The Restless Project: Do You Live on Less Than $60K a Year? How?

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About half of U.S. families live on $60,000 a year or less. Let's take a look at how they do it.

Editor’s note: This is part of a series by Bob Sullivan called The Restless Project. 

Do you and your family live a “normal” American life on $60,000 a year? I’d love to hear from you.

texasMy story for The Restless Project about the $100,000 annual budget for a normal family stirred up such emotion that I plan to do a series on this topic. In case you are new to this project, I compiled a mythical budget for a family of four living near a large U.S. city and found that expenses add up to $8,300 a month, or about $100,000 a year, pretty quickly. Reactions were all over the board. They ranged from, on one side of things:

  • You’re crazy. You left out things like costs for summer camp or retirement savings.
  • You’re crazy. You left out emergencies like health problems.
  • You’re crazy. You left out alimony payments. With so much divorce, this is reality for many families.

to, on the other side:

  • You’re crazy. We live on half that down here in Texas.
  • You’re crazy. People don’t need to spend $200 on cellphones.
  • You’re crazy. Why $500 for clothes every month? Are they made of paper?
  • You’re crazy. Plenty of people live on $60,000 a year?
  • Everyone is crazy. Those folks who spent too much are caught on that hedonic treadmill philosophers warn us about.

monthly budgetAt least everyone can agree that I’m crazy. Now, I’m hoping we can find more common ground on the topic. I want to hear more from folks on all sides. To the extent you feel comfortable, I’d love to see your family budget. Hopefully we can pick away at this topic and move closer to a reality we can all start to agree upon.

An anecdotal experiment like this is bound to provide imperfect results, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be useful. Try to remember that geography plays an enormous role in this discussion. Housing costs in some parts of the country can double, or even triple, based on where you are, and it also has major implications for the cost of school and child care, too.

The real point of this exercise, for me, is to help uncover the feeling of restlessness that I think pervades America today.

My original rough budget is in the image above. Here’s a link to that first story.

This week, I want to hear from the folks who thought my $100,000 number was far too high. So, to pick a starting point for conversation, if you live on $60,000 or less, as roughly half of U.S. families do, according to household income data, how do you do it?

For a starting point, here’s a budget from Texan Matt DeMargel, who wrote to me to say he laughed when he saw my budget. What do you think of his? Please feel free to share a similar breakdown with me, and I’ll post a few more.

My family of three lives comfortably on $44,208 per year in a lakefront country club community called Walden just north of Houston. We have swimming pools, workout facilities, weekly events, drink terrific coffee, I cook meals every morning and night, we have access to millions of books, audiobooks, music, movies and television and are likely going to retire early.

Here’s his breakdown for a month:

  • Rent for three-bedroom, three-bath condo — $1,350 per month. (“This will be lower when we move into our four-bedroom home with a 10-year mortgage.”)
  • Health care — $588.
  • Utilities — $400. “And that’s in the peak of summer when the AC is running. Not sure how you got $300 including cable. Does that include phone as well?”
  • School tuition — “Nope! We made a point to pick a community with a good public school. The idea that private school makes you normal is ridiculous.”
  • Child care — $600 a month, for three months. “He’s in school the other nine.”
  • Food — $800 (groceries and dining out).
  • Student loan, car loan — “Nope and nope. We pay cash for our cars when we have the money to do so.”
  • Car insurance — $104 per month for a 2005 Dodge Neon and 2012 Nissan Juke. “Would be lower, but I got a speeding ticket in 2011. Since we don’t use debt and keep emergency funds, we have high deductibles and pay low premiums.”
  • Clothes — $100, maybe. “Where on earth do you get $500 per month? Are these clothes made of tissue paper? Why so much shopping?”
  • Gasoline — $200 per month. “That will also go down when we move to our new home closer to wife’s work. Anything within 5 miles, we walk or ride our bikes. I buy one tank of gas every four months.”

So, what do you think? Email me your budget privately at Bob at

More from Bob Sullivan:

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