Living better than your neighbors on 75% less
In one of the earliest articles on this blog called “If you Try Sometimes…“, I briefly described my goal of living life at a cost of 75% less than “normal”. Since then I have received many questions:
What is Normal anyway?
Where did I get this 75% number?
Is it ridiculous or is it easy?
First of all, there are three major reasons that I set the target at 75% off:
- After measuring my own spending compared to others in the same income/assets group, I found that my own family seems to spend about 75% less overall, and yet we still seem to have a better and happier/healthier life than most people, and plenty of material comforts as well. I’ve mostly cut out only the Wasteful Bullshit like Cable TV and diamond rings and such, while keeping all the Awesomeness of a nice place to live, good food and health, good times with friends, etc.
- When reading various science books about the natural environment, and even the book Your Money or Your Life, I find that they calculate that if everyone in the world used resources at the same rate as the US population, we would be consuming most of our natural resources at 400-500% the rate that the Earth can regenerate them for us. (As it is, since most countries are still poorer than us, humans as a whole are “only” burning up the planet at 125% of the sustainable rate, although this number is growing rapidly thanks to booming industry in India and China). So to be decent citizens of the Earth and use only our fair share, we need to cut our average consumption by at least 75%.
- Since the default US household saves juuuust about 0% of its income, you will end up saving about 75% of your income if you can reduce your spending by 75% below these defaulters. For each year you save at this rate, you have bought three years of retirement. With compounding, you will have 25 years of living expenses saved in about 7 years, which will generate enough passive income to pay for your lifestyle forever, even assuming only a 4% annual dividend/withdrawal rate.
Now to get into some interesting specifics. An MMM reader recently sent me a link to an eye-opening spreadsheet at the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (thanks Paul!). It is called the 2010 Consumer Expenditure Survey. You can check out the whole spreadsheet at this link, and for casual readers we’ll dive into a fun column from it right here.
My favorite column is the “$70,000 and above” one, since it turns out to represent an average household income of $129,528 before taxes. The solid well-to-do middle class two-income working family that Mr. Money Mustache hears from so often. The people that complain that they need two incomes to put food on the table, and that President Obama claims are suffering so dearly due to 8% unemployment and $3.75 gasoline. The same people that could be retired in 5-10 years if they could grow themselves a Money Mustache.
So let’s go through the annual spending of our high-income compadres and see where we can make fun of them:
Income before taxes $129,528
Income after taxes $123,705 <-Wait.. a 4.5% tax rate on this huge income? What is the Tea Party complaining about again?
Age of reference person 47.3
Average number in consumer unit:
Children under 18 0.8
Persons 65 and over 0.2
Vehicles 2.7 <-Wow, an average of almost 3 cars for a 3-person household. Nice!
With mortgage 68
Without mortgage 18
Average annual expenditures $82,060
Food at home $5,236
Cereals and bakery products $701
Cereals and cereal products $235
Bakery products $467
Meats, poultry, fish, and eggs $1,125
Other meats $158
Fish and seafood $199
Holy Crap! $1125 of Meat! My pricey cage-free organic eggs do add up to $200 per year, but the rest of the meat and fish is only $250 at most. Our total grocery spending was about $3800.
Dairy products $577
Fresh milk and cream $189
Other dairy products $388
Fruits and vegetables $928
Fresh fruits $320
Fresh vegetables $304
Processed fruits $162
Processed vegetables $142
Other food at home $1,904
Sugar and other sweets $203
Fats and oils $138
Miscellaneous foods $1,014
Nonalcoholic beverages $455
Food prepared by consumer unit on out-of-town trips $95
Food away from home $4,525 <-Whoa – their restaurant budget is more than my whole combined food budget! MMM family restaurant spending was $525 last year.
Alcoholic beverages $765 <-Surprisingly, this is within the $9/week/person MMM drinking limit :-)
Owned dwellings $12,306
Mortgage interest and charges $7,171
Property taxes $3,231
Maintenance, repairs, insurance, other expenses $1,904
Rented dwellings $2,098
Other lodging $1,511
Utilities, fuels, and public services $4,849
Natural gas $683
$1729 in Electricity is an interesting number. Even for 100% wind power, I’m still comfortably burning less than $300 per year.
Fuel oil and other fuels $199
Telephone services $1,556
Water and other public services $681
Household operations $1,873
Personal services $794
Other household expenses $1,079
The following section is a good candidate for some serious chopping without compromising quality of life. A thousand dollars of housekeeping supplies? I am more in the zero-to-ten dollar annual range here.
Housekeeping supplies $1,018
Laundry and cleaning supplies $214
Other household products $583
Postage and stationery $221
Household furnishings and equipment $2,730
Household textiles $214
Floor coverings $67
Major appliances $314
Small appliances, miscellaneous housewares $153
Miscellaneous household equipment $1,371
Apparel and services $2,850
Men and boys $644
Men, 16 and over $511
Boys, 2 to 15 $133
Women and girls $1,156 <-Dang.. lots of independent runway models in the average household I guess.
Women, 16 and over $966
Girls, 2 to 15 $189
Children under 2 $127
Footwear $460 <-Six pairs of $75 shoes every year? Wowee. My $75 Timberlands from 2003 are still going strong after over 2500 miles of walking, thanks.
Other apparel products and services $464
Transportation $12,603 <-My whole debt-free vehicle fleet, including a year worth of gas and insurance, is worth less than this.. and it will be about ten more years before I need my next car at current driving levels.
Vehicle purchases (net outlay) $4,775
Cars and trucks, new $2,712
Cars and trucks, used $1,953
Other vehicles $110
Gasoline and motor oil $2,881 <-MMM family this year: $650 because of major road trips.
Other vehicle expenses $3,976
Vehicle finance charges $477 <-You borrowed money for your car even while buying six pairs of shoes?
Maintenance and repairs $1,162
Vehicle insurance $1,503
Vehicle rental, leases, licenses, and other charges $833
Public transportation $971 <- This includes plane tickets. Unfortunately we are probably up near the average here.
Health insurance $2,380
Medical services $1,212
Medical supplies $180
Fees and admissions $1,363 <-Hint: Forests and Mountains are usually free!
Audio and visual equipment and services $1,416
Pets, toys, hobbies, and playground equipment $1,146
Other entertainment supplies, equipment, and services $809
Personal care products and services $991
Tobacco products and smoking supplies $371
Cash contributions $3,176
Personal insurance and pensions $12,241
Life and other personal insurance $607
Pensions and Social Security $11,634
Sources of income and personal taxes:
Money income before taxes $129,528
Wages and salaries $111,256
Self-employment income $7,408
Social Security, private and government retirement $6,155
Interest, dividends, rental income, other property income $3,343
Unemployment and workers’ compensation, veterans’ benefits $400
Public assistance, supplemental security income, food stamps $123
Regular contributions for support $489
Other income $355
Personal taxes $5,823
Federal income taxes $4,187
State and local income taxes $1,317
Other taxes $321
Income after taxes $123,705
Net change in total assets and liabilities -$10,318 <-So somehow, this average wealthy family still ended up in the red this year?
Net change in total assets $15,608
Net change in total liabilities $25,926
Other financial information:
Other money receipts $845
Mortgage principal paid on owned property -$4,552
Estimated market value of owned home $274,601
Estimated monthly rental value of owned home $1,413
Gifts of goods and services $2,119
Alcoholic beverages $17
Housekeeping supplies $50
Household textiles $17
Appliances and miscellaneous housewares $29
Major appliances $8
Small appliances and miscellaneous housewares $21
Miscellaneous household equipment $80
Other housing $178
Apparel and services $392
Males, 2 and over $95
Females, 2 and over $145
Children under 2 $71
Other apparel products and services $82
Jewelry and watches $27
All other apparel products and services $54
Health care $39
Toys, games, arts and crafts, and tricycles $62
Other entertainment $111
Personal care products and services $18
All other gifts $134
All silly comments aside, it is a very useful spreadsheet that the BLS has created here. Even the first column in their online version, describing the overall nationwide average which turns out to be a $63,000 family income, contains lots of stuff with room for chopping. Rather than doing an across-the-board chop, I find that my own spending ranges from close to 100% in several areas, all the way down to 0% in a large swath of expenditures. All told, we currently live on $20-25k per year, plus a mortgage-free house, as described in the Exposed! article. We consider this our Luxury Retirement spending level – if we were still saving for retirement the level would be considerably lower, as yours should be on a per-person basis if you are not yet financially independent!
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