Wait, you mean 40k a year PER family member, right?
Anyone can live on ANY salary when they HAVE to. It's all relative.
But us? No way, 40k a MONTH would be nice though!
We struggle to live off my DH salary which is twice as much as these families make a year. This article discusses 2 families that live off of 40k/year and still save for retirement! Okay, their mortgage is way cheaper then ours so that is something we need to change. We still save for retirement but besides that we spend the rest. Yes some months we may have a little left but then that goes the next month when we have some unexpected expense. I need to figure out what we are doing wrong! Any of you guys think you can live off of 40k/year? That still seems so hard!
Tracy and Danny Kofke, an at-home mom and a special-ed teacher, live near Atlanta with their daughters, ages 3 and 6. Adjusted gross income: just over $36,000.
Amy Halloran and Jack Magai, a freelance writer and an arborist/choreographer, live near Albany, N.Y., with sons ages 7 and 12. Adjusted gross income: about $30,000.
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A lot of people live on less than that. In fact, both families are still well above the current federal poverty guideline of $22,350 per year for a four-member family. I chose them because they live in or near large cities, rather than in the deep (and cheap) countryside.
If you can own a home and raise kids in metro Atlanta on $36,000 a year, as the Kofkes do, you obviously have something to teach. And even though Halloran and Magai lucked out with cheap housing, their annual income is slightly less than the federal minimum wage for two people.
Savvy spending and a certain amount of sacrifice let them live in ways that mirror their personal values -- and they do it debt-free. Here's how the two couples make it on a lot less than some people think you need to survive.
Strategy 1: Know where every dollar is and where you want it to go.
The families chose to live on less -- the Kofkes so that Tracy could be home with their children, and Halloran and Magai so that they would have more time for family and artistic pursuits.
The biggest tool in their frugal arsenals is careful attention to spending. Danny Kofke clears about $2,200 each month. Major monthly expenses include:
Roth IRA: $250
College funds for their daughters: $100
That leaves about $200 a month for everything else, from gasoline to new shoes. The Kofkes are OK with that.
"We may not have it all, but we have enough," says Danny, 36, the author of "How to Survive (and Perhaps Thrive) on a Teacher's Salary."
Amy and Jack have similar expenses:
Utilities: Heating and cooking are wood-fired
When the Kofkes want something special -- a 50-inch HDTV, two diamond bands for their 10th anniversary -- they tighten their belts, save up and pay cash. Both families manage some travel to see relatives. Amy and Jack own cellphones and iPods. The Kofkes have satellite television service for that HDTV.
Tracy, 39, earns money here and there by painting murals and banners, providing child care and teaching art classes. Half goes to savings and half shores up the budget. But since that income is unpredictable, they budget to live on Danny's salary alone.
"We know where every single dime goes," Tracy says.
Strategy 2: Start with cheaper housing.
Housing is generally the biggest drain on any budget. After two years of teaching abroad, the Kofkes bought a home in Florida. A couple of hurricanes later, they moved to Georgia. They bought a three-bedroom place: less house than they qualified for, but big enough for their needs and small enough to be affordable. A 15-year mortgage helps them pay it off faster. (Assume that's always better? Read "The 15-year vs. 30-year mortgage debate.")
Amy and Jack left expensive Seattle in 1999 and headed east in search of a duplex with some land, figuring that a tenant and a garden would lower their costs. They found an old triplex set on three-eighths of an acre for a scant $38,000 -- and financed only $18,000 thanks to a generous first-time homebuyer grant.
Their original mortgage was $125 a month, far less than the property taxes. That changed recently when the couple took out a home equity line of credit to do major renovations. (See today's home equity rates.) The mortgage is now $900, but two tenants kick in a total of $550.
Inexpensive housing is a must for people with irregular income. It also lets the couple divert one-third of their earnings to retirement accounts.
Strategy 3: Get creative about meeting needs.
The books stay balanced thanks to a mix of old-time and modern frugality:
Tracy gets a ton of children's hand-me-downs from friends. She makes some of her girls' clothes and all of their Halloween costumes, and sometimes does a little sewing for pay.
She watches sales carefully and estimates she saved $1,600 last year by using coupons. Danny carries his lunch to work every single day. The family will enlarge its garden plot this year.
They hang on to their vehicles, a car bought new nine years ago and a used minivan they got when Tracy went back to work briefly in 2005. Both will be driven until the wheels fall off.
Jack and Amy buy only used vehicles, including one truck for work-related tools. His arborist business provides all the wood they need to heat their home, a huge advantage in their cold, snowy region. Most clothing comes from thrift or consignment shops. They buy health insurance from a state program that offers coverage for small-business owners.
The family has a large garden and supplements it with fruits and vegetables from an Amish produce auction. (Sample price: butternut squash, 50 cents each.) Sometimes Amy stops by a farmers' market at the end of the day to propose a trade: the couple's unsold strawberries or bok choy for some jars of homemade jam or kimchi.
The couple forages (with permission) from fruit trees in their area, pressing their own cider and cutting up and dehydrating apples. The older son, Francis, taps trees and produces up to a gallon of syrup per year. Weasels killed off the family chickens, but they plan to buy more.
Amy cooks from scratch -- including bread, yogurt, ketchup and chutney -- and cans and freezes excess produce. "We eat fairly high on the hog (because) we can get great ingredients cheap," she says.
The way they live is the way that I (and perhaps you) grew up: Most clothes handed down through cousins and then my two older sisters; two pairs of shoes a year (bought a size too big so we'd "grow into them"); a few toys at Christmas, but never during the rest of the year; a garden that yielded many summer meals and whose surplus was frozen or canned for winter; all meals prepared from scratch and eaten at home.
Everyone I knew lived that way. That's probably why I was able to cope as a broke single mother, washing diapers on a scrubboard because I couldn't afford the quarters for the laundromat -- and again when I left my marriage and returned to college, packing the same bagel-and-apple lunch each day.
Both couples have a more modern frugal hack as well: the rewards credit card, which both use and pay off in full each month. The rewards are taken as cash, naturally, and funneled back into their budgets.
Strategy 4: Get even more creative about meeting wants.
The Kofkes are fans of their city's recreation department, whose benefits include tumbling classes for Ava and Ella, free entertainment such as magic shows, and of course the library for books and free DVDs. Tracy is about to start a two-day-a-week preschool teaching job that includes free tuition for 3-year-old Ella.
They rarely eat out, but once a week the girls spend the night with their grandmother. That's "date night" for their parents: a dollar movie rental and a sub sandwich from the grocery store.
Amy and Jack barter their skills to get music lessons for the boys. They get a lot of useful items for free thanks to word of mouth, discards left by the side of the road (the source of cabinets and a sink for their kitchen remodel) and The Freecycle Network.
They've also developed their own network of like-minded individuals interested in reducing, reusing and recycling. Almost any need can be met within the group.
"I don't like to see useful things going to waste," says Jack, 47.
Strategy 5: Stay true to your goals.
Living this way is not easy, but it is satisfying. Amy sometimes tires of spending so much time hustling for jobs (the freelancer's curse), and occasionally wishes she could travel more. Even so, she's very happy with her life.
"It's not like I want other, better things," she says. "I don't feel deprived."
In recent months, the Kofkes have had to deal with a major auto repair, the medical co-pay for Ella's tonsillectomy and a furnace breakdown on a Sunday (much more expensive than on a weekday). Money siphoned out of the emergency fund had to be put back in.
And then there's the occasional "what if?" moment, such as watching a flashy car zoom past your 9-year-old beater.
"Of course I want it," Danny says.
But to get it, he'd have to take a second job, or his wife would have to go back to work and put their younger daughter in day care. "So far, there has been no item that has been worth (the trade-off)."
Tips from the pros
This lifestyle cannot succeed without a budget: Lower earnings mean less margin for error. Start with the absolute minimum you need for food, shelter and utilities. Finding out how little you need is actually liberating, says CPA Sally Herigstad.
"You have a lot more options when you're not a slave to high living expenses," says Herigstad, the author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills!" and a frequent contributor to MSN Money.
New to budgeting? The "50-30-20" plan is a useful framework. Financial management sites such as Mint and Bundle let you easily track spending.
That budget should also include irregular or unpredictable expenses (class pictures, traffic tickets). "Leave some room for that so you're not putting your income all the way down to zero," says Kimberly Palmer, the author of "Generation Earn: The Young Professional's Guide to Spending, Investing and Giving Back."
A few more suggestions:
Stuff happens. An emergency fund is vital. For tips on setting aside cash, see "9 sneaky tips for saving more," and "8 quick ways to slash your bills."
Planning a change? Start saving now. The Kofkes chose to start living on Danny's salary even before Tracy stopped working. The trial run proved they could do it and also yielded an emergency fund.
Think outside the mall. Brainstorm ways to meet needs for little or nothing. When relatives ask what to give the children as gifts, Tracy suggests things like ballet class. Jack and Amy visit a nearby university at the end of the school year, when students discard everything from bookcases to canned goods.
Educate yourself. Personal finance sites like MSN Money's Smart Spending blog, online urban homesteading resources and plain old library books have plenty to teach.
Look for extra income. Neither couple relies on a single paycheck. "Diversity is the name of the game if you're not going to have one big funding stream," says Amy.
Remember what frugality gets you. "Time to spend with your child, or the freedom to start your own business," author Palmer says. "If you love your life, it's worth any $200,000-a-year job."
Save money today
Charged up: Want to get more life from your D-cell? "7 ways to make your batteries last longer" can help.
School days: Public universities can be a great deal, but you don't necessarily have to stay close to home. "10 best colleges for out-of-staters" offers some of the best education values.
Safe at home: Want to keep your family and your valuables safe? Check out "A master thief's home-security tips."
Donna Freedman is "living 'poor' and loving it" as a freelance writer in Washington state. You can find more of her writing here, on our Smart Spending blog and at Surviving and Thriving (motto: "Life is short. But it's also wide."). Click here to find Freedman's most recent articles and blog posts.
Wait, you mean 40k a year PER family member, right?
Anyone can live on ANY salary when they HAVE to. It's all relative.
But us? No way, 40k a MONTH would be nice though!
$80k is just about three times as much as we make as a family of five.
it's what you choose as important. Nobody really NEEDS a house that is over I'd say 2400 square feet, just more to heat, more to clean, more to go wrong.
Nobody needs a fancy car, nobody needs fancy expensive clothes, and so much more.
$80k is a LOT of money the more money you have typically the more expensive taste you have.
I did by myself...in college...in 1984!!! Kudos to those can do it and make it work, I see many expenses missing out of this however.
It is not how I choose to live and plan though but not everyone is the same.
OK--first of all--I couldn't get through all of that--but I would suspect the basic idea is supporting a family on an annual salary of 40K. And is it possible, yes?
You say "that still seems hard."
"Hard" is a relative term.
"Hard" might mean "I have no food to eat" or it might mean "My life is less cushy now."
The overall concept to apply, I think, is that we need to be the hamsters powering the exercise wheel, not the hamster trying to keep UP with the moving exercise wheel.
Could I do it? Absolutely.
Would it "look" different? Yes.
At the end of the day, you've gotta ask yourself "Who are you working for?"
If the answer is your mortgage company and GMAC, then something is wrong.
If the answer is for a safe, cared for family...then you're on the right track!
And saving for retirement, college, etc HAS to be treated as a bill. If people aren't able to do that, then they're living beyond their means...they just wouldn't admit it.
I didn't read all of it.. but most of it.
We are a family of 7. Neither of us have a college degree and work blue collar. With both of our incomes we have never made over $35,000 a year.
Granted the cost of living doesn't cost an arm a leg in our area, but it still costs! We go from check to check and have to save up when we can for Aug- Dec. 3 of the kids have birthdays in Aug plus go back to school ( Aug kills us each year!) then we have one birthday in Sept. Halloween. Thanksgiving dinner, then Christmas.
What we do to stretch our money is we have never bought a new car. Just new enough to where we can ( usually) get it paid off and be payment free for a year or two with out major repairs. All meals are home made. Eating out once a month is a big treat for our family! We have cable and internet. The kids have two game systems and we get new games for them at the pawn shop or a used game store... its new to them! We never buy what we dont need. Are there things we would like, of course! But it comes down to how bad to we want them. Every once in a while we splurge and get things but its not very often. Garage sales and used clothing stores have great deals on nice clothes! The way kids grow ( imo) its a waste of money to buy new all the time. We do buy them all new clothes for school. We have never had a credit card. All of our bills ( except food) cost us less than $1,500 a month. That is including our house and van payment. I can feed everyone on $100- 150 week no problem.
How we save for our future is we take 1/2 of our tax return and put it in the bank... then forget its there! Its money already taken out and we aren't missing it. Then the other 1/2 goes to house repairs or what ever needs attention at the time. We also try to go on a small family vacation with it.
Sure more money would be great, but it can be done comfortably on lower incomes.
*** Someone PMed me and asked how we can go on vacation with 7 people and not spend alot how much is 1/2 your return? Well not that its anyones business how much we get back, I will say its not an extreme amount! We go on a small vacation easily. We love to camp! We pick a different camp ground each year with in a 4 hour drive from our house. We can camp with a tent for a week under $100. Then the food and gas. When you have all the camping gear already, its really easy to go on a small vacation for under $300. It usually doesn't cost that much but you never know so we plan for $300 each year.
I couldn't get throught the whole thing. They lost me at the crazy low numbers for mortagage & groceries. They are not factoring in for caring for the house and appliances and who spends $150 a month on ALL their utilities (electric, gas, water, garbage collection)? I love the wood burning for all heating and cooking??? Please, while possible that's not realistic and where I live WOOD COSTS MONEY!!!
Finally the elephant in the room is health care costs. Next their going to say they pat $75 for their whole family to be covered with a $5 co-pay an no deductible.
This is just not realistic from my point of view and I think we should all keep in mind that $40K a year is a few times the minimum wage at least. Let's face it the American middle class standard of living is dropping like a rock.
It's all in the mind set...you can do anything you want...achieve anything you want. You just have to want it.
Their mortgage is cheaper than yours because you might not be in the same location as them...you might have bought when the market was high and they bought low.
If you get rid of the credit cards. live within your means. is it easy to give up credit cards? for some - yes. for others no.
Can I live off $40K a year. Yes. Would it be tight? Yes. I would sell my home and buy another one for cash - however - that would mean leaving my area as Washington, D.C. isn't cheap.
If you want to find out where your money is going? keep a journal for up to 6 months - on EVERY penny you spend. EVERY PENNY. you will be surprised at how much you waste.
Start shopping at 2nd hand stores.
Go through the house and get rid of things you don't need or haven't touched in six months. Have a garage sale and use that money to pay off a debt...
Think outside the box. use coupons. make lists. make menus. start saying NO to things you WANT versus what you NEED. There is a HUGE shift in mentality when you start THINKING about your purchases...and the want vs need.
Oh yeah - move your link to the SWH so it doesn't get pulled!
We are a family of 3. We live off WAY less then that!! We are very comfortable and are able to save. We do live in Texas, where the cost of living is much less, I'm sure that has something to do with it. I am naturally a frugal person, because I grew up poor. Not cheap, but I know how to save money, so that we can spend it on what we need and want to.
Our expenses are less than all the families you have listed. (except college funds, and the other big expenses they leave out. Insurance, etc. We spend more on those things, but we consider them bills.))
Although I see and understand your point - don't these people want to have any fun, or go on vacation or do any sports? Since my daughter has begun Kindergarten, I have written more checks then I ever have in ly life.
I think that if you are happy in a small house with a small budget, then great! But to only shop in thrift stores and have old used cars? Ugh, not for me.
I wish we could live on $40K, we have to make do with SSDI which is a lot less that this.
We go without a lot of this stuff and expect if the kids want to go to college they can get financial aid.
Saving for retirement is funny. Hubby worked almost 20 years at a place and did all this. His monthly check is $125. If he waits another 10 years he will get a couple of hundred more.
There are millions of people in america living on a lot less than $40 per year. I hope you get some really really good ideas!
I know for a fact that you cannot compare to these people. It is unrealistic in my area to be able to survive on one income. My mortgage alone is almost $2200 that's almost 3 times the mortgage of all of these families, and my house is only about 1500 sq ft with about 1/2 acre lot. Also I have noticed there is one important expense missing in these calculations. All of these people own cars. I did not see a car insurance expense in any of the calculations? In my state you also have to add car taxes. There is also the cost of registration renewals. However unrealistic in my situation this article did inspire me to figure out where I can cutback to save some money. Also I do not have an option of selling and moving because the real estate market is at a standstill right now, and I would be lucky to get what I paid. However we have put a lot into our house in renovations and improvements, so the money we have spent would be lost at this point.
I'm sure there are families that can thrive on less however the most important part of the reason they do so is not only because they are smart about their money, but also because the living expense in their area is substantially less than most.
I live in Atlanta, and I have NO desire to try and live on 40K a year -even by myself! We're fairly frugal. We save a lot, don't use credit cards, by used cars, use coupons and buy on sale, etc., but we also have things we enjoy in life like traveling, occasional nice dinners out, even nice dinners in (my husband grills a mean lobster tail), wine and what not -and I'm not going to give up a bunch of pleasures in life to live like a pauper. I went to college and have worked since the age of 16 so I wouldn't HAVE to live that way. We pay our bills (including a nice chunk for medical and other insurance that some of these people seem to be leaving out) and I figure -as long as my retirement fund is tidy and growing as it should be and I have a rainy day fund for emergencies and the kids' college funds are growing -then I'm going to enjoy the rest!
You are not budgeting for savings. If you are spending everything but what is removed from your paycheck for retirement you are for all intent and purpose, living paycheck to paycheck.
There are things that come up and you have to have in your budget saving for them. Next year I suspect we are going to have to replace our roof yet the money for that replacement has been in savings for four years because it could go anytime after 10 years. At ten years I started saving.
I guess what I am saying is an unexpected expense is someone running you over with their car and fleeing the scene, not your furnace goes out. I hope that makes sense. By setting aside for these things your savings should build up and then when something unexpected happens you just pay for it and move along.
Oh I lived off 42,000 a year for four years without any trouble and I have a crazy high mortgage so it can be done. You just need to look at where your money is going.
I agree there are several "large" expenses missing from the greater picture presented here. Also you have to ask yourself how do you want to live? Is foraging for local apples to make your own cider really your version of your life? Bartering? Growing your own fruits and veggies? The broader picture in my opinion is not only finanacial management but also lifestyle choices.
Besides remember it's not what you spend; it's how much you save. Start with a focus on your savings and move outward. Sometimes life is down and sometimes it is up in all senses. Good luck and don't let these articles discourage you.
For what it is worth our mortgage is much less than either of these presented and I still can't imagine making it on 40k/year.
That's not much more than we live on, so I think it's possible. It does mean living more modestly, and making different choices on what's worth it to you, but those aren't impossible choices.
Definitely realistic in my area. I think it depends a lot on your region & cost of living, and what your priorities are. If you require a lot of luxuries to be happy, then obviously, it won't work for you. If having a roof over your head, food, a working car (or no car), clothes & other necessities are all you need to be happy, then it could work for you. I think it's interesting that families made it somehow used to make it on one income, with large families & I'd like a lesson from those people.
Personally, for me, I'm somewhere in the middle. I don't need to be rich, but if I can do better, and DH can do better for our family, then why wouldn't we? We are all capable of bettering ourselves if we make a low wage, we are our biggest obstacles. Why choose to live holding your breath for the next catastrophe? There is something to be said for quality of life. Life should not just be about working a crappy job 40+ hours a week to barely be able to cover your bills & have nothing for the future.
Interesting as I just went through our 2011 annual spending and what a difference. But what about property taxes? Ours are a ton. And kind of mandatory donations to our public schools... House repairs? Ours just needed a new roof this year - $15k. Health insurance and copays? Auto insurance? DMV fees? New tires, car repairs? And our dog is a fortune! :) And their college contributions won't really help their kids much. It's good they're doing it but it'll be a fraction of what their kids need. And either they need to be saving every month to eventually replace their cars or they will have a monthly car payment. It's all admirable and my family is way overspending but it is amazing that they're able to do this.
I live in New England with a (sadly) big mortgage and debt we are trying to pay down, so we could not survive on that salary.
I love how medical insurance and out of pocket medical expenses never factor into these equations. Around here that is a HUGE drain on our finances. Must be nice....
There's no way in the NY metro area you could cover utilities for $150 a month. Home heating oil is about $400 monthly and we keep our thermostat at 58 except for 2 hours in the AM and 2 hrs in the PM - and our oil burner is less than 10 yrs old and highly efficient. Real Estate Taxes for our 1/3 acre are $7K a year (ours are the lowest on our street) - While I agree you can find ways to eat and clothe your family for less we have no option for electricity, heating, real estate taxes.
I didn't read all of it. But some of the stats are totally not in line with where Iive. We "joke" that it takes 3 public servants (police, teachers) to live in this county. We got our home years ago and pay a little extra to pay it off sooner, but it is way above $900. My grocery bill doubled from me as a single person living where I was to me as a single person living here. $499 would not feed our family of 5 for one month very well. We could make it work in the rice and beans sense, but it would be tough.
I think you have to take the area in which you live into consideration. Where my mom lives, many things are far cheaper. We could get a very big home for $200K. Here, that might be a townhouse. Even the government acknowledges cost of living when paying employees.
That said, there's a lot of "well, I can get credit" mentality in the US. Me, personally, I would not prefer to dumpster dive at the end of a semester, but I do buy from thrift stores and use Freecycle. I trade kid clothes with friends. I have a friend whose daughter is a little bigger than mine and I have had to buy very little for DD the last 2 years. I feel blessed to have this offer.
We could only live off 40K if we moved (and if we did, DH would lose his job where he has a very good retirement program and benefits). I stay home, but I still work online. We could get rid of cable, but not high-speed internet b/c it's required for work. We could get pay as you go phones vs the plans we currently have. We already drive old cars. Etc. Get creative and look around. Writing down everything - every pack of gum or coffee - will help you see where you're bleeding money.
It is possible, my parents raised 4 kids on about that amount about 45 mins outside of Cleveland, OH for about 12 years. Then my mom went back to full time teaching once all the kids were in school full time. So income went up, but we went to private school and then college, which my parents insisted to pay for half of college. I know they still have debt, which my hubby and I have given a little here and there (about $1000 a year) to help pay down. Most of their debt is school payment & cars.
I guess it depends on what you vaule, what you want for your child and what you believe is a "worth" the extra cost and what you do not want to spend money on. We live within our means, which everyone should do.
In WI for a small 2 bedroom house, cold winters we easily spend $150-$200 a month on utilities (gas & electric, water is a seperate bill), food is about $400, phone & internet about $200 (we are looking to cut this down by at least $50), retirement we put in about $800 a month and hubby's company, for now puts in $400 a month. Now I LOVE clothes shopping and with a growing 5 year old girl we can easily spend $100 a month on new clothes (if not more)... then you add things like toliet paper and other living items that easily adds $200 - $300 to the cost.
I do not really coupon, if I run across one for something I usually get then it is used other wise I try to shop wisely buy when items (food and other) go on sale OR I use the target card because I get 5% off everything I buy with the target card (great deal for every day items & clothes).
My husband is in the Army and only makes just below 40k a year and we live comfortably. We have two boys ages 9 months and 1 1/2. We also have been putting away for retirement for the last 2 1/2 years since we've been married. And we have about 7k saved so far. We are also planning on having another baby once we get home from our tour in Korea. We do have to live pay check to paycheck from time to time but we manage and do great. :) It's all on how you budget.
I'm intrigued that missing - not only from the original article but from all other posts - is childcare/preschool costs. Obviously having a stay at home parent is one reason people have to/choose to get by on less, but that's not always possible, and unless you are lucky enough for subsidies or live near relatives, that's a huge cost. Much bigger for us than health insurance, which we are fortunate enough to have covered by our employers. Not to mention that if we lived in an area with a $900 mortgage payment (incl prop taxes), the public schools would be ... questionable.
We are check to check right now. Only because of our truck payment and credit card bills. My husband made about 66,000 this year. I am a SAHM
House payment is $870
Truck $ 435
Credit Cards $1000
Utilities (gas, elec, water)$250
Student loans $335
Life/Health Ins $200
Gas x2 cars $150
That is all a rounded figure. Which is 5500 a month.
That is 66,000 a year.
We are about to pay off our truck and 3 Credit cards with our taxes. That will save us $550 a month. Which is 6,600 a year. Potentially we could save 6,000 in an account this year.
You can live off little if you are debit free.
Read Dave Ramsey "Total Money Makeover". We started it a few years back, but fell on hard times. Now we are getting back on track. By the end of the year we expect