How To Survive On $500 A Month

There is an economic blog called “Acting Man” that often strays into political and cultural territory. Those who have training in Business and Economics as professions often believe in simple answers to complex questions. Well, I think that true of all the social sciences as well as the arts and humanities. After all, just how hard can it to analyze a problem and formulate an answer?  So a question was put to one of the editors of Acting Man, a what if type.  Suppose financial calamity hits the nation, indeed, the world and I am reduced in financial circumstances to $500 a month as an income from what resources I might have kept?  How would I live.  One can see that this is something of a problem.  What comes to mind almost immediately is the need for food and shelter.


Any teenage who has ever moved out of his or her parents house always faces these same questions.  I can tell you that $500 a month back in 1964 was a low middle class income, sufficient for any one out on their own for the first time.  An entry level auto worker could make that much.  But that was the problem, most of us entry level workers had to depend on minimum wage unless we had better skills.  For us, we had to manage on $175 a month, a far cry from that princely sum stated earlier.  Of course when you’re young you have little knowledge of the finer things in life and the cost of luxuries.  But what happens if you are fifty plus in age?  You are no longer a young man or woman, you no longer have the strength or energy of youth.  So what would you do, how would you survive for the next twenty or thirty years?  Or even five years?


Actually the question was predicated on having an income for five years of $1000 out of which one would save $500 each month and live on the remainder.  In five years one would have accumulated $30,000 in savings plus possible positive return and could launch some investing that would return a higher stream of income.  I know human nature and perhaps only ten percent of those with this scenario would be able to keep the savings steady.  Most of us would either over spend our budget or find that unforeseen problems would eat vast chunks of our savings.  So what to do?  I don’t know of any place in the US where one could rent an apartment or even a room for two or three hundred dollars a month.  Homelessness is not an option since it is far from a safe way of living and most of us wouldn’t know how.  Besides, we are much too accustomed to carrying a lot of stuff around with us and he who carries stuff needs a grocery cart and the means to defend those possessions.  You see, if you have never been that low on the totem pole you have no idea what survival means.


Let us say that you could get a loan for a motorhome/RV, or better yet, a pickup truck with a camper.  You are looking to finance something under $15,000.  But wait, you need an address and a post office box just won’t do.  Perhaps you could scrape up the cash for a two wheel drive plain pickup with a full size bed.  Go down to Home Depot and get yourself some materials and make your own camper shell.  A hacksaw and plastic tubing, a couple of tarps, and there you go, an escape from the night and weather.  Not very secure but you only need to save up a few more dollars to buy that real camper for the bed of your truck.  Of course this assumes you have some skill with basic hand tools and some sense of design.  Take a minute and try to design your own do it yourself camper shell.  It’s not that difficult if you’ve had practice building stuff.  If not, then buy a van to sleep in.  Remember, your goal is to survive.


Next, you want a daily bath, if possible, or at least every other day at worst.  Welcome to the over the road truck driver’s existence.  Showers were a luxury and usually two or even three days apart.  So now you need to be in the proximity of a YMCA that has shower facilities.  That will set you back $40 a month plus your toiletries.  As for eating, a single burner propane camp stove will suit your needs.  You are going to be reduced to simple meals and the only pots and pans you need is an 8 inch skillet and a one and a half quart pot, and a tea kettle for boiling water (it is more efficient that the pot).  A plate, a bowl, a coffee mug, a sharp knife, a small spoon, a large spoon, and a fork.  See how that works?  Space is a premium and you need to keep your possessions to a minimum.  You will also buy bottled water for your dry ingredients and a small stock of canned foods.  You want to keep your food bill to $100 a month at most.  So give up the beer, the wine, and the booze.


Okay, so now you have your van or camper or RV.  Do you know haw to do any repair work on them?  The RV will be the most complicated and costly vehicle to own, operate, and maintain.  What will insurance cost each month for liability only?  That is why you opt for the van, cost the least to insure and operate.  You will need a fuel budget.  Why?  Because you have to keep that van moving around.  You can’t park in the same spot for a week or the cops will be on your rear end with tickets and such.  You have to be careful where you park.  Residential neighborhoods are out, part there once overnight and you may escape attention, do it more than once and the neighborhood becomes suspicious.  the idea is that one, the cops don’t recognize that you are sleeping in the vehicle, and that two, you don’t come onto their radar as a possible problem.  So you will spend time parked in a shopping center during the day and leave for the night for some spot of many such spots where you do not attract attention.  Not as easy as it sounds.  No regular pattern or the cctv in the cities and towns will pick you out.


As for internet, go to Starbucks, the local library, of Barnes & Nobles, or anywhere someone offers free wifi.  Otherwise, do without.  Cell phone, if you must have one is best done with a pay as you use it plan.  Otherwise the very basic service will cost $10 a month not including the extras such as long distance and texting.  If you still have friends and relatives, visit them sparingly as you do not want to wear out your welcome.  these people are your safety net, treat them with great respect.  As for healthcare, you can’t afford it, so don’t get sick.  Dental?  Forget that too.  You may be able to find a local college or dental school that will do services for very nominal amounts, so find these places, even if they are in another city not too distant.  Oh, and don’t forget, cold weather climes are out.  You can’t survive when the temperatures head below 40 degrees at night.  You are living one step above unsecured homeless.  You are surviving for the duration.  Now the question becomes, how much can you save and what can you do with that money to get you back into a normal life?  I’ll save that for the next post.


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