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Family of 5 Lives On Under $1,000 A Month

Earlier in the year I found the blog of an amazing lady who feeds herself and her 4 daughters on $800 a year.

Well, the frugality-one-upsmanship just never ends! Recently I stumbled onto Emily’s blog: Under $1,000 A Month. Emily is a 25-year-old woman with a husband and 3 young children. This family of 5 lives on under $1,000 a month in Maine.

Here is her monthly budget breakdown:

Rent: $600.00
Phone: $6.09 (low income reduced)
Internet: $19.99
Auto Insurance: $31.22
Electric: $27.00
Satellite Radio: $12.95
Total Fixed Expenses: $697.25

That leaves us $282.75 for food, gas, any auto repairs, birthdays, and holidays, unforeseen needs, and investments. This is more than enough.

One thing I noticed was that her budget doesn’t include health insurance (although I’m not sure if she is covered by a government program). A major health issue would wipe her out. Even though ERs are required to offer emergency health services to anyone who comes, regular checkups (health, vision, and dental) are critical. I also don’t see disability or life insurance for her husband, who is the main source of the family’s income.  Those are two of the biggest “holes” I see in her budget.

Still, I am in awe of Emily’s budget skills - I cannot imagine how she does it. However, I (and I imagine most Americans) would not aspire to her lifestyle.

I want to have a financially comfortable life, with big travel adventures, nice meals out, a dog and a house. I want to go to graduate school down the road. If I have a child, I’d like to pay for part of his/her college education. I like having savings and investments and good health insurance. All of the above takes money.

Emily and I might have made radically different choices and hold different philosophies in our approach to life, but I admire her dose of budgeting discipline and I find her blog very interesting to read (especially because it’s snapshot of a world so different from mine). Ah, the power of the blogosphere!

  • RainyDaySaver - I've just taken a look at it, it is quite the interesting read. From a financial standpoint only, her budgeting skills are amazing. And I would love to know if other Walmarts are selling apples for 6 CENTS a pound! ReplyCancel

  • FabulouslyBroke.com - I saw her blog and found it to be fascinating

    I'm aspiring to get under $1000 a month just for ONE person. Not a family!! Amazing.

    But ultimately, living on THAT low of expenses, is too much for me.

    I love food too much, and she's definitely not buying organic, or high end cuts of meat here, or making really intricate meals (something BF and I like to do).. ReplyCancel

    • WellHeeled - I love food too! But I think that just as good food, or expensive hobbies, or extensive travels are priorities for people (who have willingly made tradeoffs in other areas of their lives for them), having a large family is a priority for Emily. And so she's making some *really drastic* cuts in her life to "afford" her kids.

      Emily also seem to have a different philosophy that I don't necessarily agree with. I just really hope she gets insurance. ReplyCancel

  • SavingDiva - Wow! This makes me feel like I spend SO much money! :) Thanks for the links. ReplyCancel

  • Financial Samurai - I think it's amazing as well! I'm currently writing a post discussing the responsibility of having children if financially you have difficulty supporting yourself.

    Should be a good debate! ReplyCancel

    • WellHeeled - That sounds very interesting! Here's what I wonder – is a couple who makes $250K but lives above their means and has $500K in debt any more "responsible" than a couple who lives within their means at $10K income? Would society frown more upon the former couple with, say, 5 kids, than the latter? Or the other way around?

      I think the kids of the first couple would have a higher standard of living, but that might be a different debate all together. ReplyCancel

  • girlmakescents - That was interesting for sure. It is good that she can budget so well. She seems to enjoy doing it as well! But it's not the life I would want to live. I enjoy food too much, and I like to give gifts and have some entertainment. That kind of life would just be too stressful for me, what if something happened? ReplyCancel

  • Carrie On The Cheap - I agree with FB about the organic thing – for the most part. When people say they spend that little on food, it's a dead giveaway that it's cheap, packaged food on sale that week. Sure I can make off brand hamburger helper every night for my family if I want them to injest that "food" everyday, but that's pretty unhealthy. Every person needs fresh fruit, veggies, grains, and dairy. Good quality food, like FB said, is also important for certain things. I didn't read too much into her blog because it frustrated me so much, but I would never put my 3 kids health in the hands of the government (I think she said she could rely on government health support if there was an emergency). When you bring children into this world, it's your responsibility – not the government's – to provide and care for them. In the end, I disagree with a lot of ways that she lives her life.ReplyCancel

    • WellHeeled - I think her blog definitely gives me food for thought, but I agree that her life isn't one that I want to live. I think one can stay true to one's faith or personal philosophies and still achieve a financially comfortable life. ReplyCancel

    • Guest - Maybe she grows the majority of fruits and vegetables that her and her family consume. Did you consider that her family may not eat meat everyday? There are plenty of ways to get adequate nutrition on a budget. I'm not familiar with Maine's hunting and fishing laws but maybe Emily's husband fishes/hunts. You do not know this woman, I'm sure she doesn't feed her family all those unhealthy processed foods. ReplyCancel

  • Sarah - There are some great budgeting skills, though I have to ask why she pays $12.95/month for satellite radio. In my opinion, it would be more worthwhile to cut that cost and put it towards the $287 she has left each month. To look at it from a higherarchy of needs, does some really need satellite radio when you have several mouths to feed? ReplyCancel

    • Investing Newbie - That is exactly what I thought. It just seems like the odd ball expense that could definitely be cut. ReplyCancel

    • WellHeeled - I think she mentioned somewhere that only satelite radio has a program that her husband likes to listen to (Fox News?), and that's the only luxury he asks for so they decided to make room for it. ReplyCancel

    • Anna - $12.95 is 1% of her $1,000 budget, it's not really a huge deal. ReplyCancel

      • Sarah - If you think of it as only 1% of her montly budget, it may not seem bad. But you could put it other perspectives–it is half a tank of gas or if she saved it in a saving account with interest, she would accumulate over $150/year. To each his/her own. Overall, I think she is doing well. I just found it to be an odd thing to waste money on. ReplyCancel

  • Moneyreasons - Speaking from an average middle class family perspective, I wouldn't want to live that way. The same way I wouldn't want to live an amish lifestyle. They are too frugal for me (the only thing more frugal that her lifestyle is the amish and freegans).

    I make enough money that I couldn't justify the sacrifice in my families lifestyle to accomplish a goal such as theirs. After all, when kids are involved, and to be so tight with money, they woudl lose out. Especially when I can afford to give them the things I believe would optimize their childhood. Still, based on what she says, they don't make much money, so that's very admirable of her! She's going a great job of living within her means though!

    I want my kids to play sport, go to special events in life (like a Disney vacation), do fun things, and enjoy healthy foods, etc! When kids are involved, the dynamics of frugality changes… After all, your kids are only kids once in life, and those memories can't be bought later in life! So buy that camcorder and record those special moments! You'll thank yourself later in life (I have!). ReplyCancel

  • Emma - How on earth is car insurance so low?? We would be lucky to find car insurance for under $200!

    I also can't imagine how investments would be covered with the under $300 that they're using for actual living expenses! For two people, we spend more than that on food each month, and we aren't exactly buying expensive things!

    I wouldn't be able to live on that amount as part of a family – $1000/month for me alone, ok sure, I could do that if absolutely necessary, but that is also assuming I'm splitting costs with someone else! Rent isn't exactly cheap in my area! ReplyCancel

  • Red - I'm at $510 a month just for myself. I cannot imagine how they are able to live on $1,000 a month! That's quite impressive.

    "That leaves us $282.75 for food, gas, any auto repairs, birthdays, and holidays, unforeseen needs, and investments. This is more than enough."

    I just can't even imagine $282.75 being enough for food for a family of 5. I was part of a family of 5 growing up, including two younger brothers. They probably ate $300 in groceries by themselves! So bravo to them! ReplyCancel

  • Money Funk - I didn't read the whole story – but here is this saver – she does home schooling with the children – big, big money saver.

    It sounds like they may live in a more rural area – if this is the case – again it is a big money saver. They are not persuaded, as much, by the shopping bug that is comparable to someone living in the city.

    Still in all, that is quite a job she has on her hands to make it work with that kind of budget and may find some good guidance for anyone looking to stay on budget. :) ReplyCancel

    • WellHeeled - I can definitely see how homeschooling and childcare costs can be saved because Emily stays home with her boys (especially because all 3 of them are so young). ReplyCancel

  • jj1 - I also think that she is able to live on so little because she gets government help in the form of reduced phone (landline) bills and probably electrical as well. Plus low income qualifies the children for low cost medical programs. You just have to be very poor to get these "benefits" and this family probably qualifies. ReplyCancel

  • Amy - The $1,000.00 a month is somewhat disingenuous. They pay no income tax but due to the EITC and the child tax credit most likely get a very large tax return. That is probably what sees them through any shortfalls or emergencies. Not having insurance for 3 small children is scary to me. I am very accident prone and was a sickly child if not for insurance it would have cost my parents an ungodly amount of money to keep me healthy and in good repair. Reading some of her older posts I think she is vastly underestimating the cost of the size family she wants as well as the costs of homeschooling. If they can make it work good for them but I would never want to live my life or raise children that way. ReplyCancel

  • Heidi - too bad she's a crazy religious NUT! Anyway, I hail from Maine (thankfully I moved far far away for college), and I have to say that living in Maine is really cheap if you don't own a home, and auto insurance is very inexpensive because it's so rural (read boring). I simply cannot imagine however, choosing to live in poverty and never having any desire to better my kids futures. And they do not have A PENNY of retirement savings! Can you imagine? They think god is going to take care of them in retirement. Somebody should really smack them for that attitude! I really do feel sorry for those kids. ReplyCancel

    • WellHeeled - Emily did say that she and her husband don't plan to retire… I'd just be afraid of health issues that comes up. Especially with no health insurance. As for the kids, this might be unfair or .. I don't know (biased?), but like you, I think they are setting their kids up at a disadvantage. Money isn't it everything, until you don't have it. ReplyCancel

  • Miss M - I haven't checked out the blog yet, do they have any savings whatsoever? What about when that car breaks down, it doesn't sound like they could afford to fix it or to handle any other emergencies. I think it is possible to have a tiny food budget and still eat healthy, but it means growing a lot of your own produce. While that is feasible here in LA, I imagine Maine winters aren't very condusive to growing vegetables! ReplyCancel

  • paranoidasteroid - That's amazing, especially since Chad and I spend more than her leftover $282 just on food each month (for 2 of us!), and more than her total budget just on rent! ReplyCancel

  • Heidi - @Miss M: In Maine, you grow glorious gardens in the winter and can and/or freeze the veggies for winter. My mom buys literally NO groceries in the summer (with the exception of things like cereal, milk, and butter, stuff like that). She goes to her garden in the morning and picks fresh veggies for her lunch and dinner. So delicious!!! ReplyCancel

  • Tina - Families of four in Argentina live on just about that…. and have to deal with hyperinflation. Necessity breeds creativy though, and people manage. ReplyCancel

  • retireby35 - Very interesting blog, I agree with the concerns about health insurance and retirement savings. Doesn’t seem like it is possible for her to survive without the government help she is also getting in the form of tax credits, low income utilities, etc… But overall, spending much less than we earn can be something to aspire to from reading her posts.

    Another very interesting blog I read that also deals with spending much much less is http://earlyretirementextreme.com I believe the author there goes through how to live on 6,000 per year. Crazy stuff. Hah to me minimized expenses is 2,000 per month (assuming health insurance costs 600 to buy).
    .-= retireby35´s last blog ..My First Cynic =-.ReplyCancel

  • Liz - She was too extreme for me, personally. Very defensive as well. I agree wholeheartedly on setting priorities and that everyone's are different. I also completely agree with setting budgets, living within your means, and making the best of your life. I just found her blog extremely defensive if someone didn't agree with her position on whatever she happened to be blogging about. If people made alternate suggestions, she was not a happy camper.

    I also agree that she's too much of a zealot for me. I don't give religion a second thought – everyone believes in something, to a different degree, or even nothing at all. To each his own. It seemed like to me (and certainly several others) that she is stifling her children, not letting them be free as they get older, a goal of 10 children and buying a 250 square foot movable home? Living in one room? Home schooling because in her words "no one knows more than she does in teaching her children." It's just not realistic for me. ReplyCancel

  • Jenny - My family of 5 lives on roughly 700 dollar a month. We are Swedish and everything here is at least twice as expensive as in the US. Thank god that health insurgence and education is provided by the state. The students only have to bear the costs of commuting and supplies like books and pens. Everything else, from food to clothing is around double the cost. This womans budget is in no way unreasonable. though it also means you can't be picky about things as clothing and food. If the potatoes are on sale they you eat a week long potato's and you simply get creative with preparing them. It also helps to eat a lot of your meals without meat and be as variable with the veggies as possible. No cable tv and prepay telephone also helps. So does growing a fair part of your own veggies and baking your own bread. I wish I had 1000 to spend each month.
    ReplyCancel

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