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How to Survive on a Part-Time Salary

Updated on November 13, 2010
Numbers can be your worst enemy.
Numbers can be your worst enemy.

Surviving on a single part-time salary is not easy. Even my job, which is considerably better than a lot of other part time jobs, still ends up with roughly a $15 dollar loss at the end of each month (assuming I’ve purchased nothing but the bare essentials). But somehow my wife and I have found ways to make it work for a few years running. Having said that, this guide is not meant to be a suggested lifestyle for low income households, but rather, it’s a way to stall the inevitable as you look for a better (or any) job that might pull you out of the nose dive.

Government Aid

Whether you haven’t thought of it or you’re afraid of what people might think if you’re on food stamps, you need to apply for government aid. Living on part-time salaries, or even some full time salaries, leaves you with very little money. You would be amazed how much even a small contribution of money can help with food costs. For this step you will need to visit your local DHS office (Department of Human Services) and fill out an information packet. Usually the big things they ask you about is how much income you have (including savings accounts) who, in addition to yourself, relies on you for food, and whether or not you have any benefits already. You will need proof of all of this (like check stubs) to make it final, but if you bring the finished forms to a case worker they can help you figure out which government aid programs you are eligible for. This will probably vary from state to state, but they are there to help you figure it all out.

These programs are essential if you’re living off a single part-time income. Maybe you don’t want to be thought of as a ‘leech on the system’ but these programs are there for a reason: to help those like you get by until you are able to get on your feet. There is no shame in asking your government for help.

Also, another important thing you can do is change your tax information. I’m grouping this under government aid because the amount of taxes taken from your paycheck is determined by how many dependants you have. You might not have a spouse or children, but check your information anyway. Sometimes the default amount of dependants is zero, which means you aren’t even claiming yourself as a dependant. This can happen a lot if you’re working a job that you started while you were a dependant under your parents. Change the number to one (by speaking with the person who handles your paychecks) and you will see a higher per-check salary. It is important to note, however, that this could result in a much lower tax return in April or possibly the need to pay the government some money. So what this comes down to is; do you need the money now, or can you survive without it in order to get a larger return? That part is up to you.


When you have low funds, it helps to be constantly aware of how much money you have. For example, if you use a credit card, knowing how far you are from your limit could mean the difference between a smart purchase and an overdraw fee. This results in a lot of pre-planning. If you have X amount of money in food stamps per months, then try to break that amount into four pieces so you have enough to purchase food every week, as opposed to spending all of it at the beginning of the month just because it has been so long since your last supermarket trip. It also helps to make a grocery list and stick to it as you shop. It’s very easy to see a whole bunch of things you didn’t realize you needed and the bill suddenly skyrockets.

You always want to leave yourself some wiggle room too. I would often leave my credit card very close to the max limit and it became a problem when I realized that the monthly interest charge was automatically added to the total. This meant I went over the limit even though I technically hadn’t even made a purchase. Sure it’s easy to get mad at the credit card company, but it’s easier to plan ahead so that it doesn’t happen again. One method I use to compensate for this is selectively filling my gas tank. If I have thirty dollars on my credit card, and it would take twenty-five to fill the tank, rather than risk putting the card that close to the limit, I only fill up fifteen dollars worth. No it doesn’t fill my tank, but it will get me through the next week. It is important to leave that buffer not only on credit cards but in your savings account as well. Remember, above I said that these methods are only meant to stall the loss of money each month, which for some of us is unavoidable. So if you ever come into a lump sum of money (such as from a tax return, a birthday or a bonus) you can hold on to it to supplement the lost money each month.

Limit Luxuries

If you’re living on a part-time salary, then you probably aren’t buying caviar and Rolexes every week. Those aren’t the types of luxuries I’m talking about. In fact, for a lot of us a luxury could be anything that you technically don’t need. For example, you probably don’t need those extra cable channels and eating out is both unhealthy and costly (eating at home is always better for you and your wallet). But you’ll notice that I said to limit luxuries not eliminate them entirely. This is a very important point to make because when you’re in a bad financial place depression is always peeking its ugly head at you. I know how disheartening it is to get a paycheck and instantly see every cent of it disappear to bills. It sucks, but if you go from month to month without ever treating yourself to anything it’s going to suck a whole lot more. Just try to be smart when you do treat yourself. Use a coupon, buy things used, borrow movies and games from friends. I’m a fan of video games and I wrote a whole article about how to save money on games, but the same can be true of a lot of multimedia. I’ve seen DVD movies as low as five dollars and if you’re really big into movies, Netflix can satisfy your craving for a fair price each month (that wasn’t meant to be a Netflix plug). But anyway, the point is to not totally cut out fun things for yourself, just limit it as much as possible and get really frugal about it.

Maybe it's time we re-defined the American Dream: becoming rich and famous has been downgraded to, please just let me find a job with health benefits.
Maybe it's time we re-defined the American Dream: becoming rich and famous has been downgraded to, please just let me find a job with health benefits.

Saving and Making Small Amounts of Money

When you’re bleeding money each month, despite a consistent income, you’re going to need to do little things to reduce the loss. You may hate it, but clipping coupons and bringing them with you to the store can save a lot over time, as can purchasing off-brand and/or sale items from the supermarket. It also helps to buy preserved foods that will last. They are usually high in sodium, but it’s better than having something go bad in the refrigerator that you never got a chance to eat. As a side note I’ve noticed that healthier foods are often more expensive so if you’re planning to lose weight you’re either going to need to get even more frugal, or maybe put it off until you have more money.

Another pro-active step you can take is trying to find small sources of income. Maybe there are some places that will pay you for freelance work (depending on what you can do). Some people turn to online sources like eBay or HubPages (Hence, why I’m here). Or even collecting bottles and cans. Any amount of money that you can add to your own will help slow the loss and give you more time.

This is Only Temporary

As I said above, all of this is meant to slow down your spiral towards financial ruin. Whether its credit card debt, student loans, medical bills or just the bare essentials; something is working against you and it is winning, but that doesn’t mean you have to go down without a fight. What lies at the end of that road might be different for you than others; bankruptcy, moving in with parents, losing a home. Whatever it is doesn’t have to be the end and these methods can help buy you time to find a better job or way of living. Never accept defeat; fight all the way down and if you don’t succeed, re-focus your efforts on fighting your way back up.

Additional Tips:

  • Get used to filling out paperwork, not just for government aid, but also for charitable forms. Some hospitals will reduce or forgive bills based on your financial situation (after providing proof).
  • Look for organizations that help out people like yourself such as free health clinics and food donators.
  • Volunteer your time at organizations that help people like you. It will build connections with individuals who can help you get by, and will give you the skills and connections to find a better job.
  • Plan your meals in advance so you know exactly what to buy and you don’t end up with a bunch of junk that won’t last.
  • Eat your leftovers! Don’t let them go bad in the fridge, it’s a waste!
  • Use your local library for books and internet use.
  • Purchase energy saving light bulbs and unplug unused electronic devices to save money on your electric bill.
  • Limit any long distance trips. Paying for gas, food and lodging adds up way too quickly.
  • Learn to be patient about new things; it will be a lot cheaper to see that blockbuster once it’s available to rent.

I’m leaving this additional tips section open to expansion, but I also encourage anyone who reads this to add their own suggestions to help in the comments section below.


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    • M. T. Dremer profile imageAUTHOR

      M. T. Dremer 

      3 years ago from United States

      frozenink - It's amazing what one can learn by writing down all the expenses from a given week. Sometimes it isn't big purchases that produce debt, but rather a bunch of little ones. My wife and I saved a lot of money simply by limiting how many places we go for goods/services. $20 isn't a lot of money, but it is when you spend that amount at four different places in the same day. Thanks for the comment!

    • frozenink profile image


      3 years ago

      I think these are really useful and practical tips. I would say the most vital step is to budget our spending. Awareness of our financial state and keeping records of credit card spending is really necessary. I think it applies to situations when we have more money as well, but is more important when we are low on funds.

    • M. T. Dremer profile imageAUTHOR

      M. T. Dremer 

      7 years ago from United States

      zaini9669 - Thank you for the compliment!

      EnjoyYourLife - It's easy to spend a lot at the beginning of the month when it looks like you don't have any food in the cupboards. However, that method just means you'll be spending a lot the next month as well because all the food shows up at the beginning, then you don't have any money left for food later in the month. My wife and I have found that, by rationing on a weekly basis, our foodstamps stretch longer and we make better choices. Thanks for the comment!

    • EnjoyYourLife profile image


      7 years ago from New York

      This was absolutely a GREAT hub. I loved what you said in regards to dividing the foodstamps into four (as in four weeks of the month). This was a very useful tip.

    • zaini9669 profile image


      8 years ago

      Great tips..


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