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Living on one income can be tough, especially if you were previously used to having multiple incomes in your household. But just because it’s tough doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
To help you navigate this period in your life, we’ve researched some of the best ways to live frugally on one income. Many of these tips are ones I successfully used myself to survive several months of unpaid family leave.
And even if you are not struggling to live frugally on one income, these tips can still help you to improve your overall financial situation.
- How to Live Frugally
- Can You Plan Ahead?
- How Can You Save Money?
- How Can You Generate More Income
- Additional Ideas for Frugal Living
How to Live Frugally
When learning how to live frugally, there are three main aspects to consider: time, income, and expenses.
How much income do you need? How can you decrease expenses? How many months/years do you need to live frugally?
Not everyone lives frugally for the same reasons. Some do it by choice and others by necessity.
As we review the best tips and tricks for living frugally, we’ll approach them with the mindset of how to manage your time, your expenses, and your income.
Can You Plan Ahead?
Not all situations that require you to live frugally on one income are sudden or unexpected. For instance, pregnancy/adoption, an ailing relative, a divorce, etc. are all situations that give you some time to plan ahead for your frugal future.
1. Talk with Your Family
When creating a plan for navigating a single income source, an important first step is talking to your family.
If you (or your spouse) are pregnant, start talking now about what expenses you’ll need to pay, who is taking time off work, and how long you expect to live on one income.
If you have a sick or disabled family member that you will be caring for full-time in the near future, try talking with that family member about their finances. And talk with your other family members (i.e., siblings) to see if they are willing to chip in on expenses.
It’s also important to talk to the other members of your household, including your children. Explaining to them ahead of time that there will be changes to your family finances can help avoid spending arguments later.
2. Talk to Your Boss
The second person on your list to talk to should be your boss. You might be surprised at how accommodating your workplace can be.
Perhaps there is the opportunity for short-term disability pay or paid leave. Even if the leave is not paid, most companies let you use up your accrued PTO (paid time off) as part of the leave, which can give you at least a few extra paychecks.
Some companies may even be able to work around your new schedule. Letting you work from home, work a flexible schedule, or switch to part-time work.
3. Create a Budget
It goes without saying that the most critical part of planning ahead and surviving on one income is to create a detailed budget.
First, you’ll need to figure out what your current spending habits are. How much income do you have versus your expenses?
Next, you’ll need to determine what your future expenses and future income look like.
Using these figures, you can then begin crafting a new budget and make adjustments as necessary.
If you already have a budget, great, you’re in the proactive one-third of the U.S. population! This will make updating/tweaking your budget a lot easier.
4. Build up Your Savings
Once you have a budget in place, another great move is to start building up your savings. In fact, this is a great step to take even if you don’t have any expectations of needing to live frugally.
Most experts recommend that you have at least 3 to 6 months worth of household expenses stashed away in your savings. Depending on how long you expect to live on one income, you may need to adjust your savings goals accordingly.
The more money that you are able to save up now, the less stress there is when your household drops down to one income.
5. Prepay Bills
If you have the option, prepaying bills is another good way to reduce future stress. This is especially useful for medical bills. For instance, most hospitals and insurance providers can give you estimates for medical procedures ahead of time.
The average birth ranges in cost from $4k (with insurance) to $50k without insurance. And back surgery can cost as little as $200 all the way up to $150,000! Considering these high figures, it makes sense to plan ahead.
And many hospitals and doctors allow you to prepay the bill and/or set up a payment plan ahead of time.
It isn’t only medical bills you can prepay either. For instance, many utility providers, insurance companies, and landlords allow you to prepay your bills several months in advance.
6. Buy Insurance
It might seem counterintuitive to take on a new expense when you are planning for a frugal future, but it can help you out in the long term.
For instance, if you and your spouse are planning on starting a family soon, look into short-term disability insurance now. This insurance can pay you while you are on family leave, but only if you purchase it before you get pregnant.
It is also important to consider purchasing insurance on the family member who will be the primary breadwinner. Living frugally on one income is tough enough, just imagine how much more difficult it would be to survive if you lose that income.
7. Pay Down Debt
If you have surplus income now, you might be tempted to throw it all into savings for later. But you can also help your future self better by paying down your debt.
Each debt that you knock out now is one less expense you’ll have in the future.
Not only will you not have that debt payment in the future, but by paying it off now, you’ll save money on future interest charges.
For example, let’s say you have a credit card with a $2000 balance and an interest rate of 18.99%. If you only paid the $50 monthly minimum, it would take you 5+ years to pay off the card with interest charges totaling $1,192.18.
If, instead, you made a monthly payment of $250, you’d pay off the debt in 9 months, and it would only cost you $155.77 in interest charges. That is a savings of more than $1000!
8. Get Healthy
Life likes to throw us unexpected curveballs, especially when we can’t afford them.
One way to help protect yourself is to improve your health.
Go to the doctor for an annual checkup. This can help you catch potential issues early. The same with the dentist and even the vet for your fur-babies.
You can also work on exercising more, eating better, and anything else that is needed to get you healthier.
While being healthy doesn’t guarantee you’ll avoid medical issues, it can significantly decrease potential medical costs, food costs, insurance costs, and more.
9. Buy in Bulk
Similar to prepaying your bills, you can also reduce future expenses by buying in bulk.
For instance, stock up on diapers before your baby arrives or bulk buy deodorant to reduce the individual cost. You can even buy perishable food in bulk and freeze it or use it to prepare meals ahead of time and freeze them for simple meal prep later.
While this is still a money-saving technique you can use when living frugally on one income, it can sometimes be difficult to come up with the money needed to buy an item in bulk.
For instance, $100 for 3 months’ worth of diapers might be cheaper than $10/week for the next 12 weeks, but it still requires you to come up with $100 instead of $10.
How Can You Save Money?
When you are trying to live frugally on one income, one of the best ways to help out your budget is to find unique ways to cut your expenses. Whether saving money at the grocery store or buying used, there are plenty of ways to slash your expenses.
10. Clip Coupons
Never pay full price for items at the grocery store. There are coupons available for nearly every product, from fruits and veggies to shampoo and dog food.
Check to see if your grocery store offers a coupon clipping app or rewards program. This is where you can score discounts on meat and produce.
Clipping physical coupons like those in the Sunday paper usually offers you discounts on pantry staples and toiletries.
For even more tips on how to save at the grocery store, check out our article on Frugal Grocery Shopping Tips.
11. Join Rewards Programs
Another way to save at the grocery store, as well as other stores, is to use a rewards program.
For grocery shopping, apps/websites like Ibotta let you earn cashback on your purchases. This could be a 10-cent rebate on a dozen eggs or $5 back on name-brand dog food.
Personally, I love the “any item” rebates. Especially when I can stack them with a brand-name reward. For instance, 10 cents back on any brand of coffee plus $1.50 back on a bag of Peet’s coffee.
There are also specific brands/products that offer rewards programs. For instance, if you buy diapers, the Pampers app allows you to earn free diapers and other rewards.
Joining store rewards programs are also helpful. And not just at grocery stores either. Stores like Kohls, Buy Buy Baby, and Walgreens all offer rewards programs that can get you discounts, cashback, and special offers.
12. Plan Your Meals
Another way to save money on food costs is to plan your meals ahead of time.
By planning out your meals for the week, you can craft a concise grocery list that includes everything you need and nothing you don’t. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve purchased produce only to let it spoil because I didn’t plan ahead.
And, by having your meals planned out like this, you may be less tempted to purchase take-out midweek.
Just make sure you include some easy meals in your weekly plan. There are always going to be days where you run out of time/energy when dinner time comes around.
13. Buy Generic
Yes, sometimes there is a difference between brand name and store brand. For instance, you will not convince me to drink off-brand Dr. Pepper.
That said, many products don’t have significant differences in taste or function when you buy generic.
And that generic item usually comes with significant cost savings over the name-brand product.
Buying a generic/store-brand extends well past the grocery store.
For instance, store or in-house brands of clothing are much cheaper and often just as stylish as designer brands. The same applies to electronics, appliances, pet products, furniture, and just about everything else.
Just do your research first and make sure the item comes from a reputable company. Buying off-brand should not mean sacrificing on quality.
14. Buy Used
There is almost no limit to the items you can buy used. From large and expensive items like vehicles and furniture to smaller, cheaper items like clothes and books.
And buying used offers significant savings over buying new. For instance even the nicest of used tools, still sell for at least 20% less than brand new. And many used tools can be bought at even more significant savings.
There are lots of apps, websites, and stores specializing in selling used items. Here are just a few.
15. Shop Sales
Even when you are trying to live frugally, there are going to be items that you need to purchase. And buying used isn’t always an option.
This is when shopping sales can be beneficial. The goal is always to avoid paying full price for an item if you can avoid it.
Use the newspaper and check online for announcements on sales. And when you are in store, look for the sale and discount racks/bins to save big bucks on your shopping trip.
16. Shop Insurance Rates
One of the easiest bills to save money on is your insurance.
This is done most frequently with home and auto insurance. It is actually recommended that you shop your insurance rates at least once a year.
That’s not saying that you need to switch providers every year, just that you should check to see if you are still getting the best rate.
It isn’t just home and auto insurance you can save on either. Look at life insurance plans to see if you can switch companies or change your coverages.
And check with your medical insurance provider/employer to see if there are cheaper plans available.
17. Shop Utility and Service Providers
The most significant household expense outside of your rent/mortgage is usually your utility bills.
This can include electric, gas, phone, internet, cable, etc.
Most of the companies that provide these services offer you options for lowering your monthly bill.
This can include average billing, signing a contract, or even simply negotiating a lower price.
And if you can’t lower your bill with an existing company, you can always pursue one of their competitors. Not only can you score a lower price doing this, but you can also gain other benefits like free devices, additional services, cashback promotions, and more.
This is a tried and true method of reducing your transportation costs. And in today’s economy, with gas prices and vehicle prices soaring, it is more useful than ever.
Let’s say you have a 20-mile one-way commute to work. And your vehicle averages 25 miles to the gallon. In a 5 day workweek, that will cost you $32 in gas (at $4/gallon). If you carpool just 2 days a week, this will save you $12.80.
That’s over $50 a month in savings. Or over $600 in one year.
Carpooling isn’t just for work anymore either. You can also carpool to doctor’s appointments, the grocery store, outings with friends, and more.
19. Embrace Energy Savings
I’m not just talking about turning off your lights and shutting off the water here. There are a lot of steps you can take to reduce your energy usage and save money at the same time.
The easiest is adjusting your thermostat. Lowering/raising the temperature can save you a significant chunk of change on your utility bill. And don’t forget about maintenance. It is amazing how much your system’s performance can improve after a simple tune-up.
If you have to replace an appliance, purchasing an energy-saving alternative can be a good move. According to Energy Star, switching to energy-saving appliances can save you around $450/year on your energy bills.
Other energy-saving steps you can take include:
- Changing light bulbs
- Adding insulation to your walls and/or attic
- Installing energy-efficient windows
- Switching to a smart thermostat
- Changing the sleep setting on your computer(s)
20. Cut Items from Your Budget
One of the most basic steps in reducing your costs is to look at what items you can cut from your budget.
If you don’t already have a budget, please create one!
When evaluating your budget, don’t just look at the most expensive line items; look at the cheaper items too.
For instance, you can’t stop paying rent, but you can reduce housing costs if you cut down on other expenses like lawn care, ring doorbells, and trash services.
If you are paying for internet, cable, and multiple streaming services, you can probably cut several of these. For example, most streaming services offer the same shows and movies you get through cable, making cable unnecessary.
The Internet gives you access to a lot of free media resources, making cable as well as many subscription services redundant.
Even if you can’t completely cut an item from your budget, you can still work on lowering that line item’s cost. I.E., decreasing transportation costs by carpooling or negotiating with your service provider to lower your bill..
One of the more drastic options for saving money is to move.
While moving can be a costly proposition, the choice can end up being better for your budget in the long run.
For instance, if your household size has decreased, you can consider downsizing. Not only will the smaller space cost you less in rent/mortgage, it can also save you money on utilities, maintenance, and cleaning costs.
And downsizing isn’t the only way to save money by moving.
- Moving closer to work – save money on transportation costs
- Moving out of town – save money on housing costs
- Moving out of state – to get a better-paying job
- Moving in with a relative – to split living costs
- Moving into a newer place – save money on maintenance and energy costs
How Can You Generate More Income
If you’re struggling with making ends meet on just one income, it might be time to pursue ways to generate more household income.
22. Ask for A Raise
This is one of the easiest and most often skipped methods for generating more income.
Yes, the conversation can be uncomfortable, but it can also be very enlightening.
But don’t just demand higher pay. Instead, go into the meeting backed with facts. For instance, how have you helped the company make or save money in the last 6 months?
Also, have a plan or goals set out for further achievement and future raises.
And to steal some advice from my father, ask for twice as much as you’re willing to settle for (within reason). This gives you room to negotiate.
Plus, if your employer quickly agrees to the higher figure, then you are in an even better financial situation.
If your boss/employer is unreceptive to your request, it can still be a learning experience. You can get a feel for how your boss views your contributions and whether your career might be at a dead end with this company.
23. Work More Hours
This one only works if your income is measured in hours or another similar metric (i.e., by completed project).
Again, this one should be discussed with your boss first, but if they approve, this can be a quick way to generate a little extra income every week.
Overtime generally pays time-and-a-half while working holidays might net you 2x pay. For instance, let’s say you make $15/hour. At 1 ½ pay, you’d make $22.50/hour and at 2x pay, you’d bring in $30/hour.
Just don’t work so many hours that you put your physical or mental health at risk.
24. Clean Out Your Closet
If you’re anything like me, your closet is packed with things you rarely use, or items you aren’t quite ready to throw out yet.
But this unused stuff could have huge value to someone else. Value that they’d be willing to pay for.
Shoes, clothes, books, toys, and even broken items can all have value. And there is no shortage of websites and apps catering to selling your old stuff.
Books, movies, and video games can be sold in person at stores like Half-Priced Books and GameStop.
Used electronics do best on Amazon or Decluttr.
And general household items can be sold through OfferUp, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and other such sites.
25. Return Items
Many stores are getting very restrictive on return policies, but that doesn’t mean the option isn’t worth pursuing.
If you are cleaning out your closet and find an item still in its package or with tags, try returning it to the store you purchased it from. The worst that can happen is they say no. You can always try selling the item if they won’t take it back.
And if they say yes, now you have a little extra cash. If the store only provides gift cards/in-store credit, this can help you save money on your next purchase. Or you can sell that gift card online for cash.
26. Sell Your Car
If your single-income situation means that your household has an extra vehicle that doesn’t get much use, consider selling it.
If the market is good, you can actually net a profit even after paying off the car loan (if you have one). To get an idea what your vehicle might be worth, check with sites like KellyBlueBook.com to get an estimate.
If you can’t sell the car but aren’t going to use it for a while, then consider adjusting your insurance coverage to save some money.
27. Rent Your Stuff Out
As an alternative to cleaning out your closet and selling stuff, you can instead make money by renting your stuff out.
Probably the easiest thing to rent out is your vehicle. You can do this through sites like Turo.
You can also rent out other types of vehicles like boats, campers, and trailers. Outdoorsy is a great resource to use if you are trying to rent out a camper.
But it’s not just vehicles you can rent out. If you have specialized sports or photography equipment, rent it out with Fat Llama.
You can even rent out your baby stuff using BabyQuip.
28. Get a Part-Time Job
The quickest way to generate more income is to get a job. If full-time isn’t an option, obtaining a part-time job can be a potential solution.
- If you already have a full-time job, you can take on a second part-time job. Only if it is mentally and physically feasible to do so.
- If you have commitments or health issues that prevent you from working full-time, the short hours of a part-time job may be a good fit.
- If you have teenaged children, you can encourage them to get a part-time job or summer job to help pay for their expenses (car insurance, gas, etc.) and/or save up for college.
29. Take Up a Side Hustle
Sometimes, starting a new job, even just a part-time one, isn’t feasible. Perhaps you are disabled or need to provide full-time care for a family member.
This is where starting a side hustle might be a better pursuit. Side hustles are often flexible and a few can even be accomplished from the comfort of your home.
If you have a dependable vehicle, you can consider trying out a delivery service like
- Amazon Flex
Many of these delivery services have no limitations on who you can bring with you. So if you have an elderly relative or small child, you can bring them along.
You can also drive people around using a service like Uber or Lyft, but you can’t take personal passengers (i.e., family members) with you.
Other gig-work opportunities worth considering include:
- Walking dogs with Rover
- Assemble furniture with TaskRabbit
- Design book covers on Fiverr
- Sell photos on Shutterstock
30. Become a Blogger/Influencer
If you are a personable person, internet savvy, creative, and good with social media, another potential path towards generating income is to become a content creator.
This can be in the form of starting your own blog, creating a website, starting a YouTube channel, or becoming an influencer (TikTok, Twitter, etc.).
Generating income from these activities will not happen overnight as it requires you to build up a sizable enough audience that advertisers want to work with you. But with a little time and dedication, not only can you make money, but you can actually establish a decent income.
31. Adjust Your Tax Withholding
Another often overlooked method for generating more income now is to adjust your tax withholding.
This can include changing your filing status ( i.e., married to unmarried) or increasing your number of dependents.
Doing this ahead of tax filing gets you more money in your pocket now to spend on your needs instead of waiting around for tax return season.
Additional Ideas for Frugal Living
32. Barter Goods/Services
While cash is king, there is still room in today’s society for bartering. This can be trading one item for a different item or trading a service for an item/service.
For instance, let’s say you have some moving boxes you no longer need and your neighbor is moving. And this neighbor has a ladder they no longer use that could really help you with household maintenance.
It’s time to make a trade!
You can also barter services in the same way. Perhaps you can offer photography services in exchange for lawn care services. Or a ride to the airport in exchange for dog walking.
You can also get with parents in your area to exchange babysitting services. I.E., I’ll watch your kids Tuesday afternoon if you watch mine on Thursday morning.
33. Use Rewards Credit Cards
If you are already paying for your daily needs and bills with a credit card(s), then look into maximizing the rewards you earn.
Each credit card has one or more rewards earning categories. Some offer a flat cashback percentage on all purchases, while others offer a 5x (or more) rewards rate on special categories like gas, travel, groceries, etc.
If your credit card earns cash back, you can deposit this money directly into your checking account to get a little boost to that month’s budget.
If your card earns rewards, then you’ll need to determine the best value for redeeming these rewards.
34. Refresh/Repurpose Your Old Stuff
There will always be old used items in your house that you no longer use and also are resellable. But don’t throw them in the trash just yet.
Oftentimes a fresh coat of paint can turn a worthless item into a sellable one. I.E., an end table stained with coffee could become a new piece with a little sanding and painting/staining.
Or breaking down an old appliance or electronic can net you some cash in selling the parts. My husband often breaks down our old appliances and sells the parts on eBay.
You can also find new uses for old items. Like turning an old wine rack into a plant holder or craft center.
35. Get Crafty
Crafts are a great way to entertain yourself (and your children) for free, but they have other benefits as well.
They can help you to spruce up old items which you can then repurpose or resell.
You can also create crafts that you sell directly. I.E., Christmas wreaths, jewelry, sweaters, etc.
And a handmade craft can make an excellent gift (birthday, anniversary, Christmas, etc), saving you money and allowing you to give memorable gifts.
36. Go to the Library
The library gives you access to books, movies, and other media, and membership is often free.
Libraries also offer computers and printers to use, which can save you money on purchasing and maintaining these items yourself.
Libraries are also good resources for activities. They often host reading groups for young children and book clubs for adults.
Not only can you utilize the library for free activities and internet access, but the resources can also help you learn new skills that help you build savings and reach your income goals.
37. Make Gifts
Giving gifts can quickly get expensive. The average family spends nearly $1000 at Christma!. So why not skip the department store this year, and give handmade gifts instead?
While some wishlist items can’t be crafted at home (i.e., electronics), many can.
You can take up sewing or crocheting to hand make clothes, scarfs, mittens, etc.
If you can weld or engrave, this can be another way to create great personalized gifts.
If you are excellent at baking, you can bake cookies, pies, and other tasty treats to give away to family and friends. The same goes for cooking. Whip up some homemade salsas, casseroles, or meat pies to give away.
In fact, every year at Christmas, I make up a huge batch of tamales and give them as gifts to family and friends. And they are always a huge hit!
38. Plant a Garden or Raise Chickens
Planting a garden can be a great way to save money on your groceries.
Aside for the minimal cost of seeds and perhaps some canning/freezing supplies, a garden will cost you more time and effort than money. And you can sell any excess you have at a farmer’s market.
You can also build a coop and raise chickens, ducks, or other kinds of egg-laying fowls. You can even repurpose items you already have at home to build your coop. And now you have infinite access to free eggs and meat.
There are all sorts of other animals you can raise as well, goats, cows, pigs, etc., but chickens often have the smallest startup and maintenance cost.
If you are confined to a small space, you can still plant an herb garden. Or get a fish tank and raise fry (that’s baby fish) and sell them back to the pet store. You can even combine the indoor garden and fish tank into a small hydroponic system.
Hydroponics is where you grow plants in water instead of soil. The fish in the tank, more specifically their poop, provide the nutrients the plants need to grow.
39. Apply for Benefits
There are many federal, state, and community programs and benefits available to those in low-income situations.
It is worth it to research and see if you qualify for any of these programs.
There are federal-backed programs like WIC and SNAP. You might qualify for Medicaid or reduced-priced healthcare through the Health Insurance Marketplace.
And if your household income loss is due to disability, see if you qualify for SSDI.
State benefits can include short-term disability or maternity pay , unemployment, or child-care assistance, and more. Benefits vary from state to state, so check your state’s website to see what your options are.
There are even local resources you can take advantage of such as food banks, shelters, and church programs.
40. Learn to Love Frugality
Above all else, to survive a frugal single-income lifestyle, you’ll need to embrace frugality.
The more you hate it, the more likely you are to overspend or end up in debt.
You don’t have to love all aspects of frugality, but try to find some joy in it. Maybe being crafty is your thing, or perhaps you’re a great negotiator when it comes to selling or flipping items.
Finding an element of frugal living that you love can be a great way to make the other aspects of frugal living more tolerable.
If you can learn to love frugality, then you have a better chance of successfully living a frugal lifestyle.
I hope you enjoyed this list of tips and tricks for living frugally on one income.
Being constantly stressed about finances and balancing a budget is no fun. So if even one of these tips helps relieve some of your financial burden, then I am ecstatic.
And if there are any great tips that I missed, please share them.