50 Tips for Living on Next to Nothing

50 Tips for Living on Next to Nothing - How a Family of 4 Survives and Thrives on Less Than $25,000 a Year

My family of 4 has managed to live on a $25,000 a year (or less) income for the past few years. It hasn’t always been easy. There have been some months in which we haven’t earned a dime and have had to live entirely off of what was in our pantry and what we had in savings (the joys of being a freelancer). We have also benefited greatly from generous folks who didn’t mind sharing some of their food. Despite all of this, we have learned how to survive and thrive.

Over the years, we have picked up a few tips and tricks on how to make it when times get tough. I have scoured through numerous frugal blogs and books for ideas, but I have also just had to be clever at times and come up with my own plans. Below is my list of 50 tips for living on next to nothing. All of these tips have come about from personal trial and error. If you’re going through a rough patch, I sincerely hope this list is able to provide you with some help.

  1. Only purchase items on sale and with a coupon, if possible. There have been many months in which my family and I have lived only off of day old bread markdowns, “over-ripe” markdown produce, and meats getting close to being out-of-date. Doing this, we have at times been able to keep our grocery budget down to only $20 a week (or less) for 4 people, while still eating nutritious foods.
  2. Purchase an inexpensive chest freezer on a site like Craigslist and stock up on meat and produce when it goes on sale.
  3. Barter with local farmers for foods. Often times, a farmer will be willing to trade some of his crops for help with fence repair, mucking stalls, or other farm-related chores.
  4. If you rent, try to work with your landlord on lowering your rent. Landlords may be able to assign landscaping or handyman work for you to do to help lower your monthly rent.
  5. Cover your windows with plastic sheeting and blankets to help keep the heat in/cold out during winter months.
  6. Ask friends and family for their leftovers. This may sound kind of gross, but you would be surprised at how much food people throw away daily.
  7. Become a freegan.
  8. Breastfeed, co-sleep, home birth, and cloth diaper. They’re all cheaper (and better) than typical Western methods.
  9. If you can’t breastfeed, search for donor breast milk. There are numerous generous lactating women who are more than happy to give your their excess breast milk. Check your local hospitals, with your local WIC office, as well as sites like Human Milk for Human Babies.
  10. I have yet to meet a midwife that hasn’t been at least willing to barter with her clients, some even offer a sliding scale. If you’re working with a midwife, talk to her about possibly bartering goods you may have to pay off your midwife fees. Same goes for a doula.
  11. Don’t purchase shoes for your children until they’re walking well. Shoes can actually be very harmful for developing feet. Only have them wear shoes when absolutely necessary. This will not only save you money, but it will also help your children to have healthy feet and a proper gate. Neither one of my kids began wearing shoes regularly until they were about 2 years old. Even then, we always chose shoes that were minimalistic and beneficial to growing feet.
  12. When you do buy your children shoes, buy them used. Children rarely wear shoes for more than a season, because their feet grow so quickly. It isn’t hard at all to find almost brand new shoes for children at consignment shops. My kids have owned Justin cowboy boots, name brand Crocs, and Nikes that I’ve paid no more than a dollar or two each for.
  13. Sell everything you own that you don’t need (unnecessary furniture, electronics, etc.).
  14. Stop using your cell phone. You don’t need it. All it provides is a false sense of security.
  15. Still think you need a phone? Use Facebook, Skype, or Google instead. Everyone has a Facebook now, I’m sure you can still talk via Facebook to whomever it is that you think you need a phone for.
  16. Get rid of your internet (unless you work online). You can usually get free internet at your local library.
  17. Get rid of your car and walk everywhere, if you live close enough to town. Also, if you’re within a few miles of town, that’s plenty close enough to not need a car. I hear people say far too often that they have to have a car because the grocery store/work/whatever is too far (too far being about 2 miles away)… Get off your butt and get walking (or bike)!
  18. If you must have a car, only use it for the bare minimum. Try to walk as much as possible, instead. Or, schedule all of your appointments and shopping trips on the same days so that you don’t have to make several trips into town throughout the week.
  19. If you do still have to own a car, speak with your car insurance company about getting a cheaper rate. Often times companies will give you a discount if you don’t drive your vehicle often.
  20. Explore work-at-home employment options. Not only will this save you money on things like gas, business attire, and the like, but you’ll also have more freedom and you will be able to spend more time with your family.
  21. Cancel cable, Netflix, or any other extras that you don’t really need. If you homeschool, you might consider keeping Netflix for educational purposes, but it really isn’t necessary.
  22. Buy used clothing or make your own.
  23. Cook from scratch. It’s cheaper and healthier.
  24. Eat cheaper foods. I’m not talking about boxed macaroni, either. Potatoes (even sweet potatoes), rice, beans, homemade breads, and such are all cheaper than their pre-packaged equivalents.
  25. If something breaks, try your best to fix it yourself. YouTube is a great resource for how-to information.
  26. Line-dry your clothes. You will be amazed at how much cheaper your electric bill is if you avoid using the dryer.
  27. Wash your clothes in cold water. The only thing I don’t wash in cold water is my cloth diaper.
  28. Turn off your electronics at night.
  29. Make homemade soups and bone broths. They’re very filling, usually provide leftovers, and can be highly nutritious.
  30. Grow your own produce. You can even do this in an apartment. I managed to grow sage, cilantro, peppermint, tomatoes, and lemon balm all in an apartment with no balcony.
  31. Collect shower water and use it to water your plants.
  32. Use homemade cleaners. They’re safer, work better, are eco-friendly, and cheaper.
  33. Make your own toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, etc.
  34. Download the free Kindle app on Amazon and purchase free eBooks. You don’t have to have a Kindle to do this. You can download the app onto your computer or phone. I have found numerous wonderful books through this for both myself and my children.
  35. Keep your thermostat at 78 degrees Fahrenheit during summer and 65 degrees Fahrenheit during winter.
  36. Get over your food stigma when money is tight. Be okay with possibly having to eat wheat, meat, nightshades, or whatever; it’s better than starving.
  37. If you don’t have enough money, don’t buy anything.
  38. Buy used and save the difference.
  39. Make homemade gifts for holidays and birthdays.
  40. Shop at discount stores like Aldi and Dollar General.
  41. Price match and shop around. Don’t purchase all of your items from one store alone, unless you can price match.
  42. Entertain yourself by learning how to sew, learning how to play a musical instrument, singing, writing a book, painting, or any number of other lost arts.
  43. Encourage your children to be creative and create their own forms of entertainment. Give a child some creative freedom and they can turn pine cones and tree branches into cars and a race track.
  44. Make your own baby wraps, cloth diapers, nursing pads, menstrual pads, and the like.
  45. Research local herbs, plants, and mushrooms and learn how to forage. You can often find books on local wild plants at your local library.
  46. Purchase organ meats and bones instead of specialty cuts of meats. Organ meats tend to be cheaper and are more nutritious. Bones can be turned into bone broths.
  47. Purchase a meat slicer and slice your own sandwich meats from discount bulk meat purchases. Sandwich meats costs way too much, but doing this will save you quite a lot in the long run. Not to mention, the meat will taste so much better than icky store-bought sandwich meat.
  48. Purchase foods in-bulk on sale and can, ferment, or freeze them.
  49. Make a pantry list and try to keep it well stocked. When things get tough, if you have a well stocked pantry, you can live off of it for a while.
  50. Research into natural medicines, such as herbalism, and learn how to treat your aches and ills.

Bartering is going to be one of the best ways for you to live on next to nothing. Try to barter as often as possible. When you do have a successful barter, keep that person’s contact information readily available for the next time you have something that may interest them.

Stocking up when things are on-sale is also going to be another one of the top things to do when things are tight. Anytime you have spare money, try to put it either towards savings or expanding your pantry.

Lastly, when you have spare money, do your best to put it in savings or invest it. Finding investment opportunities that will generate a passive income can be so beneficial during difficult times. Explore multiple passive income options available to you and put your investment money in numerous venues, if possible.

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16 thoughts on “50 Tips for Living on Next to Nothing

  1. One thing to add to your next list is to unplug electronics, they still drain a little electricity when they are off but plugged in. I try to unplug anything I can reach easily. So not stuff stuck behind a buffet or something. Great tips!

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  2. My mom always tells me to close the vents in the rooms we aren’t in often. That way we aren’t heating or cooling rooms just because. In our house we typically close them in the master bedroom, bathrooms, and office. =D

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  3. Your just like a begger. Have some pride. The food that u so willingly take can be given to the people who don’t have it NOT CHEAP LAZY like you. Disgusting

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    1. I wonder where all of this anger comes from, Greg? I genuinely feel sorry for you in that you hold so much anger inside of you, that you feel the need to take it out on someone you don’t know. You don’t know my life, only the small glimpses I share on this blog. Bright blessings to you and yours. )O(

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  4. I kept my cable Internet, but bought my own modem. A one-time fee of $70 versus $10/month (or more!) just made sense. My friends and I also share our Sam’s club membership, as well as amazon prime benefits.

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  5. Having worked labor and delivery for many years, PLEASE be very careful. My own pregnancy was normal but my son’s umbilical cord was around his neck twice. His heartrate dropped and required an emergency c-section. If I’d delivered at home, he would have died. We used to have a sign on the unit that read “HOME DELIVERIES ARE FOR PIZZAS.” Not bashing you. It’s all about the babies!

    That being said, this is a great article! I didn’t know about the free Kindle download. Still trying to get it to work but I can’t wait to read again!! My eyes don’t let me read hand held books. Thank you so much, Danie!

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    1. I’m sorry that you had such a traumatic hospital birth experience. While there are some instances in which a hospital birth is absolutely necessary, the majority of low risk births are perfectly safe to be done at home with a trained midwife. I myself have had two out of three of my births at home. I’m also a doula and have attended home births with incredible midwives present. Thank you for taking the time to comment! Best regards!

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  6. Hi there, I just had to comment about how amazing, thrifty and use if common sense your blog is. I absolutely loved the list and have tried many of the tips you have suggested before even reading them on your list. I will be disconnecting from Internet soon for a few months and will be reassessing if I can get by without it or on a much cheaper plan. As for growing your own produce, well done! Although my green thumb is more grey than green (sadly I killed off oregano, parsley and basil plants) I will try again. The lifestyle you and your family lead is one to be proud of, and do not let anyone say otherwise!

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  7. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I love that you recommend buying a chest freezer. I found a little one this summer, used, and partially traded for it with produce from my garden, I am so glad I did too. When hunting season rolled around this year, I asked my dad to shoot me a deer. Since I grew up in a farming and ranching kind of lifestyle I was able to bone it out and package the meat myself. It saved me so much to be able to cut it and wrap it myself. Plus, then I know where it came from and how it was handled.
    Thank you again, and I wish you the best with your family!

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