How to Create a Successful Life on a Tiny Budget

Today we have a guest post from Deborah Shelby. Enjoy!

Six and a half years ago, after a failed marriage, my children and I were living in a low-income apartment. After having been a stay-at-home mom for a few years, I had re-entered the business world from the bottom rung. I was barely earning minimum wage.

I managed to support myself and my children that first year on $16,500, with no bank loans and no credit cards. Hopefully you won’t be working with an income as low as what I used to have, so your budget shouldn’t be as ugly as mine was!

Here are the steps I followed to create a budget that worked for me and got my family through those tough times and on to a better life without taking on any debt.

1) Figure and write down your actual take-home pay per month.

Mine was $1,265.

2) To create a strict and disciplined monthly budget, begin with your rent (or mortgage) payment first.

$1,265 – $665 rent = $600 left for everything else.

3) Add items and subtract their amounts one by one, based on their necessity. Food, electricity, etc.

$600 – $300 food = $300 left

$300 – $75 electricity = $225 left, etc., till I got to $0.

4) You can only fit luxury items into your budget if/when you still have funds left over once you itemize your true necessities. Cable TV, “smart” phones and eating out are NOT necessities!

My kids and I had no TV service, no land line phone, no smart phone, no extras. We visited the library for internet.

5) Don’t forget to work in expenses that you only pay annually or occasionally.

I allotted a small amount to set aside each month for things like school clothes and supplies at the beginning of each school year, holiday expenses, etc.

6) Do not use credit! You’ll have to work out another monthly expense to pay it off, and you risk not being able to live within your budget as your payments go up.

7) Track your spending.

I kept a spreadsheet to track every dime, so I always knew exactly how close I was to meeting every budget item to stay on track.

8) As your conditions improve, you may add more items to the budget or increase allowances for items. You can add in “fun” items, but only within the confines of each new budget created as you increase your income with promotions or better jobs.

When I got a better job, I immediately added internet service! After a promotion, I added a budget item for entertainment expenses so we could occasionally go to movies, eat out, or buy event tickets. Eventually, I was able to increase my allowance for rent, so we were even able to move to a better neighborhood!

9) If you can’t afford something you want, live without it! You do NOT have to have it.

Don’t dwell on what you do not have. Focus instead on what you DO have. Health, happy children, good friends, faith, love, a safe place to sleep.

I didn’t feel deprived because I made the conscious decision to stay positive and concentrate on the joys in life! I was confident we’d get through the tough times and our quality of life would improve.

10) Keep working toward a better life. When you reach a goal, set a new one. Keep your life moving forward. Improve your job skills and acquire new ones.

Living on a tight budget takes a lot of discipline and commitment. Be patient, and be strong! You can do it. You can achieve a happier and better life!

Now my kids and I have a financially comfortable life! I took online classes, learned new skills and earned new certifications. This helped me earn a couple of promotions and make a couple of very beneficial career moves.

It didn’t happen overnight, but I was patient and careful. Bit by bit, I was able to add most of my family’s wants to our budget, not just meet our needs.

It will be difficult at times, but this will work! If I can do it, anyone can!

What do you think of Deborah’s budget method?

Deborah Shelby is a life and happiness enthusiast, voracious reader, full-time working mom of teenagers, and writer. She shares inspiration and ideas for a more positive and joyful life on her blog, Happier Better Life, or you can follow her on Pinterest.

Like what you read? It’s your turn! We’ll pay you for your debt story.

Around here, we’re all about taking our debt and beating it down. Grrrrrrrr! We pay $5 for every awesome debt story we publish (whether you’re in debt, out of it, or barely living to tell the tale) so send yours our way to be considered: reddebtedstepchild[at]gmail[dot]com!
About Kayla

Kayla is a mid-20s single girl living in the Midwest, USA. She is focused on paying off her consumer and student loans, while simplifying her life and closet. You can join her on her journey at ShoeaholicNoMore or follow her on Twitter.


  1. This is a beautiful story-thank you for sharing it with us! Number 9 is key.

    • Thank you, Michelle! I agree with you about the importance of #9. So much of our success (or lack of success) depends on our own attitude and how we choose to look at our situation.

  2. Your story is so inspirational, Deborah. Some people would think that that income was not enough for a family, but you made it work, and without taking on debt! And you’ve continued to succeed! Congrats and thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you, Chela. I have to admit, I only did it out of necessity. It wasn’t something I would choose to do again! But now that I am enjoying a much better quality of life, it’s very satisfying to look back and think, “I did it. I was successful!”

  3. You are amazing Deborah! I’m so impressed you supported yourself and your kids on such a tight budget. I’m so impressed with your organization as well! You are an inspiration.

  4. Wow. That is an amazing accomplishment. I’ve found when working with a tight grocery budget, it’s absolutely essential to work from a list. If you forget items, you’ll head back to the store, and that one thing will turn into a half dozen. We’ve also cancelled cable to cut back on expenses and don’t miss it.

  5. Yes, very important point about the list, Manicmom, thanks!
    Shopping from a list also helps us stay on track to resist any impulse items. If it’s not on the list, it doesn’t get in the cart!

  6. Deborah, thank you for the inspirational post. We’re just starting our debt repayment journey, and it’s always nice to know people have been where we are and have been able to move forward. Thank you!

  7. Deborah, I am sooo impressed with your discipline, determination, and success! You are a woman of strong character and faith, and a true inspiration to us all! Thank you for sharing this journey with us. 🙂

  8. Thanks, Claire. I’m not sure how much was discipline versus No Choice, LOL! It did get discouraging at times, so I’m hoping to encourage someone else to succeed too.


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