Making it work on a limited income
Savings for Singles
TDS Reader Solutions
Creative Grocery Budget Stretching
Extra Income for Single Moms
Money-Saving for a Single, Working Mom
I have been searching the internet for weeks, trying to find some help for single people and saving money. I came across your column today and I have to tell you that I'm a little disturbed. I don't know what kind of jobs the single people you know have, but I make $20,400 per year. I live alone. I pay my own way. That means I'm responsible for the electric bill, water bill, phone bill, food, insurance, car payment, etc. I don't have my salary from the last year lying around to stick in a bank to save for an emergency or job loss. I need ideas for real people. People who live own their own and may not have time or the opportunity to get part-time jobs. People who don't have mom and dad paying their way. And what about single people with kids. What the heck are they supposed to do?
Reorient Your Thinking
First let me say that I can empathize. Twenty years ago, advice to "save even $5!" didn't work for me either. I didn't have $5 dollars! I ate beans, I bought my clothes at thrift stores, I drove used cars, I even wore ski pants one winter and heated only one room in my apartment. And I didn't have $5 to spare. Still, looking back, here are some things I would do differently.
First, for now, reorient your thinking. The goal is to stay out of debt. Every time you can avoid a finance charge, you are saving money. Buy something on credit? Pay $10 in finance charges? That's $10 you have given to someone else. That's $10 you do not have anymore. That's $10 you will never be able to use, save, or enjoy. I finally realized that every time I prevented my money from going into finance charges, I was keeping that money for myself. In a sense, I was saving it. Along the same lines, if you really must acquire a debt (for instance on a car if necessary for work), pay it off as fast as possible. It reduces interest paid and keeps that money in your pocket.
Second, be brutal with what's a "want" and what's a "need." Every one of us can find a rationalization for spending money. Having a rationalization for spending on an item does not make it a "need." Being essential for life makes something a need. Spend on needs, save on wants. And then get creative on wants. After a while, it can become a bit fun!
Finally, put any extra money that comes to you in the bank. The little refund checks, the spare change, the little raise, the money that went to paying off a debt, the surprise birthday check from your great-aunt Matilda should be deposited, not spent. If you are living within your means, these are outside your income stream and will never be missed. They do add up over time. Don't think of them as bonuses to spend, but as windfalls to save.
Hang in there. Keep doing things "right," and over the years, you will find yourself getting ahead. Most folks that are my age that I know have $20-40K in debt, a mortgage, and one to two car loans. My family of four has a mortgage and that's it. We also have money in the bank to cover the windshield that just cracked last night. That's a far cry from when I was single and shivering in my ski pants!
Babette in Colorado
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Consult the Tightwad
Check out The Complete Tightwad Gazette
(or Tightwad Gazette I, II and III) by Amy Dacyzyn from the library. Though she has a large family (i.e. children and husband), her ideas translate regardless of your situation. Just pick and choose from her many, many suggestions. In my opinion, it is the single best book on living frugally every written. I first found it over 20 years ago and still refer to it at least once a month for inspiration and ideas.
Failing Is Not an Option!
I am a single frugal parent raising two teenagers, homeschooling, and working three jobs. Yes, you can do it. I have no outside help from friends or parents. We used to struggle to a great degree and it was very depressing to worry about how we would survive. I read in a book somewhere that if you constantly work and are productive, you cannot fail. At the time, I had one job.
I decided to find a part-time night job that would pay the most per hour and have me home most nights. I clean an office building for $20/hour. It's good pay and many of their discarded office supplies are recycled by me.
Also, my son has a special diet, which is very costly. My next job included into my assortment was at a deli in a grocery store. I now save 10% on all purchases.
If I can do it, so can you. You must believe in yourself and your goals. My goal was just to keep my head above water and it opened many doors for savings for me. I also work my jobs with a positive attitude and pretty much over achieve at work. I figure if I have to be here, I'm going to give it my all. I made a $1.75 per hour raise within five months. It's all in the mindset. I hope you can use some of these ideas.
You're in Control
One thing a single person has is complete control over how money is spent. Sure, you have all the normal living expenses that have to be met, but you also are in control and can choose how to cut your expenses. Sometimes getting ahead does call for drastic cuts, but other times, small changes can really help the bank balance. It's easy to feel burdened and overwhelmed because you're going it alone, but if you can take a mental "step back" from the situation, you may feel better about your situation. All budget planners will tell you to track your expenses so you get a real view of how you spend your money. Once you've done that, you can make adjustments and come up with a viable spending plan. Look at virtually everything you spend money on and try to find a way to cut the expense or modify so you spend less. There are many good resources for frugal living on the Internet that may help you.
Ask the Right Questions
Some suggestions for living on $20K:
- Question everything in your house. Can you downgrade your cable package? Are your windows leaking cold/hot air? Are you leaving on lights/electronics? Can you downgrade your Internet package? Are you going out? Can you hang your laundry? Save and reuse water appropriately? Make food at home instead of eating out? Can you grow your own veggies to supplement or perhaps go to a farmer's market?
- Assess your bills. Order them from highest to lowest, and then research how you can bring them down. Can you call your credit card companies and ask for a lower interest rate? Can you consolidate your loans?
- Increase your income. Can you work an extra part-time job for a limited time to create some savings? Having $1000 extra can usually cover most any expense in a pinch. Can you sell something or have a yard sale/eBay sale? Can you work extra hours at your current job?
Saving Anything Is Something
I, too, was once a struggling single. There are a few options you have. I'm not sure what your living situation is, but depending on your situation, there are options that may help you save money. Roommates are always a good solution for helping cut costs. Although it takes patience and some planning to make this work, it is doable. Another option is to rent a room in someone's home, which is generally cheaper than renting an apartment, as utilities (except for phone and electric) are generally included. Also, you might consider scaling down your living situation if possible. For example, rent a studio apartment instead of a one bedroom. If you do these things, you should be able to see some savings that you could tuck away for a rainy day.
Another way to save is to look at your food choices. Are you eating out? Getting coffee out regularly? Do you eat meals that involve a lot of meat? Do you drink alcohol or fill up your basket with a lot of convenience foods? If so, you may be able to cut costs by brown bagging your lunch, making coffee at home, eating more vegetarian and pasta dishes, and declining to buy alcohol or convenience foods, both of which are usually quite expensive.
Also look at the car you drive. Do you own a new car? Do you own a used car? Is giving up the car a reasonable option? Do you live in a city or place where you can bike, bus or walk to necessary places? If so, consider doing it. It is better for the environment and will probably help you stay healthier as well. If you "needed" to use a car at some point, you could always rent one.
Another suggestion is to look for extras you may not realize are adding up. A few years ago, I made it a goal to start saving 10% of my earnings. I did not know how I was going to do this because I felt I had a pretty tight budget. But, I shaved money out of my already meager entertainment budget and also stopped such "extras" as voice mail on my telephone (opting instead for an answering machine). I was able to save the 10%, and once I got used to not having that money, it wasn't that hard (although the first few months were challenging).
Additionally, consider giving up cable television. It is expensive and you can find other, more meaningful things to spend your time on (visiting friends, reading books, etc.)
Because you did not include many details, it is hard to know for sure what will work for you, but I do hope that you found some of these suggestions helpful. And don't forget that saving anything (even $5 or $10 a month) is something.
Nic in California
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I think a lot of people can relate to this person's lifestyle and the problems that come with it. I was single for several years and I was living on $18,000 a year. I ate a lot of baked potatoes as they were cheap and filling. One of the things I did for myself was to "barter."
Bartering has been around for a long time. Even in the old days, people paid their doctors with chickens as they had no money to give. I do believe that bartering will always come in handy and a person should take advantage of this process.
You need to ask yourself what your talents are. We all have them, but most of us don't think of them as "talents" that can be utilized. We all have learned how to do something just by living in the world and observing others around us. We pick up skills, even when we don't realize we are, by keeping our eyes open and watching others. Do you like to work with children? Older people? Maybe you could clean someone's home in exchange for what you need.
After my divorce, I found myself with no money so that meant I did not go out very often other than work, which left me with time on my hands. I had drapes/curtains, coats and many other items around the house that were "dry clean" only, and I did not have the money to get this done. I went into the local dry cleaning business of a nice woman, who had lost her husband a few months earlier. I approached her with the idea of working in her establishment in exchange for getting my cleaning done. I could tell this was something new to her, but she gave it a try as it did not cost her anything and I learned a lot. I worked full time for two weeks for this, as I had not found a job at that time, but I could have worked a few evenings or weekends to pay off this exchange instead. The fact that I got the job training too was a plus for me. Also, I gained a new friend in the exchange. This woman was having it hard making ends meet and she liked the extra help with no extra money to pay.
Some of us have office skills that can be offered to a small company in exchange for their service. I am sure that there are many bartering opportunities that you may have never thought of. Start making a list of what your needs are. Is there something on that list that is a service, such as needing a plumber? If so, can you offer to work in this man's office for a few hours in exchange for his work?
You just have to believe in yourself and do the leg work to get the job done. I hope this helps. Remember that not all "needs" need to have money to get the job done.
Janet in Indiana
Living Well as a Single
Eleven years ago, I found myself going through a divorce and suddenly single. I had a $1200 mortgage payment and a job making $10.50/hour. The first thing I did was find a roommate. It wasn't my preferred way of living, but it did add $6,000 to my yearly income, plus cut my utilities in half. Then, I looked for a better paying job. After a couple of years, I was able to drop the roommate and live alone again. As soon as I could, I started saving $100/month into a mutual fund, and I kept increasing my contribution rate as I was able to. That fund has over $80,000 now and will cover me in the worst of scenarios in case of job loss and possibly pay off my mortgage early. I've changed jobs three times since then, always looking for companies that offer better opportunities. I now make over four times what I did 10 years ago. It's possible to live well as a single, but it takes sacrifices at times. I still drive my old Honda, for example. Be frugal and be proud!
Cut Expense or Increase Income
There are two solutions to VS's budget crisis: one is to cut expenses and the other is to increase income.
Without knowing where VS is living, it's hard to say how far his/her $1700 a month can go. In a big city, that's barely scraping by, but in a rural town, it's reasonable.
Cutting expenses can be challenging, especially if one has already committed to debt (car payment, credit card purchases, etc.). Other expenses are more easily trimmed. Shop around and make sure you are getting the best price for insurance, but also make sure you are not over-insured. If you have medical insurance, you can probably cut that off your car insurance. If you are single, you don't really need life insurance, etc. (Quite the opposite if you are a single parent.) The biggest, immediate thing VS can do to save money is to get a roommate. There's nothing that says one must live alone.
Frequently, young single people think they should have all the things their parents (and others) have worked years to acquire right away: a house instead of an apartment, a new car instead of a used one, multiple phone lines (both cell and land-lines are not necessary), cable TV, high-speed Internet, nice new furniture, high-end electronics, etc.
What does VS do in his/her spare time? Certainly a single person without others to care for has time on their hands if they want to change their situation. It only takes a limited amount of time to clean, do laundry, etc. for one person. Have kids? Make extra money babysitting nights and weekends.
A single person in that income range that has children would likely qualify for WIC and other food programs (depending on the ages of the children), and free lunches at school for older children.
To quote a fellow tightwad that I respect very much: Change your behavior or change your expectations.
Take the Next Step
- Discover easy ways to earn some extra cash by visiting the Dollar Stretcher Library.
- Find out how you can pay off your credit cards in less time for less money.
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