How low can you go?

Burning Cash?For the last year or so, I have been living on a monthly budget of 200 dollars or less. If I talk about this to friends living in the US or Europe, they will feel pity for me about having such a bad time.

The thing is, 200 dollars is more than enough, thanks to the generosity of the people around me, and some easy-going frugality. When living in Cartagena, I have a near free room that at the same time is a near free home office. My neighbors pass on their DSL to me via a 20-meter ethernet cable through a hole in their wall, and the best bars in the city are cheap, because you just open them yourself with a bunch of beers and a sunbed at the beach.

Of course I wasn’t able to live like a king. But I still got to have the best coffee in the world, eat a lot of ice cream, meet a lot of beautiful people, and seeing some great new places while traveling around Venezuela, the Amazon region of Brazil and Colombia, the Andes and Central America.

For me, this experiment holds a lesson: It shows me how low I can go. And a chance: It gave me time to think about what I wanted to do with my life and start making it a reality. If you’re up for some change in your life, maybe the next time you’re about to burn some cash, why not skip it and try to go low?

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Comments 21

  1. Oscar - freestyle mind January 13, 2010

    Wow, it’s really astonishing to read this. I’m struggling to find an apartment to rent here in Italy because they are too expensive to live alone, also something that I don’t like here is that we need a car because we don’t have everything at walking distance (or bus distance).

  2. kemai January 13, 2010

    I think this could really work for me. I’ve talked to people who earn more money than I do, all the same complaining about how the money’s never enough. They often ask me how I get by. I think it’s a question of what you really need in life, and apparently I need other things. Like free time. Like a nice little bar in the outskirts of a big city where the drinks are cheap but you can meet really nice and interesting people. Like sitting at home, reading a good book and sipping a really good whisky. Of course I can never go as low as 200 $ over here in Germany, but nevertheless, it’s similar. So, yes, it works for me, not abroad but at home.

  3. Fabian January 13, 2010

    Oscar, it surely depends a bit on where you live and how the infrastructure is. But then, there are also ways to “hack” higher cost of living, if you’re open to compromise on some things – i.e. using the bike more, or teaming up with people using only one car, etc.

    Kemai, you’re right, a nice lifestyle in Germany can be cheap, too. What I like is that you put an emphasis on the good whisky and meeting nice people – I think that is the real luxury in life. It’s so easy spend less, if we just stop to buy junk…

    • kemai January 13, 2010

      Yeah. As long as I can afford some nice new (or used) lens for the slr every now and then or a cool scanner from a friend – I’m happy ;)

      • Fabian January 13, 2010

        Same for me. I really like buying GREAT stuff – a really good lens, a premium rum – but I don’t need a whole lot of it. And I definitely don’t need the usual junk many people buy just because they enjoy shopping.

  4. Nate January 13, 2010

    Good advice here. I think if we all try to do an experiment like this we will quickly realize how little we can live on comfortably.

    Another thing you can do is really question what it is you want…or what it is that you value? Is it travel? Is it going out to eat? If so, are there ways to do it cheaper.

    Also, evaluate your finances. Right down everything you spend your money on and look for ways you can cut that down? Do you really need cable, etc? Obviously this isn’t a problem with your current budget, but it can be helpful for some who do want to cut back.

    • Fabian January 13, 2010

      Sure thing, buddy!
      I actually found myself reading personal budget tips some months ago… until I noticed there just wasn’t anything more to cut from my budget, unless I wanted to lose quality of life. (Which I didn’t! ;))
      But if it was necessary, even my 200 dollar budget could be cut further. Have in mind that a Colombian paycheck may be as little as that and there are entire families living (badly, but still!) by that!

  5. Pieter January 14, 2010

    Amigo, your budget is amazing and the proof that life is more than money. In Europe it is the other way around, money is life. The quality of their life is depending of the material stuff. More people should experience a ‘how low can you go’ experiment. Just to realize that their are alive :-). My stay in Africa was my experience.

    • Fabian January 14, 2010

      Thanks Pieter! While some money is always necessary, it’s always interesting to experiment a little…

  6. Anthony Feint January 14, 2010

    $200 would be hard for me to live off but really inspiring. I’ve taken to living within my means this year. I managed to cut down my budget for living in Thailand to $1500 a month.

    • Fabian January 14, 2010

      Anthony, it always depends on our needs, lifestyle, and place of living, of course. Anyway, $1500 would be not too great to live by in many parts of the US, and I suspect you’re living a great life in Thailand… gotta love geo arbitrage! :)
      Thanks for passing by and taking the time to comment!

  7. Srinivas Rao January 14, 2010

    Fabian,

    I really like the concepts you are discussing here. We really become so attached to our material possessions that they start to own us rather than us owning them. One of my dreams in life is to hang out out a beautiful island for about 6 months and just surf. I think reading this post has made me realize that’s not as much of a daunting task as I thought it was. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Fabian January 14, 2010

      Srinivas, great to hear that! I have to admit that surf’s not great here in Cartagena (at least if you’re looking for huge waves – wind- and kitesurfers are fine), but there surely are some cheap and nice places in the world where spending six months wouldn’t crash a budget… El Salvador, let’s say. Very popular among surfers, and although not an island it has some beautiful scenery at the beaches. :)

  8. Tom January 15, 2010

    Hi Fabian,

    I’m with you all the way on living low – or at least giving it a try. I’ve been living at home for the past few months and found it a great way to cut back on expenses. It also gives me lots of time to think, read, write etc. It seems like we’re both cash poor and time rich – but I prefer it this way!

    You’ve got a great blog here by the way. I look forward to reading more.

    • Fabian January 15, 2010

      Hey Tom, being able to save money normally spent on rent and thus having to work less is a great way to earn a loooot of time. I think it’s definitely worth a try for everybody who feels comfortable moving back in with his family or a good friend for some months. It really helps to get moving with personal projects!
      Your always welcome on The Friendly Anarchist – hope you enjoy the other posts!

  9. Hulbert January 16, 2010

    Whoa, $200 per month? Nice! I live in Orange County and the “average” one bedroom apartment is $1,000 per month. Heh. Lucky guy!

    • Fabian January 16, 2010

      $1.000 for one room? Sounds like (legal) robbery to me!
      But I’m lucky only in HAVING the 200 bucks a month… in the end, anybody interested can do the same, but for many Colombians, this money is really hard to earn.

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