Skip to main content

Visions Journal

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

More for Less

A guide to living well on a small income

Jill Howell, Annie Davidson, BSW, Deborah Linthout, BSW, and Alexander Barclay

Reprinted from the "Income" issue of Visions Journal, 2011, 7 (2), p. 23

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is a nation-wide, volunteer organization that promotes the mental health of all, and supports people experiencing mental illness. CMHA does this through advocacy, education, research and service. It strives to challenge ignorance and apathy, to remove the stigma from mental disorders, and to inspire support in the community.

Canadian Mental Health Association in Kelowna (CMHA Kelowna) offers many programs to support individuals in achieving wellness and mental health. One area of focus is helping people with their finances and money management.

Many of our clients receive Ministry of Social Development (MSD) funding. In 2010, approximately 180,000 people in BC were receiving temporary, Persons with Persistent Multiple Barriers (PPMB) or Persons with Disability (PWD) assistance through MSD. Temporary assistance (Social Income Assistance) for a single person means living with an income of $610 per month. Other individuals may be eligible for PWD funding, totalling $906 per month, or Persons with Persistent Multiple Barriers, which provides up to $658 per month.

For anyone, learning to live within these means can be very challenging, but it can be done.

How Joe does it

Joe is a composite of clients who successfully manage their small incomes. He acknowledges that living in subsidized, supportive housing (where the rent is cheaper and programs of support are offered) helps him make ends meet. But even more important is his attitude towards his budget and life priorities. Joe’s income is $610 per month. Minus $400 for rent, he has a total of $210 per month for everything else. But he manages to stay out of debt and live well with this small income.

Joe feels in control of his finances because he has made a choice to make a small income work. He also doesn’t compare himself with others and doesn’t judge himself harshly for his current situation. He makes his own decisions on managing his money. We believe this attitude gives him a great advantage.

Joe is successful in managing his money for other reasons too. He has chosen to live a healthy lifestyle; he has addressed addictions to drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. He has chosen to remain drug-free and one of the reasons for doing so is to be able to live within his means. This choice allows Joe the freedom to stay in control of his money and continue working on his goals of living independently. His priorities around his income are clear: he wants to be able to pay his bills, spend money on healthy food, take care of his appearance and save for unexpected expenses. His thoughtfulness and grip on reality allows him to make positive choices towards money management.

Joe is a self-proclaimed conservationist. This means he is always conscious of how to make things last, get his money’s worth from purchases and reduce wastefulness. He uses the toothpaste right down to the end, makes bulk purchases to stretch his food budget, portions his meals and plans his menus in advance. Advance planning prevents him from making impulsive purchases and allows him to buy bulk ingredients to use in multiple meals.

CMHA Kelowna on money management

We believe that income level does not determine one’s value, but the way someone positively manages their money contributes to feelings of worth. We find that people who are ashamed of their low income or who feel regret, remorse or anger towards their current situation often make poor decisions with their finances. They let their emotions come in the way of making balanced decisions.

People who are able to accept the reality of where their money is right now make the best decisions about money. Staying out of debt and living within his means are choices that have helped Joe manage his budget and life priorities.

Here are a few more practical tips on managing a lower income from the staff and clients at CMHA Kelowna:

Do Don't
  • Set up automatic deposit for cheques, to reduce the urge to cash it all in.

  • Set up automatic payments for regular bills. Your bank can help you set up automatic payments.

  • Write out your budget and financial record - seeing budgets on paper or recording expenditures can help you to know where your money is going and what you have left.

  • Buy food in bulk, or share cooking larger meals with friends.

  • Plan ahead and only buy what is on your shopping list.

  • Save money before purchasing items you want (as opposed to items you need). The rewards will be satisfying!

  • Know your resources in your town. Many community agencies and churches provide help such as food banks, soup kitchens and free lunch or dinner programs.

  • Take on a positive attitude about your current situation. Focus on what you have, not on what you lack.

  • Reduce the number of credit cards you use.

  • Live within your means!

  • Don’t allow addictions to control your finances. Ask for help.

  • Don’t loan money to friends.

  • Don’t borrow money from friends.

  • Don’t use cash stores to get cash. The fees are horrible!

  • Don’t order extra-large, double-shot cappuccinos when you still have to pay bills or get groceries.

  • Don’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry, to help prevent you from making impulsive purchases.

  • Don’t focus on what you don’t have.

  • Don’t buy on credit. It may cost you more money (interest) than fits your budget

About the authors

Jill is the Director of Programs and Services at CMHA Kelowna. Over her career she has worked in residential, vocational, community support and educational services. Jill believes that debt can lead to irreparable damage in one’s life, so she enjoys educating others about preventing debt.

Annie worked for CMHA Kelowna as an Outreach Worker for two years. She recently moved back to her hometown of Calgary. As a social worker, Annie has focused on supporting people at the street level, helping them connect with services.

Deborah is a Bounce Back Coach with CMHA Kelowna. She has worked in the helping professions for over 20 years. Deb started providing mental health education for CMHA three years ago. Now she supports adults in building skills to help them manage signs and symptoms related to depression and anxiety.

Alexander is interested in budgeting and stretching income. In the past he owned many businesses, worked for the Royal Canadian Mint and at a marina. Alexander lives in Kelowna’s Willowbridge Transitional Housing and enjoys walking along the waterfront, helping people learn computer skills and spending time at the local library.


Stay Connected

Sign up for our various e-newsletters featuring mental health and substance use resources.