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Living Cheap - Examples and Advice

By - 2006

Living more frugally doesn't mean being miserable, or giving up what you want. In fact, in my own case, it meant getting to do the things I really wanted to do. The less you spend on each thing or activity, the more of them you can have, right? So the key is to spend less and still get what you need and want. Here is how I managed it.

Living Cheap in a Mobile Home

My first house was a mobile home on a small lot. I bought it for less than $20,000, and had payments of $257 per month. Even with taxes, insurance and repairs, it cost less than rent. It had three bedrooms, an expanded living room, and a nice fenced-in yard. I eventually sold it for $45,000.

What really made it cheap, though, was two things that I did. First, I paid as much as I could on it when I was working. I owned it free and clear within five years, and from that point on it cost an average of $300 per month to pay for the utilities, phone, garbage collection, taxes, insurance, and repairs. That's living cheap.

The next thing I did made it even cheaper. I found that I could easily rent the other two bedrooms, and get $65 per week for one, and $75 or more per week for the other. I included all utilities, and found decent young guys to rent to. The rents added up to $600 per month, making this more than cheap living, and even better than free housing. I made $300 per month AND lived for free.


I found that I could work less, so I could get by without a car. That saved a lot of money. The occasional bus fare, and the used bicycle I bought didn't add up to a fourth of what it cost to have a car. I had to plan my trips around town a little better, but it was worth it.

During these years I never paid more than $40 for a piece of furniture. You have to know what is important to you. I paid $220 for a high-tech sleeping bag, because I liked ultralight backpacking. On the other hand, I couldn't tell the difference between a nice, clean used couch for $30 and one that cost $900.

One thing I found was that when I worked less, I had time to look around at my options. Time can save you a lot of money. I paid half of what others paid for groceries. When I did get a car, I found a repossessed one that was worth much more than I paid. I went to Ecuador for a month for $1,040 total, including all airfare, hotels, meals, a guided climb up a 21,000-foot mountain, and more. It was possible because I had the time to search for the deals.

I worked part-time jobs for years. I read books, played chess, wrote poetry. I traveled several times a year, and met the love of my life in South America (happily married for over eight years now). All this was possible not because I made a lot of money, but because I spent less than I made, and used the difference for the things that mattered to me.

This isn't a how-to guide. I explain how I traveled and bought things so cheaply in other articles. This example is simply to get you thinking about the possibilities, and point out some principles. The principles? Don't buy things you don't need. Find ways to pay less without getting less. Spend a little less time working and a little more time thinking. Stay out of debt. Know what is truly important to you, because this is what you can have more of by living cheap.

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