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The Secret to Living Well on $11,000 a Year

Our last story on frugal living, "The Secret to Living Well on $20,000 a Year," stirred up some heated comments, many of which argued that $20,000 a year represents a king's ransom. "Someone should do an article on how to live on less than $10,000 per year. I am a single mother who is doing just that," wrote Rici of Wyoming.

An anonymous commenter from Texas wrote, "[I'm] not impressed. I live on $8,796 a year."

"I am retired and living on less than $1,000 a month [from] Social Security," wrote Liz Ortiz of Colorado.

Glenn Morrissette, 42, wrote in to say that he lives on just $11,000 a year, and he does it by living full-time in an RV. As a result, he pays no rent, needs no car, and can live wherever he wants. Unlike Joseph Fonseca, the writer we profiled in our "Living Well on $20,000 a Year" article, Morrissette has health insurance. A professional musician, he can work by computer from any location. He might not have a family support, as the teacher living on $40,000 a year does, but we thought Morrissette's story was interesting enough to share. We spoke with Morrissette, who is currently in New Jersey, about his lifestyle, which he also describes on his blog, To Simplify. Excerpts:

Why did you decide to live in an RV?

I had an apartment in Burbank and was the typical Los Angeles apartment dweller. I started to feel a strong desire to simplify my life. I had a garage full of stuff I never used, my closets were full, and I started to see that it was costing me money to have an apartment big enough to hold all the stuff I never use.

Glenn Morrissette
Glenn Morrissette

My initial plan was to scale back and move into a smaller apartment. Before long, I realized I didn't need too much to be happy. I could fit into a small space. That's when the RV idea occurred to me. I was just sitting in traffic and an RV pulled up. I said, "I could probably fit in that thing." The more I looked into it, the more I realized how practical it would be. For what I was paying for rent in LA, I could own my "house" free and clear and not pay rent, and own my car as well.

How do you stay under $11,000 a year?

The two key things that make it possible are not having rent or a mortgage payment. I own my RV, so that was an initial expense [of about $14,000], but I have no house or car payment. Gas is controllable; I don't drive if I don't want to. Most months, I spend less than $300 on gas. I estimate that I save about $1,000 a month compared to what I was spending in LA.

What do you eat?

I eat pretty well. I don't skimp on food. I eat a lot of grass-fed meats, fruits, and vegetables ... some people call it the caveman diet. I go to farms, farmers markets, and health food stores. I probably spend about $250 a month on food. I could spend a lot less if I didn't care about eating well.

Do you have health insurance?

Yes. I'm self-employed so I purchase my own plan. I have a high-deductible plan and pay $80 per month. It would be even cheaper if I was 28. I don't understand young people who say, "I can't afford health insurance." Last year, my appendix ruptured, and the insurance was a life-saver. I learned my lesson.

What about clothes?

I'm a pretty basic jeans and T-shirt kind of guy. I don't have to go to the office, so I don't need a wardrobe. I have nine to 10 shirts and a couple pairs of jeans. I do have a suit so I can get dolled up when I have to, but my normal wardrobe is pretty minimal. I do one load of laundry every week, and I don't see the point of owning more clothes than I can do in one load of laundry.

Do you spend money on entertainment?

I don't go out much at all. I prefer the food I make to what I get in restaurants. More often than not, I'm disappointed. I'm pretty health-conscious and I want my food to be real food, so I'm content eating what I make. The idea of spending $30 at a restaurant--that seems like four to five days' worth of food to me. Years ago, I ate out every single meal. I'm kicking myself now, if only I had invested that money instead.

I'm not a big drinker, although I drink somewhat socially. I'm a pretty simple guy. Music is my life. Even if I'm not working, if I have a free day, I will spend a big chunk doing music. It's a profession and a hobby.

Do you splurge on anything?

The food I eat. I don't feel like I'm skimping at all. It's a form of health insurance to me.

And I just try to put myself in interesting places. I'm surprised how easy it is to do that. A lot of stuff is free out there. There's a lot of beautiful scenery in this country and it doesn't cost anything just to park. You can just drive into a national forest and live there for two weeks. I always try to give myself great real estate, whether it's by an ocean, a lake, or in the center of a cool little town. So I always have a great front yard, real estate that people would pay millions of dollars for, and it doesn't cost me anything.

I'm pretty frugal otherwise, and I don't miss it. I used to be part of the whole consumerist cycle, buying stuff I didn't need, and I don't do that anymore. It's liberating. I can maximize my savings. That's true freedom, to get to the point where I can say no to work anytime I want because I have a big enough nest egg. I'm not there yet, but that's my goal.

Do you have a retirement account?

Yes, I'm an avid investor. I guard my nest egg like crowned jewels. But I don't see myself ever retiring. I love what I do. I'd much rather do what I love and live small, and enjoy life.

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