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Friday, November 22, 2013

How I Lived on $1,400 a Month

Most people say it's uncouth to talk about how much money you make. I've never been very couth.

Once upon a time, I graduated from college with a degree in music education. It was my dream to be a band director. I later learned that it takes a special kind of person to be a band director, or any kind of teacher, and I wasn't actually that sort of special person. But before I learned that, I kept calling this particular Christian school about their band director position, and since they couldn't find anyone else, they eventually hired me. I started making more money than I'd ever seen before. I was taking home $1,400 a month. This was in 2004. In today's money, that is worth $1,732.67. So I think you can see that I was not rich. 

I keep all my old check registers. I wasn't using a cash system then, so now I can look back and see where I was spending my money and reconstruct my average budget for you.

Looking at an old checkbook is like reading through an old diary, but less embarrassing.

I was living in a town that was not very expensive to live in. I rented a two-bedroom apartment for $425. Some people might have thought it wasn't a very nice building, but I liked it. I actually liked that building for years before I even knew it was an apartment building. It was built in the '40's and had the charm that old buildings have. It had an impossibly narrow kitchen that was more like a very short hallway. It had a miniature stove, one drawer, maybe six cabinets, and no dishwasher. The bathroom had those black and white hexagon tiles on the floor and subway tiles on the walls. Quite charming.

I'm feeling nostalgic just thinking about it.

I didn't have a car payment because my parents had blessed me with a 12 year-old Saturn. They also blessed me with a washer and dryer that I put in the communal basement with the other washers and dryers. Let me tell you: In the 1940's, they knew how to build creepy basements. Sally Saturn. That car got great gas mileage. I realized that as I was looking back over my checkbook. Do you remember how cheap gas was in 2004? I could fill the tank for $15. I lived within five minutes of the school, my church, and almost every store I ever went to, so one month, I only put gas in the car once. My average gas budget was only $36. (Now we are spending $150): But that car had some problems. It didn't give a warning beep when you left the headlights on, so I had to have it jump-started a few times. The headliner was falling down. The mileometer had stopped turning at 182,000 miles. There was something weird stuck to the door that would not wash off. The roof leaked when it rained. It poured when you turned. It smelled mildewy and the inside of the windows would fog up because of this. It was a great car and we kept it until it was almost old enough to vote.

Monthly Budget
Take home pay: $1,400
Church giving: $220
Savings: $150
Rent: $425
Electricity: $43
Car gas: $36
Groceries: $182
Dining out: $13
Clothing: $42
Student Loan: $51
Cell Phone: $75
Blow Money: $15
Home decor/kitchen stuff: $100
Miscellaneous: $48

I had to guess about some of these things based on what stores were in the checkbook. I was spending a lot on home decor and kitchen stuff because it was my first apartment and I felt the need for it to be pretty. I didn't have all the things I wanted to have, but I was certainly blessed with a lot of furniture passed along by family. My great aunt died a few months before I got my first real job, so I was given a lot of her furniture. My parents let me take the furniture from my childhood bedroom, and my grandparents gave me some side tables and a TV. That pink plaid couch was not my favorite, but I could sit on it.

I'm sure I would have spent more on restaurants, but I had young men lining up to buy me dinner. Well. It was a very short line.

After six months, I had about $900 in savings. I wasn't sure how long my car was going to last, and I wanted to get aggressive in saving for a used car. So I got a roommate, and I was able to save $200 more each month.

My student loan payment was $51 because my loan was only about $3,000 total. My parents worked really hard to pay for most of schooling, which I didn't know at the time, but it was such a blessing. Thanks Mom and Dad! I had a few small scholarships, and I was able to put a little money towards school, though I have should spent less on clothes and movies so I could have contributed more. I didn't know.

I kept paying minimum payments on my student loan until I got married. I put all my extra money into my car fund. At that time, student loan interest rates were around 3%. I knew if I had to get a car loan, it would have a much higher interest rate. When I got married, I used the car fund to pay off the student loan, since David brought his savings account to the marriage.

If I had had a car payment, a child, or big student loans when I was single, this budget never would have worked. If you have those things, I am not judging you. But I think you would admit that those things make your money situation much more difficult. Thirty percent of single mom families live in poverty. If you don't have kids, car payments, or student loans, then avoid them like leprosy. (Unclean! Unclean!) Except, obviously, feel free to have as many children as you can afford when you're married. Go forth and populate the earth. 

If you think this could make a difference to a young person, please share it.

If you could tell something to your 18 year old self, what would it be?


  1. I'm 29 and my budget is similar. Married and a Homeowner tho. Very thrifty. Had a family that helped tons. I didn't make this house, or money the Lord is the sole reason I even breathe.

    1. God has blessed us! We depend upon Him.