Monday, February 10, 2014

How We Live Well on $24,000 a Year: 101 Tips

Hubby still can't believe that we can live so well on $24,000 a year.  Before we decided to sell everything and travel, our income was closer to six figures a year.  Then we sold everything--house and nearly everything in it--to travel for a year or so and our income dropped dramatically (to the tune of both of us living on hubby's military pension).  At the time that we were traveling we didn't notice that our income was so small because we had no bills besides our cell phones and a storage shed.

Now that we are living a more "normal" life, we tend to have many of the same bills as normal people--mortgage, electric bill, cable, etc.  With a full year of living this way, we now know that we can live well on a very small income (something we would have not thought possible in the past).  Here's how we do it:

  1. It's just the two of us; all of the kids are grown and employed and independent (this makes a huge difference in our bills!).
  2. We don't have pets.  This can be a big expense for people but since pets can be like their children they are loathe to change this situation.  Since we aren't home much we don't think it would be fair to have pets but not pay any attention to them.
  3. We share one car which we paid cash for 13 years ago and we will drive it until it is dead dead (having a reliable car with no car payment is a big savings; most people have multiple cars and multiple car payments).
  4. We only have liability insurance on the car because it is so old.
  5. We keep the car in good repair (regular oil changes, new tires when they become worn, other fixes as needed). 
  6. Hubby has Medicare for his health insurance and I have very inexpensive medical insurance through the military (medical costs/insurance is often one of people's biggest expenses in the US).
  7. We have no debt.  It takes a big income to pay off massive credit card debt, student loan debt, etc.
  8. We live on a fixed income so we know exactly how much we have to spend each month (hubby's military pension and Social Security).  We don't buy now and think we can pay later with a better job or bigger raise.
  9. I take occasional freelance jobs as they come up (I do freelance gigs for my old clients and have enjoyed working temporary jobs at Christmas time and at the WSOP for extra cash).
  10. We put a bit of money into savings each month (this can be used for travel, helping out the kids, big purchases, etc).
  11. We also have an emergency fund which has saved us on more than one occasion.
  12. We moved from Seattle to a very inexpensive part of the country (Las Vegas) where the overall cost of living is much lower.
  13. Since we moved to both a tourist mecca and a retirement mecca, the options for free and low-cost entertainment options are huge (you really can't be bored here!).
  14. We bought a small house (which is a big savings in mortgage and utilities and furnishings over having a big house).
  15. We also bought our house when the market was really depressed so we got a great deal on a nearly new house with a super low interest rate (which means we are paying lots less than people who rent!).
  16. We use over-the-air antennas for our TVs and do not have cable TV.
  17. We do have a monthly Netflix subscription because we found this was cheaper than making a couple of trips to the library each week.
  18. I do A LOT of reading so I download free e-books from our local library.
  19. We also use our local library for other services--checking our books and movies and music, attending free events (concerts and movies), using inter-library loan for my genealogy research, etc.
  20. We do have internet at our house but I call and grovel after each special deal is over so we get a cut rate price on our monthly internet costs.
  21. For the first year or so of living in our house we read our electric and gas meter religiously and made sure we were conserving gas, water, and electricity as much as possible (it only took us a week or so to figure out that we couldn't leave our air conditioning on all day and all night and still have a reasonable electric bill).
  22. We tend to hang out in the same room together--hubby watching movies and me reading--so we tend to only heat the one room we are in with a small space heater.
  23. Hubby and I each have cheap, prepaid cell plans ($30 each per month through Walmart's TMobile plan).
  24. We have nice cell phones (Samsung Galaxy S2 smart phones) which we paid cash for and will probably use for three or four years.
  25. We don't have the latest tech.  We each have laptops which are two or more years old and it took me until just recently to get a tablet (which was deeply discounted).  Our things work well and we don't feel like we need to have the newest and greatest tech items.
  26. We shop at the Goodwill for most of our home decor and all of our clothes (I haven't been to a mall in ages).
  27. We need less clothing and can get by fine with basic clothing since we don't work (no business wardrobe any more hooray!).
  28. Less clothing also means we do less laundry (we can wear our clothes a couple of days in a row since we go to different places so people don't see us with the same clothes on; this saves the need to wash two or three sets of clothing a day).
  29. Speaking of laundry, I cut dryer sheets in half which gives us twice as many dryer sheets.  I know this is a tiny savings but it is a savings.
  30. I've also got in the habit of using less soap.  Less laundry soap, less shampoo, less hair conditioner, less toothpaste, less dish soap.  The job still gets done but we aren't wasteful with these items.
  31. I can also stretch items such as make up since if I don't go out for the day I don't put on make up--the more often I do this the longer my make up lasts.  Ditto for nail polish, perfume, etc.
  32. We reuse items when possible.  Old towels go into the rag bag to clean the floors, old sponges and toothbrushes are used for yucky cleaning jobs, etc.
  33. The home products we buy are also cheaper now.  Instead of fancy Bath and Body Works soap, we use cute hand soaps bought at the $1 store which does the same thing (cleans your hands) for much cheaper.
  34. We also shop with a shopping list instead of buying whatever catches our eye which saves a lot of money.
  35. We re-purpose items when possible (thus the reason our old counter top oven is sitting outside on an old file cabinet--we use the old oven because it still basically works so roasting can be done outside instead of inside and buying a "real" stand for it would have been expensive so we picked up an old metal two-drawer filing cabinet for $5 at the Goodwill which works great as a stand--and even has drawers to keep supplies in!)
  36. We use coupons when shopping (but only for items we were planning on buying anyway) and generally only buy loss leaders or items that are on sale.
  37. Most of our food is bought at the 99 cent store, the $1 store, and the Asian/Mexican grocery stores.
  38. Almost all of our meals are made at home, from scratch.
  39. Almost all of our goodies/deserts/etc are made at home from scratch as well.
  40. We do eat out but almost always on hubby's comps.  We rarely eat at restaurants unless it is a gift or it is on the dollar menu of the local fast food place.
  41. Hubby uses his monthly "allowance" to play poker (one of his hobbies) but fortunately he usually wins and double fortunately he earns "comps" from his play which gives us free restaurant meals.
  42. Hubby also plays poker online which is both free and he can win things such as restaurant gift certificates, hotel stays, etc.
  43. Generally our hobbies are inexpensive--walking and genealogy for me, bowling and poker for hubby.
  44. We also take advantage of the myriad free community events to keep us entertained (free guided hikes in the local National Park, ShowTickets4Locals for free show tickets, etc).
  45. We don't travel as often as we used to which saves A LOT of money (fortunately we live in a tourist area and everyone comes to visit us!).
  46. When we do travel we tend to do so as cheaply as possible (using air miles, riding Megabus, staying with friends instead of at a hotel, etc).
  47. We also travel during the off-season which saves a lot of money and hassle.
  48. We use cash only.  We made a foray into credit card use but found that we tend to spend more when using credit cards.  Now we only use credit cards for big purchases (to get cash back) and pay the card off as soon as we get the bill.
  49. We sell things we no longer need on Craigslist both as a way to get rid of clutter and to bring in a bit of extra money.
  50. Stuff I don't want to get rid of goes to hubby or the kids (hubby has my hand-me-down computer, the kids and grand kids get care packages with clothes, purses, and other items we no longer need).
  51. Note that if we are mailing gifts we pay attention to shipping costs and try to use flat rate boxes whenever possible.  If I'm sending gifts to Japan I try to choose the smallest and lightest gifts possible to save mailing costs.
  52. I make a bit of extra money with advertising on my blogs (Adsense) and through royalties on a book I wrote a couple years ago.
  53. Occasionally we have found things, either stuff sitting at the curb on trash day or tossed to the side of the road, cleaned up the items, then sold them on Craigslist.
  54. All of our bank accounts are free (through credit unions that we have used for years and through a local bank where we have our mortgage).
  55. We pay all of our bills online which saves the cost of checks and stamps.
  56. We pull our free credit reports once a year just to make sure the information is correct (if we ever did need credit this would be a good pre-emptive way to ensure our credit info is correct and up to date).
  57. We are pretty much minimalists and don't buy a whole lot of stuff other than necessities (ie: I have five items of makeup, my sister, when she comes to visit, brings more than 50 items just for her face!).
  58. When we do need to buy things I always compare prices at regular stores and online in order to get the best deal.
  59. When I buy things online, if there is a line for a promo code or coupon, I quickly Google for this in order to save even more money.
  60. We take advantage of scratch and dent sales on big items (ie: our new refrigerator was $400 off because it had a small dent and a couple of scratches).
  61. Occasionally we have had household items that have broken or stopped working.  I simply Google the problem and usually find a cheap and easy way to fix it.
  62. We do all of our own home repairs (hubby recently replaced our kitchen faucet), yard work (we keep all of our trees and shrubs clipped and tidy), and house cleaning (easy with a small house).
  63. We take advantage of hubby's age and ask for senior discounts for everything (this gets us half off at the Goodwill on Wednesday's, nearly free car registration because of a senior tax rebate program in our county, etc).
  64. I also ask for veteran's discounts since hubby is a vet, military discounts, a locals discount (common in Las Vegas), and any other kind of discount I can think of just to get a lower price.
  65. I use only free apps and free software (years ago, software would cost me $500 for some programs!).
  66. I also use free online services to save and make money (Skype, PayPal, etc).
  67. We pay our bills on time (to avoid late fees) and in full (some bills can be paid annually or bi-annually in order to save a monthly payment fee).
  68. We tithe each month (which doesn't save money but seems to be a good thing anyway).
  69. We also happily spend money on giving to various charities and good causes (we like to support a school in the Philippines by finding inexpensive used books and discounted school supplies here to send there).
  70. We like to help out friends and neighbors whenever possible (not a money saver really, but good karma).
  71. When we do have parties or a lot of people to feed we tend to make grand meals and desserts at home instead of taking everyone out to dinner or buying store bought items.
  72. We don't have bad habits (we don't drink, smoke, or do drugs which saves A LOT of money...and drama).
  73. We also don't do drama (we don't bail people out of jail, break leases, have to take out payday loans to pay our bills, have legal problems, etc.  This also saves a lot of money).
  74. We diligently look at each purchase and see if it is really necessary, if we can buy it cheaper somewhere else, if there is another item that would work in its place, etc.
  75. We don't pay "stupid taxes" any more these days (this ranges from late payment fees to buying a boat or RV that we would rarely use).
  76. We don't buy things even though "everyone else" is buying it (example: time shares when they were popular, Keureg coffee makers that EVERYONE has but which we find to be too expensive, etc).
  77. We do pay more for good quality items, but we still try to get the best price for the item (ie: I recently bought expensive Brooks and Teva shoes for super low prices at Ross and TJ Maxx; I don't mind spending on these items because I know they will last a long time).
  78. We get our hair cut every other month at a cheap chain salon, plus hubby cuts my hair in between professional cuts which means I don't need my hair cut as frequently.  We also do our own at-home hair color.
  79. We don't buy each other gifts.  We used to buy extravagant gifts for each other but now we are happy with simple, hand made cards for each holiday (mostly because we don't need stuff, we don't need to impress each other, and we don't need the bills that come along with such grand gestures).
  80. We don't pay for a gym membership.  We make it a point to walk in our neighborhood every day, we bought a $50 treadmill on Craigslist for days when we don't walk outside, hubby bowls, and we both do free hikes which are great ways to exercise for free.
  81. We have an apricot tree in our yard which gives us free fruit, rose bushes which give us free flowers, and I just started a simple garden to provide low-cost tomatoes, chard, and green onions which we use often.
  82. We have no-spend days where we stay home and don't spend any money.
  83. On days that we are gone all day, I try to remember to pack us a lunch which saves us from stopping by fast food places.
  84. By staying home a couple times a week and otherwise being conservative in where we go, we save a lot of money on gas for our car.
  85. We re-gift.  Shhh don't tell anyone.  But we have a box full of new items that people give us that we can't use so we tend to re-gift them to others whom we know will appreciate them.
  86. We don't really give gifts much any more.  We tend to send money to the kids and grand kids so they can buy what they really want, we often cook and bake for friends and neighbors because we feel like these things are more useful/appreciated, and we try to be as helpful as possible all the time (not just holidays) when someone needs help (whether it is fixing their sink or giving them a ride to the airport).
  87. I read everything that comes in the mail.  I've found everything from free radon tests from the county to flyers in our utility bills for a list of utility rebates simply by reading what is sent to us.
  88. We get all of our media online for free these days.  We no longer have magazine or newspaper subscriptions.
  89. I also find out a lot of useful information online these days (from reddit, fellow bloggers, etc).
  90. We try to not waste food by using up everything (old apples become applesauce, old bananas become banana bread, old bread becomes bread pudding, etc).  We like eating leftovers.
  91. I like to experiment with making food items I would otherwise buy: yogurt, pizza, milkshakes, etc.
  92. PBS is about the best station on TV.  I like learning (lots of this on PBS) and I have learned quite a few things by watching this station in the evenings (how to do home repairs, how to make new recipes, etc).
  93. We like to look for hidden gems: a local mall has the best (free) kids play place so we always take our nieces there, our local university has wonderful (free) lectures that are open to the public, and our military hospital has the best (and cheapest) meals in its cafeteria that we have found anywhere. 
  94. Occasionally we give bartering a try.  When we were traveling we bartered room and board for babysitting, we trade a free catered meal to the shop that changes our oil for free, hubby has traded bowling items he no longer needs for items he wants.
  95. There are other things we have considered but haven't yet tried (renting an extra room on Air BnB, going totally car-less, trading our house for someone else's in a vacation spot, etc).
  96. Each year we go through our list of bills and see if #1 we still need the bill (we dropped down to liability when we realized we didn't really need full coverage insurance on an old car) and #2 if we can call and get a better rate (like on our insurance or on our internet).
  97. When we find amazing things we take advantage of them and let others know about them as well (like a forever senior pass for national parks for only $10, or the free and amazing genealogy library in our city).
  98. We tend to rent or borrow bigger items that we don't need much (ie: we used to own a full sized refrigerator dolly, we would borrow or rent this sort of item now.  Ditto for special tools, etc).
  99. We have also found that it makes sense to rent a car when necessary.  Our car is great for around town but maybe not so great for a long road trip in which case we would rent a care instead of thinking we need to buy a new more dependable car).
  100. When I need inspiration I generally find it online (basically I listen to Dave Ramsey until I get myself back on track).
  101. We don't shop for entertainment.  We used to, but this makes us spend a lot more money than when we look at shopping like a strategic business move.
Overall we are very satisfied and happy with our lives.  While some of these things might seem like a lot of work (or just plain odd) they actually become habitual, easy ways to save money over the long run.


  1. This is great! I printed it and tweeted it too!

  2. I like your list - my favourite is #73!

  3. Your style is so unique in comparison to other people I
    have read stuff from. Thank you for posting when you've got the opportunity, Guess I will just bookmark this page.