What Does It Mean To Live On A Shoestring Budget?

By Zach Buchenau

Last Updated: July 30, 2022

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The term ‘on a shoestring budget’ simply means to make do with a limited amount of money. You’ll often hear this phrase used by people trying to save money on a limited income, start a business, host an event, or travel on the cheap.

If you’ve ever had to tighten your budget in order to make ends meet or just cut back to save for a big purchase, you’ve experienced what it’s like to live on a shoestring budget.

For the rest of this guide, I’m going to cover a few tips for living on a shoestring budget.

Tips For Living On A Shoestring Budget

Living on a shoestring budget isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can actually teach you a lot about money management and help you become more frugal.

If you’re interested in living on a shoestring budget, there are a few tips to help you maximize your limited resources:

1: Get On a Written Budget

Just because someone says they’re ‘living on a shoestring budget’ doesn’t mean they’re living on an actual, written budget.

But here’s the thing, if you want to reach the point where you don’t have to live on a shoestring, you need to get on a written budget.

This is the first and most effective step you can take to improve your financial situation.

2: Ditch Your Consumer Debt

Consumer debt is one of the most common reasons why people end up living on a shoestring budget.

Whether it’s credit cards, car loans, student loans, or any other kind of loan, the more debt you have, the less of your income you get to keep.

Instead, you send it out the door and make other people rich.

Getting rid of your consumer debt is a must if you want to get out of the shoestring budget lifestyle.

If you choose to do so, we recommend using the Debt Snowball method.


Because it’s weirdly and incredibly effective! In fact, we used this debt payoff strategy to pay off over $34K of consumer debt in six months and escape our paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle.

We’ve also heard countless stories of other people who have experienced the same (or even greater) success.

For more on the debt snowball method, be sure to read our post: How To Get Out Of Debt Fast (Even On A Low Income).

3: Build an Emergency Fund

Another big reason people live on a shoestring budget is that they don’t have any emergency savings to lean on when unexpected expenses pop up.

Whether it’s a trip to the emergency room, an unexpected car repair, or a burst pipe in your basement, emergency expenses can cost a lot of money.

And if you don’t have a decent amount of savings to cushion the blow, you can end up buried under a mountain of involuntary debt.

Ideally, your emergency fund should be large enough to cover six months of your living expenses. But if you’re just starting, a couple of thousand dollars worth of savings is a good starting goal.

what does it mean to live on a shoestring budget? | Be The Budget

4: Cut Back On Fixed Expenses

When you’re trying to live on a tight budget, the fewer recurring expenses you have, the easier your finances become. And if you’ve already thrown your debt on the chopping block, the next best thing you can do is reduce and eliminate as many of your fixed expenses as possible.

Fixed expenses are just expenses you pay monthly for a set (or fairly consistent) rate.

For example, gym memberships, streaming services, monthly pest control, and monthly lawn services all fall into the category of fixed expenses.

To be clear, I’m not saying you need to eliminate every recurring expense in your budget.

If you use your gym membership daily, then that’s probably not something you should cut. On the other hand, if you’re paying for a gym membership that you only use once a month, you’re probably better off canceling it.

Eliminating fixed expenses is powerful because it increases your monthly margin for more than a month. Unlike one-off expenses, if you can eliminate a recurring expense, you are freeing up your income for the foreseeable future.

Think about it like this: for every $100 of fixed expenses you eliminate, you are increasing your financial margin by $1,200 per year. To put that into perspective, that’s more than our monthly food budget for our family of four!

5: Start A Low-Cost (Or Free) Side Hustle

If you can find a way to bring in additional income, it will give you more wiggle room in your budget and help you get out of the shoestring lifestyle sooner.

One of the best ways to do this is by starting a low-cost (or free) side hustle.

There are all kinds of cheap or free side hustles you can start. To name a few, you could:

  • Start freelancing (e.g., writing, photography, social media management, videography, graphic design, website development, etc.)
  • Create A YouTube Channel –
  • Start A Blog
  • Start A Podcast
  • Sell Printables On Etsy
  • Do Manual Labor In Your Neighborhood
  • Get A Second Job
  • Teach Music Lessons
  • Tutor
  • Create and Sell An Online Course
  • Flip furniture on craigslist

In today’s digital world, there are so many low-cost side hustles you can start and grow for next to nothing. Add some hard work, discipline, dedication, and consistency into the mix, and you could actually turn your side hustle into a full-time gig.

6: Conquer Your Spending Triggers

In my experience, there are four types of spending triggers: physical, situational, emotional, and relational.

Physical spending triggers can be anything from your favorite retail store to the Mcdonalds arches.

Situational spending triggers are just situations where you are more likely to spend money. For instance, golfing is one of my situational spending triggers.

Since I lose so many golf balls, I am constantly putting myself in a situation where I need to buy more golf balls.

Emotional spending triggers can be anything from online shopping when you’re stressed to happy hour when you’re frustrated after a tough day at work.

As you might have deduced, relational spending triggers are related to the people in your life.

For example, if you have friends who are always going out to eat, it’s easy to get caught up in that lifestyle and spend more money than you normally would.

The first step to conquering spending triggers is knowing which ones give you the most trouble. Once you figure that out, you can create a plan to avoid or deal with them.

7: Take Advantage Of Money-Saving Apps

When living on a shoestring budget, you need to squeeze every last drop of savings out of your income. Fortunately, there are many apps to help you do that.

From cashback apps like Rakuten, Dosh, and Upside to saving and investing apps like Acorns and Stash, there’s an app for just about everything these days.

Some apps help you save money on groceries, like Ibotta and Checkout 51. And if you’re looking to save money on travel, try using Skyscanner to find the best deals.

Check out our resources page for a list of the money-saving apps we recommend.

Saving Money On A Shoestring Budget

Saving money can be difficult when you’re on a shoestring budget. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Here are a few simple tips to help you build your savings when money is tight:

Use A Zero-Based Budget

If you want to save as much money as possible, you need to have a specific plan for every cent you earn. To do this, we recommend using a zero-based budget.

A zero-based budget is just a method of budgeting where you plan out every dollar of your income.

Starting with your income, you subtract the amount of money you want to give and save and then plan out your spending to fit within the remainder.

The specificity of a zero-based budget can help you develop a clear path to your financial goals, track your daily progress, and keep you acutely aware of where your finances stand.

Save Before You Spend

If you want to maximize your monthly savings, you should get into the habit of paying yourself first. In other words, the first thing you should do when you earn a paycheck is to move a set percentage of your money into savings.

Then, all you have to do is use your zero-based budget to plan how you will live within the leftover money.

I realize this might seem a little backward. But by prioritizing your saving ahead of your spending, you will make consistent (and predictable) progress toward your financial goals.

Focus On Consistency

Living on a shoestring budget can feel like you’re wading through mud; difficult, messy, and slow.

The key is to stay laser-focused on consistency. Whether saving a set percentage of your monthly income or logging your expenses into your budget daily, the more consistent you are, the better off you’ll be.

While this isn’t the most exciting or revolutionary piece of advice, consistency over time can help you build a ton of financial confidence and momentum!


Living on a shoestring budget means making do with less. It means finding ways to save money wherever possible to stretch your budget further. It can be challenging, but it is possible to live on a shoestring budget and still enjoy your life.

Zach Buchenau

About The Author:

Zach Buchenau is a self-proclaimed personal finance nerd. When he isn't writing about budgeting, getting out of debt, making extra money, and living a frugal life, you can find him building furniture, fly fishing, or developing websites. He is the co-founder of BeTheBudget, and Chipotle's most loyal customer.

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