How to Live on Less Than a Thousand Dollars a Month


The U.S. federal poverty guideline for a single person living in the lower 48 states and District of Columbia is $11,770 as of 2015. It's tough to live on such a small income, but it's possible with some financial discipline and creative planning.

Create a Spending Plan

When you're working with limited funds each month, it's important to have a clear idea of exactly where your money is going and how much extra you have for non-essential items. Write down all your fixed expenses, including:

  • Housing
  • Automobile payment and insurance
  • Cell phone
  • Payments on loans or credit cards
  • Health insurance

Add flexible expenses such as:

  • Food
  • Utilities
  • Gasoline
  • Clothing
  • Entertainment
  • Savings

Add up all your expenses and subtract that amount from your income. If you have more expenses than income, you'll need to put some cost-cutting measure into effect.


  • Check out the Budget Worksheet offered by for more ideas on what to include in your spending plan.

Find Affordable Housing

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, housing costs shouldn't be higher than 30 percent of your income. However, more than 12 million American families pay more than 50 percent of their income for housing. With a small budget of $1,000 or less, housing most likely will be your biggest expense. To cut housing costs:

  • Move in with parents or other family members
  • Find roommates to share an apartment, or rent a room in your home
  • Look for a job that includes housing, such as a nanny, apartment manager or house sitter
  • Find rental assistance through HUD

Use Smart Food Shopping Strategies

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that Americans in the lowest income households spent more than 36 percent of their income on food in 2013. However, the USDA also estimated in April 2015 that a single male between 19 and 50 years old can eat for as little as $186.70 per month. That amount doesn't include any meals eaten outside the home, and requires some creative, thrifty shopping skills. The USDA offers grocery shopping tips, including:

  • Buy produce in season for lowest prices
  • Buy and store canned or frozen produce on sale to enjoy savings in the future
  • Choose low-cost grains such as rice, pasta and oatmeal
  • Find protein from low-cost sources such as beans and eggs
  • Buy meat on sale and freeze it 
  • Drink water instead of soda 
  • Skip junk food; focus on nutritious food

Get Assistance

If you're living on $1,000 or less per month, you may qualify for government assistance with food, housing, medical care, utilities and more. The federal government has an online Benefit Finder that will help you identify possible benefits available to you. Contact the human services agency in your state for in-person assistance.

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