How Little Money Can You Live On?

Saving money is chic these days; guess I’ve been chic for a long time. Book available in digital and paperback format at

Saving money is a hot topic these days, maybe because for so many of us, what we have doesn’t go as far as it used to.

So we look for ways to reduce expenses, stretch resources farther, and live happily on less, something my Norwegian Artist husband and I, with our brood, have been doing for years. The problem is, when you start looking for advice on how to save money, you hit articles that promise,

“Eat for $25 per week!”

“Live on $12,000 per year!” or some other such definite, appealing number. I have always found that, when a piece of advice makes me feel tense, stressed, or incompetent, it’s not the piece of advice for me.

There is no one-size, fits all method to saving money, because each household has expenses unique to what it is. Households of very limited income have access to public service and government programs that households over the income threshholds do not, so while Family A pays for its health insurance through a subsidized program, Family B budgets in a regular, much larger payment.

Or perhaps Family C is renting, and Family D is buying, the latter incorporating mortgage insurance, property taxes, and maintenance into its budget. Family E needs two cars — each with maintenance, insurance, taxes, and gasoline built into their cost — while Family F, which lives in a large city, uses public transportation unavailable to the suburban Family E.

It goes on and on, and any resource that promises you can live on a fixed amount, simply by doing Steps 1, 2, and 3, isn’t taking into account your unique situation.

Do you rent, or own? Your individual circumstances make a difference. Sophie and Rose original at Steve Henderson Fine Art; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas

So the first thing to do is eliminate the question in this title, How little can we live on? and focus, instead, on this question: What incremental, realistic steps can we take to reduce our expenses?

To answer this, you need to know what your expenses are in the first place, and this is where many people stop: track your expenses. Where do you spend your money each month?

The reason most people stop immediately after asking this question is because answering it seems so onerous and difficult, setting up a complicated budget that no one wants to tackle, much less stick to, for more than a day.

But doing something is infinitely better than doing nothing, so rather than worry about doing the thing perfectly, focus, instead, on just doing the thing, and getting an approximate idea of where your money goes. How much do you spend on food each month? How much of that is in restaurants, and how much in groceries? How about utilities, gas, insurance, and housing? You don’t need 15 categories; just hit the basics, and put everything else under “other.”

Tracking your expenses does not have to be as difficult as looking for a needle in a field of flowers. Field of Dreams original painting by Steve Henderson

Once you have a loose idea of where your money goes, figure out which expenses are fixed — like a car payment, or the water bill, or property taxes — and which are flexible, like entertainment, which encompasses everything from bowling to pizza night, and unfortunately are far more optional than auto insurance.

And now you can start making changes, little ones because these are easiest to maintain, and individualized to your family situation.

“Drop the daily coffee.” That’s easy for me to say; I drink tea.

But how about this: Buy the daily coffee every other day, and put the savings aside to purchase the machine and materials you need to make your own coffee: flavors, plastic cups, little red straws.

“Quit going to the theater.” Again, easy for me to say; I prefer a book. But go halves again, putting the saved money aside, and wait for the movies you’ve missed to stream.

Make little, sustainable, bearable changes, and build on them. Recognize that the changes you make may not be what others would advise, but others do not live in your house.

Success breeds success. When you make one little change, and stick to it, you quickly realize that you can make another. After that one, you’ll think of another. And after that, there’s another, and after several months of this, you review your finances and see that you have made a definite, positive change in how you spend your money. You’re also living differently than you used to, and it feels good.

Yes, you can make a difference in your financial situation. Yes You Can poster at Steve Henderson Fine Art

But it all starts with making that one, first, sustainable change.

This article was originally published in If you would like practical, realistic ways to save money and improve your finances, please consider my book, Live Happily on Less, available in paperback and digital form at

This post is linked to The Chicken Chick, Alderberry HillMop It Up Monday,  Tough Cookie MomMama’s StoryThe Character Corner, Teaching What Is GoodMemories by the MileNifty Thrifty TuesdayGrowing HomeIntentionally DomesticWalking Redeemed, A Wise Woman, A Little R and R, Be Simply BetterDeep Roots at Home, My Joy Filled Life, Wholehearted Home, Hope in Every Season, Raising Homemakers, Simply Helping Him, Holistic Squid, Mama BZZ, Frugally Sustainable, Day 2 Day Joys, Homemaking Party, Kelly the Kitchen Kop, Thriving Thursday, Thankful ThursdayLive Laugh Rowe,  We Are That FamilyMy Cultured Palate, Natural Living Linkup, Katherine’s Corner, Graced Simplicity, Hearts for Home, Happy and Blessed Home, Essential Thing Devotion, All Our Days, Christian Mom Blogger, Bible Love Notes, Missonal Woman, A Peek into My Paradise, Our Heritage of Health, Life As We Know It, The Thriftiness Miss, Let This Mind Be in You, Friday Flash Blog, Small Footprint Family, Oh So Amelia, Dude Sustainable, Nourishing Joy, Natural Living Mamma, Butter Believer, A Blossoming Life, The Prairie Homestead, Mama Diane, Moms the Word, The Better Mom, Little House in the Suburbs, Michelle Derusha, Just Sarah Dawn, A Humble Bumble, Real Food Forager, Healthy Roots Happy Soul, Adventures of a DIY Mom, Time Warp Wife,

35 Responses

  1. Thank you for this informative article. A good one to put into my next “Little Inspirations.” When the paw paw hits the fan, one HAS to make changes. The amazing thing is that one can still live well on far less.
    Very often eat more healthily too and so saving on medical bills. And when you get that kitchen sink….My what a red letter day.

    1. Liz — the intriguing thing is that we get to the point where we say, “That’s IT. I can’t make any more changes.” And then something happens, an unexpected bill, say, or a further reduction in our resources, and we realize, “Well, I guess I have to.” And we somehow do.

      I think that a person can live well on less because he or she starts to appreciate more of what he or she has. Until we get to that point, we’re always grumbling about what we don’t have, and setting those negative emotions into movement. Life is in the simple things, and fortunately, many of those simple things are within reach of many of us.

  2. We live simply and try not to spend for things we do not need. However we are also blessed to live in the woods on a quiet road, and yet not too far from town. One expense we allow is air conditioning, and it has been such a blessing these hot days.

  3. We live simply and try not to spend for things we do not need. However we are also blessed to live in the woods on a quiet road, and yet not too far from town. One expense we allow is air conditioning, and it has been such a blessing these hot days. By the way, your husbands paintings are so awesome !!

    1. Hazel — we, too, live in a quiet area not too far from town, and thanks to a concerted tree-planting effort years ago, we’re not in an empty field!

      Living simply is a lifestyle choice that gets easier the more you do it, and as you show, it is a source of contentment in itself.

      Thank you for your kind words about Steve’s paintings. You can find originals and signed limited edition prints at the website,, and open edition prints at Great Big Canvas —
      We believe art is a gift that everyone should be able to enjoy, and for that reason, we work to make sure that we cover a variety of income and budgetary options.

      May you stay cool in this heat heat HEAT!!! — Carolyn

  4. Happy to report that I have spent no money today… Well except on maybe the water that I used/will use… And the food that I ate/will eat – ah ha ha! But physically, no money has been spent. However, the day is not over yet!

    1. Gigi — that’s a good feeling, isn’t it? One advantage to living a distance from town is that many days, you find yourself on the property, working, and not in the store, spending money.

      Enjoy your spend-free day! — carolyn

  5. I think it also helps when reducing the budget is a voluntary action and not mandatory. I feel less deprived because I am making the choice to reduce our budget. My friends and family are amazed at how little we actually need to live on, but it’s a fun hobby to me – not drudgery. I love my garden for fresh summer veggies, and I love my homemade meals. I enjoy making yogurt, pasta and soap myself. But for me, these are hobbies. Thanks for sharing this article! (Visiting from Small Footprint Friday)

    ~Tayor-Made Ranch~
    Wolfe City, Texas

    1. Taylor-Made Ranch == YES! it’s a fun challenge, and when it’s something you choose to do, it is much easier indeed, simply because our attitude is more accepting about it.

      Thank you for visiting and reading the article! Carolyn

    1. Gail — thank you. Actually, I believe that small is really good, because frequently it’s the difference between people doing something, anything at all, or nothing. It’s the starting that is so very, very hard!

  6. Wonderful article … thank you! I used to be one of those people who visited the drive-thru espresso shop on my way to work every morning. At close to $5/cup, it added up. I switched to bringing a thermos of my own “latte” to work and saved a lot. In my opinion, living on less is more of an attitude … once we decide that we don’t have to have cable TV, a land line or central heating/cooling, we can find cheaper alternatives. And the good news … many of those changes are also “green” so we help ourselves and the planet. Win-win!

    1. Small footprints — it is a win/win situation, and the more we do it, the more it becomes a challenging game, seeing what further changes and adaptations we can make, resulting in a better, more sustainable lifestyle.

      And as you observe, many of the changes we make to save money are good for our planet as well. In my book, Live Happily on Less, I have a chapter on your garbage can, and what it tells you about your financial attitude. Sherlock Holmes would have a field day with all of our garbage receptacles! — Carolyn

  7. I loved what you said about it being kind of relevant to where we are. These are wonderful suggestions my family has implemented as well. I have also found that at some point the stress levels outweigh the savings. As in, do we eat take out more when we have a new baby? You bet. Do we think paper towels are a life or death necessity, no. But is life a lot harder without them when we’re only saving ten bucks a month? Yes, so the paper towels stay. I have been really hard on myself in the past, thinking people in impoverished countries live with so much less. But I’ve found that modern conveniences can only be done without by learning to over time. In other words: baby steps. I also really loved that half time idea, i think its all right in the same line. And i’ll be implementing that idea myself, thank you for that 🙂

    1. Heather — you are so very, very RIGHT! Yes, at some time the stress outweighs the savings, and when we’re attuned to our individual family situation, we know when to make what decisions, as you point out.

      I laughed at the part about paper towels — they are just not a part of my psyche, although we always have a roll around somewhere. Yesterday, on the porch, our granddaughter found a roll in the plant stand. “Why is this here, Nonna?” she asked. “Oh, we were eating outside the other day and brought out the roll to use as napkins.”

      When I thought about it, “the other day” was 3 weeks ago and those towels are still out there. So they’re not on my radar. But tea — now that’s a different story. I purchase good, bulk black tea from Upton Tea Imports, and that’s definitely part of our individual family plan. I don’t think I could get through the day with a box of the little bags from the grocery store, even if you threw in a case of paper towels. That’s the beauty of the individualized, family saving plan! –Carolyn

  8. Great practical wisdom here. I tend to have intentions to change and then try and do it all in one foul swoop – then I end up failing at the first hurdle. Such helpful advice to change a little at a time and what a huge difference this can make. Thanks for linking up at Essential Fridays. Blessings.

    1. Hi, Mel: I think it’s part of life for all of us, making those big, big changes and failing big, big. We do that enough, and eventually (one hopes) we figure out that this method isn’t the best one.

      I like success, and success with little things feels just as good as success with great big ones. Frequently, success in those great big ones is actually the compendium of all the little successes, and we don’t realize how far we’ve come until we stop and look back.

      Thank you for hosting Essential Fridays — it is an honor and a joy to participate. — Carolyn

  9. Hey there! Just letting you know that your post is among this week’s featured! I’ll be shared on FB, Twitter, and pinned to pinterest.

    Thanks for linking up at A Mama’s Story, and help yourself to a featured button. 🙂

    1. A Mama’s Story — how exciting!! Thank you for letting me know and passing it on through social media. Thank you, also, for hosting the blog carnival; I am honored to be apart of it. — Carolyn

    1. Thank you, Tina. The paintings are by my Norwegian Artist, Steve Henderson, and I easily connect them to anything I write about, because what the man paints is life in its beautiful reality. — Carolyn

  10. This is a terrific article! I just wrote one on the same topic today but you went much further in depth. I am featuring your post on my link-up this week. Thank you so much!

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  12. You are so right– it is easy for us to find ways of saving money that works for lots of other people but just wouldn’t work for us. I am sure many ways that I used to save money wouldn’t work for others. It is easy to get discouraged with so many conflicting ideas/thoughts/views!

    Thanks for sharing on A Humble Bumbles Healthy Tuesdays Blog Hop- I hope you will join us again next week!
    Kerry from Country Living On A Hill

    1. Hi, Kerry — I find that in all areas of life, trying to do what works for someone else, and then being discouraged when it doesn’t work for us, is a pitfall to avoid.

      The other day I was in Barnes and Noble — I love bookstores! But there were so many books, I almost couldn’t handle it. I huddled in the section on knitting and just focused on that. Not difficult, I must say.

      Thank you for having me at A Humble Bumbles Tuesday blog hop — it is an honor to be able to participate. — Carolyn

  13. Pingback : Old-Fashioned Friday #24 | Our Heritage of Health

    1. Hi, Amanda — I like simple, because there’s more chance of success with simple. And when people succeed, they keep at it.

      Thank you for having me at Natural Living Monday!

  14. What a great post. I have been thinking of starting a savings. So many times the advice – and numbers – I read do not apply either…because I live in Europe. But I know I can do better. Thank you for such a helpful post!

    1. Sarah — learning to be content, intriguingly, is the secret to being content. And to do so, we generally learn to do on less than more!

      Yes, I will be by. Thank you for opening up your blog to writers like me. — Carolyn

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