One of the most challenging aspects of living on a low income is making ends meet. After you pay your bills, there's not much left to save for anything else.
And if you're already struggling with your finances, how can you afford to put away money for emergencies? The first step in learning how to save money on a low income is understanding what it means and why it's so difficult.
The Low-Income Problem: Living on a low income doesn't just mean that you don't have enough money – it also means that everything costs more than it would otherwise be worth.
Whether we're talking about groceries or gas prices, almost everything comes at an extra cost when you live paycheck-to-paycheck. This makes trying to save money practically impossible when you already have a tight budget.
It's tough to know where to start when you're thinking about learning how to save money on a low income. But sometimes, the best way is just getting started.
Here are five ways to save money, regardless of your current income level.
How to Save Money on a Low Income
1. Cut Down on Expenses
If you don't know where your money is going, you certainly can't redirect its flow out the door! So while “setting a budget” sure doesn't sound like fun, it actually can be once you realize how much this activity will teach you.
Start by simply paying attention to your expenses for the next 30 days. You can do that by tracking your payments in a spreadsheet or automate them with a budgeting app. Apps like Mint or Personal Capital can automatically keep track of your expenses and much more.
When tracking your expenses, don't forget about your debt (credit cards, student loans, car notes, etc). Be sure to add all your expenses and income so that you can get the complete picture. This will allow you to find expenses you can cut or reduce.
Once you've identified the expenses that can be reduced or eliminated, it's time to tackle them. You may also need to cut back on some of your monthly spending for a while to build up more cash savings. This will help you learn how to save money faster and ensure that you have enough set aside for an emergency fund.
2. Prioritize paying off debt to avoid interest penalties.
Paying off debt is a valuable way to save money on a low income. Interest creates more debt, and it's the main expense in your monthly budget. While wages are stagnant, interest rates rise, so the debt just keeps getting bigger.
If there is one thing most people enjoy even less than dieting, it is wasting cash. Trying to save money on a low income gets more challenging when you are throwing money away on interest payments.
This is why paying off as much debt as possible should be your first priority. When you are paying off a car loan or student loan, you should be prioritizing the debt with the highest interest rate. This will keep more money in your pocket long-term and help you to save more quickly.
Another option is to contact creditors to ask for lowered interest rates. Take Charge America offers helpful tips for planning your call to your credit card company to negotiate lower interest rates. They have lots of resources that can help you save money.
Eliminating credit card debt is essential so you can turn your attention to lowering your car payment and taking care of housing costs.
3. Use cashback apps to earn perks and save money on purchases.
People love to save money on their purchases, and they love getting lots of free stuff. So this is actually a win-win for everybody. The number of money-saving apps available to consumers today is awe-inspiring. You can earn money when you shop, scan your receipts, clip digital coupons, scratch-off digital lotto tickets, walk or jog, take an online survey, play games, look at your phone screen, and so much more.
These apps are completely free to download, and you can earn rewards with each purchase or activity. Downloading an app called Fetch Rewards can help you save on your groceries. It works by scanning your receipts, and you can get cashback on your purchases. The app also rewards you with points that can be redeemed for things like Amazon Gift Cards, Starbucks gift cards, movie tickets, and more!
Other apps like Swagbucks allow you to earn rewards for doing things like watching videos, playing games, taking surveys, or shopping online. Swagbucks also has a mobile app so that you can do these activities on the go.
Also, be sure to take advantage of digital coupons in your grocery store loyalty apps. These coupons make saving money easy and help in your meal planning for the week.
4. Reconsider paying for services you use rarely or never.
No one wants to give up the services we love. But then there are all the other services we use rarely or never. Have you ever found yourself paying for cable even though you only watch your favorite shows now and again? Or maybe you carry home a gym bag from the gym to work out once every two weeks?
From a gym membership to streaming television, the goal is to get great value for what you spend and, even more importantly, build a life you love with the cash you have.
If that means saying no to the gym membership and yes to taking back those funds and saving up for a mountain bike, it is in your power to make it happen.
Perhaps there is a way to subscribe to a different streaming service where you can watch the five cable television channels you can't live without and not pay for the 200 channels you never visit. Here again, the choice is yours.
5. Do it Yourself
When you have a low income, paying to fix everything that needs repair is not an option. YouTube has many instructional videos and blog postings that will teach you how to perform simple household repairs. Whether you're putting together furniture, fixing a hole in the wall, or hanging a picture, learning how to do it yourself can save you hundreds.
You can also save money by learning how to cook and bake. Find recipes for your favorite meals and snacks you love, but in a form that works for you. This can help the whole family live healthier lives. You can also find ways to stretch out expensive ingredients and learn how to make your favorite foods last longer.
The internet is full of information that you can use for free, and it's essential to take advantage of it. You will be surprised at what you can do yourself with a little bit of research.
Knowing how to make things and fix things yourself is a huge money-saver in the long run.
6. Pay yourself first. Set up auto bank drafts directly into savings.
One of the easiest, happiest, most self-affirming ways to save money on a low income is to simply set up a regular auto-draft from checking to a savings account or use an app to do this for you.
Start small and increase gradually. By keeping the cash out of your hands and in your accounts, you will find that you may not even miss the money being saved!
That simple move will help you save for a future item or start an emergency fund, and all without even feeling it.
Perhaps the best way to save money on a low income is to take advantage of free opportunities like online savings accounts with high-yield interest rates. As long as you pay down debt and build toward savings goals, you can feel better about saving money now regardless of your income level.
7. Haggle and negotiate
You can save a lot of money on low income by learning how to haggle or negotiate. With practice, you will learn the right time and place to ask for a lower price, and soon you will start scoring some great deals. The more practiced you become at this skill, the better results you will get.
Many providers of services will be happy to undercut their competitors if it means they will make a sale of which they would otherwise lose to someone else. As a buyer, you could use this in your favor.
Insurance premiums are one example of things you can negotiate to save money. When you get a quote on insurance, ask for a lower price. Many providers will be willing to lower their rate for you if it means they are getting a sale.
Final Thoughts on how to save money on a low income
There are many ways to save money on a low income. From negotiating with providers for better prices to learning how to do things yourself, you can find plenty of opportunities that will keep your finances in check. Then you can start tackling personal finance goals like contributing to an emergency fund and investing for retirement.
In addition to saving money, you may also want to consider a side hustle to increase your income. You can try driving for Uber or Lyft, or do freelance writing. You might even consider starting your own side hustle, like selling used items online or learning to make craft items and sell them on Etsy.