By Anthony Ying

Living on $14k was a challenge I chose to embrace during my gap year because I knew that if I could survive the year on my stipend, without any government support (i.e. food stamps), I would be able to thrive with any salary that I earned in the future. Though many of my coworkers chose to work a second job to earn more, I chose the route of finding ways to spend less so that I could allocate time for self-care and would be at my best for the students I serve.

How did I keep my costs low?

  • Rent/Utilities: Because our apartment was barely bigger than the size of two classrooms, our utility costs were very low, often around $50 per person. In addition, we were also very vigilant about turning off the lights and altering the thermostat so as to not incur unnecessary utility costs.

  • Transportation: Instead of owning a car and having to deal with all the liabilities behind it, I opted to buy a monthly RTA pass for use. Fortunately, the apartment I lived in was within a five-minute walking distance from a major connection station which meant I was usually only one bus away from most places in Cleveland.

  • Groceries: At Aldi’s, I would buy most of my groceries save for starch which I would choose to shop for at Costco in bulk. To save costs but keep nutrition at a reasonable level, I stuck to a simple meal plan routine of one protein, one vegetable, and one starch for most of my meals. Because these meals would get boring, I made sure to store fruit and granola bars in my lunch bag for a quick snack. Last but not least, I would mix Soylent and coffee for a daily breakfast. For me, it was a quick and cost-effective meal to ensure I had enough vitamins and minerals to start my day.

  • Entertainment: Gym membership was perhaps the most expensive part of my budget, but it came with certain amenities that helped to offset the cost. Complimentary coffee and toiletries made it easy to save on supplies at home. Therefore it was justifiable for me and also represented a productive and cost-effective outlet for relieving stress from working within the schools.

Advice for people living on low income

    • Be creative with splitting costs: For instance, not only did my roommates and I sign up for a promotional offer for internet service, but we also split WiFi among six people to reduce the cost further.
    • Limit liabilities: By liabilities, I mean services or expenses that exist only to take away from your bank account each month and do not seek to add or prevent loss. Before making a financial decision please consider asking this question “Do I need to have this item or service or is there an alternative that I can afford and manage?” If there is, consider switching. For example, paying for streaming services instead of borrowing movies from the library.

    • Reduce meat consumption: This is both for financial and health reasons as protein can come in many forms but does not need to come from only meat. In fact, protein alternatives can afford one the same amount of protein but at a quarter or half the cost.

    • Automate savings: Regardless of limiting a budget, there are always instances that will come up and can destroy any sound financial plan. Even if there is not much to save, building for unexpected expenses can save you from further trouble.

Anthony Ying is a Youth Advisory Board Member for The Phe’be Foundation. He wishes to thank his friends and family for their generosity and support during the challenging gap year he had. Without their support he would not have made it through.