Magical Truthsaying Bastard Shadesong (shadesong) wrote,
Magical Truthsaying Bastard Shadesong

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Single-income advice

I was asked via e-mail how we're managing on a single income... "What kinds of cuts did you make while it still sounds like you live pretty comfortably?" I'm posting my reply publicly because there are others of you who are living on single incomes or, if not single incomes, just not very high incomes, and pooling ideas = beneficial!

A lot of ours was preparation-based, so it may or may not apply to you. As it became clear that my body was no longer up to a full-time job, we decided I'd go part-time.

Two big cuts we made so I could go part-time:

1. We paid off my car, using money from the savings account. This reduced our monthly expenses by $320.
2. I decided to work mornings instead of afternoons... so I could pick Elayna up from school and she would no longer attend the after-school program. This reduced our monthly expenses by $250.

We'd planned for me to stop working in late May 2006, our planned move date. The situation changed in many way - work became untenable before that, and we still haven't moved. But knowing that it was going to happen in advance gave us opportunity to prepare. The big thing we did:

Pay off debt. Aggressively.

When I say aggressively, I mean we were paying $150 a month on credit cards that had a minimum payment of $15. We needed them gone, gone, gone. I pretty much devoted my entire paycheck for over a year to getting rid of debt.

This is what you do.

1. Determine how much debt you have.
2. Determine the maximum amount of money you can pay on that debt per month.
3. Divvy that up, paying the most towards the cards/debts with the highest interest rates.
4. When you pay off a card/debt, do not put that money back in your operating budget! Divide it between the remaining debts. That's how we ended up paying $150 on a $15 minimum payment - as the other debts went away, we increased our payment from $50 to $100 to $150 til it was gone. If the money never hits your operating budget, you won't miss it.

This has reduced our monthly expenses by about $500. We're still paying off debt, but at a more normal rate, since me being jobless has forced us to put more into the operating budget... but we got rid of probably 80% of our debt this way. (EDIT: Also, take the credit cards out of your wallet. Put them in a bag. Put the bag in a box. Tape the box shut. Stick it in a drawer. This is the same principle as not having a gun in your glovebox without layers between you and it - cut the impulse. By the time you get to the card, you'll've had time to think about whether you really ought to be using it.)

That's the preparation aspect.

Now for the living with it now aspect.

You've noticed that we live well... you should, too. Self-deprivation is depressing and frustrating and horrible. Work around the lack of cashflow so you can treat yourself ever so often, or you'll go nuts. Save, save, save where you can, but treat yourself every so often.

Resources for getting things free or cheap:

Books: Well, there's the library. But we like owning books! So look into Paperback Swap. Free books. All it costs you is postage. (Use Yendi as a referral to get us a free book!) Also, many publishers have "First Look" programs, where they'll send you books - sometimes ARCs - in exchange for a brief review. You don't have to be A Book Reviewer... they want opinions from the general public. Also, the affiliates program gives you store credit for every purchase made through their links. Half the time when you see us kvelling over a major book purchase, we didn't pay a penny for it.

Music: Hell, that's easy. For free new music, haunt's free downloads section, or your favorite bands' websites. Or use your most important esource - your friends. It's perfectly free to send you mp3s, and cheap to send you mix CDs. And iTunes offers a free song or two every week.

Movies: Free screening passes abound! Go to the FatWallet forums, go to, go to Entertainment Weekly, and check your local free alternative paper (Creative Loafing, New Times).

Free Stuff in General: Go to the forums at and We get tons of free magazine subscriptions via those forums, and random free samples of stuff, too! And Adam wins lots of stuff, including free movie tickets, on Blingo.

Food and Stuff: Okay, you won't get free food, but - you can find out what's cheap. And common-sense stuff - use store brands. Store-brand acetominophen is the same stuff as Tylenol, and it's cheaper. This stuff adds up.

Other Treats: Stuff like BPAL? Huge secondary swapping community. I get shiny new treats in the mail every week. What does it cost me? Postage. Are there other communities like this? Probably.

I'm sure there'll be plenty of other free-and-cheap-stuff tips in comments! But one thing to keep in mind...

Remember to treat yourself.

Get the store-brand Tylenol. Get your books from But put aside a little money for that new hardcover by your favorite author. Or for a dinner at your favorite ritzy restaurant. Reward yourself. That is very psychologically important.

(EDIT: Also, think about what small, inexpensive rewards will make you happy, and allow yourself those. An Oreo milkshake or a pair of silly socks will delight me, and they both cost under $3.)

Thoughts? Let's help each other out here!
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