Living on $17,000, What Our REAL Budget Looked Like
My family of four lived off of $17,000. It’s true. My husband, our 2 children, and I lived off of one income. And we still managed to build a savings account, buy 2 cars, and buy a house!
It’s a little unbelievable and completely unfathomable, I know. But I want to share with you some REAL numbers. These aren’t just “hypothetical” numbers. This was our real life.
Why on earth would I want to share this with you?
Because I know so many people are living off of a low income and feeling like everything is impossible for them. It’s not, I promise. I used to search high and low on Pinterest for other people living off of such a low income and I couldn’t find it.
If you’re living on a low income, let me share with you that there IS hope. There is a way to get ahead! I’m not going to tell you that it’s easy. It’s tough work. But having a goal is the best motivator. We didn’t get on Welfare, food stamps, or any kind of public assistance. We always felt that other people needed it more than we did.
Our motivator: we wanted to buy a house, and stop living paycheck-to-paycheck wondering if when we swiped the debit card, it would say “declined.”
Here are the real numbers.
(These are the take-home, after-tax amounts.)
Income: $654 paycheck every other week, $1,308 monthly (health insurance was deducted automatically, $100 per paycheck)
Rent: $685 (rent included all utilities!)
Car Payment: $100
Insurances (life, car, renters): $125
Total spent: $1,218
Minimum amount put in savings: $90
We rented a tiny 650 square foot 1-bedroom apartment that included all utilities for $685 a month. Everything was included: water, trash, electric, internet… it was great. When it got to be cramped (there were only 3 of us at the time), we lucked out and found an 850 square foot 2-bedroom, 1.5 bath townhouse (which felt like a palace compared to the tiny apartment!) for the same price… AND it included all utilities too! (We got incredibly lucky with that!)
After our first-year’s lease was up in our townhouse, they upped the rent to $725, but still included utilities. We figured that it was still worth the extra $40 a month to stay there since we knew we’d never find another place that covered all utilities for that low price!
*Since moving out of that townhouse 3 years ago, the rent in the same place is now $850 and they don’t cover utilities at all! There’s been a HUGE hike in rental prices here!*
Our car was paid off within 1 year (it was my car before we were married, so we only had another year on my car loan). Once it was paid off, that money went into savings.
We lived as a one-car family for 2 years before feeling comfortable enough to buy a second car. With some careful planning and coordination, we were able to make it so that I could take my husband to work and pick him up when I needed the car. Other days, he just took the car and I stayed home.
This worked out for the best when we were strapped for money. This way there was no way for me to leave and spend money!
Once we had enough saved up and we felt like we could handle the added expense, we bought a car that kept our monthly payments right around where they were for our first car.
Insurances (life, car, renters)
We didn’t skimp on insurance. That’s always been non-negotiable for me. If something happened to my car, my house, or my husband, and I didn’t have any insurance, I’d be in real trouble. If my car was totalled without insurance, I’d never be able to try to repair it, or get another one right away.
Renters (and homeowners) insurance are incredibly important as well. If there’s a flood and everything in your first floor is underwater, do you want to fork out the likely $20,000 (or more!) worth of repairs and replacements? I know I don’t!
It’s even scarier to think about what would happen if my husband were to die. No one likes to talk about death, I know. But it’s true. With him as our one income, what happens if he’s not there? Life insurance gives everyone peace of mind if the worst should happen. No one should need to grieve and worry about paying their bills.
At any income, make insurance a priority!
I get my insurance (and banking and mortgage) through USAA!
We hardly left our little town. We lived a 5-minute drive away from my husband’s work. Our grocery store was literally across the street from our house. And we visited family once a month, which meant that we needed 1 tank of gas to visit my family, and 2 tanks of gas to visit my husband’s family.
We also found lots of road trip money savers over the years to help us save money when we’re travelling.
We didn’t have cable, but we had the internet (included in our utilities) and we got Netflix. I’ve had my Netflix account since (wait for it) 2007! I swear by Netflix if you’re looking for a reason to break up with cable!
We didn’t go out to eat, or go on dates. If my husband was able to work any overtime, we got to have a date at Panera and the rest went into savings. We did other things to afford going out on a budget. We got creative when we wanted to go out with friends.
How we saved
We worked hard to stay under-budget with groceries and gas. When we did, everything that was saved, went to building up our savings account. We got on a budget and we stuck to it. We set up our 6 bank accounts that changed our life. Automatic withdrawal is the best invention of the 21st century!
We also had to figure out how to make our marriage of a saver and a spender work. After a lot of trial-and-error, we figured out that the best thing to do was to make my husband have his own bank account since he was the spender in our relationship, and his spending wasn’t helping us get out of our paycheck-to-paycheck rut.
I’ve said it once, but it’s worth saying again: living on a low income is hard. And if you’re struggling right now, I want to give you a hug! It’s tough work changing your situation. But it’s so well worth it!
Saving up money to buy our house was the best decision that we ever made. It proved that we were capable of getting out of our situation. All of our hard work made us love our house that much more. We worked so hard to get our fixer-upper house and build our savings account! Sleeping in our own house and knowing that we have the ability to financially handle if something bad happens, makes all of the penny pinching, overtime hours, beans and rice dinners, and everything else that we did worth it.
What do you do to live on a low income?
Is life insurance for just your husband or you too? Curious to see.
I get life insurance for the both of us, Felicia. While my husband is the only “breadwinner” in our family, if I were to die, my husband would be stuck with taking care of our three children on his own. I want to know that no matter what, my family is always taken care of financially.
Thank you for responding. Appreciate it
I don’t believe you. There is no way 3 people can live on $200 a month worth of groceries, not to mention toiletries. I don’t know what city you live in but it must be somewhere in the country to pay $685 including utilities and internet. Or you rented from a relative.
I wish we rented from a relative, we probably could’ve paid even less! But our closest relative is an hour and a half away… but we got really lucky with the rental agency we went through. Believe it or not, we really did live off of $200 a month in groceries for our family of 4. Now that we have 5 people (and 4 of them are hungry boys and my husband), my weekly grocery budget is $75 which brings our monthly grocery budget to $300. We live in Central PA, so it’s not a major city. I know that none of that is possible in a big city!
We lived in a city and paid similar bills. When she says beans and rice she means it! It’s possible, no one starved, the kids grew and my spare tire is gone. And I agree that the biggest, longest battle was being content with what we had. It’s something you have to learn on any income.
Brandy @ The Prudent Homemaker says
I’ve fed my family of 9 for as low as $100 a month. Now we’re a family of 10 and we average $300 a month (including toiletries and cleaning supplies). It’s doable. I have menus and write out what we buy on my website if you want to learn to lower your grocery budget.
Thank you for this great article! My hubby and I are a 1 income family for now, and we live on just a little more of an income than yours, but not by much. It’s encouraging to see it can be done. We are slowly climbing our way from a mountain of debt. Thank you for your encouragement. 🙂
Created Well @ The AntiBlog says
Hi Caroline! Thanks so much for this. I notice there is are no debt payments nor cell phone payments. Do you all not have any debt and did you live without cell phones?
We were fortunate enough to live without any credit card debt or school loans. We also used prepaid cellphones for a long time until we could get onto a friend’s family plan.
This post makes me feel better. My gross salary is about 24K but when you take out taxes and health insurance, and then put a bit of money into a 401(k) it comes out to under 20K. I’ve got myself a roommate to help with bills – we have a one bedroom apartment so I have my bed in the living room which is now kind of like my bedroom too. I found the shortest distance to drive to work and since it’s not via the highway, I drive slower and use less gas. I use fuel points that I get from shopping at a certain grocery store and that saves me money there too.
I also try to get side hustles and save that money too when I can. Unfortunately I do have a small credit card balance and a car loan so i concentrate on paying those on time and pay more than the minimums. Every little bit helps!
And I find a lot of free or very low cost things to do to entertain myself. Reading (books from the library) or coloring, or taking a walk or exercising at the nearby gym (Planet Fitness so the dues are low). I don’t go out much but that’s okay. I am pretty happy with my life.
Oh, and I blog too!