Sunday, October 14, 2018

How I live Well on $1000 a Month - Part 2 - The Financials

In Part 1 of this topic, I talked about why I live like this and what I have and what i had to sacrifice to live on $1000 a month. In this post, I'm going to lay out the financials so you can see where my money goes.


Social Security........................$  789/month
Work ......................................... 250/month
    TOTAL ...............................$1,039 
NOTE: I sometimes make slightly less than $250/month


Rent ............................................$590/month
Utilities ..........................................100/month (average)
Internet .........................................   51/month

Miscellaneous ................................  30-50/month
(includes toiletries, cleaning supplies, household essentials)

Prescriptions .................................$  7.00/month

     TOTAL.......................................$748 (approximate)

Difference .....................................$291

SAVINGS ...................................... $200

Difference ..................................... $ 91
  (Covers clothes, transportation, health supplements, etc. All extra is rolled over and spent on things such as gifts, household items and special treats for myself)

NOTE: Some months I cannot save $200 and have to spend my savings on emergencies, such as earlier this year when my computer died and I had to buy a new one.


  • SNAP..........................................$156/month (presently - it changes depending on my earnings and expenses) 
  • USDA Food Distribution.............. 50/month (estimated - depends on what they have available)
  • Food Bank .................................. 10/month (estimated, depending on what you get)
I don't always get the USDA food distributions or food bank. If I'm dong o.k. that month, I usually don't get them, because they are mostly canned and processed foods, which I try not to eat. I do get them for stocking up for months when the SNAP runs out before the end of the month.

Food Savings Tips

I'm very frugal with my shopping. I shop at stores like Aldi, WalMart, and even pick up some cheap items from Dollar General and Dollar Tree. I buy some bulk foods, herbs and spices from Earthfare, which is expensive, but cheaper per oz. usually than buying them packaged.
  • I don't shop by a menu. I buy what's cheapest on sale, stock up, and build menus around what I have. I found this much cheaper in the long run.
  • I dehydrate or freeze fruit and veggies in season for later use. I don't have a lot of pantry space, so this helps me store more food.
  • I cook 95% of my own meals and make some of my own snacks (mostly baked goods) so I can use less sugar with no preservatives.
  • I don't eat a lot of meat, but when I do, I measure out servings per meal. For example, one large chicken breast is three normal servings, so a pack of 4 on sale is 12 servings.
  • I stretch my food dollars by making soups and stews. I make a 3 qt pot of vegetable soup, and stretch it several times by adding meat, rice or barley. When the veggies finally get too mushy, I blend it up with some cooked garbanzo beans and spices to make hummus.

By using this method, I can usually come out ahead with SNAP at the end of the month, and don't need the extra food bank food.

I'll be writing more on individual savings ideas for things like meat, etc. with recipes, so subscribe in the upper right sidebar to receive notification emails when they are posted.


Saturday, October 13, 2018

How I Live Well on $1,000 USD a Month - Part 1

DISCLAIMER: I know this won't work for everyone in all areas of the country. I live in a college town in Florida, which has very reasonable rent prices.

I'm a senior citizen on Social Security who lives below the poverty level, which in 2018 was $1,012 a month or $12,144 a year. I've made some sacrifices to live this way, but it suits me. I hope some of you can learn something from how I live and apply it to your own lives.

Why I Live This Lifestyle

I have lupus and other health issues that make it impossible to work outside my home, because of so many physical limitations. The last job I had working full time was as a cashier, and I would come home in so much pain, that all I could do was take pain meds and lie on the bed waiting for them to kick in. Living like I do, I no longer have to take prescription pain meds.

When the recession hit, I lost my job, and being over 50, could not find another one. I lost everything -- my house, car, and over a period of 5 years, I had to sell or give away 75% of my possessions. I found work online, and after I began receiving Social Security checks, I decided that having less and living in a smaller place would allow me not to work as much.

What I Don't Have or Do

There are things that I had to give up to be able to live this way. I planned this way of life carefully to provide me with what I need, not necessarily what I want.

A Car - I had to sell my car in 2008 when it broke down and I could not afford to fix it. I've walked or used public transportation ever since. I moved to my current city because it had a better public transportation system. I moved to this neighborhood after 15 months because it's within walking distance to a large number of stores, and during hot or cold weather, I can take a bus to go shopping.
Extra Space - I live in an apartment with 531 sf of interior living floor space. It also has over 350 sf of outdoor living/gardening space. It's the smallest place I've ever lived, but it's comfortable enough. The only part I hate about it is the tiny kitchen, but I'm working on creating space in there. More on that in a later post.
Eat Out - I hardly ever eat out, mostly because I know I can fix the same food cheaper at home, and make it more to my taste. I sometimes do buy a sub or baked/fried chicken from the grocery store deli, but mostly, I eat at  home.
Cable TV - I actually don't have a TV at all. I use my computer for all my audio/video entertainment and I also read.
Travel - since I don't have a car, I can't really travel much. I used to love day trips, but I've found a few places around town on the bus lines that are free or extremely cheap that I love to visit. Our city also has a lot of free activities, like free museums and free concerts in the summer. I haven't yet seen all the wonderful free things available at the University here in town.  I am trying to save up to build a camper mini van, so I can see a bit more of the US, but that's another story.

What I Do Have

Despite having lost so much over a number of years, I have more than some people, and since I collected it over 40+ years, it's much higher quality than someone just starting out would have.

My apartment - It took me 15 months a and bit of luck ot find this apartment. Like I said before, it's small, but it has a beautiful enclosed courtyard and patio that I've turned into my own personal garden space. I also have a "yard" of sorts outside the apartment where I can garden, which is my passion.

My apartment has ceramic tile floors and ceiling fans throughout, central HVAC, a dishwasher, and washer/dryer connections which I don't use.  The best thing is that my rent is only $590 a month. It's gone up only $23 since I moved in 3 years ago. New tenants pay $640 a month, and it will take me 5 more years to get up to that amount, because they only increase your rent $10 a year, as a sort of reward for long-term residency. Management is great, and maintenance is fast and efficient.

Furnishings - I came here with very little furniture, but have been able to pick up quite a few nice pieces free online or by the dumpsters here for my house and garden. I will need to buy a couch sometime soon. I'll do a separate post on all my free furniture finds. I have all the functional and decorative items one could ever want.

My kitchen is completely outfitted, and what I don't have, I can pick up at the nearby Goodwill very cheaply. I just got a 2 qt. Crock Pot, a $50 dehydrator, a toaster, and a nice blender for under $20 total.

Cable Internet - I've had to downgrade from a higher speed to a 10mbps speed due to price hikes, but it works perfectly fine and for something I use for work and most of my entertainment, $44 a month isn't bad. I can deduct part of that on my taxes since I work online.

Proximity to Shopping - We have a huge shopping center a mile from my house that is a mile long and a half mile deep. It has every grocery store you could ever need: Aldi, Trader Joe's, Publix, plus a super WalMart and Sam's Club. It even has a Lowe's. There is absolutely no type of store or restaurant you can't find in this shopping area. During cool weather in the fall and winter, I usually walk there, but it's only 10 minutes away by bus. There is a Goodwill 2 blocks away, and I do a lot of shopping there. The Earthfare is 1/2 mile away, and I get most of my bulk foods, herbs and spices there.

Discounted Bus Fares - Since I'm over 65, I get half-price on most bus fares. A day pass (with transfers) is still $3, but one-way passes are only .75 and monthly passes are $17.50. There are some places it's hard to get to by bus, but they're improving the system every year, adding routes and stops, so if there isn't a bus that goes there this year, there probably will be soon. I have bus stops a block from my house.

Social Services - I get SNAP and Medicare/Medicaid, which includes a drug program with $3.50 generic prescriptions. I use the University medical system for most of my care, but I also have a private GP. My dental care comes through a local ministry that has a dental clinic that does cleanings, fillings, extractions and false teeth. The university dental clinic does everything else for 1/2 the normal market price.

In addition to SNAP, I also avail myself of two USDA food distributions a month, and one food bank pickup a month.

I don't feel guilty about taking help from social services, because I worked my tail off for 40+ years and paid into the system. Now that I'm unable to work full time, I feel extremely lucky to be able to get the benefits I need.

See Part 2 of this post for The Financials


Friday, September 28, 2018

Stopped decluttering, decided to move to a 2 bedroom apartment

I've been through most of my boxes now, and there is no way I can fit all that I want to keep into this 520 sf apartment and have room for my crafts and hobbies. I've made a decision that I simply must have more space, so I'm going to move into a 2-BR apartment in our sister complex. It's not quite as nice as this complex, but it's cheaper.

Of course, I can't have all my gardens over there, so they will have to go, but I'm about sick of gardening anyway. I didn't have room to garden for years, so I went a little overboard in here, and discovered I'd really be happy with just a few potted plants. The new apartment will have a courtyard, but the water is included in the rent, so I won't be able to use as much as I have here.

I'm looking at this like the next step in finding happiness. I thought I would be happy in a smaller space, but I'm not. I really just need room to spread out and not be paying for space I'm not using.

It will take me awhile to get enough money to move, and I'll also have to wait until the right apartment in the right place in that complex comes open, but I'm ready to move on from here.

Stay tuned for more of my journey!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Decluttering: Reclaiming My Bedroom

I used to live in a 1300 sf 3/2/1 house. When I moved, I took a 23 foot long truck full to the brim. I moved to a 2 BR apartment, and never unpacked most of what I took with me, sold a lot of the furniture and left some boxes of things I no longer wanted behind. I moved 4 times in the next five years, I moved five times, and each time, I didn't unpack most of my stuff, and ended up selling or leaving a lot of it behind.

I now have about 1/3 of what I owned when I left my original house, and it's still too much. I live in an adorable 520 sf 1 BR apartment with just enough space to garden. I've been here over three years and my bedroom is stacked with so many boxes and so much furniture that I can't use it as a bedroom.

Fear and Procrastination

The first year I was here, I didn't unpack because I was afraid I was going to have to move again. The second year was the same. I always had that fear that I would have to move, so I kept the boxes unpacked except for a few decorative items and things I needed to live. I have no excuse for the third year, except laziness.

Now, in year four, I've finally decided to get rid of all this crap and live like a normal person, but it's harder than I thought it would be.

Things I Can't Live Without

As I moved from place to place, I rid myself of all the things I could live without. What was left was things I thought I could not live without. I had this grand plan when I moved here to create storage space by going "up" so I wouldn't have to get rid of anything. The problem with that is, there is no room to go "up" in the ways I need to, so I'm stuck.

As I go through boxes, I discover there are many things I can actually do without, but I have this overwhelming urge to sell most of it. My mind keeps telling me that it's too much trouble, and I should just donate it all and take the time saved by not having to take pictures and put it all online to make probably more money than i would have made by selling it. Unfortunately, the part of my brain that is ashamed of having wasted all this money on things I shouldn't have bought and never really needed isn't allowing me to just give them away.

But there are things I can't live without, mostly sentimental things, so I have a lot of "keep" boxes as well. So far, the "keep" and "sell" boxes far outnumber the "donate" boxes. I think I'm just going to have to get really tough with myself and let go of some of the "sell" stuff.

Double Decluttering

The plan is to go back through all the "keep" boxes and find more I can part with. I'm seriously thinking of getting a storage space for the keep boxes until I can get the house set up to hold what's in them. I need shelving and such, and I can't even get that sort of stuff into the room right now.

I know that you're not supposed to go back through boxes, and I'm not doing it with things that I'm donating or selling, but I'm sure I probably decided to keep things on the spur of the moment that I don't actually need, so I can further pare down my possessions.

The plan is to have this all done by the end of the year, but that may be overly optimistic. I'll do the best I can, though. I'm ready to pare my life down to just what I will use or things that my heart cannot bear to part with.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

I've Decided Full-Time Van Dwelling Is Not For me

Sorry it's been so long since I've posted, but I've been taking the time to really think about what I want and how I want to live.

When I first heard about van dwelling, it seemed so romantic, so freeing, and it would afford me the chance to see and do things I could never otherwise see or do.

Then I read more. It's a very, very hard way to live. Your van is pretty much a metal tent, and you're pretty much just camping. You get really hot and really cold, both of which I hate. You are at the mercy of venomous snakes, coyotes, wolves, bears and bad people who want to hurt you. You can't eat or cook what you want, or take a daily shower, or even get WiFi a lot of the time.

The more I read, the more I decided that isn't freedom. That's torturing yourself to be part of the "in" crowd that is trying to convince you it's amazing when it isn't.

Now, I'm not speaking against people who have no choice -- who have lost their homes, or simply cannot afford to live any other way. I've been so close to being homeless a couple of times, and I've lived in some much less-than-desirable situations just to have a roof over my head. But I've never slept on the streets or lived in a tent, and a van is really just a metal tent with wheels, isn't it?

I simply cannot live that way 24/7/365. I promised myself long ago I'd never live without heat and air, and still, I've lived in places where I was trapped in one room because that's the one that was cool or warm enough to be in. I can't imagine not having even that small a haven away from the heat and cold.

Then there is the fear of breakdowns. I'm old and I don't want to break down somewhere with no cell signal and no money to get huge repairs done. I'm also afraid of being robbed or attacked. Yes, I could stay in cities mostly, but that doesn't eliminate any of those things.

So I've decided not to be a permanent van dweller. I'm going to get a van and fix it up so I can put it into camping mode so I can take a few trips here and there, but I'm not going to live in it. I do want to get out of here in the summer sometimes, so I may go visit my son in Washington State for awhile when it's hot.

I've always loved doing trash-to-treasure, getting curbside finds and fixing them up to sell or use, so the rest of the time, I'll be doing that with the van, plus of course, regular stuff like grocery shopping, etc. I'm planning also to get back into the gardening community, since I'll have a way to get around to events and meetings.

So that's that. I'll get the van, build it out so that I can easily convert it from a personal vehicle to a camper, and use it accordingly. Yes, I'll still have all those problems when I'm traveling in it, but you can put up with things temporarily that you could never endure forever.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

It's Time to Get Serious About My Diet

Richard Simmons used to say "The first word in diet is 'die'."  That's pretty much how I've always felt. Still, as I get older and get more health issues, my weight gets harder to control. I'm at 170 right now -- well, 169.7, but close enough. That is a BMI of 28.3 - 1.7 points away from obesity.

The worst thing is that some of my health issues are caused by my weight and my poor diet. For example, I have GERD and a hiatal hernia. My Dr. minced no words telling me if I lost my belly fat, I wouldn't have either.

I've never been able to stick to a diet, or counting calories, or to tracking what I eat. It's all just too tedious. But when I was, I found that the three things that added the most calories were bread, sugar, and dairy.

If you knew how much I love butter and sweets, you'd know how difficult giving them up is going to be for me. I never ate much bread, but after reading about "wheat belly," I've decided to not only give up bread, but give up everything containing wheat. I can still eat other grains, but wheat is out.

What I Will Eat, Which Some People Will Disagree With

Of course, I'll eat a lot of fruits and veggies, but less fruit than I eat now. I could literally live off of fruit, and that's mosty because of the sugar in it. I'm addicted to sugar, and while fructose is a good sugar, it's still sugar.

I don't like many leafy greens, and the ones I do, I usually eat cooked with tons of butter and seasoning such as ham hocks. Not healthy. So instead of cooking greens in the normal way, I'll eat them chopped up fine in salads. I do love chopped salad, and that's a great way to get my five fruits and veggies every day.

I'm not giving up meat. I mostly eat chicken, but occasionally eat beef or pork. I'm not too crazy about fish, but I do love seafood, especially shrimp. The difference is that I love all seafood breaded and fried, and since I'm giving up wheat, no more breading for me. I've tried alternative flours for breading, and it just doesn't taste the same.

The Hardest Thing to Give Up After Sugar

Dairy will be extremely hard to give up, because I love cheese and butter. I just bought a toaster, too. I'm going to have to experiment with different nut spreads and such, maybe I'll get into avocado toast. Yummy!

I like almond and rice milks, in fact, I had been thinking about making my own rice milk, since it's cheap, easy and much creamier than store-bought.

No Artificial Stuff

Giving up sugar will be extremely hard, but I'm determined not to use artificial sweeteners. Stevia isn't the greatest sweetener in my opinion, but it's better than having unsweetened tea.

I'll also be trying extremely hard not to eat processed foods. Sometimes, that's not possible, so I'll be reading labels very carefully for hidden sugars and the worst of the artificial ingredients.

The Cost of Healthy Eating

Healthy food isn't cheap. Eating a mostly plant-based diet means you have to eat more, and quality fresh fruits and veggies can be a little costly. I won't be able to afford to go organic, but I'm going to try to make a lot of my own food from scratch. I know how, I just don't. Now I won't have a choice.

Healthy eating is going to cost me more in terms of time than money, because of prep time, but also because I'm going to try to grow some of my own food. I can grow food 12 months a year here in Florida, but my yard doesn't have much sun, so I'm limited in what I can actually grow. I've been experimenting, and I know I can grow a lot more than I thought I could. I can grow greens and root vegetables very well, plus some tropical vegetables and edible ornamentals. Beans have also done well in certain parts of the garden. If I can supplement my food budget by at least growing 25% of what I eat, that will be a big plus for me.

I'll be posting more about my new healthy eating lifestyle, and I'll have a category for it over on the sidebar so you can stay up to date.

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Monday, August 13, 2018

Motivation to Exercise Sometimes Comes in the Strangest Forms

I fell on my concrete patio yesterday. I had gone out to change the water in the hummingbird feeder and somehow zigged when I should have zagged and fell hard on my right knee.

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Healing Power of Withdrawal From the World

Summer is hard for me. I suffer from summer SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) for the very reasons most people suffer from winter SAD -- I'm uncomfortable, I can't get outside, and my life becomes very restricted, so I get depressed and go into what I call my

Monday, August 6, 2018

Changing Your Life 10 Minutes at a Time

My son and I were talking the other day about getting things done, and I told him I feel overwhelmed by all I need to do, so I procrastinate. He said "Do something for ten minutes. You can do anything for 10 minutes."

This stuck with me, because I had heard it somewhere before. Seems that Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of Ikea, said it. Sadly, he died in January of this year, so he won't

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Slowing Down to Save My Health and Peace of Mind

I've been stressing myself out too much over my one-year timeline for hitting the road in a van. I've also been questioning whether full-time van life is really for me, as I've posted here earlier. After much serious thought, I've decided to keep the goal, but change the