How to Stretch Your Budget for a One-Income Household

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Living in a one-income household is like being a gymnast walking on a balance beam. You have absolutely no margin for error, and the slightest misstep can spell disaster.

The tens of millions of jobs lost to the COVID-19 pandemic have left millions of families surviving as one-income households for the first time. That’s a really hard thing to do these days, especially if you’re not used to it.

The cost of essential purchases, like groceries and rent keeps going up, making it harder than ever for families to get by on a single income.

Does all this sound familiar? If you’re in this position, we’ve got a list of money moves you can start making today:

1. Cut Your Food Budget by Planning Ahead

Groceries are a huge part of everyone’s budget, so they’re a big target for savings. Try preparing for the week ahead with some meal planning.

This goes beyond just making a shopping list. Real meal planning helps you save money because it helps you use what you buy, preventing food — and money — waste. It also prevents you from spending extra cash on emergency lunches or late-night takeout.

First, figure out how many meals you’re responsible for making every week. If it’s just you, your answer might be 21: seven breakfasts, lunches and dinners. If you have a family, count meals per person — a dinner for three people counts as three dinners, even if you all eat the same thing.

Now figure out how much food you’ll need to buy to make it until your next grocery trip. If you buy the same items repeatedly, you know which ones to stock up on when they go on sale. Stocking up on sale items also helps you freeze meals for the future. If there’s a way to buy in bulk and prep the foods you eat the most often, do it!

2. Get Paid Every Time You Buy Toilet Paper

No matter how strategic you are, groceries still account for a good chunk of your budget. Everybody’s got to eat. You may as well earn a little money back while your groceries are being bagged up.

A free app called Fetch Rewards will reward you with gift cards just for buying toilet paper and more than 250 other items at the grocery store.

Here’s how it works: After you’ve downloaded the app, just take a picture of your receipt showing you purchased an item from one of the brands listed in Fetch. For your efforts, you’ll earn gift cards to places like Amazon or Walmart.

You can download the free Fetch Rewards app here to start getting free gift cards.

Over a million people already have, so they must be onto something.

3. Stop Overpaying for Stuff Online

On a single income, you have to watch every penny. Wouldn’t it be nice if you got an alert any time you’re shopping on Amazon or Walmart.com and you’re about to get ripped off?

That’s exactly what this free service does.

Just add it to your browser for free, and before you check out, it’ll check other websites, including Walmart, eBay and others to see if your item is available for cheaper. Plus, you can get coupon codes, set up price-drop alerts and even see the item’s price history.

Let’s say you’re shopping for a new pair of shoes, and you assume you’ve found the best price. Here’s when you’ll get a pop up letting you know if that exact pair of shoes is available elsewhere for cheaper. If there are any available coupon codes, they’ll also automatically be applied to your order.*

In the last year, this has saved people $160 million.

You can get started in just a few clicks to see if you’re overpaying online.

4. Get Paid Every Time You Fill Up Your Tank 

Having to fill up your gas tank these days is downright painful. Prices for a gallon of regular unleaded top $5 in some states and it doesn’t look like there’s relief coming any time soon.

But a free app called Fetch Rewards will relieve some of that wallet-draining frustration by rewarding you with gift cards just for buying gas (and more than 250 other items at the store).

Here’s how it works: After you’ve downloaded the app, just take a picture of your receipt showing you purchased gas from one of the stations listed in Fetch. You’ll earn 25 points for each purchase, which can be redeemed for a Visa gift card and can help you pay for your next tank.

You can download the free Fetch Rewards app here to start getting free gift cards. Over 13 million people already have, so they must be onto something…

5. Cancel Your Car Insurance

Here’s the thing: your current car insurance company is probably overcharging you. But don’t waste your time hopping around to different insurance companies looking for a better deal.

Use a website called EverQuote to see all your options at once.

EverQuote is the largest online marketplace for insurance in the US, so you’ll get the top options from more than 175 different carriers handed right to you.

Take a couple of minutes to answer some questions about yourself and your driving record. With this information, EverQuote will be able to give you the top recommendations for car insurance. In just a few minutes, you could save up to $610 a year.

6. Ask This Website to Help Pay Your Credit Card Bill This Month

No, like… the whole bill. All of it.

While you’re stressing out over your debt, your credit card company is getting rich off those insane interest rates. But a website called Fiona could help you pay off that bill as soon as tomorrow.

Here’s how it works: Fiona can match you with a low-interest loan you can use to pay off every credit card balance you have. The benefit? You’re left with just one bill to pay every month, and because the interest rate is so much lower, you can get out of debt so much faster. Plus, no credit card payment this month.

If your credit score is at least 620, Fiona can help you borrow up to $250,000 (no collateral needed) with fixed rates starting at 2.49% and terms from 6 to 144 months.

Fiona won’t make you stand in line or call a bank. And if you’re worried you won’t qualify, it’s free to check online. It takes just two minutes, and it could save you thousands of dollars. Totally worth it.

All that credit card debt — and the anxiety that comes with it — could be gone by tomorrow.

7. Add $225 to Your Wallet Just for Watching the News

Living in a one-income household is just a little bit easier when you can add even just a little bit more income. For example:

It’s been a historic time for news, and we’re all constantly refreshing for the latest updates. You probably know more than one news-junkie who fancies themselves an expert in respiratory illness or a political mastermind.

And research companies want to pay you to keep watching. You could add up to $225 a month to your pocket by signing up for a free account with InboxDollars. They’ll present you with short news clips to choose from every day, then ask you a few questions about them.

You just have to answer honestly, and InboxDollars will continue to pay you every month. This might sound too good to be true, but it’s already paid its users more than $56 million.

It takes about one minute to sign up, and start getting paid to watch the news.

8. Leave Your Family up to $1M

Oh, to be a millionaire. Look, not all of us have the money to set up trust funds for our loved ones. But you could still leave them up to $1 million in life insurance — and you don’t even need to have the money in the bank.

You’re probably thinking: I don’t have the time or money for that. But this takes just minutes — and you could leave your family up to $1 million with a company called Bestow.

We hear people are paying as little as $16 a month. (But every year you wait, this gets more expensive.)

It takes just minutes to get a free quote and see how much life insurance you can leave your loved ones — even if you don’t have seven figures in your bank account.

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He knows what it’s like to survive as a one-income household.

*Capital One Shopping compensates us when you get the extension using the links provided.

*For a $500K policy, subject to eligibility.