When I started SixFiguresUnder.com in the Fall of 2013, we were just starting our journey to pay off my husband’s student loans from law school (which totaled over $130,000). We had made lots of sacrifices (including living in my in-laws’ unfinished basement) and had a very limited budget so that we could expedite our debt payoff.
I wanted to start a blog to:
- Document our debt repayment progress,
- Keep ourselves motivated and accountable,
- Share money-saving and budgeting tips, ideas, and tutorials,
- Motivate others in similar situations, and
- Eventually make money.
I had been reading blogs long enough to know that you could make money from them, but that it definitely wasn’t a way to get rich quick. Since I was passionate about the reasons I was blogging (#1-4), I knew I would stick with it. If making money was my number one reason for blogging, I probably wouldn’t have stuck with it long enough to earn much.
For months, I mulled over the idea. I kept a running list of posts I wanted to write. I tossed around ideas for domain names. Then, one day I told my husband my idea. He’s always been 100% supportive of all of my ideas in the past, but I was still a little nervous that he’d think my idea was silly. Because of our tight budget, I was hesitant to start a blog because of the upfront costs and the time commitment. Of course he was totally supportive and encouraging. He’s wonderful like that.
For those of you who want to start a blog to make money, but are hesitant to do so because of the start-up costs, I want to show you how to start a blog on a budget. You can start a blog that can eventually earn money, with a relatively small investment and little to no recurring monthly expenses.
Free or Pay for Hosting?
If you’re planning to start a family blog, personal blog, or a blog solely to keep you accountable for a goal (weight loss, debt payoff, etc) and have no desire or plans to earn money from your blog, you can do that for free through Blogger or WordPress.com.
Since I was hoping to monetize my blog, I knew I would need a self-hosted WordPress blog with my own domain name, rather than a free Blogger or WordPress site. If you have any plans monetize (to earn money from) your blog, you will want to go with a self-hosted WordPress.org site. It’s much easier to start out self-hosted (paying for hosting), rather than move your blog from one of the free services in the future. I have a step-by-step tutorial to show you how to set up a self-hosted WordPress blog.
The first expense you’ll have is buying a domain name. If you choose a Blogger or WordPress.com site, you can still buy your own domain name if you don’t want your blog name to be something like “myblog.blogspot.com” or “myblog.wordpress.com”.
Namecheap– We have bought most of our domain names at Namecheap and have had a great experience. I love that you get a free year of WhoisGuard which is important for privacy protection. Domain names are purchased on an annual basis. They start at $3.95, but most dot com addresses start around $10/year.
If you use Bluehost for your hosting (I’ll talk more about that in a second), they include a free domain name, so you can skip this step and go straight to Bluehost with your domain name idea and get started.
The cost of hosting is the largest chunk of money that you’ll have to put down when you start a blog.
Bluehost— We have had Bluehost since the start and have had not regretted it. In fact, we are still with Bluehost on their starter plan, even though all the numbers show that SixFiguresUnder traffic (currently around 300K pageviews a month) has outgrown Bluehost’s basic plan.
I have a step-by-step tutorial for setting up your self-hosted WordPress blog that will make getting started with Bluehost easy. Bluehost lets you cancel at anytime if you find their service doesn’t work for you. You will receive a prorated refund for the hosting fees. You aren’t locked into a contract and there are no cancellation fees.
The design and layout of your WordPress blog is called the “theme.” There are many, many free WordPress themes available. Free themes can be tweaked and changed so that their look is unique to your blog. One of the great things about free themes is that you can download them and “try them on” with nothing to lose.
For the first year or so, Six Figures Under used Twenty Thirteen free WP theme. Only recently, once the blog was generating enough money to justify the cost, and I had a better idea of what I wanted, I paid for the Genesis framework and a Restored 316 design. If you’re starting your blog on a limited budget, you will be just fine using a free theme.
There are lots of free and paid resources available to learn about starting and growing your blog. I am amazed at the number of people who just blog about blogging. Google is a great place to start when you have a question. Chances are, someone has written a blog post or tutorial to answer your question. Joining an active blogging Facebook group is also a great resource where you can get answers to your questions and support from fellow bloggers.
Right around the time that I was deciding to start a blog, Ruth Soukup’s book, How To Blog For Profit: Without Selling Your Soul came out. It was the perfect resource for starting a successful blog because it had answers for lots of questions that I didn’t even know I should ask. I was grateful to have had it from the beginning so that I started doing many things the “right” way.
Pinterest is an awesome traffic source for blogs, but it requires compelling images. Images grab your attention, break up the text and make for a more interesting read. If you have a food or DIY blog you’ll be taking most of your own photos, but for many other topics you may need to use stock photos.
Occasionally I will pay for stock photos, but I usually find free ones. Some of my favorite free stock photo sites are pixabay.com and freeimages.com, but there are many others. Canva.com has some stock photos that are free and many others for $1 each. To edit and add text to my images, I use the free version of PicMonkey.
I also recommend signing up for a 7-day free trial at Bigstock Photo. You can download 5 images per day during the no-strings-attached trial. That’s 35 free photos. When I did the trial, I downloaded photos that I knew I would need (or would possibly need) in the future. Their selection and quality is waaay better than the free sites, so you’ll find plenty of images in your niche that you can use.
Social Media Scheduling
There are lots of social media scheduling tools and services available. Some have limited features available for free, but most have a monthly fee. This is a cost that you can definitely do without when starting your blog. For a long time I took care of my own social media sharing and scheduling rather than using a third party scheduler.
As time went on, I got way too busy to do my own social media scheduling. Now I use Tailwind for both my Pinterest and Instagram scheduling.
In addition to building your social media following, you will also want to build your email list. Whether you use it to send out new posts to subscribers or to send a periodic newsletter, having a way to contact your most engaged readers is valuable.
While you might now have the money to spend on Convertkit (that’s what I use) right out of the gate, you can start out with something like Constant Contact that has a free trial period then moves into reasonable rates.
Update: You can start for free with Convertkit too!
Don’t let the costs of starting a blog deter you. You really can start a blog without spending too much money upfront!
- Have you been intimidated by the start-up costs of blogging?
- Bloggers, what ways have you kept blogging costs down?
My Blog Income and Other Details
Some of you have been curious about how I make money with my blog and how that income breaks down by monetization type (ads, affiliates, sponsors, etc). I’ve decided to share my blogging details (income breakdown, tips, answers to your burning blogging questions, etc) via email. If you are interested, then please sign up for my Behind-the-Scenes Blogging emails!
Vaulable (but FREE!) Blogging Resources