A little about me. On the internet, I usually go by “Caine Volfram.” No, that’s not my real name. I also go by “Clockwork Gremlin.”
I am largely unremarkable. Single white male, just turned 28, Irish descent (among others), living in rural America. Colorado, to be specific. I am fiscally and socially conservative; I am also a casual, but very ardent Christian. My prime motivation in everything is selfishness, and I firmly believe that you should never do something you don’t want to do unless you have a very good reason.
I graduated from the University of Colorado in 2011 after studying Computer Engineering for eight years. Since paying off the remainder of my educational debts after graduation, I have avoided debt.
In December of 2012, my boss and I came to an agreement. While my talents with software design were clear, they did not suit the job I had been hired for. I resigned my position, took the pay from my remaining vacation days, made one final investment, and switched my finances over to emergency mode.
Making Ends Meet on $12,000 Per Year
I decided I could live quite comfortably on $1000 per month, or $12,000 per year.
I live in a rental house with three friends. We split rent evenly, so my personal rent is $300 per month. My monthly share of the utilities is between $50 and $100.
I have no children or dependents of any sort, so I have no need for life insurance.
I’ve gotten sick less than once per year over the last decade, and the last time I had an injury requiring medical attention was in 2010 because I stabbed myself in the hand. It was stupid.
My dental and optometrist bills are paid out-of-pocket. They’re remarkably affordable.
My car is old, and costs me basically nothing, because right after I got it I was rear-ended, and the other driver’s insurance paid me more than I had paid for the car. My car is safe and functional. I drive very little, as I don’t typically have anywhere to go.
Since my necessary monthly expenses are around $400, that leaves me about $130 per week for food, gas, and everything else.
My weekly grocery bill is usually between $10 and $25 per week for cereal, milk, and miscellaneous canned and dry goods. Breakfast costs less than one dollar per day. Other meals are around two dollars each, but I typically eat only three meals per week besides breakfast. That’s all I really need, since my days are fairly inactive. I do snack pretty regularly, though.
Tricks for Living on a Tight Budget
I have several tricks for keeping my budget low. Phones are a big issue I’ve seen people have. I don’t use the phone much, so I found TracFone was the perfect deal for me. The phones themselves are dirt-cheap, and are perfectly serviceable for talking and text. I buy 200-minute cards for about $40, and my phone has a double-minute deal, so that’s 400 minutes for $40. This tends to last me between two and four months. Longer if I’m careful about it.
Almost every store I visit regularly has a clearance section, and I usually check this out first. If I’m lucky, they’ll have exactly what I was looking for. I regularly buy loaves of bread and dry cereal here. If I’m feeling fun, I’ll buy a box of donuts. I also almost never buy big-brand items, unless they’re marked down significantly, and the most important number to look at when buying groceries is not the price, but the price per unit. Kellogg’s and Post cereals can run 30 cents per ounce or more, but I can get bags of store-brand or no-brand cereal for 12 cents per ounce or less. I don’t even know what the names of major brands of milk are, because they cost five dollars per gallon, and they most certainly are not twice as good as the store-brand milk I buy for $2.77 per gallon. Store brands also seem to be on-sale more often than big brands, so my milk only costs me $2 per gallon about half of the time.
Financial tools will vary in effectiveness between people, but for me, the best tool I’ve found for keeping my finances in order is an Excel spreadsheet. My spreadsheet keeps track of the money in my bank account, how much I’ve spent in a given week, and my cumulative average spending, which I use to predict my future spending. This allows me to keep track of how much I spend, and reminds me of how much I’ll have available to spend in coming weeks. I bought myself $100 worth of anime and video games for my birthday. My roommates and I made jokes about how silly it was, but it was well within my budget.
According to my spreadsheet, I spent less than $17000 in 2012 and it was still enough for several high-tech toys, a trip to an anime convention, and paragliding lessons.
I only expect to spend about $7000 this year.
If you’re a household CEO who is successfully making ends meet on roughly $40,000 per year or less, I’d love to hear from you. Contact me at Len@LenPenzo.com and be sure to put “$40,000” in the subject line. If I publish your story, you’ll get a $25 gift card!
Photo Credit: Inti