living within a strict budget

Budgeting for Fixed or Low-Income Families: My Personal Journey and Advice

In Self-Employment by Jesse Mathewson

Reading Time: 12 minutes

For the past 11 years I have been on a fixed income, with a family this not easy nor is it recommended. If you can avoid a fixed or low income, by all means, do so, after all a greater quality of life is essential to spiritual, physical and emotional self. However, the reality is that due to substantially raised costs of living around the United States if you make under 30,000 dollars a year and have a family you are struggling to meet your obligations in rent, utilities and more than likely shop at Walmart regularly because you believe that lower cost is saving you money. The real test is going from comfortable to strict in budget, which is difficult when single, even more so when you have a family!

My goal is to show you how to prepare in a way that allows for eating better, building supplies, gaining more knowledge and still meeting your obligations. I believe firmly that you can, in fact, raise your individual or families quality of life by simply doing what I am going to show you. It is important to note that my approach is not a quick and easy save, rather it is a journey like all good things in life. Everything takes time to be well done and of course if you take the time necessary it will mean that much more as well. We are going to look first at budgeting based on an income of $15,500 dollars. This is the current fixed income I live on and support myself, two children and still prep regularly including but not limited to actively seeking new training in medical, firearms and even food preparation.

Form local groups or get to know your neighbors. Lower-income families need to have support to do better for themselves. It is essential to understand that I firmly believe that to gain support one must also be willing to lend it! This means that I am not suggesting you seek out charity for the sake of charity, but rather look at generating acquaintances and friend groups that benefit you as much as you benefit them. As an example, my knowledge and active abilities which allow me to trade that for items or abilities I cannot and do not know or need to know have allowed me to have work done on my vehicles for the cost of parts. I than gift a bottle or two of spirits that they cannot make themselves. With that, it is time to look at eating as a part of prepping.

Eating better, this is essential to a healthy life and a greatly improved quality of life. How do you eat better, when you have an annual income that is less than most people will make over the course of 3 months in the United States today?

  • Buy local and look for programs that have large amounts of greens, vegetables, and fruits for little or no cost. We have two locally in Arizona called the 3000 club and Produce On Wheels. By attending one or both every week or even every other week I have been able to not only keep ourselves well fed with vegetables and fruits but also the chickens and canning which simply benefits us even more as a result! And this is all for $20 and a few minutes of time on a Saturday.
  • Reduce your carbohydrate intake, a large amount of food manufactured these days is carbohydrates. While pasta, rice and grain-based products can seem to be inexpensive; the reality is the overall health costs will in fact cost you more than simply reducing your intake of them. Regardless your income you can easily gain excess weight if you have limited mobility and bad diet!
  • Even if you live in the city, you can have a garden, once you begin growing your own greens you will find that your taste and desire for them increases. I am most definitely a lover of meat-based products, I enjoy steaks, hamburger, ham, bacon, venison, chicken and fish. However, whittling down the amount of animal products we eat and replacing with greens can, in fact, have a large impact on our health and weight.
  • Buy or barter local, grass/pasture fed for your meat, you will pay more on average for small cuts of meat if you buy local. However, if you have other individuals you trust around you, you can look at group buying a full beef, pigs and more and by doing so actually save money in the long term.
  • Alcohol and cigarettes; in moderation, good alcohol can be beneficial and is definitely fun to drink, however, if you are unable to control yourself I would suggest staying away from this. Cigarettes are a habit that has no long-term benefits, nicotine has anti depressant properties but for anyone who hunts and is active we know that long-term heavy use of these reduces our chances to capture prey or continue being active.
  • Avoid all fast food and cut your eating out down to once a month or less! This alone has been a significant factor in my reducing weight and feeling healthier in the last few months. Additionally, it has reduce expenditures and allowed for a greater amount of healthier food options in shopping.
  • Coupons, use them, learn to use them and do not be afraid of the people who get mad while you are using them (though for manner reasons alone I suggest waiting till after 7 pm to use them in a major store simply to avoid the rushes and prevent issues.) My wife has been a coupon using lady for years and is struggling to teach me her craft! With coupons and knowledge of how to use them appropriately, you can easily save hundreds of dollars every month! (just do not get caught in the trap of addiction with coupon use). M.D. published a good article on using coupons a few months ago that you’ll want to read.

Next, we need to look at ways to build supplies while staying within our budget, this part has become increasingly easier for myself and my wife as we have been more willing to look for the deals while still maintaining quality especially in life-saving items.

  • Personally, I budget 15% of my monthly income specifically to this. With a monthly income of $1300, it stands to reason that to simply survive it is essential to have an extremely regulated budget. I will admit that saving money overall is quite difficult. However, it is possible to still maintain prepping and do so well. With $145 or less every month for the following extras, it takes planning and preparation to properly ensure solid approaches using quality items. (this is why I write the reviews I do).
  • Buying gas when the prices are down and you have spare funds, using the stored gasoline when funds are tight! I buy 15 extra gallons every few months and always have a half or more full tank! Store it in a well-ventilated area that is relatively temperature controlled. I use gas extension products that allow me to use this gas as long as a year to 18 months after purchase. Gasoline costs rise around elections, and weekends and are lowest after elections and from Monday through Wednesday.
  • Firearms, it takes 4 to 6 months for me to have the funds available for a firearms purchase. I refuse to do so if it means shorting our family for any reason. This is also why I am a budget shopper with firearms. As I have noted in several articles less expensive is not a bad thing much of the time. I have tested 3 different AR15 brands over the last decade to the tune of 10,000 to 15,000 rounds each, what I found was that Palmetto State Armory Freedom AR15s (their budget line), worked exceedingly well and were 90% reliable. However, I will be writing and article with my overall findings soon. It must be noted that the 90% reliability was not all firearms, this means that one of the tested firearms had issues occasionally and was replaced for one that functions, FREE OF CHARGE BY PALMETTO STATE ARMORY, all of the ones we currently have run 99% of the time which is the most you can expect. Additionally, I have saved and purchased used Glock 19 gen 3, Mossberg 702 .22lr rifles and other firearms all which function almost perfectly and which allow for easy repair should they have any issues.
  • Ammunition, some people suggest buying a box or two here and here and there as you get the money. I actually suggest a different approach for several reasons. I suggest saving for a month and buying a minimum of a case at a time from a dealer online. Firstly, you will actually save money by doing this and you will get exactly what you want and what works best for your firearms! I enjoy using The Lucky Gunner and *SGammo* for my needs, though I do sometimes shop pricing using AmmoSeek which allows me to input exactly what I need and then find the best overall prices including shipping. I can suggest defensive and hunting ammunition for your use as long as it is in the following calibers, 7.62×39/5.45×39/ .22lr/ 5.56×45-.223/.308-7.62×51/7.55x55swiss/.243/9x19luger/9x18mak/.40sw/17hmr . For practice purposes, any Walmart special will work, unless you are me.
  • Dry goods, like sleeping bags, tarps, blankets and tents or even ropes can be had for reasonable prices with a quick Amazon search. Again quality is essential, however, you can get that quality without always buying a certain name brand! Especially because most if not all of those name brands are sourcing their materials from the same factories making the off brands these days. While some people believe a cotton duck tarp is best, I have used poly-plastic tarps for years with no real negative effect. Additionally, I peruse local second-hand stores and pawn shops regularly. It is amazing what you can find for little or no money especially if you also haggle for it before buying. One of my favorite websites to use for prior used military gear is they also manufacture aftermarket magazines for one of my favorite 22lr handguns and many others!
  • Medicines, these take a whole other approach. I know people that swear only home remedies and others that do not use any home remedies, I prefer a balanced approach and while I have access to doctors and testing equipment will continue to avail myself of their services. This being said I also tend to use our local flora for many really solid home remedies that do in fact work quite well. For instance, I use apple cider vinegar, blackstrap molasses and local dark honey for a daily “pill regimen”. I also am versed in and use many other local wild plants that are amazing for their many uses. I also keep stocked several full “runs” of modern antibiotics, even though we rarely use them in our house!
  • Car and animal repairs and adjustments fall under this category as well. You may need to invest in a prepaid credit/debit card that is not attached to your bank account for saving purposes. These do not generate interest, however, they will allow you to place the cards out of sight out of mind and ready for emergencies. Additionally, you can have direct deposit of small amounts sent directly to the cards in most cases and there are several that have no charge or a small opening fee.

Gaining more knowledge, this takes an active mindset and desire to better yourself and your family overall. Knowledge these days can be had with nothing more than a mobile device or library membership. As a child, I spent many hours reading, practicing what I read and testing hypothesis based on presumptions taught me and or learned by reading and studying. I was a voracious reader, who at this point in my life have read over 12,000* books and have no plans to stop. Even with my active ability to learn and apply knowledge acquired through reading, I have found it necessary to find others who have greater knowledge in areas I wish to acquire and solicit their help or pay for it.

budgeting for low incomeAmong those who read this, I am aware of two engineers, a doctor, several nurses, a professional highly skilled dog trainer, several law enforcement (current or prior) and a plethora of mechanics and much more. I doubt that any of these trained professionals simply learned their craft by reading books at a library, though many of them have augmented their knowledge by doing so! (and this is highly recommended) Rather, it is the active engagement with qualified instructors and solid material that allowed most to learn their trade. This means that for many areas it is essential to learn the basics from others who know and then build on that knowledge gained.

What I have found to be the best approaches for this with a small fixed income is this,

  • Barter your skills and knowledge for theirs, I would not associate myself with anyone who believes what they know is so valuable that they would not be willing to exchange that knowledge or teach it for a reasonable sum.
  • If you must pay for some knowledge, seek out avenues that allow you to make payments over a few months. (lay away for education exists especially in the firearms training and legalities training world)
  • Local shooting ranges often need volunteer assistance with range master duties, they will often offer to pay for your NRA range master class in exchange for your volunteering a few hours every other month or so. (I received my RSO certifications this way)
  • Shooting instructors will often need RSO assistance on the range, and this can be exchanged for a free class or two! This assists you in making connections and finding others who are accomplished shooters, as well as opening the door to the groups that exist on every public or semi-public range I have ever been on across the United States and in Canada, the groups of advanced shooters who train regularly. (training with individuals like these will help you polish your skills and because many of these groups are people who work in various fields that require regular training it will also allow you to increase your knowledge further in those areas as well. )
  • For medical and other skilled professions I have found that if you are willing to exchange your skills they are often willing to divulge information for little or no fee. For instance due to my continued visitation of various medical professionals over the last many years I have learned how to gather information and supplies by simply asking! (I am not suggesting you beg or steal, rather I would suggest you ask the doctors and nurses caring for you or your loved ones what care is required, write it down and be specific, than ask what supplies may be needed- in many cases hospitals cannot reuse supplies that have been in a patients room, asking about these can mean you end up with added stock)
  • Seek out training groups, I have found a few over the years made up of individuals who recognize that more civilians need medical and firearms based knowledge. Some are defunct and others are non-starters, however, all have further increased my direct network allowing for the added benefit of knowledge of local and national (even international) training centers and individuals whom I can recommend without hesitation.
  • Learn to read a diagram, schematic, map and the like. Do not hesitate to use one or gather any that may be of assistance to you on your homestead or while prepping. For instance, I have a collection of maps spanning the American Southwest and much of Mexico. Additionally, I have manuals for my vehicles and several in-depth slightly outdated but still viable medical tomes as well. Buying these written works from 3 or 4 years ago will allow you to have access to amazing amounts of knowledge while avoiding the high fees associated with brand new volumes from this year. For instance, the Physicians Desk Reference from 2012-2014 is around a half or quarter of the cost of the same from this year or even two years ago! It is an extremely valuable guide to have available in print.

Meeting your obligations, the unfortunate reality of life in the United States is that our government promotes rapid inflation which quickly outpaces the value of our dollars which depending on the type of fixed income we may be on will not rise fast enough to make a large difference. For instance the real inflation over the past 10 years now has meant that while I used to be able to pay rent, utilities and buy food with some money left over for special extras that are essential for quality of life with children, I am instead forced to resort to gray market and back door dealing to continue simply paying rent.

Our house that cost $500 to rent 10 years ago now costs $1100 and utilities have increased over 200% since 2008. My income has increased by 15% overall which means that paying for the mandatory “free” insurance, taxes (yes, poor people pay taxes too), utilities and rent I am left with a deficit every month of around $250. This is before I put aside for extras and saving for just in case emergencies. The government has mandated that I am not to work given the extent of injuries, this means that I am forced to find alternative means of meeting my obligations every month while still raising two amazing children and maintaining my personal strict code of ethics.

There are many ways to generate additional income that are legal yet for fixed and low-income families will need to be gray marketed simply because of the regulations governing additional incomes. Some of those approaches have been bartering, buying – fixing – reselling items using local craigslist and other sources and there are many other avenues that may be available to you depending on your individual abilities and ethical considerations. For myself it is simple, I believe that whatever is agreed with open knowledge and consent between two individuals is always right, if something is done that has not had the consent of all involved it is always wrong. I have neighbors in a similar situation that have a yard sale every couple of weeks for a couple weeks running then take a break to stay within the law. I barter our chicken eggs and the product of my hands for items that I then resell at times.

Case in point my computer failed on me several weeks ago, I had several other partial computers I had been cannibalizing for a few years and unfortunately this one needed parts I could not afford nor did I have access too. I was partially assisted by one person (thank you) and looked around at locally available rebuilt computers and was able to purchase a computer that I am now using to write this article on. The computer is not brand new, it is, however, extremely solid and with the addition of two parts will easily run for at least two more years allowing me time to save for a new or newer one.

Simply put to save money and really be independent you have to be willing to forgo designer clothing, and addictive habits like coffee, smoking and soda. We drink water at our house, and I make teas from local and traded tea gathered. We have our chickens and I trade my knowledge and abilities to local farmers, ranchers and take advantage of every single available program that exists at this time. While I detest the idea of state-based welfare, I endorse the idea of private aid and earning your way. I worked for decades and still pay taxes today (though grudgingly so) as a result I do not see my main income as a problem. After all, I earned it, unlike so many others who abuse it. However, this is not a political article, it is a guide meant to help those who may need that!

Free the mind and the body will follow…

* It should be noted that this number of books is based on my average reading speed, time that I have been reading and may be off plus or minus a few hundred. Additionally, the number will increase as long as I am able to read, for instance at the writing of this article I had just completed a 9 book series I began 3 days ago. (I love good well thought out science fiction/ alt history/alt future)

Jesse Mathewson

Arizona since 86', lifetime prepper, camper - criminal justice advanced degrees, numerous certifications, 1+ million rounds (shooting for decades), prior contractor, instructor, current volunteer, disabled, honest, father of two husband of one - all budget and prepared. Jesse Mathewson reviews because regular people need someone in their corner as well!