Take it or leave it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


Time magazine came out with a figure that it takes around $245,000 to raise a child from birth to age 18. Which is roughly $12,000 per year, or $1,000 per month.

This seems really cheap. I thought because they excluded housing, which the parents would absorb. If you and your spouse have to pay rent in a one bedroom, and then you have a child and don't move, that child doesn't cost you anything in additional housing costs. But it seems that housing is factored, in. In fact, housing accounted for the majority of expenditures, 30% according to a pie graph featured in the article. Of course where you live influences the cost of living. It is more expensive to live in New York or Hawaii than in Oklahoma or Ohio. Forget about Los Angeles, where finding a one bedroom for under a grand is nearly impossible.

But still. $1,000 per month to live. And we could argue that a child has more necessary expenditures than an adult. Think pediatric visits (health care), clothing (which the child outgrows and which needs to be replaced), food (to feed a growing body) and compulsory education at least to high school, if not until graduation. And all those toys!

Which begs the question, is it possible to live on $1,000 per month as an adult. And if so, could one live comfortably? Time came out with another figure: the Average American spends $150 per week on food. That's $650 per month on eating alone. Of course, many eat at least a couple meals a week at restaurants, so this figure would be lower if you ate all meals exclusively at home. Probably closer to $100 per week.

When you think of it, $1,000 per month is quite a lot - if you factor out rent. Even spending $500 on food each month leaves you the same amount, or roughly $120 per week, on other expenses. But living so frugally may require major lifestyle makeovers. Since most people commute 30 minutes per day each week to work, often leaving their counties, and there are work-related expenses such as car, gas, clothes, and phone that tend to go up when you work outside the home (clearly).

But $1,000 per month is a good number to shoot for. When I was in medical school I spent about $1,000 a month, which broke down to $600 for rent and utilities, and like $1000 for food. It's a lot, but I was living in the West Indies and everything being imported nothing was cheap. Even living on canned beans was pricey. I was driving a used motorcycle I paid for in full, and since I had $2000 per month to live on, I was able to save up for school supplies and the occasional new pair of jeans. There were no malls or movie theaters, so temptations were at a minimum. Of course had I lived States-side the grocery bill would've gone down markedly, but the $500 in rent I was paying probably would have gone up.

So how to pare down the cost of living? I know you live frugally (and admirably), but in case you're looking to simplify, start by cutting unnecessary expenses. Ask yourself with each monthly purchase or expenditure: Is this absolutely necessary for me (in Fight Club's "Hunter/Gatherer
sense of the term), something you cannot possibly do without? You'll find that there is more superfluity than meets the eye.

I had this conversation with my father, who was thinking of retiring but wondered how he could live on $3,000 per month in social security. That's a grand sum, and with a few quick calculations we found that he probably could. Of course, he'd have to sell his precious Corvette and maybe get rid of a few pairs of shoes, but he owns like 100 patent leather office kicks, and they all look the same, so they wouldn't be missed. Maybe he'd give a pair to me, who haven't bought a pair of non-running shoes in perhaps a decade.

My point is, why be a slave to a way of life just to make ends meet when many of those ends are created by the very job you have? The solution can be the problem. People get so focused on making more money, when it is easier and more convenient to simply spend less.

By doing so, we can cut into the $3 trillion national debt, which at an individual level isn't much better: total student-loan debt is $830 billion, and total credit-card debt is about the same ($835 billion).

Talking about all the money we don't have can get really depressing really fast. I've got to stop reading Time. That's about $30 in yearly subscription fees saved. We'll get there yet!

Websites and app useful in the ridding of junk abound. Of course the mental clutter and emotional baggage are what we really need to toss in the recycling bin. Too bad there's no Salvation Army for the Soul.

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