Saturday, May 9, 2009

Financial Breakdown

“When you have bought one fine thing you must buy ten more, that your appearance may be all of a piece; but Poor Dick says, 'tis easier to suppress the first desire than to satisfy all that follow it.” –Benjamin Franklin

I wrote down every penny that I spent this semester. I have never managed my money so meticulously, but I felt that if I wished to avert bankruptcy then I ought to vigorously monitor my expenses.

These are my monthly expenses:

Van costs and fees - $71

The van was in exceptionally good shape and I sincerely believe I got a great deal for it ($1,500). I barely drove the thing (apart from a trip down to Charlotte) and didn’t need one repair.

This category does not include the cost of the van (because I know I will get my money back if I ever sell it) but it does include paying someone to watch my seats and someone else to watch the van for the summer among other small fees.

Gas- $23

This number may mislead you into thinking my baby has good gas-mileage. It has terrible gas-mileage. Sometimes I could actually see the fuel gauge slowly pivot towards “E.” I made a point to drive it as little as possible to be both economical and eco-friendly. This average would have been even less if the bastard who sold it to me handed it over with more than a drop of gas in the tank.

Entertainment- $33

This category includes stuff I absolutely didn’t need, but wanted such as coffee ($14.75 in total), the fee to join the outdoors club, and costs related to my Appalachian Trail hike. This average was more than I anticipated; I figured that I’d do my best to have no entertainment costs but this changed when I realized that I needed to spend money if I wished to have some semblance of a social life.

Miscellaneous- $65

This was also much larger than anticipated. The parking permit was exorbitant ($91/semester) and things like the PO Box ($21), propane ($23), and laundry ($23) added up.

Food- $137 ($4.34/day)

I am most proud of this feat. For entire semester I bought just a couple drops of beer and I ate meat rarely. I ate healthily, enjoyed practically every meal, and I was able to sate my enormous appetite at a relatively low cost.

Car Insurance- $46

I at first thought about not getting insurance at all. But that was probably a bad idea. The seller wouldn’t sell me the car without insurance anyway.

Cell phone- $37

I dislike cell phones but knew from experience that having one was borderline necessary in some cases, like finding a job. I got the cheapest deal I could find, short of a pre-paid plan, which, I’ve found, ends up costing more in the long run.

Clothes/ Household appliances/ Random stuff- 0

I really ought to do an entry on my wardrobe. I’m wearing pants from the ninth grade. Yes—I’ll repeat that—the ninth grade. I have never bought a pair of underwear in my life. In fact, apart from a pair of gloves, I can’t even remember the last time I bought an article of clothing of any sort.

Total- $412/ month

Almost any American can make $412 a month. I worked somewhere between 15-20 hours a week, getting paid decently. I had little trouble coming up with the $412 plus my tuition payments and books which amounted to $2,455 for the semester. My tuition is so low because I went into school practically broke, so the financial aid department was kind enough to slash my tuition costs.

Now, for shits and giggles, let’s compare my costs with the average American’s. I have little statistical proof for the following estimates; they are merely my presumptions that I’ve based on personal experience and on what I’ve heard from other people.

Normal Living (per month)


Vehicle costs/repairs- $100
Gas- $75
Entertainment- $75
Misc- $75
Food- $200 (national average)
Car Insurance- $153 (national average)
Cell phone- $73 (national average)
Clothes/Household appliances/Random stuff- $100

Total: $1401

Radical Living (per month)

Vehicle costs/repairs-$71
Gas- $23
Entertainment- $33
Misc- $65
Food- $137
Car Insurance- $46
Cell phone- $37
Clothes/Household appliances/Random stuff- 0

Total: $412

Obviously these numbers are subject to vary per person. Fortunately, I didn't have a health issue, which could have increased my monthly average astronomically, as could have a number of other unpredictable variables. But all in all--I feel I've proven to myself that radical living works! And I can attest that I haven't melted into a depressed puddle of ooze because I did not possess an iPhone, a Wii, or whatever the latest must-have item is these days.

I hope this proves that I'm not crazy, but more than anything, I hope it prompts the question: what are you spending your money on?


Anonymous said...

Nice to see someone living on less than me (about $550). You seem to spend more on food and laundry, relatively speaking. OTOH I have rent costs and some utilities (I live in an RV). BTW, check out for some converted van living stories.

Anonymous said...

A late comment, but why not... Do you have health insurance? I'm not going to try to sell you any if not, just trying to get an idea of how bare bones one can go with a budget. Thanks.

Ken said...

Anon--I do not have health insurance. It's certainly something I want, but cannot afford.

Anonymous said...

If you don't mind my asking, what is the most economical cellular phone deal you found?

Thanks for all your insightful, adventurous lifestyles!

Anonymous said...

Ken, Awesome blog! I just discovered it and am having fun reading your past posts.

I lived in my Dodge van for a year in Hollywood. Learned alot, took a break, and am returning to living in it in a few months (putting a solar panel on the roof this time!).

I recently bought a sweet Virgin phone for $85 at Walmart. Virgin has a monthly plan for $27 per month (300 minutes plus 100 texts).

Keep up the great blogging!

tentaculistic said...

Aw man, I think you're under-estimating normal consumption (which in turn makes your $400 even more impressive!)

In DC, I think an average for a college-educated person with a white collar job:
Apartment-$1,400 (below $1,000 you're living pretty seedy)
Utilities-$100 to $200
Vehicle costs/repairs- $100
Gas- $75
Entertainment- $200
Misc- $75
Food- $500
Car Insurance- $150
Cell phone- $70
Clothes/Household appliances/Random stuff- $500
Health Insurance $200
Total: $3,470

Anonymous said...

Ken, this is awesome.

This is extremely good to know. I currently effed up my knees in an odd series of events but once I get back on the go I think may be a disciple.

I'm planning on going out West and this would thinks affordable. Thanks for the ideas and laughs comrade!