Money-saving hacks for getting by on a single income

Money-saving hacks for getting by on a single income, Alifeleadsimply single mama finding her why, advice on how to save money
Money-saving hacks for getting by on a single income, Alifeleadsimply single mama finding her why, advice on how to save money

Times are tough. In most households, there has been some sort of reduction in income. Some have gone from a dual-income household to a single income. Others have had pay cuts. And then others are not bringing their full salary home because they are helping other family members to survive.

How to feel more in control when you are a newly single mama

When I planned this post, the entire economic landscape looked much different. I wanted to speak directly to single moms, who have to make ends meet on a single budget. Very often with no support from their co-parent. And the focus would have been on saving money while keeping a bit of the luxuries. Instead, the post is now going to focus on saving as much money as possible, for anybody who needs to get by on a lot less than what they are used to. Or maybe on no income at all.

For some people, having no income is a concept so far removed from their everyday life that it just does not make sense to them. When you say you have no income, what they hear is you have very little coming in. Bless them. I hope that they never in their life need to find out what it really means to have zilch money coming in.

Growing up, there were many times that we had no money. Our church brought us food, family members paid for our clothes and gave us the essentials needed to keep clean and hygienic. I was raised by a single mom who worked a full-time job – the only one she could find with zero experience and little training in the field that she landed in. She went from full-time mom to sole breadwinner with her divorce, and the job she got was in sales. On only commission. So, if it was a slow month, it meant no income.

I guess growing up like that has prepared me for the time that lies ahead. I can work well with money, knowing how to make it stretch that much further. I also learned from a young age to not waste anything, to appreciate everything, and to make do with what you have. Being a mom now myself, I wish it was different. I have more compassion for my own mom, understanding how much she had to hurt saying no to us all those years. As a good parent, you never wilfully want to keep your kids from having what they desire – you want to give them everything they want. Not healthy, I know, but find me a parent who won’t agree with that.

When you do not have enough money coming in to give them everything they want, you need to try and ensure that you at least have enough to give them what they need. The basics such as housing, appropriate clothes, enough nutrition food, safety and security, and basic hygiene supplies. Once you are through this season you will be so good at saving money that you can put these savings towards what they want.

How to make life easier as a single mama

So, the following hacks I am presenting you are based on my own experience. These are things that work, that make a difference in the bottom line and that will also help you teach your kids valuable lessons regarding finances, respect for themselves and others, and appreciation.

  • Create, and stick to, a monthly budget, and make use of cash envelopes

Even if you want to shout at me now “what income must I use to budget with!” I want to still encourage you to work out a budget. Go read my post on how to budget when you have no income – and then go and create a budget. You cannot manage what you do not know, so get cracking. Then I would highly recommend you draw the money that you have to use for groceries in cash and keep that separate. Every time you buy food, you use that cash. And when it is done, it is done. No more money for food.

The dreaded B-word: Budgeting

[If you have no money coming in, and you are lucky enough to have a store account at a retailer such as Woolworths, I recommend setting a very conservative budget and buying very smartly. Buying on account means buying with money that does not exist but making debt that is all too real. Remember, this money needs to be paid back, with interest, and that makes it expensive. If you have no choice, then be strict with yourself – no luxuries or treats! Put the ice cream back. Opt for cheaper, more nutritious foods such as vegetables and eggs, and skip the fillet and lamb chops.]

  • Compare prices, and never accept the first no as the final answer

Cut expenses where you can, while keeping in mind that it might be cheap to go without insurance until it becomes too expensive not to have insurance. You need to weigh up paying the monthly instalments vs paying to replace everyday items such as a stolen cell phone or the damage and loss caused by a break-in. Before you make the final decision, contact your broker to find out if you are paying insurance for only the things you need. Often, we forget to remove items that we no longer have, such as old cell phones and previous laptops, or even things that were stolen or damaged. That means we keep on paying their insurance! Do not be shy to ask your broker to shop around and see where he or she can save a bit. Just be careful to not slash your insurance with so much that it becomes useless or move to a cheap provider only to later find out none of your claims will be paid out. Read the fine print and ask questions if you do not understand.

Sometimes you can also save on your monthly instalment by increasing the co-payment you will have to pay when you have a claim.

If you do not have a broker, make use of services like to help you compare prices and services. Some insurance companies offer cashbacks and other benefits, so you might have to pay more for your monthly premium but get cash back during the month, like a percentage back on your fuel spend or buying healthy food at selected retailers. Do the math to see where you will save in the long run.

  • Save water and electricity

Teach your kids, and yourself in case you don’t already do this, to switch off lights when you leave a room, and to only switch them on when it is dark. Use water sparingly, shower instead of bathing, and if the kids do bath, let them share as long as possible. I have a few things I do to make our water and electricity bill as low as possible: I leave the kids’ bathwater in at night, and then the following day I add handwashing powder to the water and wash our bedding in the same water. I use the washing machine to rinse and spin, and then I line dry. We don’t have a tumble dryer, so everything is line-dried. I do the same with our whites and delicates. Bathwater is also used to water the pot plants and indoor plants. I place pots and pans that need soaking under the outlet for the dishwasher so that the hot, soapy water that comes out of it can help me soak the pots or pans. Then I use the dishwasher since it is more energy-efficient. I bulk cook and freeze. And I have a flask next to the kettle, so every time I boil a full kettle of water, the leftover hot water goes into the flask and that is what I use for the following teas or coffees. Once done, I boil the kettle again. This way I only boil the kettle two or three times a day even though I drink a lot of tea and coffee. Think of a few ways that you can make your water and electricity stretch further.

  • Meal plan

You have probably heard this a thousand times before, but there is a definite method in this madness. By planning your meals beforehand, you not only make smart use of any leftovers or leftover ingredients, but you can also capitalise on specials and bulk buying. Planning is always a good idea, and if you know you will need four batches of pasta sauce over the next two weeks, it makes much more economic sense to make an extra-large batch once, than four smaller batches four times.

  • Cook to freeze

This goes hand in hand with the previous two tips. When you cook, make extra so that you can freeze enough to have dinner for another night. This helps for those time-starved days when you just do not have time to cook, and it also helps to save electricity, waste, and time. There are many recipes that are perfect for freezing, and even ones that are not entirely are not too difficult to tweak to make even them acceptable.

  • Shop in bulk

But only if you will be able to use the food before it goes bad! Shop in bulk if you will be able to store it for an extended period of time (like cans and dry goods) or freeze it. If not, then think carefully about whether it will be worth the money you spent, since there is a chance that you might waste the food.

  • Eat less meat

One of the easiest places to cut back on money spent. Buy less meat, and when you buy, buy cheaper cuts. Introduce your kids to other proteins such as eggs, legumes, soy, or even fish, which is much more cost-effective than red meat! Be creative, there are ways of getting them to eat eggplant lasagne without them even knowing it doesn’t contain any mince…

  • Take food with you, and stop buying takeaway coffee

This is a hard one for me, but I am working on it. Pack food for the office, for school lunches, and even if you are going on a trip. Buying food is expensive, unhealthy and sometimes even inedible. And coffee – get a heatproof mug and make yours at home. You will be surprised at how much you save just by following this simple tip!

  • Change to a capsule wardrobe

By changing to a capsule you decrease the number of clothing items you need in order to make a coherent outfit because everything in your closet (theoretically) will fit with everything else. It makes getting dressed much easier, and replacing clothes much more affordable.

10 Mistakes you are making with your capsule wardrobe

How I changed my capsule wardrobe to reflect ME

  • Buy the sales

Keep your eyes open for seasonal sales, then buy your kids’ clothes for the next year. Remember to always take one or two sizes bigger, depending on how fast they grow, and stick to basics. If you have already bought 95% of the clothing that they will need next year, this year on sales, then you can most probably afford to buy one or two trendy items at full price when that year and season rolls around. This is a great tip for buying school shoes!

  • Shop the specials

I get the community paper every week, and the only section I read is the ones with the retailers’ specials. I have two retailers that I buy from since I don’t see the point in driving out all your petrol in order to save a few rands on a block of butter. The things I need that are on special I will circle or make a list of. Then I check if there are things on special that I might need in the following month or soon after. If it is a good price, I will add them as well.

  • Keep track

Get a budgeting app and use it. Know where your money is going, even the small amounts that you don’t think matters. It all adds up. If you tip car guards, then draw cash and write the bulk amount down. Money is round for a reason – it rolls away before you can catch it. Make sure you catch it.

  • Cut subscriptions and memberships

That gym contract you barely use your magazine subscriptions, DSTV. Critically look at your expenses and cut the things that are not essentials. Once you are financially stable and able, you can build in a spoil fund that you can use to pay for things like this. But until then, only spend money on essentials.

  • Make use of loyalty rewards

Almost all the retailers have them, but make sure you know what the actual perks are. If you get points but it will take you 10 years to earn enough to make any sort of difference, then go to another retailer with better rewards. I prefer the loyalty programs that give you further discounts if you are a member, or that offer 3 for 2 deals if you have a card. The points are a bit useless to me, but each to their own.

  • Buy used

Clothes, shoes, sporting equipment, furniture. If you need something, first see if you can find it on the second-hand market. Not only will you pay less, but you are also helping to change our economy from a linear one into a circular one. Win for your pocket and win for the environment.

  • Pay your bills on time

Late charges can be steep, and they all add up. As far as possible pay your bills on time to avoid penalties and interest on late payments. Schedule your payments if at all possible so that they can go off even when you are absentminded.

  • Generic and housebrand is your friend

Whether we are talking about medicine or milk, try to steer clear of the brand names. Rather opt for the generic version, which is usually the same thing just under a different name. When medicine patents expire, generic versions are allowed onto the market, using the same formulas as the original since they are no longer proprietary information. Housebrands are usually made by the same manufacturers or brands that produce the brand names, but because they do not have to pay for the branding and advertising and marketing, housebrands sell at a much lower cost than their brand name equivalents. So choose generic and housebrands as far as possible.

And the bonus one:

  • Talk to your kids

Be upfront, without ever creating the idea that your financial position is as a result of them, or of your co-parent. Never wash dirty laundry in front of the kids! Talk to your kids, explain your situation and what they can do to help, and then make saving as normal as possible. It should become part of their daily lives, not something they have to do because they think you are poor. Raising caring and conscientious kids is something the world will thank you for, so teach them about money from a young age.

If you are a single mama and you are worried about making ends meet, then try a few of these tips and see where they help. And if you have a few ideas of your own, please share!

Money-saving hacks for getting by on a single income, Alifeleadsimply single mama finding her why, advice on how to save money
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