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Surviving on a Single Income - Six Quick Money Making Ideas

Updated on March 14, 2022

Find Money Fast

Financial situations can change very quickly. A car breaks down, a furnace needs replacing, a bill is unexpectedly large, a divorce occurs, child support runs out, a child needs braces, a college student needs books or a host of other things that can send one into a financial tailspin. There was a day when I had no debt, a nice savings, a cheap place to live and a second job. Within a few short years things changed and I was scrambling to afford my monthly bills. I had to get creative, because I didn't have time to sit and watch myself sink into fiscal ruin. Nothing I was reading online seemed to be helping, so with some creative thinking and good advice from those closest to me, I was able to come up with the following ideas to find money and help fast.

1. Sell Something

Do you have anything you can sell? This may take some thought so let me help. Consignment stores take used clothes in good condition. Some small chain consignment stores will give you money upfront for your used items, while other local stores will take your items, sell them and hold your earnings in an account. Not only did I tidy up my closet, but made $25 on items I wasn't wearing.

Certain times of the year are great for selling other items collecting dust in your attic or basement. Think summer for air conditioners, dehumidifiers and outdoor items. In winter, depending where you live, think snow blowers, artificial Christmas trees and snow skis. Your best bet is to sell an item when it is needed the most. (See my hub on how to hold a successful yard sale.)

Don't stop at clothes and household items, many people are making money on old jewelry, and in particular - GOLD!. Most malls have jewelry stores that will buy gold. I happened to have some gold earrings and had either lost the matching earring or just wasn't wearing them. I was able to make a quick $100 selling gold at a local buyer. With my profits, I filled my gas tank, put windshield wipers on my car and had money left for my pocket.

2. Change your Exemptions

Another way to make money quickly is to change your paycheck exemptions. According to the TurboTax Intuit website, "When you have too much money withheld from your paychecks, you end up giving Uncle Sam an interest-free loan (and getting a tax refund). Ask yourself if there are better ways to use that money. Why not take home more money in your weekly paycheck?"

When I realized that I was getting a sizable income tax return that seemed to get widdled away quickly when I received it, I thought maybe the money would be more usable in my bi-weekly paycheck.

What this looks like:

  • Added one exemption +$22.50 in my bi-weekly pay
  • $22.50 X 2 = +$45 extra dollars my monthly budget.

This will vary depending on your rate of pay and other criteria. Your human resources department should be able to guide you on how to adjust your W4 withholdings.

The best way to approach shopping smarter is with the idea that it's a challenge to be conquered.
The best way to approach shopping smarter is with the idea that it's a challenge to be conquered. | Source

3. Shop Smarter

You're either going to love this one or hate it, but the best way to approach shopping smarter is with the idea that it's a challenge to be conquered.

I'm thinking predominantly groceries and retail here and the first place to start might be where you shop. For groceries, discounts chains like Aldi's offer products at much lower prices without the fancy name brand. You will have to experiment here and make sure your fish sticks don't taste like a rubber dog bone, but if you find some products comparable, you can save at discount grocery stores.

Another way to save on groceries without changing stores is through the use of coupons. Stores that double are the best place to use coupons and these usually can found in the Sunday paper, weekly circulars and online. Two of my favorite sites are Coupon Mom and the Penny Pincher Gazette. These sites allow you to print coupons for use at your favorite store. Saving on groceries can help bring your expenses closer to a reasonable level. I'm not saying you need to stockpile a pallet of toothpaste you'll never be able to use, but saving $5 - $10 on your grocery bill can add up over time.

Finally, check out This cool site boasts, "the world's leading marketplace for online coupons and deals...consumers seeking to save money find hundreds of thousands of offers from retailers across the globe." I never buy anything full price unless I first visit Retailmenot. I have saved money using online codes to purchase items from ink cartridges to contact lenses and clothes. This site is a must-visit for anyone on a tight budget.


4. Revisit your Bills

There are a couple of things you can do when you revisit your bills. The idea here is rid and reduce. Are there any bills you can get rid of? For instance, I was paying $36 a month for a gym membership I wasn't using. I didn't want to get rid of my membership forever, but just taking 3 months off caused me to dust off the exercise equipment I had at home and saved me $108.

When looking at your bills, take a good look at your utilities. I was able change my cell phone bill to a data share plan and save over $30 a month. All it takes is a little research into your cellular provider's plans to see if there's an option that can save you money.

Another utility to take a close look at is electricity. According to; "Almost half of the states have passed some legislation or regulations to restructure their electric power industry." What that means if you happen to live in one of these states is that you have the option of choosing your electric provider. The different providers are very competitive and translated that means - the benefits are on your side - there are a lot of perks from the companies because they want your business.

For more information on revisiting your bills and driving down debt see this article on debt reduction.

5. Hitch a Ride

According to US Energy Information Administration (EIA), gas prices twenty years ago were around $1.00 a gallon, but in June of 2008, prices spiked to over $4.00 a gallon and sent the nation into a panic. In September that year, CNN ran a story that read: Nashville pumps dry after panic about rumor of no gas. Although gas eventually went down, we are still seeing an average of $3.50/gallon and thus a new age of car pooling has been born.

This is an easy way to save money if you have options available to you. Public transportation and/or car pooling is money in your pocket. For instance, as an employee of a university, I can hop a small bus from a downtown plaza for a free ride to work in the summer saving me $40 - $45 a week in gas. Potential monthly savings for this small inconvenience - $180. Even if you aren't an employee, you can still hop this bus one way for a dollar or two and save money.

If you don't have the option of public transportation or transportation provided by your work place, car pooling may take some courage and creativity. A good place to begin is search the web for car pool sites. Many sites are loaded with ideas and resources to help you get started.

6. Explore Assistance Options

I saved this for last because it is not a "money making" idea, but it is an option when surviving on a single income especially if there are children involved. TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) is just that - "temporary". Many people need a hand now and then and the welfare system was originally created during the Great Depression to offer that help.

Although commonly criticized, the welfare system still exists today and it's not just for those who make it their lifestyle. It exists to help ordinary folks who are in a pinch and need to get back on their feet. Each state has their own site and you can now apply online. Even if you are working, if you meet the income guidelines, you may qualify for Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP), Food stamps (SNAP) or even free or reduced lunches (school). I was unable to meet any guidelines myself when I researched this system, but applying online (check out the links) seemed easy and understandable.

What this could look like

*Clothes sold at consignment shop
*Gold sold at jewelry store
Grocery coupons
Exemption adjustment savings
Cancelled gym membership
Cellular savings - new plan
Riding free bus
$ 436.00
*one time only


  • Competitive Electricity Market Insights - Business Energy Market Research & Data - Direct Energy Business. (n.d.). Business Energy Providers | Electricity for Business | Natural Gas Company - Direct Energy Business. Retrieved May 7, 2013, from
  • Gasoline and Diesel Fuel Update - Energy Information Administration. (n.d.). U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Retrieved May 7, 2013, from
  • Top 5 Reasons to Adjust Your W-4 Withholding - TurboTax® Tax Tips & Videos. TurboTax® Tax Preparation Software, FREE Tax Filing, Efile Taxes, Income Tax Returns. Retrieved May 7, 2013, from


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