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?