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


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.

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.

acorns+cnbcacorns cnbc

Join Acorns


About Us

Learn More

Follow Us

All investments involve risk, including loss of principal. The contents presented herein are provided for general investment education and informational purposes only and do not constitute an offer to sell or a solicitation to buy any specific securities or engage in any particular investment strategy. Acorns is not engaged in rendering any tax, legal, or accounting advice. Please consult with a qualified professional for this type of advice.

Any references to past performance, regarding financial markets or otherwise, do not indicate or guarantee future results. Forward-looking statements, including without limitations investment outcomes and projections, are hypothetical and educational in nature. The results of any hypothetical projections can and may differ from actual investment results had the strategies been deployed in actual securities accounts. It is not possible to invest directly in an index.

Advisory services offered by Acorns Advisers, LLC (“Acorns Advisers”), an investment adviser registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). Brokerage and custody services are provided to clients of Acorns Advisers by Acorns Securities, LLC (“Acorns Securities”), a broker-dealer registered with the SEC and a member of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc. (“FINRA”) and the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (“SIPC”). Acorns Pay, LLC (“Acorns Pay”) manages Acorns’s demand deposit and other banking products in partnership with Lincoln Savings Bank, a bank chartered under the laws of Iowa and member FDIC. Acorns Advisers, Acorns Securities, and Acorns Pay are subsidiaries of Acorns Grow Incorporated (collectively “Acorns”). “Acorns,” the Acorns logo and “Invest the Change” are registered trademarks of Acorns Grow Incorporated. Copyright © 2021 Acorns and/or its affiliates.

NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns Grow Incorporated.