Tips for Managing on a Limited Income
How I’ve stayed afloat despite disability
My parents taught me from a young age that being financially responsible, and better yet being cheap, was the only way to live.
I had no idea what a huge difference that would end up making in my life.
A few years ago my world began to fall apart. I quit a job because of workplace bullying, and as a result of the bullying’s lasting repercussions, it took nine months to find work again. Even then, I was only working on a casual basis.
The whole situation kicked my depression into high gear, which has led to increasing disability and working even less.
It’s scary not feeling certain about being able to support myself in the future.
The more life threw me curveballs, the more I fell back on the financial attitudes I learned from my parents to identify as many ways as possible to cut my expenses and keep the fear to manageable levels. Here are a few of the tricks that have been helpful for me.
After my first episode of depression more than ten years ago, I became even more careful with my money than I had been already. I had no idea when the depression would strike again and how it would impact my ability to earn an income, but I knew it would likely be a matter of when not if.
I made it my number one priority to throw any money I possibly could at my mortgage, and four years ago I paid it off entirely, at which point my priority shifted to growing my savings.
That was the best decision I ever made. When everything started to go sideways a year later and I ended up unemployed, I was secure at least in knowing that my housing wasn’t in jeopardy and I had savings to cushion me.
Evaluate current spending
An important part of managing your money is knowing exactly what you’re spending. That may seem self-obvious, but by taking a very close look you may be able to identify some unnecessary items that you’d taken for granted as part of your regular expenses. I pay for everything on plastic, which makes it easy to see exactly what’s going where.
Cancel/decrease services and subscriptions
I realized that I was rarely watching cable tv, as I did most of my viewing online. Even those things I had been watching on cable, I could watch online instead of on network websites. It became an easy choice to cancel my cable.
I had a couple of magazine and app subscriptions, and while they were nice to have I wouldn’t notice that much if they were gone. I chose not to renew those when money got tighter.
Cutting spending by small amounts here and there can make a difference over time and help to create an attitude of always being on the lookout for potential savings.
I’m not an extreme couponer, but I do check for coupons when I’m buying household basics like dishwasher detergent since there are often coupons available for that type of item.
When it comes to household basics, I’ll only buy things that are on sale, and hopefully, double up a coupon on top of a sale price. It’s harder with food items, but with something like toilet paper as soon as my supply starts dwindling I keep an eye out for it to come on sale, which happens pretty regularly.
With coupons sometimes it’s an internal struggle between the desire to save a few cents and the strong aversion to going to an actual person (gasp!) rather than use the self-checkout.
I rarely eat out. Granted, my depression has made me even more of a homebody (ok, the hermit is probably more fitting), so I’m not eating out as a social experience. Getting all my food from the grocery store ends up saving me a lot of money compared to pre-depression when I actually had friends and was regularly eating out several times a month.
I don’t buy a lot of clothes, but I always try to buy on sale, and preferably on clearance. With clearance sometimes it will end up being months after I buy an item before I wear it, but it’s a lot cheaper than waiting to buy clothes at the beginning of a season.
An area where I’ve saved a lot of money is not updating my tech devices frequently. I don’t replace devices until they start having ongoing problems with functionality. Last summer when my iPhone 5S started fading fast, I had no desire to get the newest iPhone X, so I got an iPhone 8 instead, which was significantly cheaper.
Get some money back
This is what I consider my “free money” — shopping rebates through Rakuten, credit card points, and gift cards earned through loyalty programs or paid online surveys. This helps to fund purchases from Amazon and various other things.
As a low-income earner, I’ve been eligible for certain benefits. Some of these have been automatic, while others I’ve had to apply for, so it’s helpful to do your research.
I learned I was eligible for premium assistance for my provincial medical premiums, as well as partial coverage for services not included in the provincial health plan. I wouldn’t have known about this had I not made the effort to track down the information, and it’s saved me hundreds of dollars.
By making contributions to my registered retirement account and claiming all of my eligible medical expenses on my taxes, over the last couple years I’ve ended up getting refunded almost all of the taxes deducting off my paycheques for the year.
Stick with it
The more you practice an attitude of saving, the more it will start to become second nature. Small changes will start to accumulate and over time will become more noticeable.
I could easily be in a much more precarious place in my life right now, and it makes me tremendously grateful to my parents for creating a strong foundation that’s allowed me to main stability even in the face of career instability and personal disability.
I still have a sense of fear fluttering in the background that I will get to the point where I’m unable to support myself, but at least I can feel confident knowing that I’m doing the best I can to be financially prepared for whatever my illness — and life — decide to throw at me.