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Saving Money on a Low Income (Practical Tips from the Front Line)

low living income

Unfortunately, I have a lot of experience with this topic.

I started with no money, then I got some, then I got more, then I lost most of it…

I know the very real struggle of living on a low income and how challenging and de-motivating it can be.

(Of course, ‘low income’ is a relative term, depending on your country and circumstances).

What I found helpful during these low times was realistic and practical strategies.

Financial tips can quickly feel frustrating if they are too generic or unachievable.

So here are my 10 tips (learned the hard way) on how to save money with a low income while still having a life.

  1. Double Duty Outings
  2. Free Fun
  3. Change Your Diet
  4. Re-Purpose Items
  5. Staycations
  6. Shop in Your Wardrobe
  7. Share Costs
  8. Learn about Tax
  9. Grants, Schemes, Funding
  10. Re-Prioritise Your Entire Life

1. Double Duty Outings

Have you ever been in a position where you could not afford transport? 

Transport and vehicle costs can be significant issues for people on low incomes.

It’s not just the costs of vehicle ownership, but things like public transport access and costs and frequency, and even safety.

When confronted with this situation, I had to figure out how to save money fast!

I had to use transport sometimes, so I created the habit of ‘Double-Duty outings.’

Every time I was required to attend a critical appointment or had to go out – I would double up the purpose of the trip. 

In reality, it ended up being triple, quadruple purposes – like urgent appointments, groceries, paperwork, banking, haircuts, errands – all on the same day!

The planning involved was more than for a regular ‘errands’ day. I had to wait for the most urgent appointments and work around those. I then planned many other errands to complete that one day.

Activities like buying a required ingredient or getting a haircut became ‘luxuries.’ 

Everything revolved around how best to save money on my low income but still keep on top of life.

Home delivery services can lower transport costs for purchases. The added benefit of restricting my outings also reduced spontaneous or impulse purchases.

(For more transport cost reductions – see ‘sharing costs.’ )

2. Free Fun

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To prevent feeling out of control over my life while on a low income (or feeling too sorry for myself), injecting some ‘fun’ into everyday life became essential for my health.

So I researched all the free activities in my area and worked out how to save money while still ‘living’ and enjoying everyday activities and experiences.

At some point, I enjoyed the following free activities and events

  • Cultural festival in a nearby park with an evening concert
  • Annual holiday Parades
  • An art Exhibition feature from an overseas gallery
  • An international sporting event with free entry
  • A walk around a vineyard
  • Local Seasonal festivals (Chestnuts, Tulips, etc.)
  • Night Market
  • A friend’s Art gallery exhibition
  • An International film screening
  • A Travel Agent Exhibition for Vacations Deals
  • Beachside and Lakeside picnics
  • Festival firework displays
  • Airshow
  • Vintage car display
  • Tourist attractions (home and abroad)
  • National Parks
  • Walking and Hiking Trails
  • Cycling races
  • Speed boat events
  • Cooking lesson at a shopping venue

I have been to many more, but I’m sure you get the idea.

Of course, some of these events were not local and did incur a transport charge and sometimes food while at the event.

Scheduling a fun activity once a month helped me break the cycle of depriving myself of an exciting life whilst on a low income.

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3. Change your diet

Believe it or not, I actually became healthier on my low income!

Trying to save money forced me to assess all my expenses – including food and groceries.

I stopped “investing” in health ‘potions and lotions,’ plus expensive “extras” for the pantry.

Sure, I had to give up some organic and “premium” foods and ingredients. I just ate a simplified (boring!) diet.

The diet was less stressful for me as it involved little to no cooking and decision-making, was less expensive, and I could save an impressive amount on my low income as a result.

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Here are some practical tips to –

  • Track your dietary intake with a Food Journal
  • Consider diet alterations if suffering health ailments
  • Buy items in bulk (when it makes sense)
  • Non-processed foods are often less expensive
  • Cook more meals at home (if you have the skills or energy!)
  • Reduce non-essential ingredients
  • Reduce premium ingredients
4. Re-Purpose Items

As they say, ‘Necessity is the Mother of invention.’

When you don’t have the money, you are often forced to invent new ways of doing things.

Old cardboard boxes become new storage units; an old pair of pants becomes shorts for the upcoming summer season.

Depending on your needs, resources and creativity, re-purposing existing items is a clever way to save.

Saving money on a low income means spending less. So, if you need something, you can look around the house first and try and make treasure out of what looks like ‘trash.’

If you are practising ‘no-buy’ or ‘low-buy,’ re-purposing might be one way to make this approach work for your bottom line.

5. Staycations

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One day, as I sat in the sun in my backyard, I thought, ‘Why don’t I pretend I’m on vacation?

What stopped me from enjoying the same things at home as on holiday?

(Okay, possibly seeing the dirty laundry from the corner of my eye, but you know what I mean).

I didn’t invent staycations. Nevertheless, I was interested in re-creating the ‘vacation’ mindset, despite not changing my location.

So when I had spare time, I set up a space outside that looked (a little) like those exclusive private retreats (without all those annoying guests!).

I’m not sure it worked the same as a vacation, but my dogs thought it was great fun, and I think for a brief moment, I believed I was on a break.

Another tip is to be a tourist in your town.

I grew up in a ‘tourist town’ and, like many similar people, didn’t enjoy the range of sights and sounds right on my doorstep.

The other tip for whoever looks after the household work is to take a ‘vacation’ from daily chores.

Ask family to help (or just stop doing them for a few days!). 

6. Shop in your Wardrobe

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I often hear fashion experts mentioning this tip.

Apparently, we only wear a minority of the clothes in our wardrobes. 

We keep wearing our old favourites (hello, long-sleeved black top!) and disregard the rest.

To save money and manage life on a low income, clothes ‘shopping’ in your forgotten pieces might be one area where you can significantly cut back spending.

Instead, try a closet overhaul. Take it all out, and discover items you have not worn.

You can also re-purpose or re-design clothing items or discover new clothing combinations.

I have done this, and it works! I didn’t need to buy more jeans – I had five pairs already! Yes!

(Shopping in your wardrobe has the added benefit of not waiting in line for the fitting rooms and facing those horrific mirrors!).

7. Share Costs with Others

Another great way to save money on a low income is to spend less by borrowing or sharing items.

You might need some friendly neighbours or close friends. Local libraries or community resources might also be available.

I remember my mother taking us kids to a ‘Toy Library’ as small children where we could have a new toy every day

It saved money, and as usual, we played with the box, not the toy anyway!

Here are some other ways to save money by sharing or borrowing – 

  • Babysitting/Childminding
  • Transport/Vehicles
  • Household Items (lawnmower, washing machines etc)
  • Shared/ Group Vacations
  • Toys
  • Kitchen Items
  • Clothes
  • ‘One-off’ items (i.e. tent for camping)
  • Sporting items
  • Spare electronics (TVs, computers, phones etc.)

8. Learn about Taxes

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Yawn! Stay with me here…

When you are on a low income, you might not have the care factor for your tax. I get it.

However, if you can spare a little time to understand your tax situation (or consult a specialist such as an accountant), it may help you save money, which could mean more in your pocket.

An accountant, for example, may initially cost money, however, they may also save you overall by assisting you to access low-income tax offsets, health cost rebates, schemes or grant applications, and welfare or benefit offsets.

Understanding tax might also be pertinent when considering a new job opportunity or relocation.

Certain occupations may involve tax advantages.

A new locality usually means different tax laws or rebates available.

Taxes may differ depending on your family structure, so it’s worth the time to at least try to make sense of it!

I agree this tip to save money on a low income is not as exciting as shopping in your wardrobe or indulging in a week-long staycation. However, you might be thankful if you get more take-home pay or can access helpful tax-saving mechanisms.

9. Grants, Schemes, Funding

This tip could go either way – it could save you money, or it could frustrate you!

Perhaps many of you have tried this approach and met with red tape and bureaucratic mess.

This tip is ultimately about saving money. 

It might be helpful to be aware of the range of private or government and community money available to individuals on a low income.

You might be incurring costs for something you could potentially access for free.

Depending on your country, state or city, it might be worth researching to see if you are missing out on a social, health or economic scheme in your area.

If you have the energy, even if it’s not helpful now, it is still worth investigating for the future – Your situation may change. Such opportunities can elevate your living standard when the time is right.

  • Health schemes
  • Business grants
  • Community grants
  • Special-interest or minority-group schemes
  • Education or study grants
  • Tax deduction schemes
  • Medication or Pharmaceutical schemes
  • Women empowerment
  • Family grants
  • Property or Investment grants

A word about Welfare – Welfare (Social Security, government assistance, benefits etc.) is neither fun nor ideal for the vast majority of people reliant on such payments.

There is sometimes a stigma attached to this type of financial support, which I believe should not exist.

ANYONE can find themselves in trouble. 

Sadly, financial support remains a vital lifeline for so many people on a low income.

If you can access this help and need it, you should! 

10. Re-Prioritise Your Entire Life

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This point could have been first in this article. However, I have put it last for a reason.

If you struggle to save money on a low income, the flow-on effect might be you suffer from significant stress.

A life overhaul or ‘Total Reboot’ camp at this particular stage of your life is not necessarily suitable or possible.

Ultimately, this step is how I handled much of my ‘financial crisis.’ I simply had no choice but to significantly change almost every part of my life. 

Areas where a change in priorities might appear –

  • Assessing wants versus needs
  • A change in your Health Status
  • Family/relationship situation
  • New interests in life
  • Work/Job or income change
  • Mindset change – e.g. Minimalism
  • Stage of life considerations
  • A Relocation

Final Thoughts

Living on a low income is not easy – it may challenge every part of you.

Many people in this situation bravely try to save as well as take care of themselves and their responsibilities.

Some practical tips can go a long way to managing your finances while living a dignified life.

It may not be your life forever, but if you find yourself ‘stuck,’ changing how you do things (such as assessing spending and priorities) could help see you through what is hopefully a short-term situation.

Jennifer is the founder of womenPsyche and the author of the practical guidebook series ‘Personal Disaster.’ She is currently completing Volume 2 in the series which offers a simple system for anyone to handle a personal Financial Crisis.