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The Mythical “Work-Life Balance,” and Living off $1000 per Month

Sal Santiago writes about travel, minimalism, philosophy, and living an alternative lifestyle.

How I downsized my life and now live on $1,000 per month.

How I downsized my life and now live on $1,000 per month.

Could you live off $1,000 per month or less?

Could you live off $1000 per month or less? Perhaps you would only need to work a part-time job to pay all of your bills. Just think of the freedom this would create. With this treasure trove of new time you'd have, you could begin doing more of the things you love.

There is a lot of talk of “work-life balance” these days, usually by companies that boast that if you work for them, you won’t have to take any work home. They never seem to take into account the imbalance of the five-days-working-but-only-two-days-off equation. There is no way there can be “balance” with this old, outdated schedule. How about four days working with three days free each week? This would begin to approach the idea of balance, to my mind. You'd have time to actually live your life, and not simply exist in recovery mode on your two-day weekend (with Sunday spent stressed out, drained, and dreading the fact that your work week starts all over again tomorrow).

So how can you do it? How can you downsize your life enough, shrink expenses, and create a whole new world of personal freedom, reaping health benefits of less stress and less time spent in a (possibly) toxic work environment?

Here is how I made it work for myself.

How to Downsize Your Life and Live on $1,000 Per Month

1. Reduce Rent

Rent will be your biggest expense.

With the cost of living becoming more and more unaffordable – rents reaching absurd levels – the smartest move you can make here is to go in the opposite direction. Decrease this expense as much as possible. Witness the rise of the tiny house dwellers, and the wave of people living in their car or van.

For me, I found a tiny room in a shared house situation in the Midwestern city I had moved to. A rooming house in a university neighborhood, for the lowest rent I could find = $350 per month.

Many of these apartments include all utilities and wifi. I save tons each month eliminating these expenses.

The place came furnished, with a small bed, shelves, a desk table and chair. This room had previously been a storage space in the house. The management fixed it up, and added a locking closet space just outside the room, which MN state renters code required in order for them to rent the room legally. I’d lucked out to find such a low rent. (And after two years, when I moved out, the management company raised the rent to $450).

You can find these cheap, alternative living situations, in a shared house, or rooming house, and in some cases efficiency apartments, in many university neighborhoods around the country. I was hesitant at first to live in a shared house, since I’m someone who loves living alone and having my own space. But I had enough personal space and privacy here, and I soon warmed up to the situation.

Another perk was becoming friends with a few of the other tenants. There was a writer and retired former adjunct creative writing professor, a grad student from Korea, a guy from China with a geology degree who worked the night shift at the airport, a grouchy retiree who kept the house in order and made sure the place was clean and well-maintained. And didn’t hesitate to get on management’s case if anything needed to be taken care of. There were a few colorful characters living there, and it made for a fun, convivial atmosphere, having chats with them while cooking meals in the shared kitchen.

Most units in the house were $500 or less. If you can keep your rent under $500/month, you are doing great. In addition, as a minimalist, your tiny place will be so easy to keep clean, and will make things easy when it’s time to move in, or time to bail out.

2. Get Rid of Your Car

For many people, the second biggest expense is probably the car. For me, I choose not to own a car, and get around mostly on foot and by bicycle. I had a Zipcar membership which costs about $7 per month. In the city I lived in, there were plenty of these cars available, if I needed to drive somewhere for a couple hours, or for the day. Gas is paid for by the company.

3. Drastically Cut or Reduce Expenses

After rent, my other basic fixed expenses: phone, gym membership, student loans.

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The monthly phone bill was about $40. I had bought the cheapest phone, under $50, as I only need it for the occasional call, and a little bit of texting. Always go for the lowest monthly rate possible.

I bought a gym membership, which broke down to about $50 per month.

I haven’t owned a TV in years, so no overpriced cable packages needed. I also am not a big movie person, so no subscriptions to any video services. Usually, most things I want to watch, I can find for free online.

Refraining from spending money on books, and making good use of my library card, has saved me a ton of money. Whatever book I want to read, my local library could order it to be transferred, and would have it in a few days or weeks. For entertainment – find things to do that are free. I like to spend as much time as possible outdoors: walking, bike-riding, hiking on trails. Little or no cost for these kind of things.

After these expenses, I was left with about $500 for the month, or $125 per week. I’ve found this to be enough for food, and anything else I would like to do. The occasional trip to a museum or a movie. And I eat well, and very healthy. I can buy enough fruits and vegetables each week, beans and rice, eggs, nuts, etc. The key here is to eat out only once in a while, and go to bars rarely. These are the places that consume much of your surplus cash. Before I had the gym membership (which is also a splurge and really not necessary), after grocery expenses, I could save $150-200/month on this Spartan budget. It can be done.

If you set yourself this goal, and are determined, you can live on $1000 or less each month. You will have to look hard at all of your expenses, and see where you can trim the fat.

My Story

I didn’t have a choice but to make this situation work, since I was working an AmeriCorps job where the monthly living stipend was less than $1000, right around the poverty level. At the end of that year, when the job assignment ended, I realized I could take a break and work about 20 hours/week at a part-time job, and made this living situation work for myself.

Not only will you feel great living a minimalist lifestyle, you will have unearthed 20 or so hours each week that you did not have before. This is massive, for the time it will allow you to focus and pour into your personal creative projects (writing, drawing, for me), starting your own business, or devoting hours each week to volunteering at the local animal shelter, or for another cause you are passionate about.

Having this extra time to devote to the things I love each week, has made me a happier person, and my stress level has dropped significantly. Happy and grateful for all of the small things in my life, more focused attention on the things that truly matter. For me, when you strip life down to the basics, the bare bones, you will find you don’t need much money at all to live a great life.

Maybe you will only live like this for a season, or a year or two, but it’s good to know alternative options are out there. Perhaps you live this way for a period of time, while you free up your time to complete a big project, such as a novel or a film, or a series of paintings or videos.

Now how about you – can you live off less each month? Or a little more ($1100, $1200/month)? It’s not so much about a fixed amount of money, as finding what works for you. Can you work part-time hours and earn enough to live well? That is the real challenge.

And if you can live on $1000 in the U.S., try moving to Thailand, or Bali, for example, and you will live like a King/Queen on the same amount. Or keep living a minimalist lifestyle and just save more money.

I’ve found this equation gets closer to the mythical “work-life balance.”


Sal Santiago (author) from Minnesota on February 13, 2020:

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Sal Santiago (author) from Minnesota on February 13, 2020:

Thanks for reading!

JC Scull on February 13, 2020:

Very interesting article, Sal.

Liz Westwood from UK on December 05, 2019:

This is an inspirational article. It gives great tips on how to cut spending. I'm not a great TV fan. We just use free to view channels. Anything more would be wasted on us. I am impressed at how you have adjusted your work/life balance.

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