5 Ways to Save Money If You’re Living Paycheck to Paycheck

by Alexa Mason · 13 comments

For the first few years of our marriage, my ex-husband and I lived paycheck to paycheck.

I barely made over minimum wage, and although he made significantly more than I did, it still wasn’t a lot. We had a mortgage payment, as well as a stack of credit card debt accumulated from my ex being out of work for a year because of an injury. We struggled, but we got by. And eventually, we pulled ourselves out of the paycheck to paycheck cycle.

Then, in the summer of 2012, I became a single mom — and once again, I had to learn how to pull myself out of that vicious cycle. I’ve done it twice now, and if I can defeat the paycheck to paycheck lifestyle, I know you can, too.

How to Save Money When Living Paycheck to Paycheck

1. Find cheaper housing

When I got divorced in 2012, I knew the one expense I desperately needed to reduce was my housing.

So instead of buying or renting a house, I made an unconventional decision: I bought a trailer. I took out a $10,000 loan on a four-year term with payments of $226/month. (It is now completely paid off.) If I’d purchased or rented a house, I would’ve paid double to triple this amount. Not to mention that now I have an asset I can sell.

Be willing to make sacrifices, and know that very few things are permanent. Find cheaper housing now — even if it’s less than fabulous or isn’t accepted by society. You need to do what’s right for you and quit worrying about what everyone else thinks. When you get back on your feet, you can upgrade to something better.

2. Apply for assistance (if you need it)

I know that many people don’t want to apply for government assistance even though they truly, desperately need it. Again, this is something we’ve labeled in our head as degrading. But, it’s not.

If you can’t make ends meet, can’t find work, or can’t find anything better than a minimum wage job AND have a family to support, then it’s time to get some help.

Government assistance is temporary; it’s not meant to be a long-term solution. It’s simply there to help you get back on your feet, and there’s no shame in it.

3. Cut your grocery bill for a month

Let’s say that right now your grocery budget is $50/week. Cut that down to $30-$40. Buy your usual groceries, but use that extra $10-$20 to stock up on non-perishable staples when prices are at their absolute lowest.

You’ll have to eat simple meals for a while, but after that month is over, you’ll have an ample stock of staples.

4. Looks for ways to make more money

Before I started my own online business, I worked two day jobs. My main job paid $11.50/hour, and my second job as a bookkeeper paid $300 a week. I needed both of these jobs to be able to support myself and my two daughters.

Then I had the bright idea to start an online business. I began by blogging, then I went on to write an ebook, and then I started looking for writing work. I now have several sources of income, and most months, I make more than I did with both day jobs — and I work about half as many hours.

Be creative. There are unlimited opportunities to make more money if you just go after them.

5. Be positive

Your attitude will determine your outcome.

If you wallow in misery, you’re not going to get too far. But if you maintain a positive attitude and look for creative ways to earn and save more money, you’re going to free yourself from the paycheck to paycheck lifestyle a lot more quickly.

What advice would you offer someone living paycheck to paycheck?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • JJ says:

    Crazy—those four question marks were originally “laugh till the tears run” emoticons. The Section Eight I mentioned sounded like Corporal Klinger’s ploy to be discharged from the army. (-:

  • JJ says:

    I can’t take in anybody to help with expenses; I live in an apartment, so that’s taboo. I can offer 2 suggestions, though: try to find an apartment complex that has the setup of utilities included in the rent; it’s subsidized housing. Or, alternatively, try for a section 8. No, not the Corporal Klinger type of Section Eight. ???? It’s a type of assistance that enables a person to live anywhere for only a small portion of the rent. It takes time and effort, and you may end up waiting in a line for awhile, but patience pays off.

  • Michelle says:

    Staying positive and trying to live below your means is key.

  • Michelle says:

    I have always thought about renting out a room in my duplex. That way, we can still live where I want to live, and have some of our bills paid for. It is something my husband and I discuss quite frequently.

    • David Ning says:

      Have you tried AirBnB Michelle? It might be a good way to test the waters to see if you like living with others.

      • Kate says:

        Check to be sure this is LEGAL in your area — and also check with your homeowners insurance to be sure they don’t have any issues. If you have some fly by night guest who smokes in bed or trips over the cat, and your homeowners insurance does not cover paying guests, you may be in deep you know what.

  • Ed Barkley says:

    The best thing that happened to me several years ago was to attend a Financial Peace University (FPU) “class” at a local church. We met once a week for about 6 weeks. I heard about it after listening to Dave Ramsey’s nightly radio show and listening to the sage advice he gave callers, many in the same situation as I was in. Dave’s approach to budgeting is truly life changing. I highly reccomend it!

    • David Ning says:

      Getting out of debt/saving is mostly about the mindset. Once you get fired up about it, in which Dave Ramsey is awesome at igniting, you would have already won the battle because all that is left is time.

  • I bought too much of a house and was living paycheck to paycheck for a time. I ended up bringing in a friend to help cover the monthly costs. But before I did that, I was paying attention to my grocery spending and looking for other ways to bring in additional money.

    • David Ning says:

      Having roommates is always a great idea because not only are you bringing in income, you are also enriching your life by having more people around you. It’s really a good idea that everyone should consider even if they think they don’t need the money.

  • I like your idea about doing a really cheap timeframe of groceries so that you can stock up on staples. That’s the first time I’ve ever seen that idea presented. Sure, it’s a bit of a shell game, but when you are living paycheck to paycheck, most things are.

    I think the only other advice I’d offer is to set a budget and then try to beat yourself in every category. By making it a competition or game, you might feel more motivated to research cost reductions. You feel like you are winning instead of losing out on things.

    • David Ning says:

      The competition idea is amazing, as it absolutely works. What also works is to see cutting costs as having more money to pull forward the retirement date!

    • Kate says:

      The competition idea is a good one — instead of crying “Oh, poor me!” you can congratulate yourself on your increasingly smart moves. When I lived in Canada, where everything from $2 down is a coin, I made a practice of keeping separate change banks for $2 (“toonies”) and quarters, and one bank for other small change. I kept a minimum of $50 in the “toonie” bank at all times, which was for emergencies and for those times when the paycheque just could not be stretched any farther. Here in America again, it is hard to save change as I rarely spend cash. Since I am over 65, I qualify for free banking (which you can get if you have at least one direct deposit a month) and free cheques, and a Bank of America credit card that builds up cash that is deposited back into my bank account when it reaches $25. I get a small Canadian pension which is currently totally devoted to paying off my Canadian credit cards; I should have this completed by next spring, and then will find another dedicated use for that money. Finally I would recommend NOT depriving yourself of everything that you enjoy, just to save money. Treat yourself often enough to keep your spirits up.

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