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How to Live Well on $10,000 a Year

I am a mother and writer with too many subjects of interest to name. I write from my personal experience of living on a tight budget.

Learn how to live on a small budget and stick to it.

Learn how to live on a small budget and stick to it.

Can You Live Off $10,000 a Year?

I am a full-time college student and the single mother of a toddler. We live on $10,000 a year. When I decided to go back to school, I had to find a way to live within meager means to better our future. When I made an account of my finances, I was confronted with $10,378 a year.

I recently read an article on how a single man could live on $20,000 a year—to me, not much of a feat. Another article described a single man who lived in an R.V. on $11,000 a year—although more impressive, that lifestyle is one that most of us can't manage.

So how do you live on $10,000 a year with a child? And what type of lifestyle must you live to achieve this?

First: Minimize Your Basic Expenses

My finances are pretty simple because I do not have many bills. Monthly, I have rent, water, Netflix, and electric. That’s it. On an average month, these expenses run about $375 for rent, $50 for water, $8 for Netflix (streaming only), and around $75 for electric.

Now, I must say that I had to work to minimize these totals. By doing the things below, I halved my cost of utilities, sometimes even more than that.

  • Be aware of water: Take quicker showers. Turn the water off while you brush teeth, lather, and wash dishes.
  • Update your heating and cooling methods: I have those horrible baseboard heaters and a ten-year-old air conditioner. I got a newer model air conditioner for around a hundred bucks. I purchased small heaters for winter months, and I do not even turn my baseboard heaters on at all anymore.
  • Change bulbs to more efficient LED ones: The light is better, and the initial investment of $5 or so per bulb will be paid back in a month or so.
  • Weatherize: Cover windows with plastic to prevent drafts. Caulk windows and update insulation. (For new houses, this is not needed, but I stay in an older apartment.)

I also live in town and receive free Wi-Fi from local businesses.

Can We Afford Entertainment?

I just recently added Netflix to my expenses after a one-month trial that made me a believer. My son is in love with Thomas, and there are enough of those cartoons and many others so that we'll never have to worry about what to watch. The selection of movies is vast and so different. No, you do not get all the new movies, but what makes a movie any better when it first comes out, anyway? Their suggestion program works well for finding movies you've never heard of but will thoroughly enjoy.

We have basic, free T.V. I don’t understand the need for 600 channels; I have 6: FOX, PBS, NBC, CBS, and I'm not sure what the other two are, but they never have anything on anyway, so no need to mention them. These four channels cover about any type of show my son and I would want to watch—funny comedy, sports, educational programming, and news.

Other Ways to Have Fun

  • Get outside: Whether it be for a stroll, going to the park, hiking, swimming, or making snowmen. I mean, really, there is so much to do outside; it's a free asset most rarely used. If you have children like me, getting them out and wearing them down is never a bad thing. They have so much energy, so let them use it without destroying the house and driving you crazy in the process.
  • Go to the library: Enough said. Free DVD rentals, storytime, activities for the kids, and thousands of books and audios.
  • Go to the mall: I have one about five miles down the road, and they are always having different community events and activities. Our local one even has a new play environment and organized social events with other kids.
  • Go to a museum: Whether for science, history, or art. Most will have special events that are free or excessive discounts at certain times: use them.
  • Go to church: There are always activities going on at church: free movies, children’s play groups, and an array of social events. Have fun and fill your soul at the same time.
  • Make things: We spend large blocks of time on arts and crafts. To lessen the cost of the supplies, I always buy them around the time kids are going back to school. I buy enough for the year and spend less than $20. The discounts at this time are great.

My son and I are almost always entertained. He has a weekly playgroup, two different story times, and a church class. The rest of the time, we find local events and outdoor activities to keep us busy.


Although public transportation is available, I have to have a car. I own my car (8 years old) and I spend less than $40 a month on gas. To achieve this, I work locally where I can walk, and I plan trips together to avoid wasted gas. With the prices the way they are, every trip costs money. Living in a small town, I walk to a lot of the places I go, my son enjoys the sun, and I enjoy the exercise. My car is insured, and shopping around saved me hundreds a year.


Can We Afford a Vacation?

Blasphemy, right? Wrong. I put aside $500 a year for trips. We take a road trip for about five days up north to where the family lives. I even rent a motel room for a couple of those days and see the sights, but always with the budget in mind. Anywhere you go, take advantage of the free assets around you. This always being our summer trip, we take advantage of the beaches, parks, family time, petting zoos and other activities that are discounted. Summer months are filled with festivals and fairs; you just have to find them.

The second trip is usually taken closer to home, but I like to include a night in a hotel. Make a couple days of it and travel to a surrounding county for some local festivity or activity that may interest you or your child. This year, we are going a couple counties over for a train ride and to go to the zoo. I know when we get there, there will be parks and other fun free activities to discover. Look at life as an adventure; you will be surprised by what you can find.

How to Save Money on Road Trips

To save money on these road trips, I always use a few tricks to save money:

  • Fill up in states with lower taxes on gasoline: As a rule, certain states are just cheaper, and some states are always higher no matter what. In my travels, Kentucky, California, New York, and Indiana have all had higher gas prices.
  • Fill up outside of a big city: The towns surrounding the larger cities will still have competitors to keep their prices low, but gas stations out in the middle of nowhere are going to be 20 to 30 cents more a gallon.
  • Drive 55: This is the speed for best gas mileage, so drive slower. Even on big trips, another hour in time can result in a penalty in your tank.
  • Bring your own snacks and drinks: I carry a cooler with ice and drinks and plenty of fruits, veggies, and different snacks for the little one. Gas stations will cheat you with their prices.
  • Choose hotels 10 miles or more from a metropolitan area: It is kind of like gas prices—you want some competition, but not the big city prices. A lot of people feel the need to book ahead. If the discount is worth it, go for it. I never do.
  • Take advantage of coupons and activity flyers: You may find a free activity or discounts on local attractions. Explore wherever you are.

Food Cost

I spend about $50 a week on groceries. I cook all of our meals, and I take advantage of sales and discounts. I do not cook more than what my son and I can eat because I can't afford to waste food. Before going to the grocery store for my weekly trip, I make a menu for the next week and make a list accordingly. I do not skimp on food—we eat whole, healthy, home-cooked food. The less processing your food has, usually the cheaper the price.

Insurance, Daycare, and Other Expenses

  • Health Insurance: My son is insured through his father, and I pay less than $50 a month with a pre-diagnosed condition. Shop around and find a plan that works for you. No, I am not covered for everything, but I feel confident in what insurance I do have.
  • Daycare: I used to pay $600 a month on daycare. When I did the math, the money I spent transporting myself to work and daycare took up most of my check. After a bad experience with my son’s daycare, I finally made the decision to go back to school and find a way to stay home with him till he went to school.
  • Education: I go to school online, where extra costs are not added. I do not have to go to class every day, so I do not have to put my son in daycare. Some online schools are even going with full-time flat rates, where you can maximize your class load to be done quicker and save money. I have added another class, so I am at 16 credits a term, and that will shave $9,000 in tuition and almost six months off my degree.
  • Household Expenses: Household goods are bought weekly to save an extra trip. I buy most at the dollar store; however, I buy certain products name-brand. You have to decide where you want to spend an extra couple of bucks for the name brand when the product is actually better. With hair past my waist, I cannot afford off-brand supplies, so bath and beauty is one area I will splurge a bit. I do not have more makeup than I can use, and I buy when I need it. This is the theme of my life. I do not stress over these decisions because, deep down, I already know. I don’t feel like I am missing out on anything; I just choose what priorities are important and go from there.
  • Clothing: I am always looking for great deals on clothes. My son is steadily growing, and I take advantage of clearance sales everywhere. I typically do not buy clothes unless they are at least 75 percent off. I usually buy clothes after Christmas—around mid-January, the savings really get up there. I have been known to go to consignment shops for various items, but with clothes and shoes, I always keep an eye open. I refuse to pay full price when I can pay less at another time. Saving money in this category is achieved by simply buying when things are on sale, not when you have an urge for something new.
  • Little expenses: Daily coffee and fast food lunch add up immensely and do not make us any happier. Maybe as a treat, but every day is a waste. I need to finish my education, and living within my means makes this possible. I still have vices that waste my money, like smoking; however, I was able to cut the cost by 65 percent by just rolling my own.

Think Before You Buy and Keep Life Simple

We live in a world run by money and materials. Yes, they are needed, but really, to what degree? I stopped buying and started living, and I have never been happier. I do not feel like I live much differently than most; I just stop and think before I buy.

Know what you have to work with, and then budget accordingly. No, I do not have savings, although I do put aside as much extra money as possible for a rainy day. Whether it be car repairs and maintenance, dentist visits, or any other unforeseen expense, they will happen, so I am a bit prepared.

This is not forever, but for now, it is just fine. With my degree will come more money, and I hope to keep the simplified approach to save enough to put my son through college. I have found my goal and am going for it. Now go find yours—just go for it and make it happen.


kaiyan717 (author) from West Virginia on March 03, 2019:

I live in WV. It's on my profile. I live in a place where money stretches further. I had to move to get that sort of rent price. Housing is a huge part of a budget and low rent can make lasting differences.

Ann on March 03, 2019:

Where on earth do you live paying 375 a month? Someone else asked, but you did not answer.

liz on September 07, 2018:

My husband and i lived on 10k and 12k our first two years of marriage (we were self-employed and just starting out our businesses). we didnt exactly thrive but we were able to make a 5k down payment on a house 27 months in (cheaper mortgage than rent rates - crazy how that works!)

kaiyan717 (author) from West Virginia on June 25, 2018:

Beauxdean, this was written about 7 plus years ago, but it is still viable today. Sorry I didn't see this comment until now, but I will still answer it. First, I would suggest a side hustle or a different job. I made this for a very short time. Side jobs freelancing became a business over the years and I make a lot more now. Going over your numbers, some things stand out. Non-smart phones are about 20-25 a month with prepaid cards. Nothing fancy but that boss will get a hold of you just fine. I spent about 100/month for 2 people on groceries, so your number can be deflated dramatically there. Electric bill seems really high, wear a sweater and half that at least. Turn stuff off when you leave. Invest in a new appliance with saved money from the changes. Not sure why that's so high, so that could be changed. Lightbulbs? Idk. Insurance is pretty standard if paying monthly for PLPD. Your gas figure seems bloated as well. If you pay that much in gas, you are only making 800 a month. That seems like a lot of commute for just a part time 1k a month job. With savings mentioned above, just the groceries, electric and phone savings is about 250. In a year, that's 3k, which could buy a better vehicle to lower your gas bill. I hope since all this time has passed that things are better for you now.

Beauxdean on March 01, 2017:

Yeah? Well what about people like me and other underpaid handymen? I made $12,550 in 2015 and $12,850 in 2016. That means that I had to live on a little better than $1000.00 a month. Now....let's just figure out how much it takes for a guy like me who works for a cheapskate millionaire trailer lord to live each month. He (the cheapskate) pays $12.00 an hour part time. We'll just consider the poorer handyguys that have to pay rent and consider that they live in the lowest rent possible of $450.00 a month (just above living in a tent). Then let's remember that we gotta have that $50.00 phone bill that we MUST have or cheapskates can't call us for work. Let's also put $50.00 a week on ramen noodles which comes to $200.00 a month to eat. Then let's figure that $150.00 electric bill that you can't figure out why was so high. Then let's figure $200.00 or so for gas to put in your truck that's on it's last leg. Then let's figure the $60.00 a month for auto insurance that you MUST have or they will take you to jail. AND if you have health care insurance which obama made a MUST 'else suffer the consequences at the IRS', then you are definitely in the minus. Fortunately, I bucked health care so I could buy strings for my guitar and a piece of candy for my little girl. Now.... friend.... What do you have left for a beer?

kaiyan717 (author) from West Virginia on October 24, 2016:

There are many places in small towns in America that have those kinds of prices. No roommates. I don't have the patience for that.

Amy on October 24, 2016:

Where on earth do you live that you pay $375 in rent? Do you have 4 roomates?

kaiyan717 (author) from West Virginia on June 12, 2013:

Thanks for reading georgiagal, I too came from a single mother. I watched for years her struggle, working two jobs and I swore I would try something different. I find myself doing many things the same as her, just with less cash flow, less jobs and less kids.

Mrs Frugal from United States on June 12, 2013:

Wow! Love your tips. My mom was a single parent and she was and still is great with her money. She knew how to find a deal and stretched those pennies. Keep up the good work! Hope your day is wonderful~

Kristen on May 25, 2013:

Continued strength to you. You are very inspiring and informative on here! All of the ways you save money and do so much as a single parent is admirable.

Kristen on May 22, 2013:

So inspiring. Will help all save money no matter their situation with money. Where do you go online for classes? Is it accredited. Online is usually a fortune--not to mention the cost of a university nowadays. I would think a local community college would be the cheapest.

kaiyan717 (author) from West Virginia on April 14, 2013:

Thanks for reading Smcopywrite, that is the great thing about this world, so many paths to take. Sometimes you just have to make the best of a situation.

smcopywrite from all over the web on April 06, 2013:

i really enjoyed this one. although a lot of people will not agree with your choices, they work for you. some, maybe not all, will also work for others. i believe our current economic situation has hit a lot of us hard and finding ways to save is really important.

i believe we need to find a balance between over indulging and never indulging. as well as not always living for the future.

this is a nice hub which shows us many ways to do both

kaiyan717 (author) from West Virginia on March 24, 2013:

Thanks for reading StockholmWriter. I also think that life can be great without a big wallet.

StockholmWriter from Stockholm, Sweden on March 24, 2013:

Stockholm Writer

I liked your hub, very informative. I think you are very clever to take your child to activities which are free, like to play outside, go to the library and so on. It is possible to live on a small income and still have a goos life.

kaiyan717 (author) from West Virginia on March 21, 2013:

Thanks Aj- glad you liked it. I like to share ideas on living on less, even if you have more than enough. As always, thanks for reading and sharing.

AJ Long from Pennsylvania on March 21, 2013:

kaiyan717 --Lady Frugal--thanks for sharing! Great tips for us all, no matter how much we have to spend! Shared!

Megan Garcia from Florida on January 12, 2013:

After living a life where I don't have to clock in, I never want to go back. I went from making $30,000 to $10,000 when I got out of the Army and still managed to pay off all my debt. It's so freeing!

kaiyan717 (author) from West Virginia on January 12, 2013:

Once he realizes he wont have to suffer because of it and there is more money to buy toys, I think he will get on board. Saving money can be fun as well as rewarding. I know staying home with my son has been invaluable for us both and when i graduate, he will be entering kindergarten. Hopefully i will be ready to let him go! Thanks for the positivity and I wish you well on your studies and a frugal lifestyle. My brother and his wife make five times what I make and they are both stressed, broke and a slave to the clock. Once you realize you can live well on less, you will wonder why everyone else doesn't.

Megan Garcia from Florida on January 12, 2013:

This is amazing. I figured I could do it for $12,000 per year. I was just adding up the expenses that I could live on. I too have a child and can't imagine paying someone else to watch her while I work. So, I don't work and go to school online. But, since I served in the Army I get paid to go to school. It has been amazing for me and my daughter. I just wish I could get my husband on board with frugal living.

livingsta from United Kingdom on November 28, 2012:

Wow, this is great. Sharing!

Maree Michael Martin from Northwest Washington on an Island on November 27, 2012:

Wonderful hub on frugal living! Found it on my search for some article links. What a great example. Make it last for a year, totally awesome! That will surely make it easier to pay for schooling costs when you finish online courses. Such helpful ideas, thank you!

Esther Strong from UK on November 02, 2012:

You definitely have your head screwed on right. I admire have you have thought things through and have a good strategy for where you want to save and where you will splurge out a little.

kaiyan717 (author) from West Virginia on October 12, 2012:

kaiyan717 (author) from West Virginia on October 12, 2012:

I have another hub that tells of my finances. How to be a stay at home mom. I write articles and short stories, landscape, do taxes, housekeeping, sell my time on Elance and make crafts to sell on Etsy. That is where the basis of my money comes from ,although this year I have surpassed that amount, so I hae more in savings.

What? on October 12, 2012:

Where does the 10,000/year come from?

kaiyan717 (author) from West Virginia on October 03, 2012:

I agree Sonic, I think the Keeping Up With The Joneses mentality has got to change. It is sad to think of people getting in so much debt, putting themselves through all the stress, for things we really don't need. I think that if it makes your life better, cool, if not, I like to pass on the fringes.

sonicexperience from United States on October 03, 2012:

Loved this, very much inspiring. It's a shame there are so many people who think they need to have all these unnecessary expenses. I too, do not have cable, and I actually like it that way!

Doodlehead from Northern California on September 19, 2012:

Looks like you are really doing things right.

kaiyan717 (author) from West Virginia on June 19, 2012:

I live in town so I get free wi-fi from local businesses. I too take online classes so thankfully it is fast enough. Most phone companies will offer an emergency home line, limited useage, but my family doesn't use it much, all you have to do is call and ask about it. Also, you can use Skype for local and long distance calls.

RoxiM from West Virginia on June 19, 2012:

What a great testimony to frugal living! You don't mention phone or Internet. In my area, that combination costs about $85 a month for the speed I needed for my online classes. I have land-line phone service because, as a substitute teacher, I need to be able to receive calls for work, and cell service is just not reliable here. I like the fact that you cook real food. So many families waste a lot of money on prepackaged, over-processed food -- or FAST FOOD. Yuck!

tipstoretireearly from New York on May 25, 2012:

What's great about your list is that you are also living well, by saving money where its relatively painless and by finding inexpensive but fun ways to be entertained. You'll do very well financially after you graduate since you already know how to live frugally. And you're setting an excellent example for your son.

kaiyan717 (author) from West Virginia on November 15, 2011:

I will have a few student loans, however the cost will be about 30 percent of what a traditional school would charge. With the way the economy is going, a change of money tactics seems to be desperately needed in our country. I just go by what my grandparents did, if you want something save for it and then get it. Charging seems to be an epidemic to fulfill our instant gratification needs. Waiting till I have the money for something usually changes my mind about needing it.

Phoebe Lee from Tennessee on October 21, 2011:

Great hub! With a child, I imagine it's a lot harder, but I lived very similarly during law school (childless). Keep it up and when you graduate you won't have the stress that comes with huge student loans!

Cindi from Morgantown on October 21, 2011:

Great job! You sound like a very intelligent young lady with her priorities in order. I think it's great you're able to stay home with your son and still attend college. Good quality time with your children is wonderful. Your hub was very informative.

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on October 21, 2011:

Good for you! I have been frugal with money much of my life, always living under my means in order to save or have other things I want. Now, I have a good-paying job and a larger mortgage, but I live frugally and spend much of my salary in an attempt to pay off my mortage waaaaaaay early! There is so much in this life we can live without and be just fine. You certainly have your priorities in order. Great hub!