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Budgeting Tips For Low Income Families

Updated on August 15, 2012


Supporting a family is tough enough already but when you’re faced with having low income on top of it, it’s doubly hard sometimes to just make ends meet.

In hard times, people learn to budget in different ways and to treat saving money like a religion.

In fact, that’s pretty much the way people get ahead financially on any income....if they devote themselves almost religiously to the art of saving money.

That being said, it’s sometimes hard to do in the best of times but especially hard to do in the worst of times.

These are all great budget strategies for ANY income family whether they’re going through exceptionally rough times or relatively easy times.

We can all benefit from learning to control spending and learning to evaluate need versus want.

Let’s look at some tips on how to budget for low income families.

Check out the video as well about the wonderful program in place teaching children how to eat nutritiously even in low income situations and spreading this information to their parents!



  • Pay yourself. No matter what your income and no matter what percentage, just getting in the habit of setting aside something is better than setting aside nothing. It becomes a science and a ritual after a while and you don’t even know that you’re doing it. Save pennies per day or save dollars per week but whatever you do, just do it!
  • Vow to give up junk food and other unnecessary parts of your diet such as smoking and drinking. This is like taking your money and lighting it on fire, then watching it turn to ashes. Anything that is prepared by human hands or made "convenient" is going to cost you money. If you are on a fixed income or a low income, should you really be spending your money on Coke, cigarettes and beer? That defeats your purpose since they are all high ticket items and have NO nutritional value.

  • Drink more water and begin to plan meals that center around less expensive cuts of meat (or even go meatless several times per week)......improve your diet. By buying less junk food and more natural products such as apples or other in-season fruits and vegetables, you’ll be doing your health a favor and your bill at the checkout stand.
  • Coupon like your life depended on it. You can get free in store coupons just by picking up the circulars when you enter the store but you can look online. If you don’t have a computer, you can use one for free at the local library. Scour the newspaper and packages for coupons or even write to the manufacturers asking for coupons to be mailed or emailed to you. Join a coupon club on-line or swap out coupons amongst friends and family members. Shop on days when they offer double coupons to save even more money.
  • Buy in bulk. Buy things like rice, flour, pasta, oatmeal, cleaning products, etc. in bulk at stores like Costco or other warehouse shopping stores. Grocery outlet stores offer huge savings on larger sizes of almost every item you can imagine. Just make sure if you buy fresh produce or anything with an expiration date that you can use it by the expiration date. Again, avoid the convenience food aisles like the plague and your bill won’t kill you when you get to the checkout stand.
  • Buy used. Shop garage sales, thrift stores, and consignment shops for used clothing. You can save an incredible amount of money by not buying new. Recycle any clothes that children outgrow by holding your own garage sale or selling them back to a consignment store. Check ads in the paper or on line for garage sales selling clothing and hit them first thing when they open for the best deals and the best clothing. It’s amazing how much you can save. It’s estimated that you can save up to 80% on clothing alone by buying used. Shop Salvation Army and Goodwill stores and again, use their sale days to the best of your advantage. Some days they offer bonuses such as yellow tags are 70% off the already low price, etc. Know how to use sales to your advantage. Also don’t be afraid to barter at garage sales, etc. All they can say is no!
  • In general, NEVER buy anything if it is not on sale. PERIOD. Just vow to never do it. Everything goes on sale sooner or later and if it isn’t on sale, walk past and come back another day when it is on sale. It’s money in your pocket to refuse to buy it when it’s not on sale. Also watch unit pricing and gimmicks such as 70 cents off a fairly high ticket item. I feel like writing on the sign "you’re kidding right?" Always be aware of where your money is going and make sure a savings is truly a savings. Shop multiple stores to get the best deals if you can and use everyone’s coupons. Ask for stores to match another store’s coupon......they usually will!
  • Pick up great buys on used furniture at swap meets, garage sales, and estate sales. Shop the newspaper or on line at places like Craigslist. Don’t forget to check the free items on Craigslist or in the paper! Even drive-by sightings such as people dumping bookcases or bed frames marked "free" can save you huge amounts of money. It’s also a great way to perpetuate recycling! You never know what you can find just by being alert when you’re driving around. Play the garage sales to the max. Just get there early the first day for the best bargains and again barter, barter, barter!
  • Don’t be part of the disposable world. Cut the madness by refusing to buy anything disposable. Use cloth diapers rather than disposables and cut your cost. Quit using disposable plates, cups, bowls, anything that is not "real". Buy used dishes if you can’t afford new at thrift stores and garage sales. Or buy dishes and pans at outlet stores and save big bucks. Disposable products are like throwing money out the window. You’ve used it but can’t ever use it again and you have to buy new ones to replace it. It’s hard on the pocketbook but it’s killer on the environment.


  • The lottery is not your friend.  A lot of folks who are low-income families think that by playing the lottery, they’ll one day strike it rich and all their troubles will be over.  While that may be true, it’s probably not gonna happen so throwing away lots of dollars on lottery tickets is again like setting your money on fire and watching it burn.  If you’re on a low or fixed income, you should be saving money for other things rather than gambling it away.  If you make a deal with yourself to buy one $1 ticket per month (or even 1 per week), add that up and see how many dollars you’ve basically flushed.  Did you get any return on your "investment?"  Did you ever once win anything?  If you’re like the rest of us, probably not.  Budget for your lottery "investment" if you must, but if you’re spending more than $1 per week, it’s not helping your cause at all.  This is money better spent someplace else.  At $1 per week, that's $52 for the year.  Think about what the $52 could buy....and so on and so on.  
  • Don’t throw your money away on things you can rent – for free.  On a low or fixed income, there’s really no reason to buy books, rent movies, or even buy or rent CD’s and DVD’s.  You can go to your local library, sign up and rent any and all of the above FOR FREE!  You can request them before they come out so that you’re at the top of the list for new releases.  All you need to do is have a library card.  You can go on line and order them and have them waiting for you....or you can visit the library and request anything you want!  Even if they don’t have it in stock, if you request that they purchase it, 9 out of 10 times they will.  Just have the information on author or artist and when it is to be released or was released approximately.  You can also check out cookbooks, self-help books, books on how to live on a budget, DVD’s on how to apply for jobs, etc......all again for free!  And you can use the computer for free to look for jobs, get emails and research any subject!  Libraries are the ultimate freebie!  You can even sign up your kids for reading groups and events, attend meetings there yourself, and stay cool in summer and warm in winter while hanging out at your local library.


In short, these are just a few of the many budgeting tips for low income families.

I know that these tips and tricks for low income families work because I grew up in a very low income family.

We made the most of what we had and that included using all the food that we could afford and making it go as far as it could go for 4 people.

We wore hand-me-downs or bought our clothes at the Goodwill and Salvation Army. Occasionally we got lucky and got some clothes that were new on sale.

In short, we lived a simpler life and that has always stuck with me to my present day life.

I am forever frugal and I believe that even on low incomes, it's possible to survive until things pick up.

It's not easy and it's not pretty sometimes but it's doable. You can find more info on websites such as Suite101 or

If you have some personal favorites that you employ, please share them with all of us to help make this article more complete!

In terms of budgeting and saving money though, any person on any income, high or low, can learn techniques that can save them money and help them stretch those previous dollars.


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    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 5 years ago from Washington

      Thanks for stopping by, Joy.

    • joym7 profile image

      Joy 5 years ago from United States

      Hmm...Quite useful for me. Thank you

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 5 years ago from Washington

      Lifefusion--well get on that girl~ Seriously, thanks for stopping by!

    • Lifefusion profile image

      Josh Woods 5 years ago from United States

      Really enjoyed the hub. I have found tons of free stuff on CraigsList, but I have honestly never went to get any of it. Thanks for the tips.

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 7 years ago from Washington

      Rex - Great point - my family loves CraigsList and so do a lot of my friends!

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 7 years ago from Washington

      Thanks, Rex - I think we all might be low income families shortly!

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 7 years ago from Washington

      Hendrika...thanks so much for the read and wishing you much success. We are more on a 'fixed' income now but I remember what it was like being on an extremely low income. My mom had to support my sis and I and my grandmother so it wasn't pretty - but we survived.

    • Hendrika profile image

      Hendrika 7 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

      I wish we got coupons in South Africa. Here we have to pay or go without it and nothing worth buying ever comes onto a sale it always is the scrap no-one wants!

      Still, a few pretty good ideas even for me here in South Africa. As we are definitely on a low income at the moment I'll give these a go.

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 7 years ago from Washington

      Thanks, Hanna~!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      Very helpful hub.