Making It on Very Little

A few weeks ago, I put out a call on Twitter and on Facebook for detailed posts that people would like to see. I got enough great responses that I’m going to fill the entire month of July – one post per day – addressing these ideas.

Toni on Facebook suggests “I’d like to see an article on how the really working poor can make it financially. You know the ones who have already cut the cable, extra phones and still struggle with poorly paying jobs while going to college to improve their financial situation.”

There are many things that people can do in situations like the one you describe. However, some of these are hard for many people to swallow.

First, get your pride in check
A lot of hard-working people who find themselves in a situation where it’s almost impossible for them to get ahead financially are simply too proud to take the steps they should be taking to get out of their situation and put themselves on a better path.

Get over it. Most of the things I’m going to describe are things that were designed for people in your exact situation. They’re designed for people who are working hard to improve their situation but are finding it difficult to do so. The entire point is to get people on a better path, regardless of what some people use them for. The reputation of such tools do not define who you are. You define who you are by how you use these tools.

Use publicly-available resources
There are a lot of resources out there just waiting to be used by people who need the help. Here are just a few of them.

SNAP The federal government offers assistance for food purchasing for people of low incomes. These typically come in the form of a debit card that you use only for food purchases. It’s free food if you have a low income, which directly reduces the impact that food costs has on your monthly budget.

Food pantries A more immediate solution is food pantries, which exist to provide food for the working poor. The food pantries in our area always have plenty of food. Stop in and see what’s available.

Energy subsidies Contact your energy company and ask about programs for low-income individuals. Many energy companies will work with you to help abate energy costs if you can demonstrate need.

Churches Pastors and priests will help you. They’re often great sources for advice and also can point you to useful resources in your area for low-income individuals.

The key thing is that you’ve got to actually use these things for them to become useful. When you are using them, you can’t waste the financial surplus they create in your budget. You need to use that money to eliminate debts, save for future purchases (like replacement cars), save for education for yourself, and so on. The goal is to get yourself out of the situation you’re in and on the path to a better life.

The biggest reason programs like the above get a questionable reputation is because individuals in the programs make the choice to not help their long-term situation, whether it’s due to addictions, personal or psychological problems, or a lack of education. You are not defined by these cases. Your future is up to you.

Have a clear plan for getting out of the situation
Thus, having a plan is an essential key for success in these situations. Where are you headed? Where you do want to go in the future? For many people, education is the key, but there may be barriers to cross before going there. Often, there’s a pile of debts to overcome as well – car loans, payment plans for poorly-conceived purchases, and so on.

Some common goals that you may want to consider include debt freedom (or, in smaller pieces, elimination of each of your debts), getting an education in a topic you’re interested in (whether it’s trade school, community college, or even a four year university), or getting a needed medical procedure (such as dental replacements or eye correction) that will make you more marketable in the workplace.

Whatever ones apply to your situation, commit to them. Use every dime you save through the programs described above to achieve those goals. Get rid of your debts (and prepare for future expenses). Get an education. Do whatever you need to do to put your life on a better path.

Another important step is to seek out anyone in your life who is following or has followed this kind of path. Stick with those people and go to them when it’s difficult. This isn’t easy.

Good luck.

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