Just like any other trying financial situation, becoming debt-free with a smaller income requires focus, persistence, patience, and the ability to be honest with yourself.
Cut to the chase
The first step in any plan to get debt-free is to sit down and draw up a monthly budget.
It starts with getting all your paperwork in one place. Figure out exactly how much you owe on every debt and how much you would need to pay each month to become debt-free within a certain time (could be three years, could be five, etc.).
Record everything you have coming in each month as well as your spending, and then take a scalpel to the latter. This is where you might need to make some hard choices.
In addition to taking simple measures like making coffee at home instead of getting it at Starbucks, look at major expenses like the running costs of your car (can you downsize?) or cable (can you shed that 400-channel package for a cheaper plan?).
Another worthwhile avenue is Trim, a free app that goes through all your spending and can negotiate for lower rates on bills and cancel no-longer-needed subscriptions.
Upsize your income
One of the best ideas when you’re trying to get out of a debt on a low income is to up your income. This might sound difficult, but with a bit of resourcefulness and dedication, you can find a way to get a bit more for yourself each month.
If you feel you’ve been performing at a level that’s above your salary, or you’ve recently pulled off a major coup for your company, you could try negotiating a raise at your day job.
You could look for online gigs that you can do in your spare time, such as driving for a company like Lyft or earning extra money through blogging on a subject you’re knowledgeable about.
Look around your home for things you can sell — clothing, records, books, furniture — or even rent out your entire home, or part of it, via Airbnb (even one weekend a month can be a nice little earner). Put whatever extra you earn toward your plan to be debt-free.
Structure for success
Paying off debt with a low salary might seem like trying to climb a tall mountain, but just like such an endeavor, the only way to do it is one step at a time.
Perhaps it might be more encouraging to think of it like this: You’ve built your mountain of debt, and now you’re going to get down the other side.
Perhaps this is why the two most common debt payment techniques are known as the snowball method and the avalanche method. With both, you’ll start small but gain momentum, and things will get easier as you go.
The snowball method means you pick the debt with the lowest balance first: Pay as much as you can each month while paying the minimum on your other debts, and then move on to the next lowest debt once you’ve paid off that first debt.
Although the snowball can give you a feeling of satisfaction, you might pay more interest this way, which you can mitigate in the long term by opting for the avalanche approach (paying off the debt with the highest interest first).
The choice you make here will come down to you and your individual situation.
The bottom line
While it might seem like an insurmountable challenge, getting out of debt with a low income is definitely doable. Start by taking a creative approach to earning more, cutting out anything nonessential (within reason — we’re only human, after all!), and having a long-term plan when it comes to making those payments.