11 Tips for Surviving on $1,000 a Month

By Rebecca Lake · February 27, 2024 · 12 minute read

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11 Tips for Surviving on $1,000 a Month

Living frugally can be a smart way to save money. While adopting a frugal lifestyle is a choice for some people, it may be a necessity for others. For example, you might be trying to figure out how to live on $1,000 a month if you’re in school or you lost your job and are trying to find a new one.

Getting by on $1,000 a month may not be easy, especially when inflation seems to make everything more expensive. But it is possible to live well even on a small amount of money.

Key Points

•   Surviving on $1,000 a month requires careful budgeting, prioritizing essential expenses, and finding ways to save money.

•   Cutting down on housing costs by sharing living spaces or finding affordable options is crucial.

•   Utilizing public transportation or opting for a bike can help save on transportation expenses.

•   Cooking at home, meal planning, and buying groceries in bulk can significantly reduce food costs.

•   Exploring free or low-cost entertainment options, utilizing discounts, and avoiding unnecessary expenses are key to making $1,000 a month work.

What Does Living on $1,000 a Month Look Like?

If your income is limited to $1,000 a month, you might be wondering exactly how far it will go. Breaking it down hourly, weekly, and by paycheck can give you some perspective on how much money you’ll actually have to work with.

An income of $1,000 a month is….

•   $230.77 as a weekly salary

•   $46.15 daily

•   $6.15 an hour, assuming you work 37.5 hours a week full-time

•   $11.54 an hour, assuming you work 20 hours a week part-time.

The numbers above assume that you’re talking about net income, which means the money you bring in after taxes and other deductions.

By comparison, the median household income in the United States is $67,521, according to Census Bureau data. That works out to $5,626.75 in monthly income.

Is It Possible to Live Off of $1,000 a Month?

Living off $1,000 a month is possible, and it’s a reality for many individuals and families. Again, you might be living on a low income because you’re in school. So your monthly budget might look something like this:

•   Food: $250

•   Gas: $100

•   School supplies/equipment: $50

•   Rent: $400 (assuming you’re sharing with roommates)

•   Utilities: $100

•   Miscellaneous: $100

As you may notice, there isn’t room in this budget for debt repayment or savings.

In addition to students living on a frugal budget, this kind of scenario may apply to older people on a fixed income. Retirees may choose to cut their expenses to the bone once they stop working. And in some cases, money may be tight because you’re getting through a financial hardship and income is lower than normal.

Can you live well on just $1,000 a month? That’s subjective, as the answer can depend on how responsibly you use the money that you have as well as what the cost of living is in your area. Being frugal and flexible are essential to making life on a smaller income work.

How to Live on $1,000 a Month

Figuring out how to live on $1,000 a month, either by choice or when money is tight, requires some creativity and planning. Whether your low-income lifestyle is temporary or you’re making a more permanent shift to financial minimalism, these tips can help you stretch your dollars farther.

1. Assess Your Situation

You can’t really learn how to manage your money better if you don’t know where you’re starting from. So the first step is creating your personal financial inventory to understand:

•   Exactly how much income you have

•   Where that money is coming from

•   What you’re spending each month

•   How much you have in savings

•   How much debt you have.

It also helps to consider why you might need to know how to live on $1,000 a month. For example, if you’re knee-deep in debt because you’ve been living beyond your means, that can be a strong incentive to curb spending and live on less.

2. Separate Needs From Wants

Needs are things you spend money on because you need them to maintain a basic standard of living. For example, needs include:

•   Housing

•   Utilities

•   Food

•   Health care

Wants are all the extras that you might spend money on. So that may include dining out, hobbies, or entertainment. If you’re trying to live on $1,000 a month, needs should likely take priority over wants. One good budget plan can be the 50/30/20 rule, which allocates 50% of one’s take-home pay to needs, 30% to wants, and 20% to savings.

Here’s a hard truth, however: When working with $1,000 per month, you may have to get rid of most (or all) of the wants to make your spending plan work. As you make your budget, focus on the needs first and if you have money left over, then you can add one or two small extras back in.

3. Lower Your Housing Costs

Housing might be your biggest expense, and, if you want to make a $1,000 a month budget work, getting that cost down can help. Some of the ways you might be able to reduce housing costs include:

•   Taking on one or more roommates

•   Moving back in with your parents

•   Renting out a room

•   Refinancing into a new mortgage

•   Selling your home and moving into something smaller or less expensive.

Are these options ideal? Not necessarily. Living with parents, roommates, or strangers who are renting out part of your home can mean sacrificing some of your privacy. Refinancing a mortgage or downsizing can be time-consuming and stressful.

But if you’re trying to get your budget to $1,000 or less, these are all legitimate ways to slash your housing expenses.

4. Get Rid of Your Car

Cars can be expensive to own and maintain. A car payment could easily run several hundred dollars per month. Even if you own your car outright, putting gas in it, buying tires, and paying for regular maintenance could still make a sizable dent in your income.

If you have the means to do so, selling your car could free up money in your budget. And you could use the money you collect from the sale to pad your savings account, pay down some debt, or simply get ahead on monthly bills.

If you do sell your vehicle, use an online resource like Kelley Blue Book to check your car’s potential resale value before setting a price.

5. Eat at Home

After housing, food can easily be a budget-buster, especially if you’re eating out rather than preparing meals at home. The good news is that there’s a simple way to cut your food costs: Ditch the takeout and restaurant meals.

Planning meals around low-cost, healthy ingredients can help you to spend less on food and still eat well. You can also save on food costs by:

•   Using coupons

•   Shopping sales and clearance sections

•   Downloading cash back apps that reward you with cash for grocery purchases

•   Relying on pantry staples that you can make into multiple meals

•   Trying Meatless Mondays (which means eating vegetarian on Mondays; meat tends to be a pricey buy)

•   Repurposing leftovers as much as possible.

You could also save money on food if you’re able to make things like bread, pizza dough, or pasta yourself using basic ingredients. When shopping at your local grocery stores, take time to compare prices online before heading out. And consider whether you can get in-season vegetables and fruits for less at a local farmer’s market.

6. Negotiate Your Bills

Some of your bills might be more or less unchanging from month to month. But others may give you some wiggle room to negotiate and bring costs down.

For example, if you’re keeping your car, you don’t have to keep the same car insurance if it’s costing you a lot of money. You can shop around and compare rates with different companies, or ask your current provider about discounts. You could also raise your deductible, which can lower your monthly premium, but keep in mind that you’ll need to have cash on hand to pay it if you need to file a claim.

Other bills you might be able to negotiate or reduce include:

•   Internet

•   Cable TV (bonus points if you can get rid of it altogether)

•   Cell phone

•   Subscription services (or better yet, cancel them for extra savings)

•   Credit card interest.

Also, if you are hit with a major doctor’s bill, know that it can be possible to negotiate medical bills. It’s definitely worth talking with your provider’s office about this.

There are also services that will handle bill negotiation for you. While those can save you time, you might pay a fee to use them so consider how much that’s worth to you.

7. Learn to Barter and Trade

Bartering is something of a lost art, but reviving it could be a great idea if you’re trying to live on $1,000 a month. For example, say you need to cut the grass, but there’s no room in your budget to buy a new lawn mower to replace your broken one. You could barter the use of your neighbor’s mower in exchange for a few hours of raking leaves at their place.

Or, say that you have kids who have outgrown their clothes. Instead of resigning yourself to using a credit card to buy new outfits for school, you could set up a clothes swap with other parents in your neighborhood. You can clean out clutter and get things you need, without having to spend any money.

8. Get Rid of Debt

Debt can be one of the biggest obstacles to making a $1,000 a month income work. If you have debt, whether it’s credit cards, student loans, or a car loan, it’s important to have a plan for paying it down.

When you only have $1,000 a month to work with, you may only be able to pay a little to your debts at a time. But you might be able to make each penny count more by making debts less expensive.

For instance, you might try a 0% APR credit-card balance transfer to save on interest charges. Or if you have loans from getting your diploma that have a high interest rate, you may consider the benefits of refinancing your student loans to reduce your rate and lower your monthly payment.

If you’re really struggling with how to pay off debt on a low income, you may want to talk to a nonprofit credit counselor. A credit counselor can review your situation and help you come up with a budget and plan for paying off debt that fits your situation. One option is the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, or
NFCC
.

9. Adopt a No-Spend Attitude

When you want or need to know how to live on $1,000 a month, the fastest way to get overspending in check is to do a no-spend challenge. How this works: You commit yourself to not spending any money on nonessentials for a set time period.

A no-spend challenge can last a day, a weekend, a week, a month, or even a year. The time frame doesn’t matter as much as being all-in with the idea of not spending money on things you don’t need. And you might be surprised at how much money you’re able to save by avoiding wasteful spending.

10. Find Free or Low-Cost Ways to Have Fun

Living on $1,000 a month might mean you don’t have much room in your budget for fun. But you can still enjoy life without having to spend money.

Some of the ways you can do that include:

•   Checking out free events in your community, like festivals or fairs

•   Adopting hobbies that are low or no-cost, like walking or bike-riding

•   Checking out books, DVDs, and CDs from your local library

•   Volunteering

•   Visiting local spots that offer free admission days, like museums or aquariums.

Those are all ways to spend an enjoyable afternoon without costing yourself any money. And if you do want to do something that requires a little spending, you can use a site like Groupon to check for coupons or special deals to save some cash. Or try Meetup to see if any free or low-cost events of interest are brewing in your area.

11. Grow Your Income

If you try living on $1,000 a month and find that it just isn’t enough, the next thing you can do is figure out how to bring in more money. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to do that.

Here are some ideas for making more money to supplement your income:

•   Increase your hours if you’re working an hourly job

•   Take on a part-time job in addition to your full-time job

•   Start an online low-cost side hustle, like freelancing or Pinterest management

•   Consider an offline side hustle, like walking dogs or shopping with Instacart

•   Sell things around the house you don’t need for cash

•   Check for unclaimed money online

•   Sell unwanted gift cards for cash.

The great thing about making more money is that you can try multiple things to see what works and what doesn’t. And you can also use found money, like bonuses, rebates, or refunds to help cover bills or shore up your savings.

The Takeaway

Making your budget work when you have $1,000 in monthly income is possible, though it might take some serious work. Drastically reducing expenses can be a great place to start, and bringing in more income can of course help too.

Changing banks is one more money-saving tip to know. When you open an online bank account with SoFi, for example, you can get checking and savings in one place. Plus, if you sign up with direct deposit, you’ll avoid the usual steep banking fees and earn a competitive APY. Qualifying accounts can get paid up to two days early. If you’ve never considered an online bank before, those are great incentives to make a change.

Better banking is here with SoFi, NerdWallet’s 2024 winner for Best Checking Account Overall.* Enjoy up to 4.60% APY on SoFi Checking and Savings.

FAQ

Where can you live on $1,000 a month?

The best places to live on $1,000 a month are ones that have an exceptionally low cost of living. In the United States, that may mean living in a rural area or a smaller city. When searching for the cheapest places to live, consider what you’ll pay for housing, utilities, transportation, and food – the non-negotiable “musts” in your budget.

How can I live on very little income?

The secret to living on a very little income is being careful with how you spend your money and minimizing or avoiding debt as much as possible. Keeping a budget, cutting out unnecessary expenses, and using cash only to pay can make it easier to live on a smaller income.

What is the lowest amount of money you can live on?

The lowest amount of money you can live on is the amount that allows you to cover all of your basic needs, including housing, utilities, and food. For some people, that might be 25% of their income; for others, it might be 75%; it really depends on your specific situation (household size, debt, etc.) and the cost of living. Residing in a less expensive area can make it easier to live on less of the money you make.


Photo credit: iStock/David Commins

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SoFi members with direct deposit activity can earn 4.60% annual percentage yield (APY) on savings balances (including Vaults) and 0.50% APY on checking balances. Direct Deposit means a deposit to an account holder’s SoFi Checking or Savings account, including payroll, pension, or government payments (e.g., Social Security), made by the account holder’s employer, payroll or benefits provider or government agency (“Direct Deposit”) via the Automated Clearing House (“ACH”) Network during a 30-day Evaluation Period (as defined below). Deposits that are not from an employer or government agency, including but not limited to check deposits, peer-to-peer transfers (e.g., transfers from PayPal, Venmo, etc.), merchant transactions (e.g., transactions from PayPal, Stripe, Square, etc.), and bank ACH funds transfers and wire transfers from external accounts, do not constitute Direct Deposit activity. There is no minimum Direct Deposit amount required to qualify for the stated interest rate.

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