How to Stretch a Dollar on One Income

How to stretch a dollar when you’re living on one income is an all too common problem many families face.

You are living on a shoestring budget, and you’re looking for ways to cut costs and save more money.

You desperately want to find quick, simple ways to make your money go just a little farther each month.

Well, let’s jump into some super simple, yet effective strategies to give you and your budget a little more breathing room.

Strategies to Stretch Your Dollar

Creating a Budget

I know I’m probably going to get some people rolling their eyes at me, but budgeting is essentially a spending plan.

If you don’t have a plan on how you are spending your money- I promise you, it will get spent one way or another.

It’s either going to be in a way the benefits you are has you tied in fits trying to cover all your bills.

If you are brand new to budgeting, check out my Step by Step Guide on How to Budget Your Money.

Using Cash Envelopes to Control Your Spending

Cash, in my opinion, is a highly underrated budgeting vehicle.

I love cash because it’s tangible. You can see it, feel it, smell it. It’s 100% real.

When you are spending cash you can literally see it leaving your hot little hands.

And boy, when you know that the cash in your hand is all that you get? You start feeling wicked nervous about handing it over.

The other thing I love about using cash? When it’s gone– it’s gone! No overspending for you.

Now, I realize this is an article about how to stretch a dollar, however, overspending and curbing your impulse to purchase things can lead many a budgeter or would- be budgeter astray.

So, if that’s not you, skip on down to the next point. If this is you– consider switching to cash.

Loans and Credit Cards

It can be difficult to save up for large purchases when you see something you need and don’t have the cash.

However, unless the purchase is an urgent need (read: not a nice-to-have or I-really-really-want-it) you will be better off financially practicing patience and either looking for it used or saving up the extra cash for something new.

Budgeting Every Last Cent

Dave Ramsey commonly talks about giving every dollar a job– I’d go a step further and say give every last penny a job.

Your budget isn’t won and lost over huge big dollar items. People tend to bleed money in little ways. $14 Netflix, not shopping around for cell phone plans, convenience meals from the grocery store instead of making it themselves.

Knowing exactly where every penny is going, how you’re spending and where your money is getting away from you is KEY to trimming the fat in your budget.

I’d challenge you, if you aren’t doing this already, to really get into the weeds of your spending and track every last cent into and out of your account.

Purchasing New to You

I have never been prouder than when my 3 children needed new bicycles and I only spent a whopping $10 on them–total.

In fairness, I found two on FaceBook that people where just giving away (after looking for about a month) and the last one, I found at a thrift shop for $10.

If you can be patient, you can find good deals, or heck even free stuff in great condition. New-to-you purchases are a great place to save money!

Be gone clutter!

Oh-my-lanta! I can’t tell you how many times I used to buy (and sometimes if things start getting crazy around my house — even now) duplicates because my pantry wasn’t organized or batteries didn’t get put back in their basket. Only to come back a few weeks later and stumble across the very thing I had gone out to purchase.

Kiss your clutter goodbye! If you need to go room by room, tackling one room a day– I promise it’s worth it.

There have been tons of studies showing that there is a link between stress and clutter! If you are interested, here’s a great article from Becky with Your Modern Family that discusses this very thing!

Another benefit? You can absolutely make a little extra cash by selling off all the stuff cluttering up your home!

Bottom line, do yourself a favor and kick clutter to the curb!

Shop Around

Doing a little research before you purchase can save you big money. Also, consider revisiting bills at least quarterly to see if there is potential for more savings.

The local internet company will sometimes send out promotions a few times a year to try and pick up new subscribers. It’s worth a phone call to see if you qualify or if there is anything they can do to help lower your help.

There is absolutely no harm in calling to see what can be done to lower your bill.

Great budget lines to check for savings would be: cable TV, internet, utilities (depending on your area), cell phone plans, and insurance (auto, health, dental, etc.).

Conduct Cost Analysis (and I’m not talking about just money!)

It can be hard to see the next new shiny thing and not feel a small twinge.

Whether your vice is tech toys, shoes, handbags, cars, a boat, jewelry, the new Cricut (#nojudgements)– whatever it may be– stop and consider what you already have (and subsequently have paid for!).

Yes, a new car would be nice. But, you know whats nicer?? Not having a car payment (am I right?!)

When you feel tempted to spend that money, take a look at what it’s costing you? What is the trade off? How long would you need to work to purchase that item and is it worth it?

Every time I feel a niggle like I really want to trade in my sedan for an SUV, I sit with my budget and feel grateful that it’s one less expense I have to pay every month. That my sedan has been very reliable. That it’s cheap to fill up and cheap to maintain.

Yes, the extra space would be nice, but that’s all it would be– nice. It’s not a necessity. It’s simply a desire.

If we purchased a new car now, thats a big chunk of our savings that we could have put towards our epic road trip next summer.

I blinked and all of the sudden my kids grew three years and I’ve got less than 2 handfuls of summers left with them.

So we are prioritizing family time and making really memories with them.

Does an SUV win out over that when I consider it in those terms?? Not even close.

Know Your Trouble Spots

Hey, girl! I love the heck out of Target. I can go in there for a gallon of milk and glue sticks and find about 20 things in there that I never knew I always wanted. (I’m looking at you Target Clearance!)

Knowing how easy it is for me to go off the rails in there, I give myself a limit on the number of times I’m allowed to go and if I go in, I have a time limit, that forces me to keep moving the whole time.

No time to linger! Go! Go! Go!

My kids find it hilarious when I set the timer on my phone and race around like a crazy person, throwing things in my basket, calling out to my 5 year old for a time check.

Not today, Target! Not today!

Know What You Need

A need is something that is essential. Take a look through your budget and ask yourself is this essential??

Netflix? Not essential.

The fancy cell phone plan? Not essential. Did you know that Republic Wireless has cell plans (at the time of writing this article) as low as $15/month unlimited talk and text?? If you absolutely have to have data it’s another $5/ gigabyte.

I have seen people with a cell phone bill larger than their grocery budget. That’s crazy ya’ll.

As I pointed out earlier– do your research. You can save yourself money.

Be on the Lookout for Lifestyle Creep

In case this is a new-to-you term, lifestyle creep is basically the all too common tendency that as your income increases, so do your expenses.

No, this may not be a problem for some of you, but I guarantee it’s a problem for some of you! (Ya see what I did there?! )

Take Part in a No Spend Challenge

If you are not familiar with a no spend challenge. It’s exactly what it sounds like: you decide on a period of time to spend no money!

Depending on how aggressive you want to get with your savings, you can do a no spend weekend, no spend week, no spend month, or if you are super motivated a no spend year.

It’s worth noting that these challenges aren’t spending zero dollars. You obviously would have to still pay for your home, food, etc. but you are cutting out all other non essential spending.

I’ve done weekend and week long challenges and not only do they help you save money, they are incredibly eye opening in the way that you spend money and what kinds of things you are spending money on!

Having an Emergency Fund and a Sinking Fund.

Emergencies are going to happen. No matter how fortunate you’ve been in the past, it’s going to eventually come around.

Staying ahead of the problem, before it becomes a problem will save you not only on money, but also on stress.

If you are not familiar with what an emergency fund is, I’ve written an entire post on it, but simply put: an emergency fund is money you put aside for emergencies.

Emergencies: loss of job, the engine falls out of your car, trip to the ER, your A/C goes out in the dead of a hot Florida Summer, etc.

Non- Emergencies: Flash sale at your favorite store, you are sick of cooking and want to eat out (though I feel you on a deep emotional level on this one!), you want to visit your BFF for their birthday/wedding/graduation, etc.

All those things happening in the non-emergency section? Those are why you would set up sinking funds.

Sinking funds, are money you set aside in advance to cover irregular expenses. If you don’t have some, get some.

 Ways to Save on Utilities

Consider a programable thermostat.

This is a great way to manage your power consumption. You can set your air (or heat) for when you’re gone for work or when you are away for travel. Potentially, saving you big bucks.

Now they even have thermostats that allow you to change the temperature remotely from an app on your phone!

 Switch to CFL or LED lightbulbs.

Not only do these use less power, they tend to last much longer as well.

A note of warning, these do tend to be more expensive, so take stock of what you need and look for bulk deals or coupons!

Lower the Temperature on Your Hot Water Heater

Do you know most hot water heaters are set higher than most people will ever use? Check out where your water heater is set and make this easy adjustment.

Why have your water heater work that much harder for something you won’t even use.

Mommas of tiny humans, this can also help with keeping your kids from scalding themselves if they accidentally turn the sink/tub water on too hot.

 Make Sure Your Home is Sealed

Sealing your windows, utilizing door draft blockers, etc. can ensure you are in fact not air conditioning/heating the outdoors!

Clothing Dryer Hacks for the Win

I have two great hacks for shortening the drying time of your clothes.

1. Throw a dry towel in with your damp clothes.

2. Utilize wool dryer balls. I love these SO MUCH! Not only do I get to skip purchasing dryer sheets, but they also shorten drying time by as much as 25%. Plus, you can drop a few drops of your favorite essential oil onto these if you want to scent your laundry.

A related cost saving idea that some will balk at, but is still worth mentioning: line dry your clothes. If the weather is good, you have the time, and you are really looking at some serious saving action– maybe give it a consider?

Ways to Save on Food

Shop Your Pantry

Use up whatever you have inside your pantry. Get creative!

Skip Convenience Meals

Chopping up your own fruits and veggies. Assembling your own salads. Prepackaged crackers and cookies.

Next time you are at the store look to see what the price per unit is between pre-packaged crackers and buying them in bulk and bagging them up into snacks sizes yourself.

You will be surprised what convenience is costing you!

Buy in Bulk

 Buying in bulk is usually cheaper. However, if you don’t think you will go through it all, then it’s not actually a deal.

I made the mistake of buying a crazy the worlds largest jar of mayo from Costco. I thought I was so clever buying this huge jar and saving myself all the money.

Fast-forward I didn’t use it all before it went bad and I had to throw it out.

Wasting money and also grossing out my kids with all the meals I was trying to include mayo in as it got closer and closer to the expiration date.

Subbing Ground Turkey for Ground Beef

Ground turkey is usually cheaper than ground beef. Yes, I know the texture and taste are different, but you could do half and half if you really just can’t with the taste of turkey.

Or another option if turkey isn’t your jam, you could use it in meals where the taste would be more disguised or where the meat isn’t the headliner of the meal.

In Season Produce

Fruit and vegetables that are in season tend to be cheaper, so meal plan around these whenever possible to max out your savings.

Drink More Water

You know what’s grosser than gross? When you look at your grocery bill and 10% of it was spent on beverages: sodas, tea, juices, etc.

Is it just me?

Drinking more water is not only healthier (yay!), but also much cheaper!

If you absolutely just have to have your coffee (this is me raising my hand), or fill in your necessary beverage of choice, make sure you are checking sales, and being smart about the price per unit.

If you use K-Pods, for the love of all that is saving money. Do yourself the biggest favor and get the reusable K-cups. Instead of spending $10-$15 on 12 cups of coffee.

Plan Your Meals

Ya’ll hear me out. I love cooking about as much as I like going to the dentist. (Sorry if your a Dentist, but you freak me out with that drill– I’m just saying!)

But planning out what you are going to eat can save you so much money at the grocery store.

You can save money by planning with ingredients that are on sale.

You can save money by doubling a recipe and freezing the extra or eating as leftovers for another meal.

You can save money by being purposeful about what goes into your cart and not just throwing ingredients and snacks that seem appealing at the store.

And while this isn’t a money saving perk, you can save yourself the big question, we all hate getting as a Mom— What’s for dinner??

You know what’s for dinner, already!

If you hate meal planning or simply just don’t have the time to spend searching through recipes and making a grocery list?

$5 Meal Plans could be the answer to your problems.

$5 Meal Plans is a weekly service that will not only plan the meals for your week, but also send you the corresponding grocery list. For just $5 a month, they will send you a delicious meal plan that typically costs about $2 per person, but in most cases less.

If you have a special diet that you follow or are interested in specific types of meals, they also offer 4 specialty plans – a 30-Minute Meals, Slow Cooker Meals, a Paleo Meals, and Vegetarian Meals– all at a serious discount compared to the regular meal plan.

The main differences between the specialty meal plans and the regular meal plans is that the six week specialty plans follow a theme and the plans are sent to you all at once, rather than over the course of six weeks. These plans are offered for as little as $4 a month.

But, Kristen, this entire post is about stretching your dollar! Yes. Yes, it is. However, you need to have a frank conversation with yourself. If you aren’t going to meal plan and are pantsing the entire process– is a $5 a month investment worth it? I bet you would save at least that with this pre-planned meal plans (plus grocery list).

If you have the time and are going to put into the work, maybe it’s not for you!

How to Set Aside Money for Rent or Other High Price Expenses in Your Budget

Rent, Childcare, Health Insurance can all be a big chunk of your budget every month.

What can be worse is that these expenses are lump sum and once a month. So how do you make these large expenses more budget friendly?

One option can be, again, to do some research and see if you are paying the absolute best price or if there is a way to reduce costs; switch providers, call and see if they are willing to negotiate, move to a cheaper place.

But, for most people, they need another option.

One method of making these big expenses manageable is to utilize what is referred to as the half payment method.

The half payment method is when you take a regular, reoccurring bill, your mortgage payment for example, and divide it into half. Putting money aside with each paycheck– saving up until you have the full amount. 

This method allows you to distribute your expenses more evenly through the month.

If you get paid weekly, or biweekly, the point is still the same. You can break the expense up into smaller manageable chunks until you’ve saved the entire amount prior to its due date. 

Half- Payment Method Example:

half payment budget example

As you can see, it’s a much easier way to manage large expenses.

In the traditional payment example, you are left with $420 at the end of one paycheck to pay for food, gas, etc.

At the end of the second paycheck, you are left with $10. Hardly enough money to buy groceries let alone put gas in your car.

Bringing It All Together

How to stretch your dollar on one income? Pick a few of the cost saving strategies to start implementing throughout the month.

Don’t forget to set up your budget, if you don’t have one in place.

And finally, work on progress, not perfection. Some of these tips and strategies will take some practice and fine tuning for your family and your budget. Give yourself grace to work through the refining process.

The first step in changing anything is to simply begin. So get started!

I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Strategies to Help Your Stretch Your Dollar

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Kristen is the founder and content creator at Mom Managing Chaos where she teaches busy moms how to simplify and organize their life and finances. She writes about frugal living, budgeting, productivity and organization.