How I Lived on Less Than $14,000 a Year in Los Angeles
Tagged in:

"Whenever possible, I found free ways to have fun, like signing up for free movie premiere tickets and attending house parties instead of bar hopping."

Tap to Read Full Story

In 2013, I moved to Los Angeles to finish my last two years of college. With just two part-time jobs and a modest writing side gig, I knew there was only one way I could make it in one of America’s most expensive cities—especially since I knew I’d have student loans to pay off once I graduated: extreme frugality.

In the end, I managed to keep my basic living costs under $14,000 per year, which allowed me to stay in school without taking on any more debt. Of course, most people probably don’t need to live on as little as I did, but the tactics I used can help anyone save a little more. Here’s how I did it.

[ad 1]

1. I sacrificed space for savings.

Given L.A.’s sky-high rents, I knew I needed a good housing hack. My solution definitely wasn’t glamorous or particularly innovative, but it did the trick: I scouted a $1,800 one-bedroom and split the rent with two roommates I found through UCLA’s housing forums. (To make the most of our 600 square feet, we placed all three twin beds side by side in the bedroom.) We each paid $600, plus $50 for utilities.

Our time was filled with negotiations about overnight guests, shower schedules and how to get enough sleep in a shared room—but we made it work. Bonus: The 700-square-foot apartment I now share with my spouse feels like a castle.

2. I kept my food costs low.

I always started my day with a backpack full of all the food I’d need: two PB&Js, an energy bar, two apples and a reusable water bottle. For dinner, I typically made pasta or tacos at home, but always took advantage of any free meals offered on campus or at work. Tack on basic household items like toilet paper, and I was spending around $200 per month here.

3. I used public transportation.

Soon after moving to L.A., my car broke down. While I worked to save up $700 to fix it, I downgraded my auto insurance to the bare minimum ($60 per month) and let it sit in my garage. I walked to class and one of my jobs, but spent about $50 per month on bus fare to get to my internship on the other side of town.

I eventually repaired the car, but sold it three months later for $700 due to another mechanical issue. Afterwards, I relied on the bus, my bike and ride-share options to get around.

4. I kept “extras” to a minimum.

I rarely bought new clothes and only bought new shoes when I needed replacements, but I still spent about $200 per month on miscellaneous expenses, like textbooks, toiletries, gifts and entertainment. Whenever possible, I found free ways to have fun, like signing up for free movie premiere tickets and attending house parties instead of bar hopping.

Luckily, I had free health insurance through school, which saved me about $200, and my dad covered my $50 phone bill—so I didn’t have to factor these into my budget.

5. I learned to flex my frugal muscle.

Surviving on $1,160 per month in an expensive city was tough, but it got easier over time. I learned that frugality is a muscle—the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. I’m working full-time now and could easily afford more, but I still spend less than $20,000 per year. I’m rarely tempted into lifestyle inflation because my years of extreme frugality taught me which purchases will bring me lasting happiness and which won’t.

For example, I ultimately realized that privacy and quality sleep were important to me, so I’m now willing to spend more on housing. On the other hand, a new car isn’t important to me at all. My current one, a 16-year-old Honda, is good enough. Whenever I think about upgrading, I remember my years without and instantly feel grateful to own a car at all.

Get the Grow Newsletter Every Week
The best money advice you never got, delivered to your inbox weekly.
The best money advice you never got, delivered to your inbox weekly.