How to Survive on $12,000 A Year

Could you live on $12,000 a year? At age 48? That’s what student and writer Donna Friedman is going to do, and she details how. From Lifehacker:

Granted, the $12,000 living income is wholly unrealistic for some cities (she’s only paying $525/month in rent), but the idea remains worthwhile: whether you’ve set up some aggressive savings goals or you’re just completely strapped for cash, Freedman’s tips offer a number of ways you can cut back on your living expenses if you’re motivated.

At the very least, Donna’s plan could put things in perspective for spendthrifts out there. Then there are those of us tightwads who’ll read it find ourselves saying, “Yeah, I do that!”

Some Highlights:

It’s not what I have, but how much of it I can keep. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, every dollar I don’t spend is a dollar I have earned. So when I think I need something, I ask, “Can I do without this?” Often I find I can. If I can’t, then my next question is . . .

How can I get it free, or almost free? The obvious answers are sites like and thrift shops, especially ones like Value Village that offer coupons and half-off sales. My 99-cent clock-radio wakes me up every morning just as efficiently as a high-tech alarm from The Sharper Image. Rummage sales are swell, too; my church has an annual sale called “Superfluity” (I love that name) at which I bought my desk for $4 and a small chest of drawers for $1.

Every day is casual Friday!
When my jeans are in tatters I buy a “new” pair at Value Village (one pair cost me just $1.63, and it was new — still had the department-store tags on it). I spend $15 or less on running shoes from clearance tables. I’ve bought a couple of thrift-store tops, but mostly get by with shirts I’ve had for ages. (Hint: The clothes dryer takes years off the life of your duds. Get a drying rack.)

Drying racks and thrift stores are awesome!—MEGHANN MARCO

Surviving (and thriving) on $12,000 a year [MSN Money via Lifehacker]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Mr. Gunn says:

    I did it for a couple years. The key is to have lots of roommates who are like-minded. Split an already-cheap rent, buy stuff in bulk and share it, and entertain one another. Hell, I saved money making less than that, but by all means, bring on another navel-gazing blogger to tell us all about how hard it is to be voluntarily poor.

  2. Hoss says:

    I’m concerned that this woman will be homeless if she encounters life’s unexpected events (illness, property damage, loss of income, etc.)

  3. NeoteriX says:

    I’m concerned too, but her story is still inspiring. Nevertheless, clearly this isn’t “voluntary” in the conventional sense. She’s on her own, and is making this choice because she’s investing in one of the best appreciating assets there are aside from a house–herself. With a college education, her ability to generate wealth and her quality of life will be multiple time more than what it would be if she just got an unskilled, entry level job and made money right now.

  4. Rahnee says:

    I did this as well for many years. Granted I live in Georgia where the cost of living is not high but it is do-able. It was not very hard but you defiantly had to budget. Then all at once my costs of living doubled. I got married. Its amazing what a wife costs!!!

  5. CaptainRoin says:

    wow. now i feel bad about my 200$/month booze budget.

  6. OnoSideboard says:

    Rahnee, what’s amazing is that someone married you while you were making $12K/year.

    Kidding! People, I’m kidding!

  7. drrew says:

    I work at the institution that this woman attends…if her financial situation is clearly as she decribes, there is more funding available to her.

    And this isn’t a dig at her (I guess it sort of is) but I never understand the whole “I’m a college student and my life is soooooo busy.” I had a real job while I was in school and still had more time to goof off in a couple days then I have in an entire month now. She’s an undergrad with a Social Sciences major. I can’t imagine what she’d be so busy doing.

  8. faust1200 says:

    There are plenty of people in this country who spend only $12,000 a year and much less. Why don’t they get an article? I think I’d rather listen to Ashlee Simpson sing than hear this lady rattle off her THRIFTY TIPS!

    Ok, I’m exaggerating.

  9. shoegazer says:

    Maybe she could do some day trading to help with the college fund. Better than hanging around waiting for more halogen lamps in dumpsters.

    In all seriousness, I admire her frugality (and her motivation). There are other ways to get goods for free or for cheap too – Freecycling, church volunteering, etc.

  10. dayjayvw says:

    I wasn’t very impressed with her as I read this story about a month ago on, she was angry because she felt people were judging her and making assumptions yet she chose to publish this story in WA.

    I think it’s assanine someone would choose poverty as she chooses to live this way, she’s not frugal, she’s an idiot.

  11. corporatedrone says:

    How is she possibly an idiot for getting divorced, going back to school, and trying to save money in the process? I guess she should should have stayed in her marraige and just be content with whatever job she can get without an education?

  12. Pelagius says:

    “The car needs a 60,000-mile checkup.”
    It sounds like she’s a UW student. That’s an urban campus. Why does she need a car? That’s a major luxury. Dump it.

    “Last year I survived on a number of here-and-there gigs..”
    Getting a regular part-time job (there are certainly opportunities on campus or nearby) eliminates the work and worry about how to get around to these ‘gigs’ – and may allow you to dump the car.

    “I’ve decided to increase my monthly church tithe to $20.”
    Good for her and all that but I think the church can get by for the next four years without it.

  13. Pelagius says:

    Sorry – close italics! There.

  14. aestheticity says:

    hark at these good folk.

    ‘she doesnt need to spend so little! spend more!’

    In my extensive experience, what students do that takes up so much of their time but which they choose to affirm as being ‘busy’ is drinking, partying and getting laid. They’ll shy away from admitting thats what they mean to anyone with responsibility, because of course its frivolous bullshit and they know it. They just call it being busy so everyone thinks theyre real productive. For them it’s a necessity of life, since it’ll be a few more years before their new necessities become a new car every year, a mortgage, new clothes and a demanding spouse.

  15. pestie says:

    …and entertain one another.

    Bonus points if one of your roommates is a stripper.

    I think it’s assanine someone would choose poverty as she chooses to live this way, she’s not frugal, she’s an idiot.

    And I think it’s asinine when people can’t be bothered to spell correctly, especially when insulting someone’s intelligence.

  16. She does note in the story that she’s 48. In college I worked 40-60 hour weeks with a full class schedule, but, as she notes, I was 18. At 28 I already find all-nighters nearly impossible. So I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt on having the energy to work and attend school properly.

    (Still – dude, get a receptionist job or sit in the parking attendant box at night. Lots of time to read and study.)

  17. Uurp says:

    She could live in the car and really save some dough.

  18. acambras says:

    >>I think it’s assanine someone would choose poverty as she chooses to live this way, she’s not frugal, she’s an idiot.

    And I think it’s asinine when people can’t be bothered to spell correctly, especially when insulting someone’s intelligence.

    Hear, hear — pestie! :-)

    There were also two comma splices in that post, btw.

  19. mollyetta says:

    I live off of my AmeriCorps stipend (less than $11,000/year for full-time work) without any problem. It’s not as hard as some people might think–if you don’t have the money, you don’t spend it. It’s as simple as that.

    I managed to save some money last year, when I made a modest amount of money, but so far I haven’t had to tap into it too much. I must admit that I would be pretty stressed if I didn’t have that money to fall back upon in case of an emergency.

    I’d rather have a low-paying job where I feel like I’m making a difference in my community than have a job I hate and a bunch of expensive,needless possessions.