How to Survive on $1,500 a Month
If you're faced with unemployment, health issues or you're receiving SSI or social security disability, read on to see how you, too can survive on $1500 a month without going bankrupt or depleting your life savings (provided you have any at all).
- It Ain't Easy and it Ain't Fun, but It's Certainly Doable
- Food / Groceries
- Household Supplies
- Large Purchases
- Latest Gadgets / Electronics
- Cell Phones
- DVD & CD Rentals / Purchases
- Car Maintenance
It Ain't Easy and it Ain't Fun, but It's Certainly Doable
My family of 4 has been surviving on a mere $1500 a month for several years now. If you're faced with unemployment, health issues or you're receiving SSI or social security disability, read on to see how you, too can survive on $1500 a month without going bankrupt or depleting your life savings (provided you have any at all).
But, before I begin, let me make it very clear to you the difference between "surviving" and "living." Surving is staying alive, living is enjoying your life. Surviving is a struggle, a fight. Living is blissful, it's worry- and stress-free, if you're lucky. It's enjoyment, it's looking forward to the future, whereas survival is fearing the future (and what may be lurking just around the bend).
Your goal in life is to live, not just to survive. You want to look forward to every day and welcome it with ferver; not go to sleep at night and worry about what may happen tomorrow. In this article I will focus on how to survive, as opposed to live, as no one can possibly live a full and stress-free life on $1500 a month in Los Angeles when rent alone can cost you as much as $1200 a month for one room, in the cheapest (read: most dangerous) neighborhood! But, when you don't have a choice, then survive you must, and this is how it's done.
(Disclaimer: This method of survival will only work if your rent or mortgage is well under $1000 a month, even better if it's under the $750 mark.) That said...
To date, our rent is a low (that is low in comparison to the local average) $698 a month. Mind you, when we first moved into the building (some 26 years ago), it was on the high end of $400. In the past 7 years or so, and with new ownership, the rent's been raised once a year, every year for the past 7 years, in incriments of 3% per year. Still, it's small potatoes compared to the other tenants who live here, as we've lived here longer than anyone else, and lower than the local average, as an apartment in Los Angeles, in an area you don't have to fear for your life, will run you anywhere in the neighborhood (pardon the pun) of $1200 for a 1-bedroom to as much as $3000 in one of the newer complexes for a 2-bedroom, and I won't even go into 3- and 4-bedroom units or the prices of homes in the area (although, I will say this much, think millions, not hundreds of thousands!). That's right, whereas the national average of home prices has dropped significanly, the houses in Los Angeles and surrounding areas have tripled if not quadrupled in price since house vaues have dropped in the past several years. Imagine that! A 2-bedroom house or condo in my neighborhood will cost you anywhere from 1 million to 1.5 million dollars! So, the trick is to find a place that runs you no more than $750 per month. For that price, you might have to share your home or apartment with boards or roommates. Or, rent a room in someone else's home. We live in a huge 2-bedroom aparment, but then again, we've been here for 26 years; you might not be so lucky. (Although, luck nothing--you get what you pay for--and let me tell you, we have some of the friendliest bugs in the neighborhood--they don't mind sharing your meals or your bed with you!) You've been warned! Enter at your own risk.
Food / Groceries
Forget about eating out--not even on special occasions, and don't even think about ordering in. Do you realize how many loaves of bread, gallons of milk, or whole chickens you can buy (on sale) with the amount of money you'd generally spend on a large albeit one-topping pizza? Enough to last you a whole week, even for a family of 4. Luckily, 2 of us are diabetic, one on the verge of diabetes, and one has a very finicky appetite, so our palettes are limited, as is our food budget! We hardly ever buy anything that isn't on sale or on special, and that's not as hard as you might think, because what costs a lot is junk food, and that's something we don't eat, anyway, so we save a bundle on snack items like chips, soda and ready-made foods. Here's what to avoid (helps the budget and helps keep you healthy to boot): soda, beer, wine, pop-tarts, boxed cereal, frozen entrees, candy, pastries, steak, cookies, cakes, ice cream, condiments, and things of that nature. Other food items that can cost you an arm and a leg: name brands, bottled water, vitamin water, energy bars and drinks, juice, and alcoholic beverages and deli items, like cold cuts and smoked fish and cheeses. None of it's any good for you anyway, so steer clear of those aisles! Opt for: fresh fruit and veggies (and don't go to those expensive grocery chain stores for those, as they make you pay for overhead, and that's a no-no when you're on a tight budget!). Go to the cheaper stores and veggies stands, if you live in Los Angeles, I recommend a market called Jons Marketplace for the absolute best prices and freshest produce. Sometimes you can find it cheaper yet at the 99-cent store, like a 10 lb sack of potatoes for 99-cents. Don't be embarrassed or afraid of shopping at the 99-cent store for groceries; if you check the expiration dates, you will make better choices! And, you don't have to buy name brand foods, either. I noticed that store brands are every bit as tasty, if not tastier in some cases, than name and national brands. Steer clear of processed foods, as well, like packaged items such as pop-tarts, cookies, chips, and stuff, it's bad for you, anyway. They're the leading cause of diabetes and heart problems that the doctors won't tell you about, mainly because they either don't know about it or it hasn't been published in any of those fancy medical journals they swear by! It's common sense, is what it is--something doctors aren't allowed to have, or they'll get sued for malpractice! And don't buy fancy artisan breads, especially not at expensive bakeries. You can buy a Twin-pak of two 24-oz loaves of wheat or white bread at Ralphs for a mere $2.29 -- so you see, you CAN shop the expensive chain supermarkets provided you only buy sale items and shop responsibly. Also, you don't need that $4 cup of joe from Starbucks every morning, or that $6 burger that's bad for your arteries, anyway.
In most cases, you do not and should not purchase household supplies, such as paper towels and toilet paper in large supermarkets or chain stores, as the prices are inflated, especially if you buy name and national brands. For this, I recommend you shop at stores like the 99-cent store or watch your local circulars for sales and coupons on select items at smaller stores like Walgreens, CVS or RiteAid (yes, drug stores and pharmacies, fancy that!), but they do have some of the best sale prices and coupons around, so shop around before you put your money down at Ralphs on something you can buy for half the price at Walgreens. Also, if you're a large family, you might want to buy things like paper towels and toilet paper in bulk. Walgreens almost always has an 8-pack of paper towels for $5; if you want a better brand, you can wait for CVS to put Sparkle on sale for $3.99, but whatever you do, never, and I DO mean NEVER, no matter where you shop, ever, pay any more than 75-cents for one roll of paper towels, no matter what the brand! That's sheer highway robbery, if you ask me. If you're as destitute as we are, you won't even buy toilet paper. In fact, we use paper towels in place of toilet paper, saves on having to buy 2 different types of paper products that you just wind up flushing down the toilet anyway, along with your money! You can buy things like light bulbs, batteries, shampoo, soap, deodorant, dish soap, detergent, cleaning supplies, stationery supplies, and even toys for small children all at the 99-cent store, so don't even bother looking for them at the supermarket. And, please, don't even think about buying garbage bags--what an utterly ridiculous waste of money, even if you're rich! Just reuse the grocery bags you get at the store.
DO NOT order cable, plain and simple. You don't need it, and it costs way too much. It's one of those unnecessary items people splurge on, which is why the cable company feels no shame in charging so much money for it, and raising their prices so often by so much! Don't give into it, maybe it'll teach the cable companies a lesson. You can watch regular TV with the rest of us. There's a lot to be said about public television--it's not only educational, but it beats the pants off of watching the same old reruns of "I Love Lucy" and "The Andy Griffith Show" on cable. (Don't get me wrong, I love both shows dearly and would drop anything I'm working on in a heartbeat to watch, but enough is enough. Buy it on DVD, saves you money in the long run.) Make sure to turn off the lights and your computer and other electrical components when not in use. So many people leave the house and forget to turn off their computers, TV, radio, and even their heat, and that can add to your monthly statements/bills, unnecessarilly. If you don't require the Internet at your house, or if you have it free of charge at school or at work, by all means, you shouldn't have to pay for it at home, as well. Or, you can go to the nearest library--they offer free Wi-Fi there. Just bring your laptop, or make a reservation to use one of their computers in advance. And, if someone in your household is diabled, call the gas company / phone company / electric compnay and ask to sign up for their special savings programs for people with low or limited income or disabled people receiving government aid.
Go on dates responsibly. Try to go places that don't cost an arm and a leg to get in, like theme parks. Avoid night clubs and bars where you not only have to spend like mad on drinks, that your body doesn't even need, but you might wind up making stupid decisions in your intoxicated state and end up with an STD or an unwanted pregnancy, or worse yet, you might end up *gasp* raped, exploited, kidnapped, or worse even, dead! What about family vacations? What about it? I'm 35 and I have yet to go on a family vacation. The closest I came was a family picnic at the park. Save your money, you can always visit these destinations virtually online. And try to keep the birthday, anniversary, and otherwise special occasion parties down to a tasteful minimum. Your 2-year-old doesn't need the expensive Disney character party or the pony rides, it's not like he's going to remember it, anyway.
Houses, cars, furniture, home restoration/remodeling, major repairs and the like--be extra careful in that arena. I realize it's hard to watch your money get washed away on rent, but sometimes, you just don't have the option to buy a home, as with a home comes home owners' insurance, property tax, and other collection fees like garbage collection and landscaping, or if you have a pool, the pool man, etc. Your bills are not limited to the mortgage alone, and plus, unlike apartment dwelling, you're responsible for every itty bitty aspect and repair, and that will cost you on top of the mortage itself, as opposed to apartment living, where for the price of monthly rent, you get your repairs done for "free." Don't buy anything on impulse, especially large purchases like cars or furniture, or any uneccessary items you can easily live without. Remember, the car you are now driving was once new, and as long as it runs and doesn't have any major mechanical problems, don't go out in search of the latest model. The Toyota Prius might save on gas (in the long haul), but it'll cost a ton to purchase, or to finance, and to insure and register, and maintain. So, where's all the money you're saving on gas go? You'll have to put a heap of it down on the down payment, provided you finance it, then there's the extra cost of financing it (they charge interest, you know!), and your insurance will skyrocket, as it's a new car, and if you're financing, you'll have to buy full insurance which will cost a LOT of money, and there's the risk you'll crash it, or it'll get stolen, or you'll have to make a repair on it, and the registration will go up significantly, so no, you're not saving anything on gas, after all. Before you buy anything new, especially furniture, check your local classifieds, like craigslist, for free giveaways or gently used items you can buy off someone, instead of throwing your money away on brand spanking new furniture which is going to get old tomorrow, anyway.
Unless you have a good honest broker and only make safe and low risk investments, I suppose it's OK; but, you need to take a business course at the local community college before you delve into stocks. You can lose a boat load of money if you make uneducated decisions. Take me for instance, I bought 328 shares of a certain stock for $1000 some 15 years ago, and today that stock is worth a mind-blowing 3-cents! You heard me right, a whole 3-cents for 328 shares of...never-you-mind! I suggest you skip the money markets, and opt for CDs. As long as you don't invest more than the FDIC guaranteed amount, which in most banks these days is as much as $250,000 you should be OK. Plus, that money is guaranteed to grow over time. (Except for one particular bank I closed my money at for 5 years for a rate of 3.8% that dropped down to 2.7% when the bank was bought out! My only other option was to re-open the account (no early closing or withdraw penalty applied) for their current rate of 3% which made a huge difference, or I should say "dent" in my monthly interest check, but alas, such is life.) Don't fall for the old 401K plan gimmick! I call it a gimmick because you're not guaranteed the money in the end, anyway. They take money out of your paycheck and put it in your 401K, but when the time comes and you (heaven forbid) lose your job, or need to cash in on the goods, you're faced with a hefty (and I DO mean hefty) tax! Plus, if you choose to roll over the money into an IRA account, you're not guaranteed you'll ever see your money, as you'd have to wait until your 70 years old to cash it without penalties. Who knows where life will have taken you by then, or if you'll live long enough to enjoy your investment, so opt out of 401K plans, and put your money in a CD, instead.
Who says you have to shop at fancy deparment stores or shopping malls or buy brand names, anyway? You can always find what you're looking for (or a knock off of what you're looking for) at stores like Ross, TJ Maxx, Kmart, Target, Walmart and this little place called, I don't recall what, but it's right by Toys R Us on La Cienega in Los Angeles. The clothes there are pretty good quality for a t-shirt that costs $1.99 or a summer dress that can run you anywhere from $3 to $12. You buy new clothes every season or so, at least a few seasonal items, so don't worry they won't make it through 500 washes in your washing machine! I'm not embarrassed to shop at the $5 clothing store, it's nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, I'm more ashamed of paying sky-high prices for the latest fashions today, that someone will look back to in the next 5 years and cringe, anyway! Case in point, ginormous shoulder pads and witch-like pointy shoes! Dress conservatively; look neat; be a saavy shopper and don't chase after fashions. Also, buy clothes you can wear forever, that don't fade in and out of style quickly. The little black dress will never go out of style.
Latest Gadgets / Electronics
iPads, iPhones, MP3 players, MP4 players, digital cameras, iPods, video game consoles--they're all useless! Seriously, if you think about it, you can sooooo get by on just your computer/laptop alone. You can watch videos and listen to music for free right from your computer, and watch TV shows and everything. You don't have to watch videos or listen to music 24 hours a day, and especially so if you're outdoors. Why are people connected to the Internet 24 hours a day, why can't they survive 3 minutes without checking their email, why must they be plugged into something all day long, like an iPod or MP3 player? You can easily live a full and meaningful life without constantly watching the latest videos and listening to the latest songs or better yet, chatting. It's almost as if you'd have nothing else of worth to blog or micro-blog about if you don't talk about Lady Gaga's latest release! Haven't you read a good book, lately, or visited a museum, or planted a garden or...? The latest gadgets are just that, the "latest." There will always be something new that comes out in a few months you'll want to update or replace your latest-latest gadget with, so don't fall for all the hype. Watch or listen to or play what you want from your computer at home, and when you go outdoors, do whatever it is that needs to be done, like running errands, banking, grocery shopping, etc. without relying on your MP3 player to get you through it. Put down the security blanket, Linus and grow up!
Stop texting and look where you're going! I saw on an episode of Dr. Phil that some people run up their cell phone bills in excess of $25,000 a month! That's so frivolous--what exactly is so important that you need to text someone right away? Since when is "Hi, whatcha doin'?" a matter of life and death? Practice a little common sense and self control when it comes to unnecessary calls or texting. And, I don't advise you to sign a monthly contract, either. In fact, you can easily get by with a pay-as-you-go plan. You get 30 minutes good for 3 months, plus they rollover any unused minutes for a grand total of $10, which broken down, is a measly $3.33 per month on cell phone services! Guess what, that IS, too, easily attainable--just use your cell phone in case of emergencies, and watch the money grow in the bank! Last week, I saw an ad for a great little cell phone in the Walgreens circular; it cost a mind-blowing $9.99 and it did everything a good cell phone should do--it made calls! You don't need a cell phone to surf the Net with, or take pictures with, or text the usual "Whatcha doin'?" back and forth, when for as little as $9.99 you can get a phone that does its duty and only costs $3.33 per month to use. How crazy is that? Use your landline to make calls from home, it's a lot cheaper. Provided you have low or limited income, you can sign up for a discount with the phone company, and only pay $7 a month for unlimited calling and local long distance. If you need to call long distance, try a service called 10-10-987, they only charge 3-cents per minute within the US, and 10-cents per minute outside the continental US, plus a few extra pennies to connect, and it appears directly on your monthly phone bill. So, opt out of your long distance carrier, altogether.
Private vs. community or state, and 4-yr vs. 2-yr? It all boils down to what your long term goals are. If you're not going to school to become a teacher/professor, doctor or lawyer, then you really don't need a fancy 4-yr education at a private university. If you want a good career, I suggest you skip conventional colleges and go for the career colleges, instead, like American Career College or Everest (formerly Bryman). You can get a real-world education, and learn a useful trade, like nursing, medical assisting, dental assisting, or optical dispensing, and feel good about what you do for a living. Or, you can enroll in a junior college and get an AA in business, psychology, sociology, and/or philosophy; your chances of getting a good entry level position at a reputable company are high. Plus, even with a fancy 4-year degree, you still have to start at the bottom and work your way up the corporate ladder, so why spend a heap of money and start with a handicap (less money in the bank) to boot? Your chances for success have nothing to do with your formal education. You can get a FREE education at the library, if that's what you want. But, you can succeed financially via real world work experience. It also helps to know someone, so make sure you only get together with responsible people who have connections with the right people, to help open those proverbial doors. And, if you do go to either a community college or a 4-yr school, don't waste your money on new books; and don't buy them on campus, they charge a lot more for them on campus than, say, eBay, Half.com, or Amazon Marketplace. But first, check the library to see if they have what you need before spending your hard earned money at Barnes & Noble!
As you may or may not know, they have almost any book you may want at your local library and it's *gasp* FREE of charge! For all other books, try a used book reseller, or look for free books online on Craigslist.com (you'd be surprised at how many books I've been able to get that way in a very short period of time, in the THOUSANDS, and all for free. Some even hard to find copies, signed, rare, and collectible books!). So, do your homework, and shop around.
DVD & CD Rentals / Purchases
Unless you absolutely must have something on CD or DVD, don't buy it! Check your local library first--they have a huge selection of even the latest music CDs and movie releases on DVD to choose from. Don't rent movies for $3.99 a pop at Blockbuster, either, or impulse order PPV movies on cable. It's just not worth the money. You don't have to watch every single movie that comes out just to be able to say you did. That's so not the meaning of life. Go out and have a meaningful life, yourself, and don't live vicariously. Besides, it's not like one chick flick is any different from the others, even the cast is the same! If you've seen one Jennifer Aniston movie in which she falls madly in love with a jerk only to get hurt in the end and claim revenge, you've seen them all!
Don't buy 91 gas, 'nough said. It makes no difference to your car's performance. OK, now 'nough said. About the only other thing your car needs besides gas is oil (and an oil and air filter) to run efficiently, so don't spend on any unnecessary repairs, and especially don't take your car back to the dealership for repairs unless it's been recalled and it's free of charge. My Jeep is 11 years old, it has an amazingly low mileage of 24,000 mi on it (I admit it, I have no life!), and 3 repairmen have had the gaul to tell me I'm going to need new brakes in the next 6 weeks, 5 years ago! They can tell by the low mileage that I don't do a lot of driving (I walk most of the time, then again, I live in a very conviently located part of town, with several grocery stores, a heap of coffee shops, a mound of restaurants, and a ton of banks JUST ON MY BLOCK alone, so I'm blessed in that arena), so how do they work up the nerve to tell me flat out I'm going to have to replace my brakes in the coming weeks or crash?! Don't (always) listen to repairmen, they want your money! Trust your instincts, and better yet, if you don't have an educated gut (go with your gut), I suggest you read up on the topics that give you trouble (or heartburn) so you can make wise decisions concerning money and maintenance. And, don't take your car to the car wash every week; wash it at home if you have access to a garden hose. (Well, at least a bucket of soapy water!)
If it's absolutely necessary for you to have it, say home owners, or medical or car insurance, much as I hate to say it, opt for the cheapest kind, even if it means you get less coverage. Only choose the coverage you know you need, and try to stay well and drive defensively to (hopefully) eliminate any unnecessary spending in that deparment. And, don't be hesitant or embarrassed or ashamed of asking for help. If you have a disability, and if you've worked hard all your life, and paid your taxes, you're entitled to collect social security disability. Call your local social security admininstration for more information. Also, if you have limited income, or you're unemployed, swallow your pride and go to a free clinic if you need medical attention. They might not be able to cure you of anything serious, as no one can, but they do offer free medicine to those who qualify, and let's face it, it shouldn't have to cost $3,000 for one person to survive one month with the medications she needs. Before I lowered my head and went to the free clinic for help with my diabetes, I was paying as much as $3,000 a month on doctor visits and diabetes supplies such as insulin, syringes, strips and other vital supplies, and now it's all free of charge to me. I thank God every single day the free clinic is available to sick people who don't qualify for government aid, but who are considered high risk for the insurance companies. God bless the Saban Free Clinic!
And that is how this family of 4 survives on $1500 a month, and still manages to put away a few extra bucks for a rainy day. Never pay for frivolous purchases. And don't have a life. And do everything in your power to make tomorrow a better day. Most importantly, enjoy/appreciate what you do have, because that's the secret to happiness. In the words of Tsitel, Tevia's daughter in the movie and broadway hit Fiddler on the Roof, "Even a poor tailor is entitled to SOME happiness!" Live by those words.