e in The Atlantic, How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America, and one in the New York Times, The New Poor: Millions of Unemployed Face Years Without Jobs, and in light of the beliefs we career counselors quietly admit among ourselves, ever more formerly middle-class Americans will have to work for $10 an hour. That's $20,000 a year.
I honestly believe I could live and live decently on $20,000 a year. Here's how.
If you can live on $20,000 a year, you can survive even as a Wal-Mart greeter or be able to pursue a creative career instead of a remunerative but dulling one.
The good news is that with a little smarts, you can more than survive on $20,000 a year. I have done that and still do many of the things I'll suggest here:
Basically, it comes down to digs, wheels, and heals.
Take the extra time to find a great deal on digs, a place to live. For example, tell everyone you know you're a good tenant looking for a good deal on an apartment, backyard cottage, etc. When I came to Berkeley, I was able to unearth a rental listed by a widow living in a mansion who was nervous about living alone. So I got to live in a Berkeley Hills palace for $85 a month. Okay, that was in 1973, but in today's dollars, that's still just $439.
Wheels? From a private party, buy a few-year-old Toyota. (Hondas and Subarus are good too.) They are the most reliable, long-lasting cars. Over my lifetime, my family members and I have had a half dozen Toyotas and they've averaged over 200,000 reliable miles. And all I do is take it to a quick oil-change place every 5,000. I've never done the "routine scheduled maintenance" and nary a consequence. Keep your cars until they drop and you'll save a fortune.
Heals? Well, if I did work for Wal-Mart for at least 24 hours a week, my kids and I would get $1500-deductible health care coverage for just a dollar a day. And Wal-Mart kicks in another $500 a year for uncovered expenses. But let's make things difficult. Let's assume my employer didn't provide health benefits and no family member could include me on their plan. The smart money these days is on Kaiser--it's the most tied-into ObamaCare. And you can get a decent individual plan for a few hundred bucks a month. I looked up plans for me, a 62-year-old male, an expensive category. They range from $317 to $723 a month depending on deductible and co-pay. Kaiser adds dental coverage for just $25 a year. Google "Kaiser individual plan" to get to the correct page on Kaiser's website. Importantly, most good docs I know are opting to work for Kaiser because they incur no start-up or malpractice-insurance costs, and the work hours are livable.
Just those three things--digs, wheels, and heals--get you down to $20,000 annual living expenses, especially if you do these less central things:
Get clothes at Wal-Mart, Target, Ross, consignment stores, or thrift shops like Goodwill or Salvation Army. Choose carefully and you can look great for little. My wife has bought $1,000 designer dresses at consignment shops for under $100, usually well under.
Ironically, healthy food is among the least expensive: vegetables and fruits, whole-grain bread, canned tuna, peanut butter, etc.
Recreate cheaply: Instead of going out for $20 dinners and $8 drinks, invite friends over for dessert or your secret-recipe cheddar cheese popcorn. Go on a hike or play ball instead of an expensive sport like golf or skiing. Borrow books and videos from the library. Read and watch YouTube videos on the Internet. Have sex.
Many people resist living this way, not because their quality of life would be bad but because of a desire for status, a desire to appear wealthier. But if someone thinks less of you for living modestly, s/he has shallow values, hardly a person for whom you should change your lifestyle, let alone to a career you'd like less.
Key to living well on less is recognizing that status-seeking is the enemy of contentment.
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