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Living on a Tight Budget

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Money Being Cinched by Measuring Tape

More and more of us are trying to make ends meet on a tight budget. This is a guide about living on a tight budget.


Solutions: Living on a Tight Budget

Read and rate the best solutions below by giving them a "thumbs up".

Tip: Stretching My Meager Dollars

Stretching My Meager Dollars

I am a single mother of two kids. The income I have comes from what little I make from my full time job, my job working in my church's nursery on Sundays, and Child Support for my oldest. I am constantly learning new ways to stretch my meager dollars. This is what I do to stretch what I have:

  • I do use the A/C constantly as it gets hot and humid where I live, but I hang clothes to dry. I turn off lights when not using them, raise the thermostat when no one is home so the AC isn't running and unplug things when not being used.

  • I walk to work. When I need to go to the store for one or two items, I walk to the store if it's close by.

  • I use fans as much as I can, too.

  • I open the blinds during the day and use the light from the outside instead of turning on a light.

  • I use sites like My Coke Rewards, and other places where I can enter codes, as well as survey sites where I can get points to get things like magazine subscriptions, household items, gift cards, money through PayPal, etc.

  • I save aluminum cans to cash in for money. When I am taking a walk, or am at the store, I pick up any aluminum cans I see.

  • I have food stamps and go to food pantries as well, as I am low income. I also stretch my food as long as I can. I save leftovers for the next day for lunch, or another dinner. I even save meats and vegetables for soups.

  • I recently had some socks that had holes in them. Instead of throwing them away, I took the socks that no longer had mates and patched up the holes with them. I do any kind of simple mending I can.

  • I pretty much try to make do with what I have and see what I can do to keep using the stuff I already have without having to go buy the same thing new.

  • Instead of buying trash bags, I use the grocery store bags, bread bags, etc. I even use the big bags that my pet food comes in as trash bags.

      By Donna [2]

    Article: Living on a Limited Budget

    My family is now not just one percent poor side, but my parents are poor now too. I have always lived frugally, but now my mom has returned to frugal living just to survive, and I am reteaching her what she has forgotten, and the new frugal sources as well as the old ones.

    We go to the thrift stores together now, and I am teaching her how to appreciate and shop thrift stores. Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch is an excellent place to get new overflow from Target at cheaper than store price. Clothes for children can be had at a good cheap price and a third of the price too. The clothes we look for are Target brand, and new tag clothes. Instead of $25 jeans, it is $4 for the same jeans that are name brand.

    I get a couple for my children, and my one niece whom I now raise. My brother whom is my niece's father has custody, and he told me to help raise his daughter, and the only way I know how to is frugally by sewing dresses made of yellow and pink. I get to crocheting too, as my source for mitts and scarfs for all my children is yarn from thrift stores.

    My other past time is coupon clipping which my sons do with better accuracy than me. I passed that gene onto my children. We have a garden for our veggies, and seeds come cheaply from dollar stores in my area. I raise my children to be respectful and honest when it comes to living frugally. One doesn't have to cheat the system to do it.

    Our rent is rent controlled by an understanding landlord, otherwise our rent would be a hardship on our family. We live in a two-income, limited budget of $1400 combined. We each get about $700 a month. This is the last year for rent return from the state, as they will not be doing it next year, so our rent return will be saved for clothes that are not thrift store buyable, or sewable.

    Shoes are bought at a Payless Shoe store two times a year. One for winter, and one for the rest of the year. Shoes are a spendy adventure for a family of 14 that includes one niece, two adults, and eleven children. All of various ages. Hand-me-downs, thrift stores, and occasional garage sales help, but mostly hand-me-down clothes.

    For furniture we go to the thrift store again. I also shop for dollar store bean bag chairs for my teen son and daughter. I love the fact that people donate Snoopy and Winnie the Pooh stuff. They sell them cheaply at rummage sales too, but I guess one person's clutter is our family's gain.

    I shop at Family Dollar, and Dollar Tree in Dilworth and PR for groceries and personal items for my family. I stopped shopping at regular grocery stores long ago. I make my own cleaning supplies out of items like baking soda and vinegar. I have not spent one penny on bleach or 409 in years. I clean my windows with vinegar and lemons with water as a solvent. It works well.

    My family is happy and we do not feel deprived one bit. Teach them young not to want name brand and you get frugal adults. That is what I always was taught and personally have been quoted by friends and family. My children have excellent imaginations, because I raised them to know that money can't buy you happiness or fun, if what you pay for isn't what you call fun. Living frugal has always been my way.

    My grandma taught me to sew, knit, crochet, and cook from scratch. My mom taught me to clean without spending money that was not around with no job, and my grandpa taught me to fish which is what we eat fresh caught all summer long. My dad taught me car maintenance, so paying for oil changes never happened in our family which is what I teach my children, and DH was raised the same way I was raised frugally, so we teach that to our children. This is how we live frugally.

    By Tanya J. from MN

    Tip: Use Hard Times to Remember the Good

    When life gives you things you can not handle, just remember you have to have bad to remember the good times. So when things get hard, just let it make you stronger. God will not give you something you can not handle. I call it a test of faith.

    By Kathleen from Lithia Springs GA

    Article: My Frugal Life: The Danger of Preparing a Budget

    As odd as it may seem, just the act of writing down a budget can have an adverse or possibly even reverse affect on your attempt to save money. Have you ever decided to go on a diet and immediately began craving something sweet? Or, have you made a personal commitment to reduce your shopping adventures only to suddenly find some really good, seemingly irresistible bargains? A written budget can affect you in the same way. Once you write down your reduced spending plan, you may begin to feel a sense of deprivation that can lead to rebellion.

    Possibly, the key to living on less without feeling deprived or rebelling against budget restraints, is to refrain from actually writing down a budget. Instead, focus on making simple, subtle lifestyle changes that will save you money so indiscreetly that you won't even notice you're living on a tighter budget. Strive to replace expensive habits and activities with new, less expensive or possibly free options and activities.

    One of the first things people are encouraged to cut from their budget is regular visits to a coffee shop. Reducing your daily coffee shop adventures to once a week or once a month is a good starting point. The way you fill the void on the days you don't stop by for morning coffee is a key factor in how determining how dedicated you remain to your commitment to change. You could replace your regular visit to the coffee shop with an invigorating walk or an indoor exercise routine You could spend that extra time with your spouse, children or pet. You could even enjoy the luxury of sleeping a little later on the mornings you don't plan to stop for coffee.. This method of change can be applied to numerous other habits that, if broken, could be helpful in reducing your monthly expenses.

    Eating out is expensive. A lifestyle change in this area can certainly ease a strained budget. Experiment with new recipes at home, make meal preparation a family event, decorate your table to make meal time special, or do whatever you can to make meals interesting at home. Develop frugal grocery shopping skills to further reduce your expenses. Instead of dining at a restaurant, enjoy a picnic at a park or possibly in your backyard. Make bag lunches and meals at home part of your regular lifestyle and eating out an infrequent treat.

    If you frequently find yourself wandering through the mall in your spare time, change your routine. Instead, go on a nature walk. There is no temptation to spend money while walking in nature like there is when passing by store displays in a mall. If you are a spontaneous buyer, changing that habit alone will have a positive affect on your budget. Become a more patient shopper who waits for bargains and is not lured into spending by eye catching store displays.

    Chances are, you will spend less if you pay cash for your purchases. You can develop a savings plan by never paying with exact change. At the end of the day, put your extra change in a "reward jar" Loose change adds up more quickly than you would think.

    When choosing entertainment options, look for local events that are free or inexpensive. Concerts in the park, art exhibits, and free education classes could open up new doors of interests for you and your family. When you read about or hear other people discussing money saving changes they've made, take time to see if those changes could be a benefit to you. If you pick up on ideas as time goes by and implement small changes, the end result will make a large impact on your overall budget.

    Something as simple as clearing clutter from your home and developing good organizational skills can save you money. You won't find yourself buying duplicate items simply because something got misplaced among the chaos. Make a conscious effort to learn the art of reusing, reinventing, and re-purposing items to reduce spending and avoid adding unnecessary stuff to your home and your life. "Stuff" is often a budget buster that can be avoided.

    By VeronicaHB from Asheboro, NC

    Do you have a frugal story to share with the ThriftyFun community? Submit your essay here:

    Tip: The One-Month-Ahead System

    It took me several years, but I finally figured out how to manage my families finances so we never worry about the bills.

    First, I used a windfall (could be a tax refund, holiday gift, inheritance, bonus, etc.) to get a month ahead of my bills. This means any money received in January is for February living expenses. Don't use direct deposit unless it goes directly to a savings account. You are likely to use it before you mean to if you put it in your checking account. Otherwise just hang onto those checks until about 4 days before the first of the month. Then deposit the checks or transfer from savings into your checking.

    When you make your deposit, get cash back for regular items such as gasoline, allowance for kids or the working person, groceries, and money for things like a night out, movie rental, haircut, etc. We call those incidental expenses. Put the cash into a coupon holder - one slot for groceries for the month, incidentals, gasoline, etc. That's all you should spend for the month on those items.

    Write any checks for bills due the first of the month. Then whenever a bill comes in, pay it right away. Part of my going through the mail is writing checks for bills received and getting them ready to go out in the next day's mail.

    When you are at the bank (I only go once a month to do all this), transfer into another checking account money used for bills that aren't monthly, like car insurance that you only pay twice a year, or property tax, home insurance and auto registration paid only once a year. Each month you put only a month's portion of the total bill for each item into that second checking. Then when the bill comes, the money is there because you have been saving for it bit by bit all year. You don't have to take it out of savings. You can do the same thing for clothing, school supplies and outings, gardening, home and car maintenance, whatever your categories are.

    This way everything that's left STAYS in savings. The bills are always paid right away and there's money earmarked for the big non-monthly bills and other living expenses. You can make it a habit to never go into your savings account to pay bills by using this system.

    The next windfall you get after starting this should go directly into savings. You'll soon find you have a good back-up in case of job loss or emergency expense.

    Padma in Pima

    Tip: Drastic Times Call for Drastic Cutbacks

    List of Monthly BillsThere's no quick fix for the economy, and jobs are disappearing daily. Even seemingly secure jobs are causing some people to look at their futures with a budget cutting scissors in hand. If it makes you feel better to cut back now in preparation for the worst, then by all means cut back. Maybe drastic cutbacks aren't such a bad idea anyway. After all, we could all use some extra cash these days.

    Hang It Up

    Cell phone bills are outrageous, especially for large family plans. The average cell phone bill tallies up to $1,000 or more a year. Maybe it's time to say goodbye to the cell now rather than later.

    Find out when your contract expires and note the date. Avoid early cancellation fees entering your life by opting not to renew the contract. It's the perfect time to buckle down and cut back.

    Going without your cell phone plan doesn't mean going without your cell phone. Pay-As-You-Go plans allow you to cater your monthly budget accordingly. The committal to extra fees is gone, and so is the outrageous phone budget. It also works well for teenagers since they can be responsible for their own minutes. No money this month? No minutes. It's an easy lesson that anyone under eighteen can learn.

    Trade Down

    Gas prices may have fallen, but it's not a bad idea to trade down on your vehicle. Large trucks not only use more fuel but also cost more for repairs and yearly tags. Are they worth it? For some, the answer is an adamant yes. For others, maybe not. If you're driving a heavy duty pickup just to haul weekend toys, you might be able to downgrade your vehicle and pick up a cheaper, lighter trailer.

    Similarly, if those monthly car payments are taxing, imagine what they'll feel like if job cutbacks affect you. Trade in now when you're not feeling so desperate and opt for something that's softer on your budget.

    Eliminate the Extras

    You may not be willing to get by without your cable TV or your landline phone, but those bills don't necessarily have to be as high as they are right now. Look at your next month's bill with a highlighter in hand. Highlight every extra service listed on your bill, both phone and cable. Can you live without some of these?

    Try to gradually tighten your utility budget belt. This month eliminate one premium channel listing. Next month, drop call-waiting. Then, caller ID followed by DVR services. Could you drop your voice mail service and purchase a cheap answering machine instead?

    By Kelly Ann Butterbaugh

    Tip: Finding the Silver Lining in a Faltering Economy

    Sun Shining Through CloudsI remember the morning when I watched the stock prices scroll across the bottom of the TV screen while I was watching the weather forecast. It was 5 AM, and I wondered if I was watching history happen; every stock was preceded by a red arrow that noted a drop in its value. It may not have been the landmark day of 1929, but it was close.

    For those of us who are fortunate enough to have jobs, stable mortgages, and some minor senses of stability, we're maintaining. It's not a time to play with our money or make risky decisions. Yet, a few experts are reporting that it is a time to take advantage of the weak economy.


    Really, it's not what most of us are thinking about right now. However, it is a good time, according to financial experts, to invest in stock. The prices are low, and history says that they will pick up again. Once highly priced stocks are now a bit more reasonable, opening the stock investments up to those who don't have thousands to invest. If you've always wanted to try stock, it might be a good time to try it. Be aware that the economy must show an upswing before your stock will pay off, but with patience you may see returns. At the very least, your stock probably won't see another sudden drop; it's already at a low point.

    For those who hold 401K investment plans that are mostly invested in stock, stay there. The quick rush of rats to abandon the sinking ship is over. Those who ran the mooring lines and left the ship early enough may have saved money, but now that the stocks fell the ship has sailed. Investors suggest that you now wait it out; wait until the ship docks again and you recoup some of your money before scampering out of your investment.

    Get It While It's Cheap

    That's the slogan these days. Statistically, stores are advertising more frequent and better sales in order to recoup their costs. If there's something that you've had your eye on, especially a luxury item, this is the ti