Thriving on a Low Income: Practical Tips!

What if I told you that we make less than $40,000 a year as a family of 4 (138% the federal poverty level)?  My husband and I both have bachelor’s degrees and have held good jobs with reputable companies. When I received my first full time job after obtaining my bachelor’s degree I was paid $27,000 a year and lived on my own in a very large apartment in one of the trendiest parts of our large city.  Budgeting makes ALL of this possible and here are a few things we have learned along the way (most are also good for our planet):

Have an emergency fund!! (This is most important)!


Find an inexpensive place in the nicest part of town (for the school district).

Choose a home for about 70% of what you’re approved for financially

Keep all housing/utilities to 30% of your total budget.

Newer homes; year 2000 and newer versus older homes, while inexpensive, may nickel and dime the budget due to repair/upkeep.

We chose a condo

HOA provides walking trails, multiple playgrounds for our kiddos, 5 pools, large repairs such as a new roof or a crack in the foundation, landscaping, water, trash, sewer and storm water bills.

Allows for more family time when you are not doing yard work/maintenance.

Physical space limitations means you don’t need to shop as much.


If you work in the city like my husband, try carpooling to work to save on gas especially if your vehicle isn’t fuel-efficient.

Food (we have never needed to use food stamps or SNAP):

If you have a baby, breastfeed or pump if at all possible (FREE vs. the cost of formula).

Shop at Aldi and/or in Bulk. Beans, rice, oats in the bulk section of the popular grocery store (in your own reusable bag if possible).

Alternatively, shop at big bulk stores such as Costco and try to stick to $1 a pound or less (a tip I learned from a good friend).

Meal plan and cook. Time equals money. Try batch cooking and freezing on the weekends to save even more time/money.

Check out budget cookbooks from the library.

Internet Access:

Provided free in many locations from local coffee shops to libraries. If you choose to use Internet at home see if your company offers an income-based price (ours does).

Cell Phone:

Ask to join a family plan with local family members to share data making it cheaper.

Other essentials:

We cloth diapered both of our kids (good for the planet and our kiddo, note: water is included in our HOA).

Save for the entire year for items such as Holidays. Insurance for car, life, and home often offer discounts for paying yearly instead of monthly.

Vacation with family yearly to save on costs.  

Utilize tax refunds to buy quality items that will last over quantity.

Use to track transactions and spending habits to see if life is matching up with the budget.

Replace light bulbs with LEDs to save energy (our electric company provided these for our entire home for free).


Accept all hand me downs for kiddos and learn how to oxiclean! (Write thank you cards to show appreciation.)

Shop second hand for everything!

Shop church rummage sales for household items if needed and local kids sales at church for baby items.

Utilize uniform allowances at work if offered.

Shop places like The Gap Clearance Outlet for underwear and other new defective items.

Learn to sew!


Look into income based co pays at local doctors offices.

Christian healthcare options are available and you can pair those with the doctor’s offices that offer an income-based payment until you reach your maximum out of pocket before bills are shareable.

Hospital and labs may negotiate lower rates if they have income-based options.

Local health departments offer vaccines for a small fee or sometimes free.


Best option is not having loans for the person that chooses to stay home.

For student loans see if working for a non-profit will provide you with a 10-year student loan forgiveness program. Income based repayment could also be an option


Never let bills become late or overdraft accounts. Fees are not in the budget!

Always contribute to retirement and get the full company match.  

Keep on top of car repairs.

When I had my first child 5 years ago, I took 12 weeks of unpaid leave from my full time job and enjoyed every minute of my new baby. When it came time to return to work, we started introducing bottles but our daughter completely refused.  We bought every bottle on the market and saw lactation for help at the #2 children’s hospital in the US. I was so distressed by the thought of my baby not eating while I was at work all day that we took a giant leap of faith. I left my full time job to stay home and nurse my sweet baby.  

Fast-forward 5 years… My husband and I are thriving not just surviving. Has it been hard at times and have we made sacrifices, yes! There was a point in the 5 years that we shared a car until we saved up enough for another. We have also moved states and bought and sold homes multiple times (closing costs are expensive!).

In closing, I would say that Americans in general live very privileged lives with not a lot of discomfort. If we have the ability to read this we are living a comfortable life with Internet and possibly a cell phone. This is different than many countries.  We have a lot of resources and our lives are pretty darn good. All of our luxuries are so easily obtained they feel like necessities. Sometimes a little bit of discomfort helps you grow as a person and challenges the brain. Being on a very tight budget doesn’t make us feel poor just responsible.
About Kara!
Kara is a mom with two small girls. She loves budgeting, photography and design. She was born and raised in the state of Kentucky and is raising her girls there with her husband Adam.

Drop her a line and say “Hello!” at


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published