With the current state of the economy, lack of jobs, and rising costs of living, it’s no wonder that most Americans are depending on assistance programs to make ends meet. According to the United States Census Bureau, approximately 52.2 million people in the country participated in government assistance programs in 2012, and participation rates were highest for healthcare and SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program. If you’re living on assistance programs, you know that it can be a challenge to stretch your budget as you can never foresee emergency situations that may require you to come up with the necessary funds. Moreover, sticking to a budget can be difficult, especially if you’ve got a family to support. However, there are ways that you can make things work even while living on assistance programs. Here’s how you can stretch your budget, provide for your family, and enjoy life even while living on assistance programs.
Know where to get additional financial help
If you’re currently on SNAP but need additional financial help, then it makes sense to find out where to get assistance for rent, health, utilities, and more. For health care, see if you qualify for Medicaid or the Family Planning Benefit Program. You may also qualify for Temporary Cash Assistance or Emergency Assistance depending on your situation. Knowing where to get financial help enables you to stretch your budget, whatever it may be.
DIY as much as possible
Instead of buying things from the grocery store, look around your home and see what you can make out of the items that you already have. For instance, instead of purchasing expensive cleaning solutions, you can make your own all-purpose cleanser by mixing 7 parts water with 1 part white vinegar and a drop or two of tea tree, orange, or lavender oil. You can also DIY home décor and gifts for the holidays. Get your kids to help out and make crafting more fun for everyone.
Refashion your clothes
Buying new clothes and shoes can take a chunk out of your budget when you’re depending on assistance programs. But with a needle and thread and a bit of hot glue, you can refashion items that you already have to make new outfits for your family. You can refashion a men’s button- down shirt into a pencil skirt or a blouse. You can also transform a ladies’ cotton shirt into a baby dress.
Choose the least expensive way to get to work
If you work and need to include transportation in your budget, then try to choose the most inexpensive way to get to work. If you live in an urban area, then you might be better off taking public transportation instead of driving to work.
Maintaining a car can be costly, and there are parking and gas costs to cover. Weigh the savings of ditching your car and using a car sharing program like Zipcar or Car2go instead.
To save even more money, bike or walk to work and get rewarded each time with better health and a slimmer waistline.
Join a Volunteer Program
Join a few local volunteer programs that you’re passionate about. Not only it is a great way to pass the time, you’ll also meets lots of like minded people and forge amazing connections, some of which could very well lead to a new career in the field you care about.
Identify your problem spending areas
Some people may be great with budgeting until they come face to face with a particular problem spending area. If you can’t stop buying expensive coffee or splurging on a new lipstick every week, know that these little treats add up and can put a considerable dent in your budget. To stick to your budget while living on assistance programs, identify your problem spending areas and keep them in mind.
Sign Up for Shopping Rebate Sites
Regardless of your income level, you still need to shop. This is why signing up with rebate sites such as Ebates or Swagbucks is a great idea. Free to join, these services pay you on the shopping you do already, such as groceries, clothes and household items. You can generally expect a 2% to 11% kick back on each item purchased through these services.
Shopping Rebate Sites work by partnering up with major online retailers like Walmart, Amazon, Mercy’s, and local grocery stores. These retailers give a cut of the profits derived from each sale done via the rebate site, which the site then happily shares with you. With an extra click of the mouse each time you make a purchase, you can essentially shave 10% off your shopping expenses every month.
Grow your own Herbs and Vegetables
Herbs are highly nutritious and add incredible flavor to any dish, but are expensive at the supermarket. Did you know you can easily grow a lot of your own herbs, from mint, basil, to rosemary and more? Start with this guide and turn your window or balcony into a green house!
Certain vegetables also make good candidates for growing yourself, such as tomatoes (yes I know, it’s a fruit!), hot peppers, and green beans. Everything just tastes better when you cultivate them yourself.
Look for free entertainment
There are so many ways to have fun without spending a single cent. You can pack up a picnic basket, take your kids to the park and make an afternoon of it. You can borrow free movies at your local library and save yourself the cost and hassle of going to a theater. Or check out your local community center for free performances and concerts.
Look for ways to earn extra money
Use the assets and skills you have already and turn them into extra income. For example, if you drive to work, consider signing up with Uber and pick up a few passengers along the way to make some extra money. If you have a spare room, sign up with Airbnb and turn it into an extra source of income. On the weekends, you can even become a part time food delivery person, by getting a free account at UberEats, for example. The point is, look around you, and start being creative in how you can supplement your income with minimal amount of effort or commitment.
Living on an assistance program can be a challenge, but you can make things and work and stick to a budget while maintaining a good quality of life. Follow these tips and take it one step at a time. You might be surprised at how well you can manage on a limited income.
Credits: This is a guest post by Jackie Edwards.