Every mom should have an option to stay home with her children, regardless of income

How to Live Well on $18k/year

Before I started blogging, many of my friends would visit me at my home. Whenever it was their first time coming to visit me, several of them would ask me what the apartment number was. You see, my ex-husband had abandoned us after many years of marriage. I didn’t have a “job” per se. I worked on eBay and so many people really tend to underestimate the power of working from home.

I didn’t make a lot…but I made enough to scrape by. For over 3 years, I lived WELL on $18,000/year with two kids as a single mom. Today, I’m going to share with you in depth, how I did all that. It is a story that has been highly sought after for many, many years, and today is the day I’m opening up about it!

They say it's hard for a family to live on one income. They're wrong! Come along with me as I show you how I, a single SAHM, live pretty DARN good!

How to Live Well on $18k/year

My home: When my friends would pull up to my house (my nice 3 bedroom, 2 car garage house in THE most sought-after subdivision in my city that I lived in at the time), their mouths would drop. Once they regained composure, the first sentence was usually, “How in the world do you have so much?”

Immediately they were drawn in and needed to know everything about how I was able to have so much on what the world calls poverty.

After a while, and so many questions later, I started seeing the same questions asked over and over and decided instead of writing the same emails…over and over, it would save me time to just put the emails on a blog. So, I set out to start a blog and did not promote it at all. In fact, it was password protected and was not even turned “on” with any search engines.

Just me and my friends.

What quickly happened, is that they would share the password with THEIR friends and I began picking up some traffic. I quickly saw this turning into something bigger than I anticipated.

My humble little blog with no spell checked words, no capitalization at the beginning of sentences, no pictures, nothing…was drawing quite a lot of attention. People liked what I was saying, and they were staying on my site for an hour at a time, reading all that I had wrote. They began emailing for more. And as each new question came to me, I wrote a post answering their question, one at a time, in full on the blog.

One day it dawned on me that I should actually TRY. lol. I wondered to myself if I actually did TRY to work the blog, if I could earn income from it and so, I set out on this big adventure. A small girl with a dream of quitting eBay to blog full time.

It wouldn’t come without hard work, that’s for sure. For 4 years, I worked 80 hours a week (yes, a week) on eBay. When I started blogging, I had to work harder than that! I did eBay, worked as a virtual assistant (VA) to cover my blogging expenses, and on the blog. No…I didn’t sleep much. lol.

But it was all worth it. My dream came true and I make more now, than I used to make in an entire year…in ONE month blogging. That’s right. Just a few months ago, I made my all-time high, over $23,000 in one month.

Why am I telling you all this and how does it relate to how to live on so little?

I want you to know that if you want to get ahead in life, you can’t follow what everyone else is doing.

You have to make YOUR OWN path. And when you set out on finding that path that’s right for you, you will fail a thousand times…but…in time, you will find that one thing that clicks. And when you do, it’s magical. It’s life-changing, and you’ll never see the world the same again.

When people told me I needed to get a REAL job, I really had to hold my tongue because, at the time, I didn’t share income reports like I do now. Now, I never get told that, because everyone knows that I’m succeeding far above what they ever expected, which was $0.

My mission from the beginning on this blog has always been to show other moms around the world that you most likely do NOT have to work outside the home if you do not want to. I’m not on some bandwagon to get every mom home, but I AM here to show you that you have options. Options to make your life and your family’s life the absolute best it can be.

Think about it…no more stress from work, getting along with crazy-insane co-workers who irritate the heck out of you, no more boss breathing down your neck for a deadline, being yelled at when you make a mistake, feeling unappreciated, alone, and scared in an unstable employment situation.

Every day, you go off to work and you tear up because you desperately want to be with your kids. You’re missing them walk for the first time, talk for the first time, you feel like you’re missing it all.

My friends…there is a better way. And I believe that every single mom who wants to be home with their kids CAN. I’m living proof it can be done! Yes, you may have to work harder for a little while, but it’s only a season. If you REALLY want it, you CAN make it happen.

The same is true for your income. If you REALLY want to be able to live on $18,000/year or even half that (here’s my post on how I lived on $700/month), you CAN do it. Even if you live on little, you can still have a great life and it’s my job…to show you how!

When I lived on $18,000/year, my exact bills looked something like this:

  • Rent: $800
  • Gas: $25
  • Power/Gas: $110
  • Water: $60
  • Garbage/Sewer: $60
  • Car insurance/Renters insurance: $55
  • iPhone: $30
  • Satellite TV: $65
  • Zyto  (here’s my full review of the Zyto): $40
  • Groceries: $250

No debt: The first thing you might notice is that I didn’t have any debt. This is true. I’ve been very blessed in all my single years, to not have any debts to pay. I’ve worked extremely hard to live on ONLY what I bring in and not a penny more. If I didn’t have the money, I didn’t buy it. And being extremely frugal, I’m good at getting all that I want on a very tight income.

Car: The next thing you might notice is that I don’t have a car payment. This is also true. Not only did I live on so little, where my bills barely were covered each month, but I was able to save up $7,000 in one years’ time to buy a car outright. Since I didn’t have a loan payment, I didn’t need full coverage, so my car insurance was liability only and was super cheap.

Satellite TV: No, I’m not one of those people who give up TV. Even though I rarely watch it, when I do want to watch it, I want it to be there. I’m not a person all about cutting out the things I want. I’m a person who is crafty at thinking up ways to GET what I want. I’ve always been like that. When I want something, I’m very skilled at figuring out how to make it happen. That is NOT to say I’m manipulative or do this on other people. Please DO NOT misunderstand.

Groceries: I did extreme coupon at the time. Again, knowing how to get what I want, at the price I want to pay. So, I had a very nice stock pile in the garage of all kinds of things and was often found giving them away to help others. When you’re “poor,” there is NO reason to be stingy! The more you give, the more your heart changes, and the more God blesses you. Related: How to Give When There’s Nothing Left to Give

Roommate: I was ALWAYS being propositioned by people to let them stay with me to ease my financial burden, but for me, I promised myself that the next time I live with someone else, will be within a marriage relationship. Again, nothing wrong with having a same-gender roommate, but for me, I just don’t prefer it. I like my privacy and space to be my weird little self. 🙂

Financial aid/government assistance: While I was on poverty level according to the world and was able to receive ALL SORTS OF assistance in many, many different areas, I personally CHOSE not to. Again, nothing wrong with it, just my personal preference. I felt like I had a great life and wanted for nothing, I was my own person, making my own way, and didn’t want to take food from the mouth of someone else who needed it more. I really wanted to be self-sufficient, and I was (and still am!) I chose to stop applying for that stuff.

Gas: Gas was pretty cheap for me, because I didn’t really go anywhere. I was working really hard and focusing on that, the kids and I walked to and from school most days, so a tank of gas lasted me more than a month. Whenever I did have to run errands (or go to church, etc.) I planned trips where I did all the errands in the vicinity at the same time, which I still do. I also keep a list on my fridge of things I need to pick up soon, so that if I’m at a store, I can remember to grab that list, so I don’t forget anything and have to go back again. Much of the shopping I do is online anyway, because that’s how I save the most money. For the most part, the only store I go to, is the grocery store.

Even if you make more than $18,000/year, you may still want to live on less…here are some of those reasons:

• To simplify your life and make life easier. Things get real simple when you are living on less. Those fancy cars, fast food tabs all the time, elaborate houses, they all disappear in comparison. You start to realize exactly how little you REALLY need in order to make it through life. THEN, when you do have more, you can appreciate it all the more!

• To get out of debt. Many people deliberately live on less in order to get out of debt. This is, in my opinion, extremely wise. If you’re serious about getting out of debt, you’ll need to make some drastic changes. While that may not be living on $18k/year, it could be living on half your income. If you are married and you both work, try getting to the state of living where you’re not dependent upon both incomes, but only one. If one spouse makes $2,000/month, this means you have $2,000 to put on debt! You can get out of debt super fast that way and then once you ARE out of debt, go back and get your nice house again, get that nice car, just pay cash for the car and rent, so that you’re not getting BACK in debt!

 • To retire early. Who wants to work all their life? Not me! There was a reason I worked 80+ hours a week for those 4 years. So that I can provide for my family as a single mom, making $23k/month and getting somewhere. Put money aside to buy a house with cash (I just bought a brand new car with cash!), to put away for college for your kids, their cars, my retirement, and so on. Work hard now, so that you don’t have to work so hard for the rest of your life.

• To prepare for emergencies. What if you or your spouse were laid off their jobs? What if a natural disaster overtook your home? There are a million and one things that could happen and having a nice, well-stocked savings can drastically help in the event of an emergency.

• To prepare for kids. Some people like to live on little in order to prepare for having kids or adopting. While I feel kids are inexpensive to raise (see my post on how I get my kids clothes completely free here), they still do add to the expenses each month. You might need a bigger house with more bedrooms, a bigger car, more food, and so on. Saving now to prepare for those expenses is wise. As for baby equipment, just don’t buy new and you’ll save a ton (you might want to buy the crib and car seat new for safety reasons). I used to go around yard saleing to gather up all I needed when I had my two little ones. If you’re low-income, WIC is also a good option.

• To start your own business. Depending on the business you want to start, it can become very costly. Blogging is probably one of the cheapest businesses to get started in, but it requires investment just the same…in your time. You have to build it. It can also be very lucrative. Within 1 year from my starting a blog, I was making $10,000/month! I’m not saying that’s normal, but I am saying, it’s possible! And going from making $18,000 a YEAR to $10,000/month was insane and it’s something I’m STILL getting used to with the more I make.

My life has not changed, outside of the fact that I did buy the brand new car and am now renting my dream house. I still save money like crazy. I stopped working crazy hours and now work about part-time. Being self-employed has changed my life and it may be something that you can do as well. Best to have the money to start upfront, so you can really ROCK it. Here’s a post that will walk you through all the things you’ll need to think about before starting a blog, if that is the direction you are thinking about. And of course, check out my best blogging tips and tricks here!

How to get your cost of living down on whatever income level you’re at:

• Don’t use any credit cards. You don’t want to incrue any debt. Being debt-free allows you to have a completely free lifestyle.

• Find and use the cheapest cell phone service you can. Net 10 is a great prepaid service and if you don’t use your phone much, the prepaid cards can last you 3 months! Last time I used their service, it was $30 for a phone card, which lasted me 3 months, so $10/month. Now, I have my iPhone, but the service is very cheap and I’m not on a contract at all. It’s MY phone (again, paying cash for what I want).

• Use cash back sites like Ebates. You’re going to spend the money anyway, might as well get paid to shop! If you don’t have an account, you can sign up here and get a free $10 gift card! To receive your free gift card, just make one purchase of $25 or more and they have every site I shop at on there, so it’s very easy. I put a sticky note on my computer so I remember to go through them first. I’ve been with Ebates for about 5 years now and have earned to-date $7,236.84. They are a pioneer in the cash back industry and I highly recommend them!

• Negotiate your bills. Did you know that you can do that with some of them? You totally can. Negotiate credit card bills, everything, and get that DOWN!

• Use free budgeting software and tracking services like Personal Capital. If you don’t have a pre-set budget, you’re dead in the water before you even start. You have to tell your money where to go each month or it likes to spend itself!

• Meal plan. Like budgeting, you have to tell your meals what to make (here’s cost-effective and quick meals for those on a budget) or it can take over your expenses. You’ll go out to fast food too much, nice dinners, and so on. Having a meal plan set up makes things a lot simpler. A couple of the sites that are great for teaching you this are: Thrifty Frugal Mom (she feeds a family of 5 on only $200/month!) and Graceful Little Honey Bee (I do her freezer meal burritos idea instead of buying them).

• Stop paying for stuff. Just decide that there are things you won’t pay for anymore! Here’s my list of 15 things I refuse to pay for. Here’s a post I wrote about how I get all my household products for FREE, including diapers, baby wipes, pull ups, candles, soaps, dishwashing detergent, cleaners, and SO much more!

Increase your income to put into savings:

• Start a blog. Staring a blog is first because it’s my own favorite personal way to make money by doing what I love, serving others! If your heart is about helping others and sharing your knowledge with the world, then you should go for it. I started out with a dream of making $1,000/month by 1 year and ended up making $10,000/month by 1 year! My life has changed drastically. Though the results are not typical, you never know until you try. I surely didn’t know when I started, but God did!

I recommend going through Bluehost and through my site, you can get the cheapest cost (I worked out a deal with them on your behalf!) You have to pay upfront for how many ever years you want to choose, but by far, this is the cheapest and best plan. I pay ONE MONTH for what YOU can get for one YEAR!

• Take surveys online. It won’t get you rich, but it’s income and you want as MANY revenues for income as you can. You can check out my 25 best survey companies here.

• Sell things around the house. Here’s a post I created teaching you how to find FREE things to sell and here’s a post giving you 40 ideas of things you can sell right now that you might already have in your home!

Related: 5 Real Ways to Add $500/month Steady Income (you can find even more ideas for increasing your income here!) Still looking for more? Here are the 10 best articles that teach you how to make money from home.

Whatever income you currently live on, whether $18k/year is a dream to you or it’s 1/10th of what you currently make, there are things that you can do to improve your financial outlook and I’m here to prove it. In my darkest time, around 5-6 years ago now, I was homeless. I had absolutely nothing and now, I make pretty dang good money and have no debt. I can come and go as I please, have a nice savings account, and have a lot of options opened up to me now…but it didn’t all come without hard work and God in my life every step of the way.

No matter what your financial situation, you can improve it using these tips. If you enjoyed this post, be sure to let your friends know. Because this information, truly is life-changing to women who want to be home with their kids, or are already home with their kids, but are struggling financially to STAY home with them.

Want more? I created an entire book, How to Become Financially Free. It’s my journey of how I went from being homeless and $30,000 in debt to making 6 figures from home and completely debt free.

If you feel stuck or in a rut financially, you don’t want to miss this inspirational story!

It’s just what you need to motivate you and give you practical steps to step up your money saving game. Written by a single stay-at-home-mom; if I can do it…so CAN YOU!

They say it's hard for a family to live on one income. They're wrong! Come along with me as I show you how I, a single SAHM, live pretty DARN good!

They say it's hard for a family to live on one income. They're wrong! Come along with me as I show you how I, a single SAHM, live pretty DARN good!
They say it's hard for a family to live on one income. They're wrong! Come along with me as I show you how I, a single SAHM, live pretty DARN good!

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  1. I’m fortunate enough to not need to live on $18,000 per year, but I’m still choosing to reduce my expenses to much less than my income for many of the reasons that you listed (especially early retirement and building my blog). I feel that having a higher income actually makes it HARDER to save money and live on less because you think that you deserve more and more and also, you tend to think you can afford more than you actually can, which ends up pulling you into the debt trap. Thanks for all the suggestions and the real budget example!

    • Making more can definitely be a challenge, especially when income taxes are 37.5% (mine are!) and I pay my own insurance every month, which I never use. Sometimes I’m tempted to tell myself it’s easier when I made so little. I had more! I work so hard, and the world just takes it. It’s hard for me to justify working so much if they are just going to take it. Might as well not work myself so hard…you know. Definitely challenges in each category for sure.

  2. It’s amazing that you were able to raise 2 kids on such a little amount. What about things like medical expenses, dental/eye costs, school fees, kids activities etc? When it was just my husband and I we lived on very little but with kids it’s definitely more of a challenge for us.

    • During that time, my life was all about being able to stay home with my kids. As a family, we sacrificed things like kids activities in order that I could be home with them. It was more important to us personally, but it was just for a season. Now, there are activities, but still pretty tame at this point. Church is mostly what we focus on (free) and having fun like taking small trips, playing the Wii together, etc. My daughter has one activity she enjoys at school, but it’s only $10/week and my income affords it now. 🙂 I guess it just comes down to priorities for each family. There’s no right or wrong, just dependent upon each family situation. 🙂

  3. I started blogging in January, and I LOVE it! I’m hoping to be able to monetize my blog and eventually become a stay at home full time blogger. I feel like my posts are doing well in the serving others categories though. I’ve tried to share as many tips, suggestions, and personal experiences that I can think of. But it still doesn’t feel like I’m giving enough back.

  4. Thanks for sharing this. Such incredible wisdom on how to manage a tight budget. You are an inspiration to many who think ‘they don’t make enough’. Looking forward to seeing where the Lord continues to take you!

  5. I really enjoyed this post. When I read other posts on frugal living it seems as if they are telling you to give up everything but the necessities in order to live. I believe while this may be to go if one is in dire straits or in danger of losing a home, it is not the only way to live frugally and make ends meet and/or get ahead. With retirement just around the corner for both myself and my husband we live frugally, but still manage to enjoy a luxury here and there. We do not eat out often, are very picky if and when we go to a movie, coupon a lot, and I watch gas prices daily. My biggest luxury is my bi-monthly pedicure/manicure and we enjoy nice family vacations. If money is short for these things we just work a little harder and smarter for them.

    • Yeah, I’m not big on the whole, “You can’t do this, have this” type of thing. lol. Like you, if I want something, I find a way to figure it out. 🙂 Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

  6. Great post Sarah and congratulations on all of your success and hard work.

    This post is a great way to show Mom’s out there that they too can stay at home and still make a difference in their careers. Thank you for sharing your experiences and your knowledge with the blogging world.

  7. Hello. My name is Melissa. I am from Australia and I am wondering if you know of any online surveys that I could do from Australia. I am a Registered Nurse and school teacher. I have 2 kids and being a single mum meant I had to keep working. I have taken leave from teaching this year just to have a break for a little while. I wonder if doing something like what you have written about could be for me. It sounds very interesting and I like the idea of being home with my kids but still working; that would be so lovely.

  8. I would like to start a blog and stay home more, but I am not really good at any one thing! I am a single mom, have 7 kids, was able to help 3 in college on 31K, then last year got a better job, and was able to make $57k part time. I am an RN, I went back to school and graduated 4 years ago. I was an art therapist, daycare and sub teacher, wrote mortgages, had a home daycare. Nursing is the best money, but I would like when a little more flexibility. This year I have worked New Year’s eve and day, Valentine’s day, Good Friday, Easter, and Mother’s Day. Any suggestions? My house is a wreck, I have no interest in decluttering, I live with some debt, and we cook some great vegetarian food but it is to eat, not a hobby. What would I blog? Living in the Moment?

  9. This by far is the absolute best article I have read in a long time. This is so befitting to my life at this point and I am very excited to begin applying the principles. I am very happy to see that they have been written down and that others have the same thought process. You have epitomized exactly what I hoped to achieve. Thank you for being so transparent and much success and blessings to you and your family!

  10. Dear Sarah,

    Thank you so much for this wonderful and informative post. I’ve been thinking of blogging for quite some time, but have been putting it off for fear of the unknown. God has a plan for all of us, I really believe I was meant to find your blog through Pinterest. God bless you for sharing your story. Gives me hope that perhaps I can do it too.