Are you asking yourself, How can I survive with very little income?
For most of my adult life, I was poor. I lived paycheck to paycheck on a measly gross income of $13,000 USD. How did I do that? Well, I often turned to credit cards to buy what I felt that I needed to survive. In hindsight, that course of action was a bad idea and has caused more trouble than it was worth. I would NOT recommend that!
If I had the chance to go back and speak to my younger self, here is what I would tell her about how to survive being poor. If you’re in a similar situation, which you probably are if you’re here, I hope that you find these tips helpful and that you can apply them to make your life better.
Having a roof over your head is one of the most basic necessities in life. It is also, easily, the biggest expense. If you’re in a big city, the cost of living is even higher. It can be very difficult to find an affordable apartment or home that doesn’t suck up half or more of what little money you have.
Consider moving to a cheaper city. It could be 30 minutes from where you’re currently living. It could be another state or province entirely! This will be the most impactful way to survive on a low income since cheaper housing usually means that utilities, transportation, and food will also be cheaper.
Of course, picking up your life and making such drastic changes is not as easy as it sounds and may not be an option. In that case, think about how else you can downsize. Rent a room instead of an entire apartment or switch from a 1 bedroom to a studio. Move-in with a friend or family member and offer to do maintenance or chores in exchange for a lower rent.
Cheap housing also means looking into ways to reduce your utility bills. This may seem like common sense but every penny counts when you’re broke!
- Take shorter showers.
- Use less hot water.
- Turn off the lights when you leave the room.
- Check for leaky faucets or running toilets.
- Check for insulation issues with doors and windows.
- Wear extra layers when you’re cold instead of maxing out the heater.
- Use an ice pack or wet towel to keep you cool during the summer.
When we spend time at home, we often take the little things for granted and don’t give them much thought. However, when you barely have any income, it’s important to take an inventory of your habits at home and see how it may be affecting your utility bills.
Car payments, gas, and maintenance all add up. When you’re broke, nothing beats good ol’ public transportation so ditch the car if you can. Lace-up your sneakers and walk or bike to your destination. You’ll have the opportunity to explore your city, get some exercise in, and help the environment.
If you absolutely have to drive, can you downsize your car to a cheaper or older model? When you do drive, can you consolidate your errands to stay close to home? When it comes down to it, a car is a luxury and you should be mindful of opportunities to cut costs here.
In order to deal with a low income, it’s important to remember to get back to the basics. We all have to eat, but eating well doesn’t necessarily mean grabbing that $5 fast food combo or allocating $20 for a piece of steak.
Take the time to explore the farmer’s markets and grocery stores in your area. Big chains or small mom and pop shops, prices and sales will be different. If apples are cheaper at Walmart, go to Walmart. If carrots are cheaper at the farmer’s market, go to the farmer’s market. You don’t have to be loyal to just one.
For an added twist, challenge yourself by purchasing only sale items, only whole foods, or taking inspiration from one of the items below. Get the creative juices flowing and see what kind of delicious budget-friendly meal that you can come up with. It’s super fun!
- Cook at home
- Stews and soups go a long way
- Ask for leftover bones or fish heads at a butcher shop
- Go vegetarian
- Swap meat for eggs
- Choose cheaper cuts of meat
- Get free condiments at fast food joints
- Before you go to the grocery store, make a shopping list and stick to it
- Always check for grocery coupons and promotions
You don’t need a lot of stuff and it’s entirely possible to live with just a few possessions. Minimalism is trendy and practical! When you do need clothes or household items, hone in on your powers of resourcefulness and creativity.
Put on that thinking cap and bust out your magnifying glass. When you’re broke, you have to be smart when you shop and learn how to spot a diamond in the rough.
Look at what people leave out on the curb. Desks, bookshelves, tables are often tossed aside. With a little sanding and a new coat of paint, they are as good as new!
Always be on the lookout for DIY opportunities. Take apart an old piece of furniture and use the pieces to make a new shelving unit or table.
If you have sewing skills, take a page out of Fraulein Maria’s playbook…that’s a Sound of Music reference if you didn’t know… and repurpose old fabric lying around the house.
Hunt for the best bargains at garage sales and local thrift stores. You can find clothes, shoes, accessories, toys, household items, and electronics all for a dirt-cheap price.
Find a way to reuse as much as you can. Buying things new is 100% not necessary.
Knowing how to survive being poor also means knowing how to take care of yourself. Setting aside some time each day to prioritize yourself has a variety of benefits. It allows you to recharge your batteries, reduce stress, and center your thoughts. Self-care is also a valuable step in preparation for improving your life and keeps you motivated to move forward.
Do something simple every day that will make you smile. It could be speaking to a loved one. It could be putting on your favorite song. It could be dancing around in your underwear. Finding those moments of happiness uplift the soul.
Clean yourself up and put on a favorite outfit. It may seem trivial, but looking the part will give you confidence and it will help to manifest what you want out of your day and your future.
Get some exercise. Working out gets the adrenaline flowing, increases energy, and boosts your mood. There are tons of free workouts on Youtube and a variety of free apps to choose from. You can always just go outside. Nature belongs to us all and can be the most powerful way to recharge, refocus, and feel good.
Find a way to express yourself without fear of judgment. Living in poverty can be isolating. You may feel too ashamed to talk about your fears, hopes, and dreams. But, your voice matters. Whether it be through writing or art, the best coping mechanism is to just let it all out. And, who knows, maybe you’ll end up making some money from it!
A part of self-care is also spending time on fun activities. Cheap living doesn’t mean that you have to completely sacrifice the fun stuff in order to survive being poor. Having an interesting activity to do every day is important for your physical and mental well-being. It can also be something educational that you focus on as a stepping stone to transforming your financial situation.
How do you enjoy life when you have no money, you ask? Here is a shortlist of some of my favorites:
- Explore the outdoors. Nature is always free.
- Visit the library for books, magazines, music, and surfing the Internet.
- Take note of free museum days, free zoo days, free festivals, and other free community events in your city.
- Volunteer. Putting out good into the world will come back to you ten-fold.
- Discover a new passion and sign up for free courses by Harvard, MIT, and UC Berkeley on edX. There are a ton of subjects to choose from and you can jumpstart a new career!
ASK FOR HELP
Don’t let your pride become an obstacle when you’re just trying to scrape by on your journey to a better life. The road ahead is way too daunting when you’re all alone. You are more susceptible to caving in and giving up.
Create meaningful relationships around you. Search out communities that can support you. The local farmer at the farmer’s market may be happy to give you the extra veggies at the end of the day. A support group can provide advice and education. Your friend may give you a free couch to crash on. The local church (even if you’re not religious) can give you a free meal.
When you build strong bridges, someone will always be on the other side to greet you. People are more generous than you think, so remember that it’s okay to ask for help.
If you are truly tired of your situation and are ready to figure out how to stop being poor, properly managing the little money that you have should be your number one goal.
Start a budget to track your spending habits and prioritize what’s important to your life so that you can make the best financial decisions going forward. Knowing where you’re starting from allows you to know where you’re going and how to get there.
Eliminate unnecessary spending habits. Pay down any debt and save money when you can. Remove any auto-debits to dodge potential overdraft fees and be careful with check cashing services. They usually charge extra fees that aren’t worth your precious money.
Unless there is a true emergency, avoid credits cards like the PLAGUE.
It’s not enough just to survive. You have to have the motivation and the perseverance to hold yourself accountable when it comes to your money if you want to improve your life.
DIVERSIFY YOUR INCOME
This is a no-brainer. If you have no money and you’re done with being broke, search for ways to diversify your income. Side hustles are the name of the game. Even people who have secure incomes are looking for that extra cash.
Resell items on Poshmark or Facebook Marketplace. Love crafting and DIY projects? Start an Etsy shop. Is there a recycling center nearby? Go collect the empty cans and bottles in your neighborhood. Take online surveys. Walk dogs on Rover or teach English on iTalki.
The world is truly your oyster. Even if you think you have no skills, you do! Even if you think there are no opportunities out there for someone like you, there are!
If you have no money, there is always a way to make some. Whether it’s a dollar here or $5 there, that’s money in your pocket to get you one step closer towards getting out of the hole.
At the heart of it all, in order to survive being poor and being able to stop being poor comes down to mindset.
The most valuable word for survival that will get you through the toughest times is HOPE.
Hope is the fundamental feeling, expectation, and desire for circumstances to change. Struggling to make ends meet is nothing to be ashamed about. You are the product of a circumstance and circumstances change. Life is all about transformation. We see it in nature. We see it in technology. We see it in ourselves.
Always remember that you are resilient. You can adapt and grow. Opportunity is everywhere so plan for the future and set a goal. It may be uncomfortable but that’s okay. When opportunities for great change are in front of us, we often confront discomfort or fear. But, we must persevere. We can’t let that stop us. With hope and determination, we can break through and live a life that we never thought was possible.