For the original article published in all its beautiful glory on Medium: How I thrived on a Basic Income of less than $11,000 last year in Montreal
From January 1st to December 31st, I recorded all of my spending through 2014 with a wonderfully intuitive app called YNAB (You Need A Budget) so that I could share my economical alternative lifestyle. This kind of living is definitely not for everyone, but with my advice, you could save a few hundred or thousand dollars by the end of next year.
I am an avid supporter of Universal Basic Income—an income given to every adult citizen in the country—so that they may each have the basic requirements necessary (food and shelter) to live proper lives with dignity. This program has been called ‘a natural extension of medicare’ by Dr. Anna Reid, MD, Past President of the Canadian Medical Association(2013–2014) and a way to simplify a complicated (and sometimes degrading) system of social assistance and financial aid programs. I highly recommend this video for a quick outline of its benefits and the Basic Income subreddit for more information about UBI than you can shake a stick at.
My rent contributed to 51% of my cost of living or $5500 at an average of $550/month for 10 months. I sublet my room for June and July (see: Vacation).
There are smaller rooms available at a lower rental cost. I could pay as low as $325 per month in my own home at a cost of a mere $3900 annually.
Explore different areas of the city (east and/or north especially), and be aware of social assistance programs (welfare & food banks). There are a lot of opportunities. Be creative! Also, check out Frugal Montreal and don’t be shy to ask questions.
I owe a significant portion of my financial savings to my community. I live in an extraordinary environment with 13 roommates. We live in a prime location in the Plateau which is ideal for proximity but less so for cost savings. A portion of our rent payment goes into the collective pot where we purchase common items to share. For instance, our electricity, internet, telephone, and a basic level of food is provided in our cost of rent.
Food has contributed to 19% of my cost of living or $2067.60 at an average of $172.30 per month. Eating out has cost $1399.25 whereas groceries have only cost $668.35. Coffee has also played a significant role in my eating habits, at least $212.56 worth (most likely 20%, and explained in the vices category) .
The low cost of personal groceries is directly related to cost of our group purchased groceries and the extensive amount of dumpster diving in which our home participates. As far as group purchasing, these typically include a variety of cooking oils, spices, pasta, rice, beans, coffee, teas, as well as some low cost bulk fruit and vegetables.
We almost always have an overabundance of food (with excess to share with our local community), despite such a large number of people living in the same space. Dumpster diving is one aspect of our eco-friendly lifestyle. There is so much food that is thrown away that is perfectly good, you would have to experience it to believe it.
This year I have spent $127.50 in bus tickets or about 1% of my budget. I’ve also spent $138 to renew my driver’s license, a handy expense.
I walk when I can (my excuse for exercise), but I absolutely love to ride my bike. I take pride in knowing how to tune up and fix little things when they go awry. A few years ago (after having my other bike stolen) I purchased a beautiful used bike with a lock for about $150, put $50 of parts and work into it and have made great use of it ever since. I might have to change the tires next year. I did however tune it up and realign my gears, which I did myself paying $2 for the use of a bike stand and some expert advice at the non-profit organisation Right to Move. I also purchased a few lights on Ebay for $1.89.
I sublet my room for two months (June & July) to travel across Canada and the U.S. in an attempt to raise awareness and build connections for JoatU, the Jack of all Trades Universe. This system is a trade, barter and exchange platform for those wanting to offer their goods and services to other in exchange for other types of compensation besides money. The real difference is the point system. If you help out your community by offering a free public class, planting a community-accessible garden, or doing some other offering of public value, you are rewarded with Community Action Points (caps for short) which you can trade with others and spend with participating local businesses.
We traveled over 9000 miles costing $1092.46. Most of this money went directly towards gas, the remaining towards paying for food. I traveled with aspiring pop sensation Johnny Coull and we were able to find accommodations through Couchsurfing.org and our network of friends all across Canada and the U.S.
Couchsurfing.org is a fantastic way to share experiences with all kinds of people throughout the world, but it should not be regarded as solely a free place to sleep. In fact, that type of thinking over the years has significantly lowered the value of Couchsurfing for potential hosts who are seeking a mutual exchange.
Fun / Vices (3%)
My most expensive vice is coffee, attributing to about 2% of my yearly cost of living. From buying the almond milk to make delicious mochas, to going out and sharing a drink with friends, it adds up. Coffee is a part of my morning ritual and I love it. And I absolutely refuse to change it.
If you are drinking coffee often, making it at home can save you time (if your coffee machine has an automatic timer), and buying the beans in larger quantities will save you money. If you insist on buying your coffee on-the-go, there are places where you can find a cup of java for under $2 which will make a huge difference if you’re regularly paying $3-$6 for specialty beverages. You can always splurge once in awhile as a gift to yourself, but remain conscious.
I don’t smoke cigarettes but if I did, they would be a huge financial drain. But let’s say you do smoke, and looking for alternatives.
The first best would be to quit altogether, but I’ve heard nothing but outstanding reviews for Allen Carr’s The Easy Way.
You could also try creating your own incredibly inexpensive smoking mix, roughly 10% the cost of cigarettes. You could drop by Alchimiste en Herbe and pick up a smoking mix or construct your own! Personally, I’d recommend a mix of rose, coltsfoot, raspberry, damiana, and mint.
I also don’t drink, but if you do, and you don’t want to stop anytime soon, brewing your own beer could be a cost-efficient alternative.
As a society, we are in desperate need of more open and non-commercial spaces for people to gather. The social pressure to spend money in an establishment diminishes the authenticity of the invitation in my opinion. I do not like feeling pressured to spend money when I go out, and I love being able to offer that out when it comes to my personal cohabitation experiment. We also have an open-door policy for those wanting to create collaboratively, share openly, or lend a hand in beautifying our space.
Other ways I enjoy having fun are through playing harmonica (a $30 instrument) and most recently with devil sticks ($30) and they last for years. A movie here and there, a bit of online splurging, a few concerts and art shows and voila. There are loads of free activities throughout the city. Concordia’s ‘University of the Streets Cafe’ is a great example of a wonderful way to pass an evening and converse with some incredibly interesting and engaging people.
My total cost towards ‘fun’ came to $239.04.
I have spent $314.67 on my health over the past year. A portion towards dental, another towards travel insurance and the rest was miscellaneous. I don’t use shampoo, only soap. Here’s a way you can stop using shampoo.
Also, be sure to take care of your teeth. Brushing and flossing daily will keep your dental bills low. A healthy mouth is a key element to a healthy body. And sunscreen! Some places you just don’t want to skimp!
There are a lot of ways to stay healthy. Regular exercise, meditation, walking, etc. If you love your rock climbing, you’re going to have to pay for it, but if your health habits are simpler and you have the space for it, you can take care of your body and mind for next to nothing.
Break a phone, buy a new one. I splurged on some fancy new tech and it cost me, but buying used off of Craigslist saved me some cash. If you’re looking for affordability, you have your options. Fongo is a free wifi phone line in Canada. If you want connectivity on a cell phone tower but want it for as little as possible, you can check out Koodo’s Pay-as-you-go plans. $15/month will get you texting, and if you buy the boosters, you get calling at 5c/minute and internet at $30/gig. If you’re a light user or nearly always at home or work, that could go a long way.
JoatU (8%) eats up a significant portion of my life, my current earning potential, and a part of my financial capital. In the past year, I have attended conferences, printed flyers, business cards, booklets and bought office supplies. For the time being, these costs are coming out of my pocket.
You might be saying to yourself, “I could never do this,” but here’s what I told myself before I set my own budget of $12000: I can do this.
Ask yourself: Is your life revolving around the people you love or the bills you have to pay for the stuff you don’t really need?
Life is a game and it’s up to you how you want to play it. Are you a player or are you being played? A lot of this comes down to the responsibilities you have to others, your personal priorities and how you ultimately want to live your life. The fact that I have surrounded myself with active and conscious individuals striving to build a model for community is incredibly motivating.
If you want to learn to live better for less, the first step is wanting to. When you’re ready, create a budget for yourself and know that it’s okay if you overspend. Budgeting is an experiment. Just knowing how you spend your money will help you become more conscious about it and that will help you tremendously. Have a wonderful 2015 and may we all do our best to consume less!