How We Lived Well on $17,000 as a Family of Four – If you are living on a low income check out how this family made it work and even managed to buy a house on $17,000! It’s inspirational!
Every other week, that paycheck would hit our bank account: $708.
That was all the money that we had to pay for rent, gas, bills, food… everything, for 14 days until the next $708 paycheck would come in. We were a one income household of four people living on $17,000 each year.
And we wanted it that way.
Early on in our marriage, my husband and I decided that we wanted to homeschool our children, which would mean that I needed to stay home with them. I was happy to do so. But that left our family in a very tight financial situation.
If he got paid based on how hard he work, my husband would be a millionaire. Sadly, that isn’t how it works. And in a tough economy and a new area, he took the first job he could get. He made $11/hour for 3 years while supporting our family all on his own.
He never once resented me or told me to go get a job. Never once did he complain about shouldering the entire burden of our income on his own. But despite all of his hard work and sacrifice, we still lived far below the poverty line.
Incredibly, we made it work. It actually wasn’t until someone commented that they were shocked about how little we made that it really hit me: we were poor. We were really poor.
But we never felt poor.
We always had food, clothes, shelter and more. All of our needs were met.
We didn’t have the newest phones or the latest iPads. Everything that we did have had been given to us when someone upgraded their phone or laptop. We canceled cable in 2010 and got Netflix and Hulu. We only had one car that I bought when I was still in high school. When we moved from our tiny 1-bedroom, 682 square foot apartment into a 2 bedroom townhouse with the same square footage, it felt like we were moving into a palace.
Our lives were simple. But we didn’t know any differently.
We got married, moved in together, and had our first baby all after our first year of college. So we never knew lives of spending all of our paychecks on dinners and maxing out credit cards. Our lives together started with needing to learn and grow fast.
How we lived on $17,000 as a family of four.
First, we cut out spending for fun (or cut it back a LOT).
We had to be very particular about our finances. On such a small budget, we couldn’t just go spending money buying everything that we wanted all the time. We knew that we didn’t have the money in our budget for “fun money” and we were ok with that.
For you: cut out or scale WAY back on your “fun” spending.
You’re going to thank me for this one. Do you spend money when you’re bored? It’s ok, a lot of us do!
But instead of going on a shopping spree at the mall or on Amazon, set aside $20 each week for fun money for you. I know, it’s a small amount. But you can still have plenty of fun with $20. And if you want to spend on something more expensive, you will need to practice some patience and save up for it.
Little by little, you’ll start to notice yourself thinking about the money that you spend. It will take some time, but you will see it happen!
We only ate what we cooked.
Going out to dinners and buying food for lunches stopped when we got serious about our finances. All of our meals were home cooked (and, bless my husband, he ate all of the food that I cooked when I was a new wife!).
For you: Start meal planning.
Wait, before you think I want you to spend hours and hours looking up recipes and making lists, I pay $5 per month for a specialized meal planning service. And it’s the best $5 I ever spent! It saves me hours and hours of research and list making.
- FREE meal planning workshop and meal plans
- The meal planning that I use (and LOVE!)
- My favorite cookbook for super-cheap dinners.
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We stopped trying to keep up with the Joneses.
“Comparison is the thief of joy!” We needed to stop looking at what other people had and wishing that we could have it. Being unsatisfied with what we had, did nothing for us except make us angry and bitter.
For you: put on your budget blinders.
When you need to focus on your budget, it can be tough to ignore everyone else around you losing their minds over the latest iPhone. You will hit the stages of grief over the latest and greatest gadgets, clothes, jewelry, and anything else that really makes you want to throw away your budget.
No matter what, just keep your eyes on the prize! Put on your blinders to the rest of the world and focus on your goals.
Remember, no one can reach your goals except for you!
We looked for more ways to make it work with our current situation.
Our sons shared a room. We lived in a 1 bedroom, 600 square foot apartment (before baby #2 arrived) until we could afford to move out. Most of the meals we ate included a lot of beans and rice and lots of cheap filler food like lentils, pasta, and bread. We only ever bought clothes from Salvation Army and Goodwill. Being so poor helped us to find ways of being frugal that we still use now!
For you: find the alternatives that will stretch your budget.
If something is important to you, you will find ways to make it fit into your new budget.
For example, if you really value organic food, you don’t need to shop only at Whole Foods. Aldi and Costco have a great selection of organic options at a much lower price.
If you really value Michael Kors’ purses, you don’t need to buy a brand-new bag. There are always purses for sale on eBay, Zulily, and even at your local consignment store.
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We didn’t let being poor keep us from working toward a better future.
While making $17,000/year, we knew that we wanted to buy our own home and grow our family. Without any financial support from anyone, we buckled down, saved up for a down payment, and bought our first house. We worked hard to save every penny that we could to make our goal a reality.
And we did.
On just $17,000/year, we were able to save up enough money to buy our first home. It isn’t our dream house, but it fits all of our needs perfectly.
That has really become our motto in life: as long as it fits our basic needs, we’re fine!
If there is ever anything that I’m glad that we learned from our time way below the poverty line, it’s that separating your needs from your wants is crucial to surviving life on any budget.
Do you really need granite countertops? No, you just need a kitchen.
Do you really need the newest iPhone each year? No, you don’t really need a smartphone but you can use the downgrade that your friend has.
Do you really need to shop at Whole Foods? No, Aldi and Costco have the same quality food for a much lower price.
After living on $17,000 for 5 years as a family of 4, my husband got a much better job. But our thriftiness and frugality that we learned from those tough years have stayed with us.
If you are living on a low income and feeling overwhelmed, the answer isn’t to just get more credit cards. The answer is to really figure out the differences between wants and needs in your family life.
Yes, you will need to say “no” to a lot of things, but living life to the fullest regardless of your income is so worth it!
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What is the best lesson that you learned about money when you were struggling?
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