feet are cold, put on a hat”. 🙂

Suzanne - 12:26 pm

One big expense for us has been our City bill- electric, gas, trash pickup, etc. Because our house is quite old, the insulation is poor, there’s no central heat or a/c, and there are small gaps around the doors and windows. A simple way we’ve cut down on heating is with what we call ‘window snakes’. I sewed tubes of inexpensive muslin, about eight inches in diameter, and filled it with the cheapest rice I could find. I then laid them across the window sills and at the bottom of doorways, blocking some of the draft. That, along with unplugging most of the electronics at night, has brought down our monthly bill a few dollars for the past couple of months. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do, lol!!

Diane - 7:51 am

I live in an old house, too and those ‘snakes’ can make a huge difference when you’re trying to keep a room warm.

Lori - 3:42 am

Walk, or ride a bike. A few benefits include saving on gas, it’s healthier and the scenery can bring added enjoyment during hard times.

Diane - 7:57 am

Yes! Excellent point.

Holly@ClubThrifty - 12:55 am

The area we can save the most in is usually food. Not wasting it – and cooking cheap and easy meals – goes a long way in our house!

Diane - 7:22 am

Yes. Not wasting it is HUGE!


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