How does one live on a monthly income of $2,000 in one of America’s most expensive locations? West Coast Honey, Stormie breaks it down for all of us wondering at home.
by Stormie Laine Knott
The first job I landed after college had me making just $2,000 a month living in one of the most expensive places in America: Orange County. With a car payment, car insurance, phone bill, rent, student debt, health insurance, medical expenses, and living essentials to pay for, I was more than overwhelmed. Here’s a transparent breakdown of my expenses so you can rock a budget like I did.
Car Payment & Car Insurance
$520 – This payment is the one I regretted the most when I was making the least amount of money. I was driving a new Subaru Impreza that I’d gotten with $0 down and 0% interest after crashing my old Honda Civic right before graduation. Though I really bit the bullet with this payment, I am grateful now that I had a super reliable car that received free maintenance from the dealership during this already stressful time. My Honda Civic was constantly overheating, breaking down, and having problems. What I lost monetarily by having a big car payment, I gained in not having surprising and costly car issues.
$125 – This included the payments I was making for an iPhone SE plus the cost of service. A little pricey, but I was on a plan by myself, and wanted to stay with the company I’d been with for years.
$600 – I worked hard to find rent that I could afford in San Clemente. Luckily, my job was at a church where many a kind folk attended. I put out ads searching for any kind of living situation that I could afford, and I was willing to live with up to three other people in one room. What I got was a beautiful furnished room all to myself in a beautiful suburban house in San Clemente, located mere minutes from my work. In return for the cheap rent, all they asked is that I care for their dogs while they were out of town. Thank God for kind church people!
I deferred my student debt so that I didn’t have to feel stressed if I couldn’t make my payments, but would still try to pay $100/month.
$40 – Luckily, my work offered health insurance, and I was only required to pay $40/month out of pocket.
$40-$80 – Copays, medications, etc.
$40 – I tried to spend as little as possible on gas, and luckily I lived extremely close to work. If I ran any errands for work, I filled out a mileage reimbursement sheet and was lucky enough to be reimbursed.
$100 (and live off of the kindness of others)
Come on guys, free food isn’t that hard to come by. I would buy the few essentials I couldn’t live without from places like Stater Bro’s and the 99 Cent store, and for the rest of the month I ate literal leftovers: leftovers from church brunches, free food I froze and kept for months at a time, etc. Sure I was possibly malnourished from eating free crap, but I didn’t go over budget!
$100 – Tampons, pads, deodorant, ibuprofen, shampoo, conditioner. I used coupons to make purchases and bought whatever was on sale.
I didn’t buy it. Or if I did, I sold something I already owned so I could go get it. I took old clothes to a consignment store called Buffalo Exchange, participated in clothing exchanges with friends, or bought essentials from Target on the cheap.
Investing in a Future/Leftover Emergency Money
$295-$335 – I knew I wouldn’t be able to live off of $2,000/month for very long, so the rest of my money I invested in developing the skills I would need to get a better job. This included a monthly subscription to Lynda.com and Adobe Illustrator, which helped me get out of my stressful money situation and switch into my current career as a graphic designer.
General Tips and Tricks
- Always take the free food. I don’t care if you don’t like it, if you’re hungry enough you’ll eat it. And if you’re in a real pickle, don’t be too proud to apply for food stamps and make them go a long way by using them at the 99 Cent store.
- Get a furnished room. There’s no reason to spend money on furniture and you won’t be able to buy stuff you actually like anyway. If you can’t get a furnished room, furnish it yourself with free giveaway shit you find on the street. Be not proud, because you don’t make enough money to be picky.
- Get a credit card, but pay it off every month. Sometimes a bill is due before your paycheck arrives. Avoid the stress by getting a credit card with a really low max. Most of the time the credit card that your bank offers is 0% interest for the first year- this is a great option if you’re worried you won’t pay your card off every month, but for the love of God pay your card off every month!
- Have fun! Being a little poor is actually sooooo fun (and let’s be honest, you’re not actually poor, you make $2,000 a month for Heaven’s sake). You’ll have a sense of pride from not living off of any of your relatives or friends, and you’ll find that you will thrive creatively under the pressure to “make things work.” If you feel like you’re drowning, spend a little on something nice for yourself, but not too nice. Buy nail polish and do your own nails, but don’t get your nails done. Or pick up a babysitting job over the weekend so you can go see a movie with your friends. Never stray from your budget, but feel free to work extra so you can treat yo’self.
- If you find yourself feeling pessimistic about your current situation, you’re hanging out with the wrong people. Find people who pull themselves up by the bootstraps, who are independent and confident, and spend your time around them. Don’t get stuck in anxiety or self-victimization.
- Learn what you do and don’t need. You don’t need to get your hair and nails done, ever. You don’t need makeup. You don’t need any skin care other than a bar of soap. You don’t need nice clothes, you just need clothes that won’t get you fired.
- If you go negative in your bank account, call your bank, not your mom. It’s time you put your big girl pants on and dealt with your own financial problems. Banks are usually quite reasonable if you explain that you’re on a tight budget and ask to be refunded your overdraft fees. What’s more, it’s good for you to feel the anxiety of being a little negative in your account. Learning to cope well with anxiety will serve you well later on in life, and if you run into money problems down the road, it’s less likely that it will rock your relationships if you already know how to deal.
- If you do get into a real pickle though, it’s ok to have some trusted friends who you can borrow money from. Just promise yourself that you will pay them back that same month, and be willing to do the same for them should they get into trouble.
- If you need a cheaper phone bill but can’t or don’t want to be on one with your fam, get on a plan with some trustworthy friends. Verizon offers a pretty good plan if you have more than 4 people.
- If your parents are angel humans, it’s ok to ask them to co-sign. Grown ups don’t live off their parents. They do, however, humble themselves into asking for help the right way. I consider requesting that my mom cosign on a car with me to be an instance of asserting some independence while also admitting it didn’t hurt to have a little help. I was able to get a car with $0 down and 0% interest on a car because my mom had purchased from the same dealership a few years prior. I made all my payments myself, but she agreed to cosign with me at first so I could get the deal that would save me more money in the long run.
- If you need a cheaper car payment, get one. Don’t die under the weight of an expensive car – you have options. KIA offers extremely inexpensive payments, and you could probably find a reliable enough old car for about $4,000. If that still seems steep, it wouldn’t kill you to share a car with a trusted roomie, or ride-share to work with a coworker. That being said, for me it was worth the extra cost to get a reliable car with $0 down and 0% interest.
I know it all seems daunting, but the main thing to remember is this: stay positive! If you mess up, get back up. You can do this! Money stuff is hard and no one blames you for having a little stress about it. Just do your best, honeys, and keep your eyes on your goals. A little hard work and budgeting and you’ll be out of this pinch in no time!