How To Live on an Unsteady Income


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It is not an uncommon thing for people to no longer live on a steady income. A lot of people live on commission, own their own business, or have other situations involving unsteady pay. However, if you have never lived like this and then suddenly find yourself there it can be extremely hard to figure out how to make it. You can make enough money to pay your bills every month but if you don’t know how to handle your money on these new terms, then you could end up going broke and quickly.

My family is one that lives on an unsteady income. My husband works on piecework. He gets paid for each item he installs on the job. We are fortunate because my husband is good at his job therefore he makes a decent living. However, the downside is we don’t know what we have to live on until the check arrives. It can be extremely hard to budget and can make financial bumps much harder to overcome. We went to one income and an unsteady income all at once. I found when I was trying to research how to make this work, that there weren’t that many good resources for it. Now, if we made $12,000 per month and were single, there were plenty of resources. But…umm…hello, we don’t and we aren’t. So for the average family, living on one income with this type of pay, the resources were lacking. Today, I am going to tell you how to make a budget with unsteady pay.

Step 1: Look at your bills

You need to know how much your bills are each month. Having the exact amount will let you know your full responsibility.

Step 2: Groceries

You need to know the absolute lowest you can go on your grocery budget each month to feed your family.

Step 3: Gas

Gas money is a fact of life these days. You need to know how much money you need for gas in your budget.

Step 4: Determine the lowest amount of money you can survive on in a month.

Having this financial figure in plain site will let you know how much you need in a month to survive. It helps keep you motivated because having a financial goal will be an encouragement. Whereas, a stack of bills staring at you has a tendency to depress verses motivate.

Step 5: Wait for the check to arrive.

This one is rather self-explanatory. Haha!

Step 6: You start dishing out the money.

There are multiple approaches to this step.

The first approach is the Percentage Option.

The percentage option is my personal favorite and the way I like to handle our finances. When I first tried this approach I made a list of everything I had to think about in a month. I had to consider things such as gas, groceries, tithes, bills, savings, and clothes. Then I would break them down into percentages. When the check came, I would divide the money based on the percentages I had determined. The upside to this is everything is considered and given some attention on a monthly basis. The downside is you may not always have enough money to cover all of your expenses in a certain category. However, I have found that it usually evens itself out, and you feel like you can live with this type of budget. Otherwise, you are left feeling like you are just always trying to meet the bills and needs. There isn’t much room left for anything else. So if you are new to this type of income, I recommend starting here. It will stop a lot of frustration.

The second approach is the Pay Until The Bills or Money is Gone.

I do not like this approach. It was the first approach I took when we first started living on an unsteady income over four years ago. I feel like you always stay broke this way. I would sit down and just pay and pay until the check was gone. Well, the downside is you usually use the whole first check to pay your bills. By the time the second check rolls around you have been pretty broke and then you spend the whole next check trying to make up for it. I just felt like we never got ahead this way. However, the upside is your bills always get paid.

The third approach is Wait Until the End of the Month.

The end of the month approach takes a lot of discipline. You save all of your money until the end of the month. Put all of the income back except gas and groceries. Then when you know how much money you have that month, you sit down and pay it all out. If you are disciplined, I recommend this option because it is easiest.

The final approach is Divide it All in Half.

I did this when we lived on a steady income and have found it can work on an unsteady income as well. Just divide your bills in half and pay half of them one pay period and the other half the next. You run the risk of not always having enough each check when you do it this way, but it can work as well.

Step 7: Make ends meet.

Let’s face it. Some months there won’t be enough money. When you live on an unsteady income, work slows at times or unexpected expenses arise. During these difficult times, it takes some creativity. You have two options: play catch up or figure out how to make extra money those months. There are many ways to help make extra money. You can purge your house and sell the stuff that was once cluttering your home. You can tap into the savings account you’ve been building. You can look up online opportunities such as Swagbucks,, or check out He has LOTS of interesting ways to make extra money pretty quick in those tight months.

The bottom line is when you live on an unsteady income, you have great months and then you have some not so great months. We just call it living by faith. It is hard at times but is so rewarding because God often reveals Himself in ways that you might have missed if you lived on an entirely steady income.

I hope these options will help someone who is frazzled just like I was when I found out my husband’s job wasn’t a set in stone pay. It is scary at first and a whole new ballgame, but you can master your finances. The one thing I am learning is that finances are just that, finances. They are not life. They are not meant to bog us down. It is just money. It is not a commodity. Everyone has it, and you can always make more. Keep that mindset (which is NOT easy, I know!) and your finances will no longer run you. Instead, you will run them which is the way it is supposed to be!

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