How much money do you need to live comfortably?

In the United States the official threshold to be considered living in poverty for a family of one is $10,890. If you have more people in your family the number goes up a little. I’ve placed a table below to give the exact amount your family would need to make to be within the poverty threshold.

Many associate “poverty” with unfortunate people that have caught bad breaks, dependent on government assistance and a daily struggle to make ends meet.

2011 HHS Poverty Guidelines

Persons in family 48 Contiguous
States and D.C
Alaska Hawaii
1 $10,890 $13,600 $12,540
2 14,710 18,380 16,930
3 18,530 23,160 21,320
4 22,350 27,940 25,710
5 26,170 32,720 30,100
6 29,990 37,500 34,490
7 33,810 42,280 38,880
8 37,630 47,060 43,270
For each additional
person, add
3,820 4,780 4,390

SOURCE: Federal Register, Vol. 76, No. 13, January 20, 2011, pp. 3637-3638

If you are in good health and are willing to think ahead with a long-term plan, wouldn’t it be possible to live comfortably while still living “in poverty”? What if you lived intentionally and became self-reliant instead of dependent on assistance from others? Please don’t get me wrong, I believe assisting others in need is one of the most honorable things you can do. The point I’m trying to make is that making less money, whether by circumstance or choice simply requires thinking and planning a little better. Here’s what I mean:

First of all, it’s important to note that for most people their home is their biggest expense. Finding a way to eliminate or reduce this expense is key for those making very little money. Lulu in California built a home with no building experience for herself and daughter from a shipping container for $4,000. As I am writing this a student that owns and lives in an Airstream and is looking for a place to park it just posted to the Tiny House Parking section of the site. There are tons of examples of people who have traded money for freedom and living intentionally. They took a huge step forward by living in a tiny house and eliminating or reducing their biggest expense.

All of us earned zero dollars the day we were born. Along the way we started making a certain amount of money and our lifestyles rose to meet that amount. Living comfortably on less money means drawing a line in the sand and taking steps to reduce your expenses. Buying and living in a tiny house is a big first step.

Do you live comfortably on a very small income? Do you believe you could live comfortably on a very small income?

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14 Comments → “How much money do you need to live comfortably?”

  1. Cbnicholson

    Dec 02, 2011

    Poverty guidelines are skewed and inaccurate depending on where you live. An actual living wage is a better indicator whether you can live ‘comfortably’ based on location and income. Check this out.. for more information.

  2. Annie

    Dec 02, 2011

    My daughter and I currently live on $500- $600 a month. This pays rent, car insurance (or van is paid for), groceries, bills – everything. We don’t get food stamps or other assistance. We rent a 1-bedroom house in town.

    An income of $1,000 a month would give us a lot more discretionary money and we could build our savings faster, but it is not a necessity.

    If people would realize how little they actually need they would be surprised.

    Annie at annienygma,com

    • Romelle

      Dec 02, 2011

      That is awesome! To be self-sustaining and not be totally dependant on the goverment for support is an oustanding achievement! Our society is pretty much based on “wants” rather than actual “needs”. I agree with your philsophy – food, clothing, shelter are the basic “needs”. Other than transporation and auto insurance, that’s pretty much it. We “want” Cable TV, Internet, credit cards to buy stuff… The latest computer….knick nacs… but they are all material things we can do without.

      Blessings to you and your daughter.

  3. Les Wes

    Dec 02, 2011

    If you are interested in this type of financial independence two blogs I cannot reccomend enough are Early Retirement Extreme ( and Mr. Money Mustache (

    Jacob at ERE has just moved on to other things but his archives are still a terrific resource.


  4. Clair Schwan

    Dec 02, 2011

    I’ve been living way below the poverty line for at least five years, and enjoying every moment of it. I like the idea of alternative housing, and I think the poor economy is going to force this on more people. It won’t be choice as much as necessity. I’m exploring the idea of tiny houses as I populate my page of suggestions as to how one might live quite inexpensively ( Now would be a great time to make a choice to live on a dime. There are just too many who have been washed away into homelessness because they have lived a bit too large for too long, never created a fallback position, and didn’t watch what was coming. Many years ago I was homeless for an extended period, so I know that it’s a tough row to hoe.

  5. Katie

    Dec 02, 2011

    We are building a self sufficient farm, off grid, our own water, vegetables and septic. So our monthlies are very low. I really believe growing you own food is essential, if just for the health benefits, not to mention food costs. But to grow enough without a large water bill you need to have your own water source. Also to not have utility costs is really helpful. Now if we could just figure a way out of property tax and all the insurance costs associated with being a homeowner.
    We built our house out of our own wood and have done most of the improvements ourselves to keep the costs down.
    I believe we are well on our way to living on a small fixed income. Not as simply as the others , but in a way that works for us and our family.

    • Katie, I know you are already settled in your choice of location. Property tax was something that I gave a lot of thought to because it can be a huge expense. I found my answer in the Ozarks. There’s counties here with incredibly low property taxes and there’s CSAs doing similar to what you are doing. It’s gorgeous here. I know when I devised my plan, I took into account every possible expense and property taxes are one that can sometimes be overlooked. It sounds beautiful what you are doing and I wish you the best!

  6. Jennie Blackheart

    Dec 02, 2011

    What also interests me is “think ahead with a long-term plan.” I think many people have thought ahead about long-term plans…and then, their jobs are sent overseas, or a family member has to visit the hospital. Bank accounts get drained, houses get foreclosed, etc. So much for planning ahead.

    The worst part is people who are not in good health, and living at the poverty line. Living paycheck to paycheck leaves little to nothing for “planning ahead.”

  7. kevin

    Dec 02, 2011

    Steven I really like your site . This is a growing movement and your site fits a great need . I have been following this genre for years. I am currently doing a series on how to build a tiny house step by step with videos and post on the project site .

    The secret formula of framing is up now you can see it at thanks in advance for looking. I want to empower as many people as I can to build there own house. :)

    • Steven

      Dec 05, 2011

      Thanks Kevin. I like the how to’s you have on your site. Cool blog!

  8. deborah

    Dec 04, 2011

    I am a big fan of your site. It is something that is despeately needed in this day and time.

    My dh and I saw the beginning of the end back in the mid 90’s in our 40’s and took matters into our own hands. We bought ten acres and a new single wide mobile home. We built a shop for his business and a greenhouse for mine. A 50′ X 125′ X 8 deep pond supplies us with plenty of protein for us and our friends and families freezers. We also raise rabbits, worms, chickens and use a permaculture design in all that we do. Many raised garden beds, fruit trees, and a well managed woodlot that is kept for the wildlife and our meager firewood needs.

    We live on 1200.00 a month SS plus what we can make with our at-home businesses without killing ourselves in our old age. This pays for our low taxes here in AL and allows us to pay for our Rx’s and alternative remedies we buy as well as car insurance, etc.

    Too many people lived for “today” and screw tomorrow…now they are paying for it. Hopefully it will make them wakeup and realize that keeing up with the joneses is not the wway to live. There is nothing like peace of mind…which we have.

  9. Susan G

    Jan 16, 2012

    Live thoughtfully… have a plan… have a back up plan… THINK before you purchase… buy only what you NEED… use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without…,retirement need not be a mirage…

  10. Boyd Consiglio

    Apr 12, 2012

    I love your blog and all the stuff you are doing with self-sufficiency

  11. Carrie

    Apr 13, 2012

    I have been lusting after tiny houses for some time now and love the idea of taking it one step further to live with a tiny income. The one thing that has held me back is HEALTH INSURANCE! I have a pre-existing condition that makes insurance expensive yet scary to be without. I long for freedom from the medical debt that I incur each year. Anyone have any stories of their own about how they’ve escaped indentured servitude to the medical industry?

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