Yes. You read that correctly. A family of 4 lived on $17,000 annually. And we were able to save up for a house, paid off 2 cars, and still managed to build a savings account.
It wasn’t easy but we made it work.
When we had our first son, my husband and I knew that it would be best for everyone if I stayed home with the baby. As he grew, we knew that homeschooling was the best option for us, which only further solidified our need to survive off of one income: my husband’s.
If he were paid based on how hard he works, he’d be a millionaire. But that’s just not how it works. He used to work in a place that built stages for rock stars (Lady Gaga, U2, Cirque du Soliel…) and he got paid almost nothing. But he still supported us on his own with his income.
He now works in a steel fabrication shop building parts for bridges (ever drive across a bridge on an interstate? You’re welcome.).
But I want to talk about the dark times. Before the great job. In the times of the $650 paycheck every. other. week.
Times were tough. But we still survived, and eventually thrived, for 4 years. Some shudder at the thought of only making $17,000, but that’s the reality of what our lives were.
Obvious answers to this situation would have been for me to get a job and for my husband to work more. But that didn’t happen (if I had a brain, I would have started these side hustles YEARS ago!). So for the purposes of this post, this is what we did to survive as a family of four on an income of $17,000.
So how did we live on $17,000 a year?
What NEEDS to happen? Do you need a new car, or is this one doing just fine and you’d like a new car? Or even smaller: do you need the full price, brand name products or can you go for the generic or maybe even make it yourself (which I’ll address later on). We learned pretty quickly that if we wanted to splurge, we’d need to plan ahead for it. But if splurging meant that our grocery budget would take a hit, we would opt for a night of frozen pizza and Netflix.
2.Live below your means
If you always live like you’re broke, you’ll have money left over in the end. Even if you CAN afford to go out to a nice dinner tonight, save that money for when you really need it. Even if you CAN get a new, expensive car, opt for the used car that gets you more bang for your buck. Always spend as if you were making much less than your actual income.
If my husband ever worked overtime, I’d immediately take the extra income and put it into a savings account. Even if he only worked a little overtime each month, it all added up. And slowly we started bi a savings account. We were able to do things like fix a problem with our car without putting it on a credit card. We were even able to save up enough for a down payment on a house from this savings account. When you act as though ever little cent counts, you truly start to appreciate everything.
3. Shop ONLY discount
I learned very quickly that I can get much more for $20 at Goodwill than I can at a department store. If I only have $20 to spend on clothes for 3 people, I have to make every cent count. I love my second-hand stores. I’ll only get clothes there. I only shop at Goodwill or Salvation Army on their half off Wednesdays, to real help stretch the budget!
I love our discount grocers. I don’t go food shopping anywhere else. Canned goods are between $.25-.50 for brand names, organic veggies 2 for $1 (or less!), and almost anything else you could buy at the grocery store, you can get for almost nothing at a discount grocer. If you Google “discount grocer” in your area, hopefully you’ll find some to try out. This is the only way that I can afford my $50 a week grocery budget!
Second hand stores and thrift stores aren’t just for clothes, either. There are even scratch and dent stores for appliances that give you a deep discount just for a scratch that you can’t even see! We redid part of our kitchen this year and installed a dishwasher. We got a brand new stainless steel GE dishwasher, that would have been $900, for $200 because it had a scratch on the inside of the handle. I don’t mind the tiny scratch (that you can’t see unless you’re looking for it)! Especially if it’s saving me $700!
4. Rethink “necessities”
Before you buy anything, ask yourself if you’ll be glad you bought it tomorrow. If the answer is no, then you don’t need it. Even things that I considered necessities are getting a second thought; do I really need those paper towels or can I get by using the rags that I made from old towels? Do I really need the super ultra stain fighter detergent for $15 for a months supply, or can I try to make my own for $12 for the whole year?
You can even rethink the diapers that you use! If I had been thinking at the time, I would’ve also cloth diapered my sons from the beginning. I always thought that the problem with cloth diapers is that start up is so expensive. But it doesn’t have to be: I cloth diapered my youngest 2 sons for 2 years now paying $279 for all of the diapering supplies.
There are SO many more ways that we learned how to live off of a very low income. Check them out HERE and HERE!
Have you ever had to live on a low income? What did you do to make it work?
Jamie @ Medium Sized Family says
Love to read inspiring stories like this! It really is all about little things adding up to big savings. So often I find that the thing I thought was a great buy is really just more clutter in the house. Why spend money on it at all?
Thank you, Jamie! We’ve come a long way from that point in time, but the lessons that we learned about saving and spending really have changed our lives for the better!
laura dove says
Such a great post. There are six of us and my husband earns a very mediocre wage and people always ask how the hell do we cope with so little money for all of us! I think it’s all about living within your means, being sensible with it and also prioritising what is important to you. #abitofeverything
Exactly Laura! If you live like a millionaire on a small income, you’ll be flat broke in no time at all. It really is all about living within your means.
Tina @ Treasured Tidbits says
This is great! We have been sharing HOW we save each week on our blog as well.
I get so tired of friends and family telling me the “can’t save” . They are “so far in debt” they’ve might as well keep spending”. As I watch them blow more in a week on frivolous stuff on a charge card than I used to make in a week.
Thank you for sharing ! I would love to have you join our link up each week at Sharing Saturday. Posts like this are perfect.
I’m right there with you, Tina! My husband always felt like he was getting the short end of the stick when he would see his co-workers buying brand new tucks or motorcycles and he has to save with the rest of us. What he didn’t realize was that his co-workers were using their credit cards to make all of these purchases and were just digging themselves into debt. Once he realized that spending money on a credit card doesn’t mean that you’re better off, he felt a lot better about our saving!
Wow I am so impressed that is amazing you are so organized and did well to live on that much. 🙂 I suppose we only spend what we have and when it’s gone its gone so you got to make it last. You got creative there. I am sure growing up my momma did the same thing. I send you huge cudos for that. Thank you so much for linking up to Share With Me. I hope to see you again tomorrow for another great round of #sharewithme
Thank you so much, Jenny! I didn’t used to be like that at all! We had way too much month at the end of the money… like, three weeks too much month! But we finally figured out how to make it all work for us!
Brita Long says
My second year working in France I earned less than 800 euros a month. Unlike most other teaching assistants, I didn’t have my parents backing me (although they helped me in an emergency situation that year), and I hadn’t amassed a ton of savings before taking the job. I had 500 euros saved from the year before and about $300 in my US checking account.
My half of rent was low, only about 125 euros a month, but my utilities were often as high as 200 euros a month. (In retrospect, I should have told my roommate that if she wanted to adjust the thermostat higher, she could pay more than half of the gas bill. Instead I got stuck subsidizing her constant coldness).
I learned basically everything that could be made with eggs. I ate a lot of rice & beans. If chicken breasts were on sale, I would buy them and freeze them, and treat myself to just one a week. I did drink a lot of wine, but 4 euros for a bottle of pretty good French wine was a reasonable splurge! I rarely went out to eat. I didn’t travel on the weekends. I pinched every penny so that during the school breaks (1 1/2 weeks in October/November, 2 weeks in December, 2 weeks in February/March, 2 weeks in April), I could afford to travel.
I stayed in hostels. I drank tap water. I ate bread & cheese. I took overnight trains to save on the train ticket, but also to skip a night of lodging.
All that said, I’m still grateful I had the safety net of my parents. I made one miscalculation in my last few weeks in France, and my parents had to transfer about $200 to my French bank account. Considering my twin brother still lived at home at the time (and didn’t pay for rent or groceries), I don’t think they minded paying for my one mistake! They had also paid for my plane ticket to get to France, although I paid to get back home.
Living on any lower income really teaches you how to get so creative with inexpensive staples and how to appreciate the finer things (even chicken breast!) when you can get them!
Hi Caroline, I used many of the same strategies when our income was about the same as yours, still managed to raise 4 kids this way. Thanks for sharing!
Marjan, you’re my hero! Living off of this income was hard enough with 2 kids, but 4?! Wow!
Agent Spitback says
Wow that’s amazing! Well done! And thanks for sharing your tips with #abitofeverything..Good to know that it can be done!
Amanda @ The Fundamental Home says
Girl, we have been there and done that! Still doing it really. You can do anything you are committed to doing, and if you intend to be a homeschooling mom, you have got to work! These are great tips for those who are struggling to get by on a tight budget!
Thanks, Amanda! And it’s true that committing to something makes it easier to stick to!
Alice Jones Webb says
This is great. Your story is my story. I stayed home to raise kids (and later homeschool) when my husband was a just a first-year teacher making just about $18,000/year. People thought we were crazy. It was hard, but oh-so-very worth it! The funny thing is that when I went back to work part-time (11 years later) that’s when our financial situation got wonky. I honestly think it was because I was unable to focus on getting the ends to meet.
It’s so great that there are other people out there who have gotten by on such little income as well! It’s not easy, but it’s definitely doable!
A great article that many will learn great lessons from! I found you on the This is How We Roll link party and just pinned this!
Alison [Life of Scoop] says
This is inspiring! THANK YOU for giving practical and reasonable tips for living on a tight budget. So often I read these types of articles & leave feeling discouraged. But I love your take on a difficult situation. 🙂
Thanks for sharing with us at 100 Happy Days!
Thanks so much, Alison! I’m so glad it didn’t leave you feeling discouraged!
I think is people abided by the “live below your means” rule, everyone would be so much better off! I learned that one from Dave Ramsey when I was paying off my debt, and haven’t gone back since. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Bravo to you for making it work!!! (Visited from Blogger’s Spotlight link party!)
I love these tips! We too rely on my husband’s income for all the things we need. In the last year or so, I have done most of our clothes shopping at thrift and consignment shops instead of buying them brand new at Target or wherever else. I actually cringe when I see how much a pair of jeans for a 6 year old is and think I could probably get those jeans slightly worn for about 3/4 of the price brand new.
Thanks for sharing at Manic Monday linky party, hope to see you next week!
Carrie Bowers says
Great post! I am a self-help junkie so I LOVE posts like this. I am way more frugal than my hubby and have tried and use several of these tips! Thanks for linking up with us!
Thanks for the tips! We are low income, living off SSDI, but we are still making more than 17K. I think the hardest things for me are to stop eating out and buying retail, although I do get things on sale. Before we got sick we were very comfortable and I think it’s hard knowing what you are missing. Stopping by from the Sharefest!
Great money tips! Luckily my bank rounds up my purchases to the nearest dollar and puts it into a savings account for me so we are accumulating a little nest egg without even noticing it along the way. Thanks for partying with us on the #FridayFrivolity party. I hope you will join us again next week.
Lou Lou Girls says
Great post! Pinned and tweeted! Thank you so much for sharing this with us at our linky party. We hope to see you next Monday @ 7 because we can’t wait to see your new creations! Happy Sunday! Lou Lou Girls
Kendall Patton says
This is inspiring as we work to get out of some debt we accumulated over the last couple of years! I do wish there were a local discount grocer I could get things we eat from, but there isn’t. Thrift stores are super awesome though! 🙂
Nothing builds character like living on a very tight budget. We have lived on a very tight budget for 11 years so that I can stay home with the kids and homeschool. We know that God will take care of things and meet our needs but it is still hard not to worry at times. I have made detergent, toothpaste, deodorant and used cloth diapers and homemade wipes. I have cleaned pieces of aluminum foil to reuse and also ziplock bags. When you are aware of what money you could save by reusing, it makes it hard to throw a perfectly good piece of aluminum foil away or throw a perfectly good ziplock bag away even though you have already used them, lol. BUT…there are still other things I could do to save money. I look forward to reading part 2.
Yours is such good advice! I hope you’re writing a book about your journey!
Charlene Asay says
This is amazing. I love your tips. Our family has been able to live on one income as well. It is super important to me and my husband that I am a stay at home mom. It has been a blessing to our family. Thanks for linking up at Family Joy Blog Link Up Party.
Great post! It sounds like you all did a great job of focusing on what’s truly important and making the best with what you had.
I really enjoyed reading your post. Thanks so much for sharing with us at Funtastic Friday.
Anne @ Domesblissity says
Hi Caroline! What a fabulous post. All great ideas and most that I already do. I’m so glad you wrote this. I hope a lot of people get to see it and see how it can be done. I’m featuring this post at today’s Thriving on Thursdays linky party. Thanks so much for joining in.
Anne @ Domesblissity
Carrie Bowers says
I wanted to let you know that I picked your post as a feature for Blogger Spotlight! We would love for you to come link up again this week! Thanks!
Wow, that’s a really clever way of thniinkg about it!
Elizabeth (Plant Based Bride) says
These are such good things to think about. As I save for my wedding I am trying to live below my means, but it is a very difficult transition to say the least. I am so inspired that you and your family made it work on such a small year income!
Wonderful tips! Wish I would have had them when I raised my kids! I am reblogging this and passing it along to my followers. Sending this link to my kids in Oklahoma too. They are raising my grandkids. Thanks! Happy blogging…. Annette 🙂
Writings Of A Single Girl says
Oh my goodness. $17000 is roughly €15500…. I can not imagine living on that alone never mind for a family. Fair play to you. Very inspiring post. I myself usually only buy clothes now when they are on sale too and you do question yourself buying something full price anymore. I loved your ideas and will definitely read part 2!
Great tips! Little things sure do add up.
One question, what on earth was your rent/mortgage at the time? I would think that would go a very long way in being able to live on so little. In our city, a place in a not scary neighborhood was $1200/mo. That’s $14,400/year just in rent!
Mrs. Sarah Coller says
“Before you buy anything, ask yourself if you’ll be glad you bought it tomorrow.”…Wow, just keeping that in mind would change my life in so many ways. Do I need that candy bar? No. Pizza instead of making something homemade? No. Craft supplies that will sit on the shelf until I’m “inspired” or they go bad? No. Wow…I hope I keep that in mind.
Lol that hit me too!
I was like… Yep…
I loved reading the article. However the pop up for me to sign up to get a freebie kept popping up. Even when I did put an email in, it would redirect me to a different site. And it wouldn’t let me exit out of the pop up. This made it extremely frustrating and difficult to try and finish your wonderful article. I hope there is a way this can be fixed. I love your articles. this one is extremely helpful!
Thanks so much, Jaelyn! I hope that nasty pop up’s been fixed for you!
Mrs. Frugalista says
We are blessed to have very good income but we also live in a high cost of living state. We have lived below our means (way below) and this is what we have accomplished:
Paid off our home in 3 years and a month later my husband lost his job. We were able to live on my income for a year until he was able to find a job.
Cash flowed our two college tuition with no debt whatsoever, cash flowed small vacations, helped out family members, etc.
It’s about respecting every penny you earn!
Gramma D says
My story goes waay back to the sixties. I was a SAHM with a 3 yr-old and a 1 yr-old. My husband worked for little more than minimum wage and we were making payments on a mobile home and a car. One of the ways I made the dollars stretch was by shopping at the Salvation Army store where I would buy garments with very full skirts. I would rip out the seams and wind up with scads of fabric and made all my kid’s clothes from those fabrics. I’m now a great-grandma and still shop at “Sally Ann” where I buy sheets for $2 and pillow cases for 50 cents. I make blouses, skirts, home décor, adorable dresses for 3-yr-old granddaughter and have a huge quilting stash. Wouldn’t trade my sewing machine for the world.
I will say- cloth diapering doesn’t have to be expensive! Providing you don’t sew, you can get 5 cheap covers for around 5-10 dollars a piece on eBay, etsy, or craigslist, and you only need maybe 5, and use flour sack towels which are about a dollar a piece folded up as inserts, and you only need between 12-24.
so it could cost around 50 to start up and be fully functional in the cloth diapering department. Less if you strike a deal with another mama on a used lot.
Love that, Jenifer! I got mine from Amazon and they were the cheapest diapers I could find, and (ya know what?) they’ve lasted the longest out of any of the cloth diapers I own! And they’ve withstood my “mishaps” when I first started suing them without any holes or leaks! Not bad for around $4 a diaper!
AJ Collins says
Living in California, it would be nearly impossible to live on that amount per year! (Considering rent is a minimum of $750 in the cheaper areas of the state)… but we lived on my husband’s income $25,000 for a number of years, while buying a home and 2 cars outright (we had a little help from the parents), we learned to save by bi-monthly meal planning and planning meals based on what is for sale. Cutting back on meat, (we never used more than 1/3 lb of hamburger for tacos or spaghetti)… shopping at discount grocery stores, minimizing snacking, never or very rarely eating out… cutting out cable, getting rid of our landline, having a cell phone with no data plan, buying a quart of ice cream instead of spending 5 times that amount on ice cream cones out… making things when you can, finding inexpensive ways to entertain your kiddos… like chalk and bubbles or trips to the park instead of expensive activities like going to the movies… there are so many ways to live frugally!!
AJ Collins recently posted…Sophistication is Simple
So how much was rent and utilities???? We have a low income and would really like to see the break down of the expenses. Great tips!
Veronica recently posted…My Hair Routine for Summer 2016: Wash and Go
I’m writing that post now, Veronica! We found an “all utilities included” apartment and lived out of a tiny 1 bedroom apartment and then a tiny 2 bedroom townhouse because all of the utilities were included! I’ll link back to the post once I get it live! 🙂