I know a little something about living on a budget. An extremely tight budget for that matter. In 2008 I started working with AmeriCorps in California. AmeriCorps considers you a civil volunteer so you do not earn an hourly wage or a salary. The program provides you with a living stipend which I know to range from around $500 to $1200 a month, depending on the program. During my first year I received about $1000 a month for rent, bills, transportation, and fun.
The program I participated in, AmeriCorps Watershed Stewards Program, provided as many benefits as they could to help the members, like free health insurance, food stamps, and professional discounts on field gear. These benefits definitely helped, but living on such strict income was still difficult.
Luckily, I’m not really into material things.
I have sold or given away most of my belongings and moved across the country. Twice now, since I moved 3000 miles back home. What little furniture I own is mostly hand-me-down or free yard sale leftovers. If I do need to buy something I head straight to thrift stores or check out Craigslist before going anywhere else. I didn’t own a car until I was 29, too scared of the commitment, but also avoiding the cost of the car, insurance, and maintenance. I’ve since owned 2 cars, both of which were chugging along with at least 200K (way more!) miles, rust and dents and scrapes, and a whole lotta love and appreciation from me.
Living on a budget is hard when you can always find a way to spend money.
I’ve worked steady jobs since I turned 14, but I’ve never been much of a saver. Before college, I worked to help my mother pay bills, and buy clothes and food for myself which my mother could not afford. I lived in off-campus apartments with roommates throughout college, working part-time to pay for rent, tuition, books, and a couple of travel study classes with no assistance from my family.
Any money I was able to save up burned a hole in my pocket quicker than a wildfire. As soon as I had enough to pay for a plane ticket I’d lock in a destination (usually visiting friends for long weekends) and I’d buy a ticket. A month later I’d be in Seattle, St Louis, or San Francisco. Or Longview, TX, Spokane, WA, or Fort Myers, FL. I didn’t particularly care where I went, if I’ve never been there before, of course I would make a trip!
Now, finally, is the time to pay off credit cards, which I allowed to get out of control! I’ve taken the lessons I learned about living on a budget while in AmeriCorps and have applied them to my life today even though I have more income now. I’m taking a hiatus from long haul travel for now. I’m not going to fly anywhere or go anywhere that I would need to pay for a hotel/hostel. I have fully accepted that I will need to feed my wanderlust with trips nearby for the time being. Someday (hopefully very soon) I will be able to continue using these techniques to build up a hefty fund to travel more freely and more often.