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


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