What My Lifestyle Looked Like with Less than $1,000 a Month

If you’re a regular on this site, you’ve read a few times that I lived on $1,000 per month for most of my early adulthood. I was only working part time, so it didn’t help me save a ton of money, but it did teach me to live frugally. Ultimately, this experience helped me keep my spending habits low as my income increased, because I could reflect back on how much money I really needed to be happy.

Today I want to share some details of what that lifestyle looked like. Now this was about 10 years ago, but I did some research and many of the same expenses hold true today. Keep in mind that this lifestyle was before kids and so my expenses were much different then than they are today. Single in my 20s, I was able to stay fairly frugal. This is not intended to be a recommendation, but a reflection point. Most likely, many of us would not feel comfortable with this lifestyle, but some ideas may be applicable to try out as we strive to spend only on things that truly add value in our lives.

Housing/Rent/Utilities: $300/month

I lived in a cheap basement apartment in a small midwest city. This website highlights some of the properties I lived in during that time, and I managed to pick up a basement apartment with utilities included for $300/month. Maybe this is why I connected so quickly to Kristy in her book “Quit Like a Millionaire”:

“In university, I figured out how to stretch the money I made from my internships until it covered tuition, rent, food, and everything else. I lived in a $300-a-month basement room, but it was no big deal. Sure, it had its fair share of dust and blackflies, and was scorching hot in the summer without air-conditioning, but that just meant I spent more time at the library, reading.”

Shen, Kristy. Quit Like a Millionaire (pp. 15-16).

Before living in this apartment, I also spent a couple years sharing a 4 bedroom house for $1000/month. Splitting utilities and rent across four people, the average was still about $300/month.

Bus Pass: $40/month

Cars are expensive, and I lived in a low cost city with public transportation. Instead of a car payment, gas, insurance, and vehicle maintenance, I picked up a bus pass that was good for the month. While going to school, I only paid $20 a month, but even if you aren’t a student, $40 is the standard and looks to be accurate still today. Public transportation in a small city has its challenges, like only running once an hour, or not running on Sundays, but the tradeoffs were worth the savings.

Food: $140/month

One of the benefits of public transportation is that all of your food had to fit into your backpack or a couple of handheld bags. I only bought necessities and I had a goal of $1-$2 per meal. I also had no shame of eating wasted leftovers from friends when we were out at the bar, and my drunk friends were very generous with their otherwise wasted food. At times I worked in the food industry and also had opportunities to pick up otherwise wasted food without spending a dime.

Going out to Eat/Social: $80/month

Usually one night a week, I’d go out to a bar with friends and I shamelessly enjoyed a few cheap beverages at home before limiting myself to four $4 drinks with a $1 tip each. I also occasionally would grab a bite to eat from fast food, but I rarely treated myself to a full meal deal and found myself content with ordering one or two things on the menu for less money.

Smoking: $180/month

Looking back, it is crazy to think I afforded such an expensive and nasty habit on a cheap budget, but I managed to make my $6/pack a day habit work. Probably not the smartest of choices, but goes to show most of us can find some way to make savings a priority. This $6/day habit likely cost me almost $30,000 over 10 years and using the 4% rule, that could have put me $100/month closer to my goals.

Reference: Calculator.net

Clothes: $30/month

When I first started dating my husband, he loved to give me crap for my socks with holes in them. I typically had enough basics to get me to laundry day, and buying a new pair of pants was a huge deal. Most of my clothes easily fit in a suitcase since it was common to pick up and relocate for months at a time. Hand-me-downs from friends and trips to goodwill were normal, and I rarely considered buying something new from the store. I only bought something new when something I owned was worn out.

Cell Phone: $15/month

T-mobile prepaid plan with unlimited texting and pay per phone call. Let’s admit, as a 20-year-old, we only ever talked through the internet or text anyway. Turns out you can still get a $15/month plan from T-mobile and it includes unlimited text and data now, although you need to pay taxes/fees. You can still find $15/month plans after fees through if a fancy phone and data are things you can live without.

Internet: $20-$30/month

We had Comcast, and I was always calling to beg for the absolute lowest price they would offer. Split across roommates, it wasn’t a bad deal and may have been less than this. Looks like today you can get a $20/month plan.

Cable: $0/month

Ok, I bought an antenna and used that for news, games, and the basics. At times I didn’t have a TV, and found most of my entertainment with friends, using the internet,

Health/Medical: $0

I was spoiled here. My dad picked me up on this insurance while I was in school, and once the limit was extended to 26 years old, I didn’t need to worry about picking this up anywhere else. I was young and dumb and probably would have gone without insurance at the time, but I had the basics to ensure no emergencies would end me up with significant debt. I also took advantage of doctor visits through the school, although only went a couple of times over the years.

Assuming I didn’t have this option, I’d likely be looking at $400 per month, although if someone was to earn less, this could be significantly cheaper thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

Beauty Supplies: $0

I’ll be honest, I rarely dyed my hair and if I did it was always from a $5 box. I knew a few brave soles who were willing to cut my hair a couple of times a year and I wasn’t super picky about how it turned out. I wore zero makeup and had never experienced the luxury of a pedicure or manicure, so I had no idea what there was to miss about it.

Housing (Rent+Utilities)$300
Transportation (Bus Pass)$40
Food (Groceries)$140
Food (Going Out)$80
Smoking$180
Clothes$30
Cell Phone$15
Insurance$0
Internet$30
Cable$0
Health/Medical$0
Beauty Supplies$0
Total$815

Questions to Consider:

  • What did you learn or take away from this reflection of a frugal lifestyle?
  • If you could focus on one of these areas to reduce spending, which would you choose?
  • Did any of these surprise you? Either higher or lower than you expected from your experience?
  • With the ability to work remote being more common, have you considered relocating to a lower cost of living area to save more?
  • Does the area you live in provide public transportation that may replace the expensive car payment, insurance, and fuel?
  • Have you considered sharing your living space with others? This isn’t for everyone, but can greatly reduce your living expenses if you’re willing to try it out.
  • Do you track how much you waste from food spoilage? I struggle with this today but found in the past my waste was very limited because I had to physically carry all of my food home with me, so I only bought what I absolutely needed versus loading up the cart with stuff that looked good.

2 thoughts on “What My Lifestyle Looked Like with Less than $1,000 a Month

  1. Now in the process of trying to live with others to save on housing cost. We are in the process of house hacking our residence and it is helping so much. There are some downsides but the upsides of not having payments and bills to worry about blows everything out of the water. Highly recommend anyone to try! Food spoilage is one that we aim to prevent. Tried to meal plan every week but the temptation of take-outs always calls. For this reason, sometimes food gets pushed at the back of the fridge left to spoil. Great questions! Makes us want to revisit our decisions.

    Liked by 1 person

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