Surviving on $17K a Year

Three years ago, I was working in midtown Manhattan at Park & 52nd Street making $73K a year. I quit my job in 2009 to return to school and get back into my professional field: education. In 2010, I graduated with a Master’s degree in administration and job prospects had dried up with all the money stolen in the Bank Bailouts of 2010. Somehow, all this government spending to save our economy completely obliterated any hope for a decent job in education…outside of the Bronx.

Rather than beat my head against the wall and/or continue teaching, I decided to move upstate to Lake Placid, NY – home of the 1980 Winter Olympics. On a whim, I walked into The Whiteface Lodge and asked for a job. I was hired that day as Concierge.

At the time, all I cared about was being able to pay my bills. At $10.25 an hour, I literally was able to do only that. It didn’t include housing, any payments above interest levels on my student loans (and didn’t even cover that all the way to be honest) and didn’t cover food. 4 days a week at $10.25 per hour, I was able to pay for my car, cell phone, credit card debt payment and student loan payments.

I really wanted to live in Lake Placid; in the middle of the trees and mountains and rivers I felt at home. I wanted to ride my bike and hike in the woods and get lost for hours and not have to come out. I wanted the slow life, simple life, calm and relaxing life. I wanted to be a mountain…woman.

I had to get resourceful quick. Three days before I was officially homeless, I happened upon a dorm parent housing opportunity at National Sports Academy. Free housing, free internet and free meals in exchange for a couple hours a week of supervising a bunch of hockey and ski athletes seemed well worth it. I signed up without hesitation. The girls have turned out to be a great group of students and I also get a small monthly stipend which is just enough for groceries that aren’t covered in my three square meals for free a day. A huge relief on all accounts.

Dorm parenting has turned into some tutoring on the side as well and I work with a couple of students a few times a week in ESL. This helps pay for the increase in my monthly student loan payment. So that’s kind of a wash.

Overall, I’ve somehow, monthly, made this work. I don’t know exactly how except I have been piecing and scraping together odd-jobs and working hard for my $10.25 per hour. I save my tips that I occasionally get in a coin jar and use that money for beer, time out with friends or entrance fees to something I want to go do. I’m frugal. I don’t buy anything I don’t vitally need and I’m only saving $25 per month in my savings account.

I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to hold out on this kind of a budget. My $80,000 in student loans weighs heavily on me and I feel like I’m spinning my wheels making just enough to get by. I’ve started looking for jobs in education administration overseas…and may end up moving somewhere in the states with a larger economy and chance for a higher paying job. Or, better yet, something might open up here in Lake Placid.

Until then…it IS doable. You can be frugal. You can make ends meet somehow month-to-month. This time in my life has taught me about being a minimalist (and that I actually like the freedom of it much more than a house full of…stuff). I’ve worked on selling anything that is unnecessary and saving money for what is really important. It’s also taught me to fear debt and get out of it as soon as possible. It can be and is crippling. Crippling or not, life is about more than money and debt. If I’ve learned anything this last year it’s the importance of happiness and finding what makes you happy. Find what makes you happy and stick with that…somehow, it all works out in the end.


5 thoughts on “Surviving on $17K a Year

  1. Hey, you’re richer than me! I only make minimum wage $8.50 an hour here. Luckily though I’ve started serving. Oh! And I’m deferring my student loans, YET AGAIN! Hey, fuck them! And their 7% interest!

  2. What a great example of living with what you have. I feel like frugality isn’t something people are taught any more, but at least perceptions are starting to change as the economy continues to stutter. A few years back friends and family wondered why we weren’t looking to upgrade from our small house even though we could afford it. Well once my husband became unemployed for two years and we were still able to make the mortgage payments they weren’t as fast to criticize. Having your mindset about what you truly need will see you through to easier times. I hope for it comes sooner rather than later.

    • Thanks for your comments. It’s amazing how quickly we can grow into a “monthly payment” life rather than a “can I really afford that?” life. This last year has surely been the toughest one for me but I have a feeling that it’s taught me a lot about how I want to live the REST of my life. I’m so proud of you for not upgrading your house and it shows that you truly knew how to live within your means. It’s amazing how much space we don’t really need…I just wrote about how I became a minimalist this last year as well – fun write! and started an online workshop for women that is set to start in December. I think, given your story and personality, you would enjoy the workshop! – Would love to see a picture of your cute little house and hope your husband is back in the career zone again (as I hope to be again sometime SOON!).

  3. I’ve been living on a minimal salary since January and I’ve realised that I have just enough to get by and enjoy life. Sure, I can’t go shopping for nice shoes every week, sure, I can’t take week-end trips abroad every month, but this has taught me to enjoy the free things in life: doing photography, going for walks, reading, writing, drawing, trying new recipes (instead of eating out)…I’ve learnt a lot through spending less!

    • It’s amazing how much we can learn and how easily it is to reassess what is important to us when we have LESS to use. I haven’t been happier than I am now – I know I have little money and I DO stress about that…but I get to enjoy the daily things that really make me happy. Thanks for your thoughts and comments and I’m so glad to hear that you are following your passions!

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