Family of 6 Living off $2100 per Month – Reader’s Budget Review

With the Debt Movement picking up steam, I’m going to do my last budget review for the WSL readers. If you missed the first one and are looking for help on how to create a budget or where you can improve your budget, then check out Rock That Debt.

For this particular review, I hope that it helps you discover a few things: (1) being debt free and living frugally gives you some amazing freedom, (2) while it’s unbelievably challenging, you can raise a large family on a very small income, and (3) sometimes there is only so much you can cut out of a budget and finding other alternatives to increasing your disposable income is necessary.

Frugal, Purpose-Driven, and Getting Ahead

Here’s a little about the family and their situation:

In 2010 we decided it was time to tighten down our finances and work diligently at paying off our debt. Almost two years later, in Feb. 2012 we paid off the last of our debt totaling about $34,000 (the majority being student loans)! During that time we moved twice, had 2 more children and 2 major operations that required some time off work. We were defiantly blessed in our efforts. Since we have been married my husband has been striving to finish his degree Business degree with an emphasis in accounting.

Between moves, children and health problems it has been a long road. In Jan. 2012, with the debt about paid off, we decided to let school become the husband’s main focus. I have been a stay at home mom since we began our family. Now as a family of 6, with four kids ages 7, 6, 3, and 1, we live off approximately $2100.00/month. Although it is enough to get by, some months are less when he isn’t in school or when emergencies happen there is not much of a cushion.

Please help us stick with our goal to save money and not go further into debt.

 

Goals

  1. Stay within our budget
  2. Build up our emergency fund to 6 month worth of savings (around $12,000)
  3. Have money set aside for a move when finished with school in May 2014 ($3000)
  4. Put money aside for home repairs/updates to sell our home in a year (about $5000-1000)

Assets

  • Emergency Fund – $3500
  • Cars – two that are paid off (’94 Accord and ’03 Pilot)
  • House – still has a mortgage

Their Budget

reader's budget review 2

Initial Reaction

I could go on about a number of different things, but I have to keep this brief for the audience. So, a few things:

  1. It’s amazing that you paid off $34,000 worth of debt in two year’s time! We’ve personally been working out way out of debt for years, so I know the challenge that it is, and to be able to pay off $17k/year is absolutely amazing. Congrats!!!!
  2. It’s exciting to see that you’re able to avoid going into debt by living within your means. I’d venture to guess that the massive majority of families making $2,000/month wouldn’t have the resolve to do what it takes to live on this income. Furthermore, it’s a great blessing that the GI Bill is helping cover the husband’s education so they don’t have to incur student loan debt!!
  3. I’m personally encouraged by the fact that you tithe despite how tight things are. I’ve coached a lot of families over the years and very few continue to recognize the blessings God has given them (and the income He’s provided) particularly when times get tough.
  4. With your husband going back to school it’ll be a matter of time before the financial burden eases, but you still face a daunting challenge over the next 1.5 years until he graduates.

With all of that said, I realize you’ve asked me to review your budget in hopes that I could give you insight on where you can decrease your spending. However, there simply isn’t any place in your budget that you can cut back on. I could certainly encourage you to cut out the fun money or eating out but that isn’t going to change the challenge you currently face.

Unfortunately, the most difficult part I’ve found in coaching families over the last 3 years is in situations where income is the problem. As you well-know, there are two sides to the financial equation: MONEY COMING IN versus MONEY GOING OUT. You absolutely are of a rare breed in that controlling your spending/lifestyle isn’t the issue. However, you face an equally challenging proposition in figuring out a way to increase your income over the next 12 months.

The most encouraging part is that they’ve learned to be disciplined and live on absolutely nothing. As that’s the case, if they can find a few ways to increase their income, their goals will be manageable.

There Are Only 2 Solutions

There are generally 4 options for people to change their disposable income: (1) pay off debt, which they don’t have, (2) sell things with payments attached such as vehicles, (3) decrease spending, and/or (4) increase income.

As the first two don’t apply, that only leaves two solutions: INCREASING income and DECREASING spending. I’ve already mentioned that the latter is a challenge as you’ve learned to live on the bare necessities (which is in-fact all that we truly NEED). You deserve a pat on the back by the way. Despite that being the case, here are a few things I’d like for you to think through:

1. Decreasing Spending

  • Auto and Home Insurance – the only area on your budget that I truly believe you can cut down on is your insurance premiums. Considering your husband has served – thank him, from all of us – you should be eligible to get coverage through USAA. If you don’t have insurance through them, I’d encourage you to call them today and see what rates they could give you on your auto and home insurance.

    Having a father-in-law that’s a colonel in the Air Force, we use USAA and there is no beating them as they’re a non-profit company. The reason I believe you can save on your expenses is because we pay $83/month for FULL coverage on an ’05 Accord and ’11 Camry. With that being the case, we used to have older cars (such as you have) and carried full coverage on one while having liability on the other (our premiums last year – prior to buying the newer cars – were around $50-55/month). So, I’d encourage you to keep the full coverage on the Pilot but drop down to liability coverage on the Accord. Again, make sure you ask them for a quote on your home insurance as well.

  • Internet bill – your internet bill seems a little high to me, but I’m not too surprised considering you live in a rather small town. If you have cable, consider cutting it out completely. If you only have internet, make sure to shop rates if you have other carriers in town. The last thing to consider would be a wireless card through AT&T, Verizon, or Sprint. While you may not have as great of a connection, you might be able to get it for $50/month.
  • Timeshare – I know that timeshares are extremely difficult to get out of or to sell your share, however, it would be one of the things I’d encourage you to work on. While it’s only $43/month, that’s about 2% of your budget and would increase your disposable income by 100%!

2. Increasing Income

Based on our email exchanges I discovered it’s unlikely the husband would be able to carry a job while going to school full-time (due to health reasons). With that in mind, I want to encourage the wife to consider working a few hours/week.

I fully realize that raising 4 children is difficult, challenging, and probably brings you to exhaustion at the end of each day. However, try to find 1 hour/day during naps or while they’re sleeping at night, OR work something out with your husband to watch them for a bit when he’s done with class. If you’re able to do that then that could free up some of your time to make some money. Increasing your income by $200-500/month will totally change your budget!

  • Consider taking surveys – Amanda wrote up a great post for us and I’d encourage you to read How We Make Money Taking Surveys Online.
  • Google ratings – check out Leapforce and look into jobs for rating search results for Google.
  • Consider becoming a writer – I’m not sure if you’d be passionate about it but you can easily start writing articles for $20-30/each (if not a lot more if you become really good). I employ staff writers here and they’re extremely popular with most of the finance blogs I follow. If you’re not interested in personal finance then there are still TONS of positions out there to write about ANYTHING you’d like.
  • Transcription services – consider writing transcripts. It’s fairly easy as you simply listen to audio and type out what you hear. Check out mTurk and AccuTran.
  • Consider Getting a Roommate – This doesn’t pertain to getting an extra job, but it’s a possible way to increase your income. I realize it isn’t ideal and I’m not sure how many bed/bath your home is. Despite that being the case, if there is an extra room or space in the basement, consider renting out a spot to a college student. Interview the candidate and make sure you’re completely comfortable, but it’s possible to make an extra $200-400/month if you could work this out.

Wrap Up

We live in an interesting world where a decent percentage of families struggle surviving because they don’t make a lot of money, whereas the other half have a decent income and struggle with managing their lifestyle. After looking through this budget, it’s easy to see that this family of 6 has done an amazing job of living off of $2100/month! To add to that, they’re taking tangible steps to resolve their income problems for the long-term.

The fact that they’re debt free is really the only reason living off of $2100/month is even possible, and it’s inspiring to see that they were motivated to eliminate their debt so that the husband could pursue his education (which will pay off down the road).

However, when it boils down to it increasing income is going to be the primary solution to accomplish their goals and ease their financial strain over the next 12-18 months. While I realize that there are some challenges with this for both parents (mainly finding time), if they can increase their income by $500/month they will be able to increase their emergency fund (probably to 2-3 months worth of expenses), and save up enough to move and do a few home repairs by the time the husband graduates.

Readers: what suggestions or words of encourage do you have for a family of 6 living off of $2,000/month? Also, if you know of any, please list any LEGITIMATE work-from-home options that the wife/husband may be able to pursue.

About the Author

By , on Jan 18, 2013
Andy Tenton
Andy is a 30-something New Yorker who turned his financial life around. He took charge of his finances, got out of debt, and is now working his way toward financial success. He is the publisher of WorkSaveLive.com.

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{19 Comments}

  1. I’m with you up to the suggestions for additional income. There…not so much.

    I would suggest in-home daycare or in-home babysitting instead. Also, if you are good and FAST at cleaning houses, you can get $90 per house and do it in 3-4 hours. Do just three houses a week–two on weekends and one some evening during the week–and you have over $1000 per month extra income. It’s much more work-intensive than babysitting, but it pays much better. And honestly, most housekeepers really stink at their job (I’ve both been a housekeeper and hired them :) ) so if you are good, you will find it fairly easy to get three steady clients–or six biweekly clients. Also, tutoring, online or in person, pays reasonably well.

  2. Lori says:

    Hats off to this family! How wonderful. My only question (because I can’t figure it out) is how do you go about saving $34,000 was it in 3 years when your income is $2100/month? I need to do this and would love to know how they socked away at that amount of debt?! Kudos to this fabulous family!

    • Lori says:

      Whoops, I guess it was 2 years paid off $34,000. So their income was $50,400 for the 2 years and they paid off $34,000, which means they lived off of $16,400 for 24 months or $683.33/month. How did they live on $683.33 per month for 2 years? I can’t figure this out.

      • Andy says:

        Lori, they paid off their debts PRIOR to their income being what it is now. After paying off the debts, they then decided to have the husband go back to school full-time which is the reason their income is what it is in the budget that you see. I hope that makes sense! :)

  3. CreditDonkey says:

    This is simply great- $34000 debt payoff in two years is truly deserving of a pat in the back. I am amazed and hope you will stay on track. I agree that finding online work even if it’s just for an hour a day will shape up your finances. I know it’s hard, with all the chores and 4 children to raise. Still, it would be worth a try, and who knows, you may simply find your own niche in online work later!

  4. Alex says:

    I definitely have to say that I’m impressed with their dedication in paying so much off so quickly! Great budget post!

  5. I would never suggest this to most people because I hate it when people work the system, but this family is who government programs are supposed to be for. I’m assuming they either already have some sort of state aid insurance program or are going without. With that size family and and income, they should probably qualify for Medicaid or whatever their state offers. If they are going without, I would sign up. They might also qualify for WIC if they have small children. I’m not sure if you can qualify for food stamps if you own a home. That would take some swallowing of pride, but this isn’t a family who is going to be on this path forever. If they don’t want to do that, I would maybe see if they could babysit. That’s lots of kids, but if they aren’t infants, they could just play with her kids. I applaud their efforts in frugality. Many people would get into credit card debt in this situation.

  6. Debt Roundup says:

    This one is pretty inspiring. They paid off a lot of debt in just 2 years, but they also just live on $2100/month. I wish my wife and I could get down to that point, but our mortgage payment is too high.

  7. I’m so impressed with this family–amazing accomplishments to pay off that debt, maintain their budget and keep moving forward with their future plans!

    I’d suggest temporary work for the husband while on break from school. Not so much that it deteriorates precious time to rest and spend with family, but something that brings in extra and helps build a resume.

    Also, what about looking into options to work for a professor on-campus? I paid my way through grad school the first time with an assistantship–they provide a salary and don’t take up much time at all!

  8. Pauline says:

    Amazing job living on such little money. Like Mandy said I would research any help available for low income families, free lunches at school, low income savings accounts, etc.
    As far as work is concerned, you could try to baby sit kids at night, since you have your own already, or any kids friendly activity like bake birthday cakes for busy mums, organize birthdays, tutor, …

  9. Wow, $34,000 worth of debt is a truly amazing milestone. I am so happy for this family for their accomplishment. And slowly they are making positive strides to build a solid financial foundation. Thank you for including that survey link, as well–I will be checking that out for another potential source of side income!

  10. Thad says:

    Outstanding results for this family! They have done an amazing job. I do commend you on suggesting they discover ways to increase their income. Writing articles is a great idea!

  11. Great job putting this post together Andy, This family has done so well given the circumstances kudos to them. Most times people don’t want to hear they have to make more or spend less because they are not willing to “change” but the reality is people may have to look beyond what they don’t want to do. In this case you have the health problems which we can’t change. Maybe even dog walking, babysitting, making cakes from home, house cleaning might bring in some extra cash for them each month. I don’t know in their area but our area we have focus groups we participate in and they pay around $75-$100 although it’s not all the time but worth looking into. Online I would suggest the virtual assistant as there are so many people out there that need help from a VA it’s just a matter of knowing where to look. Good luck to this family :-)

  12. Income tends to be our biggest obstacle as well. We did pretty well this year because I worked full time for 10 months, but the year before that, I only had 4 months of income!

  13. It’s amazing that they’ve made this work! Having lived on that income for several years as a single person I have an inkling of how difficult that would be. Spending a bit less here or there (or even stopping the tithe, which I wouldn’t recommend) is not going to get them to their goals before the husband graduates: they want to put an additional $20k into savings over the next 15 months when they will only bring home $30k (and every bit is needed)! The only way to meet them without taking on debt is to generate a lot of additional income. Can the husband work as an accountant on the side (tax prep season is upon us!)?

  14. Wow, hats off to supporting a family of 6 on 2073/month. In Canada there is assistance for low income families with children under 18. Just for kicks I entered a yearly salary of $24876 (2073 * 12) and was told this family would receive an additional $1465.70 tax free dollars a month. Now that would really change the budget :) Too bad moving to Canada isn’t a practical option :)

  15. AverageJoe says:

    Excellent review, per usual, Andy. This is definitely an income issue for someone who’s done such a great job of tightening the belt already. Saving a few more dollars here or there won’t be nearly as helpful as using that same time to find work that brings in a few hundred instead.

  16. I would have to suggest that there’s room to reduce tithing. I know that it’s a personal matter and generally do support tithing, but given the squeaky tightness of this budget, I would reduce it. Reevaluate when the spouse is working again.
    In terms of income generation, would it be possible to take on even a single day care child? That has the potential to dramatically increase income.
    I also agree on the timeshare, but know they can be hard to get out of. Can they “sell” their time to someone for the year?
    Other ideas for income – are there any meals on wheels delivery services or similar that may be hiring? It is probably not ideal, but if you can bundle the kids up for an hour or two and make deliveries, they usually pay okay wages.

  17. Wow! That is just plain awesome they paid off $34k in two years! I also thought we had our hands full with three under the age of five…I can’t imagine throwing another on top of it all. That said, knowing myself what it’s like to live within the bare minimum, they seem to be doing quite well at it. I would agree on the insurance and time shares. We have USAA ourselves and don’t see us ever leaving them. They offer great rates and have awesome service. I would agree to your approach as well, in that they need to do both. Anything online, in terms of income generation, would probably be best. I would think writing or survey taking or any other freelance duties…i.e. if they know how do spreadsheets or something like that. I have never done it, but they could also try being a VA as well. Great write up Andy!

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