I lived on $20,000 last year. I wasn’t poor.

(But it was awesome!)

Courtesy Niels Steeman on Unsplash
Photo by Jordan Whitfield on Unsplash

The Caveats (aka Privileges & Luck):

  • I am university educated (with an utterly worthless B.Arts) plus a raft of additional lower qualifications
  • I’m blessed with natural intelligence, I am able-bodied, free from injury & illness, and possess valuable traits such as adaptability and self-confidence
  • I have been married meaning I was one half of a ‘DINK’ (Double Income, No Kids), although there was that 8 months of unemployment during the GFC when the bankers f**ked everything for the entire world
  • My ex-husband and I overpaid to enter the housing market in 2009. I haven’t always lived in the property but I currently have stable accommodation owned by the bank. (More on this below)
  • I have no children. Repeat: I do NOT have dependents! (This is by choice and is a significant factor for my living on less)
  • I have broad skills and can mostly get some kind of work when I want it, and those times I couldn’t, well…I’m grateful for the social security safety net

On the other hand:

  • I was born into a ‘working poor’ family, and grew up with a single mother and 3 siblings. I left home at 17. There was no silver spoon!
  • I’m not especially gifted and don’t possess any specialist expertise
  • I’ve never had a job with a base salary above $47,000, but I have worked in a developing country for $100/week (which practically made me a millionaire by comparison)
  • I have a HECS-HELP debt and have never participated in any sophisticated tax avoidance — I’ve never even used an accountant!

The 10 Principles for Living on Less (and loving it!)

These 10 principles* are how I managed to live well on approximately one quarter of average full time earnings. From the banal to the downright radical to plain common sense, there’s a lot we can do to get out of the rat race if that’s what we truly want.

1. No Debt

I mentioned I was married. My ex-husband is one of the most frugal and financially responsible people I have ever met. When we met I owed my Mum money and I had thousands in credit card debt. I was wasteful with money. I made minimum monthly repayments and had very little concern about my financial future.

Photo byAlice Pasqual on Unsplash

2. Leverage the Bank — like the big guys do!

Yes I have a mortgage. I know this is in direct contradiction to Rule #1. But everyone’s gotta live somewhere, and in 2009 my ex-husband and I made a smart purchase of a simple one bedroom apartment in an upcoming area close to the city. We paid way too much, but it seems there’s never a good time to buy in a real-estate obsessed country with generous investor tax breaks.

3. Downsize

This is where some people will decide the freedom of living on less isn’t for them. Personally, downsizing is totally aligned with my values. I’m not materialistic and the people in my life don’t determine my worth by the stuff I own (or rather, bought on credit).

4. Convenience is Expensive

There’s convenience that makes space for more of what matters, and there’s convenience we’re trained to want because someone can profit from it. The former is smart living, the latter is an enormous waste of money for very little return.

I’m paying myself twice.

Remember, it’s about prioritising what matters to you. I’ll pay more for a flight with a better connection, and skip the home-delivered pre-prepared dinners.

5. Save as Much as You Can

I set myself a New Year’s goal in 2017 to save a minimum of 10% of my income. I knew that wouldn’t be much money, so I set a ridiculous stretch goal of $500/month. Keep in mind my total income for the tax year was under $20,000! I was very shocked in October when I realised I’d actually saved well in excess of the stretch amount each month for the previous 3 months. I’d returned mid-year from my holiday to Indonesia with a depleted bank account, but was very fortunate to be offered a steady stream of work on different freelance gigs. I went back to living simply and ploughed all the leftover into my offset account to replenish my savings.

6. No, I don’t need a new iPhone

Or Netflix, or a larger TV than the one I already own, or a refrigerator that’s connected to the internet, or underfloor bathroom heating, or a new outfit for every occasion, or a shaver club subscription. You get the idea.

These things are just distractions.

They’re novelties to keep you temporarily satiated so you don’t look around and notice your shitty life that sees you spending more time with your co-workers than your kids, or wondering why you’re always so damn tired and broke.

7. Reduce Your Expenses & Don’t Lock Yourself in to Ongoing Costs

This entire article is ultimately about reducing my cost of existing so I can actually live more. But it deserves its own category because of its exquisite beauty. By spending less, I don’t need to make as much money, which means I can work less, which means I have more time for the things I really want to be doing, and can use the money I do have to pay for stuff that adds real value to my life.

8. Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose

Together with Recycling, these are the 4R’s sustainability experts the world over have been banging on about for decades. Anyone who has ever found a treasure at an unbelievable bargain at the charity shop will tell you it’s more than the environment that wins when we find ways to keep using what we’ve already got.

Buy quality goods that you expect to last over time.

There’s a saying that “they don’t make ’em like they used to” and there’s no better example than (priceless) vintage car collections. Those things were built to last, and when they broke down they were able to be fixed with some spare parts and know-how. These days if your car gives up the ghost you’ll have to buy a new one.

Repurpose old stuff to make cool new stuff

9. Lower Your Standards, Live Consciously

Now we’re moving into uncomfortable territory. Some of you will be all like, “I’m out”, and to you I say take any or all of the above and run with it. For those of you keen to dig a little deeper and find other ways to live, take the red pill!

F**k being comfortable; I want to be free.

Much of how we live is driven by habit, cultural norms, the influences of our own parents’ ways of living, and sometimes because we’ve just never really thought much about it; it’s just done that way. Developing mindfulness about your habits can help highlight whether or not it’s something you prefer or need, or whether you’re just following the herd.

For me it’s about the bigger picture.

Perhaps the biggest investment I ever made in myself was travelling to and living in developing countries. It taught me first-hand what we can really live without, and ultimately what matters most to be happy….and free! I’m not suggesting I want to live in poverty, but if nothing else these people show us just how trivial our first world problems are when we can’t get a ‘decent coffee’ or the crappy NBN is slow. We’re a long way removed from the desperate survival mode of the 3.5 billion at the bottom of the pile, and I’m pretty sure that if one of those people were substituted into my life of ‘sacrifice’ of comforts they’d feel like the luckiest person in the world. #perspective

10. Radical Ideas

Ok, now for the really wild stuff. Maybe ease in to it!

  • I eat food past the use-by date all the time. Honestly I may have a stronger stomach than many because I lived in South East Asia and that’s a test of your mettle! But in most cases Use By/Best Before dates are indicative only, and often they’re part of marketing (convincing you to throw out the vinegar — a natural preservative — for example, so you buy another one).
  • Same goes for cosmetics only more so! Eye shadow goes off in 12 months? Really????
  • I pick overhanging fruit off my neighbours’ trees while I’m walking the dog. Lemons anyone? (There’s a movement called Freeganism, and Grow-Sell-Swap groups, and websites with maps telling you where to find free food)
  • I haven’t set it up yet but my neighbours and I will host a community garden so we can harvest our own fresh veggies
  • Hard rubbish is my friend. If I need something I’ll check out what my neighbours are throwing away. I love my ‘new’ sofa.
  • And finally….Dumpster Diving! OK so you’ve gotta jump in a bin around the back of a supermarket like a hobo but it’s a) very fun if you go with friends b) not illegal and c) a veritable treasure trove of edible food being wasted by supermarket chains which haven’t found more efficient ways to handle the abundance of food this moment in history has provided us. My friend made an entire gourmet 3 course meal using food from a dive. Nobody had a clue (and no they didn’t fall ill). Trust me; it’s nothing like the disgusting picture you have in your mind!

Wage slavery is for schmucks. Get an awesome life! :)

The Freedom of Living on Less

Reframing what we value — a world which is just, sustainable, and works for all people and planet Earth. Join the conversation!

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