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Surviving on $12 000 a year

There is an article on msn money central that details how a middle aged woman named Jill has left her husband, gone back to college and raising a daughter on $12000 / year fixed income. Yes, you’ve read correctly, she lives on $1000/month. Could you live on $1000 / month? I guess it depends on the stage of your life but I think that I would have a lot of trouble living on that amount.

After just watching “In Pursuit of Happyness” last night, I’m seeing a lot of parallels between their lives. I don’t know why, but these kinds of stories stress me out. I can’t imagine not having enough money to even purchase healthy food for my family. It really puts life in perspective and makes one appreciate the things that you already have.

In the article, it describes how she lived on $12000 / year. Here are her sources of income:

… 2007 “income,” the money I can actually count on, will be $12,084. I know this because it consists of alimony and a portion of a school grant. (I went back to college last year; the grant covers tuition and books with a little left over.) …

Here are her expenses:

… my big-ticket annual costs, too: rent of $6,300 and $1,200 for car insurance. Subtract these from my income and I’m left with $382 a month for food, utilities, clothes, medical deductibles and co-pays, gasoline, renter’s and life insurance and any help I give my daughter, who lives on even less than I do …

Some strategies that help her get by:

… I bring my laundry to baby-sitting jobs (yes, I ask permission). I brown-bag my lunch every single day. I combine coupons and rebates to get items for free (I haven’t paid for toothpaste, shampoo or other toiletries for years). I drink water, not soda …

… always looking for ways to save a dime or to make one. I exchange spent ink cartridges for reams of printer paper at Office Max. Whenever I see a candy dish, I put a piece in my coat pocket; if my energy flags midday, those toffees and peppermints keep me from buying snacks. After I won a basket of specialty coffees at a college event, I immediately sold it on Craigslist.org; I sold a “free after rebate” phone that way…

Some of her sources of extra income:

… freelance writing, work-study, baby-sitting, mystery shopping, resident manager (read: janitor and handyma’am) of my apartment building, paid medical research and writing for the community-college newspaper. (I was the oldest living cub reporter.) …
… when I wasn’t working I was studying, doing homework or writing papers. And I was perpetually weary and frequently ill all year long….

Some lean living mantras:

  • It’s not what I have, but how much of it I can keep

  • How can I get it free, or almost free?
  • ..Enough is as good as a feast. I love to eat. I don’t love paying for it. Because I don’t have a “regular” job of at least 20 hours a week, I don’t qualify for food stamps. So I shop very, very carefully, and I go to the food bank. Most weeks I can count on potatoes, apples, bread and a can or two of vegetables. Some lucky weeks I get milk, orange juice, pasta, tomatoes, rice or a small package of meat…
  • Every day is casual Friday! When my jeans are in tatters I buy a “new” pair at Value Village (one pair cost me just $1.63, and it was new — still had the department-store tags on it)…
  • Announce my intentions. Time and again I have found that when I need something I should “put it out in the universe,” which is also known as “prayer.”…

She even has it in her heart to give away some of her money to income. I’m not sure if this is the smartest thing to do considering her situation, but hey, to each their own:

… I’ve decided to increase my monthly church tithe to $20. Sure, I could use that extra $240 a year. It just about equals the university registration fee, or the money I promised my daughter toward the price of her wedding dress. It also represents almost half of the car insurance premium heading my way in April. But giving that money away makes me feel rich. No matter how straitened my circumstances …

That’s her story! I wish Jill the best of luck on her future endeavors. It’s only a matter of time before she obtains the success that she deserves.

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FT About the author: FT is the founder and editor of Million Dollar Journey (est. 2006). Through various financial strategies outlined on this site, he grew his net worth from $200,000 in 2006 to $1,000,000 by 2014. You can read more about him here.

{ 17 comments… add one }
  • steven January 15, 2007, 4:34 am

    I found that very inspiring. We’re always talking about how rich this person is and all the success stories of big tycoons like Bill Gates who dropped out of college who became billionaires.

    I realize that becoming a big time billionaire like Donald Trump isn’t easy, but then again living off of $12 000/year and still being able to live a fulfilling life is even harder!

  • Allen.H January 15, 2007, 4:36 am

    Wow, I think I’ll never be complaining about my online earnings again anytime soon. That’s a really sad story. =\

    Allen.H

  • FrugalTrader January 15, 2007, 6:12 am

    If you guys found that story inspiring, check out the movie “In Pursuit of Happyness”. Great story.

  • Final Fantasy Game January 15, 2007, 4:19 pm

    I could live on $12,000/yr. Maybe in the Philippines. Definitely not here in the states.

  • Yan January 31, 2007, 10:45 am

    Really inspiring story. Thnx a lot for sharing this with us.

  • brian February 5, 2007, 8:31 am

    I lived on $12,000 a year. It was called 6 years of college. Everyone’s done it. It sucked though, thats why no one wants to do it once they grow up and get a real job.

  • Puton February 5, 2007, 8:33 pm

    Cabrones,

    I live on 12k/yr and you know what it is marvelous … if you feel good and look marvelous, you are happy mareekones!

    Cuber is a good place to live of $6k/yr.

  • Rod Payne August 10, 2007, 2:27 pm

    This woman was in no way living on $12,000/yr. she may have spent $12,000 / year, or she may have had cash flows of $12,000 / year, but she actually lived on far greater. All you have to do is add up the value of the donations she received – laundry services while babysitting, bartering used ink cartridges for paper, “free” candies, handouts, suppers at friends, etc, etc. If I had more time (and vindictiveness), I’d calculate the value of these extras. Suffice to say, she is resourceful and tending towards being a mooch.

  • Mr. Cheap August 13, 2007, 11:14 pm

    Rod: Its goes further than that. I think the $12K is from her alimoney and tuition grants ONLY, so she isn’t counting the babysitting money and whatnot.

    So she’s living of $12K per year if you don’t count the money she makes WORKING. I think most people could say that.

    The average person in the world lives off less then $1 / day. Someone living off of more than $33 / day doesn’t impress me all that much…

    (yes, I’m a heartless jerk :-) )

  • Cindy November 15, 2007, 2:05 pm

    I’d tend to agree with Rod & Mr. Cheap – she was making extra money doing odd jobs and she seems to be getting most of her groceries from the food bank and taking candy from candy dishes… She is resourceful and her daughter should pay for her own wedding dress. imo.

  • Gates VP May 17, 2008, 5:34 am

    I’m way behind on this comment, but I want to point something out: “…medical co-pays…”, this was clearly in the US.

    This means two distinct differences: higher medical costs (which she obv. has to skimp on), way cheaper goods, especially outside of places like New York and LA. Food, at the time, was available for about 70% of the retail Canadian prices. At the time this article was written, the CAD was hovering at around 70 cents. So this is closer to $17k / year. And she’s obviously not including “extra” money, like baby-sitting money.

    Is it difficult? Sure! What I don’t get is why? And here’s where we get to the meat. This is barely a story in Canada.

    She’s a single unskilled mother, with a small alimony payment. She wants an education. In Canada, that basically entitles you to a student loan and EI for two years (we may even foot part of the tuition). Most Canadian community colleges (where she would go for two years) still provide enough free time to hold down a part-time job and be with her child. Depending on the province, she’d also likely be a candidate for low-income rent support (I know that Manitoba has this).

    Her deal would be simple: go to classes, do well in school, rent an apartment and use public transportation. If you agree to these measure the CDN government will provide with the means to make it through school.

    Don’t get me wrong, I respect what this woman is trying to do. What I don’t understand is why she should have to undergo such hardship to get there? Her story seems like the exact reason that we have so many government support programs.

  • RyansDad February 17, 2009, 12:05 pm

    I want to say that I am impressed with this lady. Clearly she is resourceful and able to stretch a dollar. I myself think I can stretch a dollar. Last year my bills were right around $1000 a month -which of course equals app. $12000 a year.My girlfriend and I combined only made about $21,000(my worst year ever) and we still had to buy food and gas for our cars. Anyway good post==I want to invite you to visit my blog at http://moneylifedebt.blogspot.com/.

  • Nicholas P. February 25, 2009, 6:16 pm

    Are you guys for real? I live off of $6,000.00 A year! I have never made much over that,ever in my life.$500.00 A month.$350.00 for rent.The rest goes for utilities.So,I ask any of you,what whould you do to “Get ahead?” You tell me.It’s mean,but honestly,people like me are glad to see this “economic crisis” happen to people who have been living beyond thier means and are finally paying the price.Maybee living homeless and suffering for a while will give these people a dose of reality and maybee A little humility.To those who feel bad about haveing to go to A food shelf,did you drive A car there,ride A bke,or walk?Think about it.

  • Beauxdean March 1, 2017, 1:20 pm

    Yeah? Well what about people like me and other underpaid handymen? I made $12,550 in 2015 and $12,850 in 2016. That means that I had to live on a little better than $1000.00 a month. Now….let’s just figure out how much it takes for a guy like me who works for a cheapskate millionaire trailer lord to live each month. He (the cheapskate) pays $12.00 an hour part time. We’ll just consider the poorer handyguys that have to pay rent and consider that they live in the lowest rent possible of $450.00 a month (just above living in a tent). Then let’s remember that we gotta have that $50.00 phone bill that we MUST have or cheapskates can’t call us for work. Let’s also put $50.00 a week on ramen noodles which comes to $200.00 a month to eat. Then let’s figure that $150.00 electric bill that you can’t figure out why was so high. Then let’s figure $200.00 or so for gas to put in your truck that’s on it’s last leg. Then let’s figure the $60.00 a month for auto insurance that you MUST have or they will take you to jail. AND if you have health care insurance which obama made a MUST ‘else suffer the consequences at the IRS’, then you are definitely in the minus. Fortunately, I bucked health care so I could buy strings for my guitar and a piece of candy for my little girl. Now…. friend…. What do you have left for a beer? Are we a happy modern slave yet???

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