How Little Could You Live Off?

How Little Could You Live Off?

Extreme frugality is a force to be reckoned with. Those welding it can quickly amass a small fortune in a short period of time and enjoy an early retirement. However, for many frugality is not a choice, it’s a necessity.

Consider the minimum wage in Ontario, Canada is $11.00 per hour. Assuming someone earning minimum wage works 35 hours a week and takes two weeks’ vacation they would gross $19,250 and net after remittances $16,750. Dividing this take home amount into 12 months of the year would mean a spending budget of approximately $1,400 per month.

Given my current mortgage payments, home utilities, auto expenses, and my propensity to overeat (nom, nom, nom) – I would be in deep shit/debt very quickly if I earned such a wage. That being said, I would have to change a lot of things in my current lifestyle to fit the minimum wage budget. For the scenario below I’m going to assume a two person household with the set $1,400/month budget.


A common rule Real estateof thumb is to spend no more than 30% of your budget on housing (that includes utilities), which means I would have $420 per month for accommodations. Try finding a place to rent in Toronto or any other major city in North America for this price point would be next to impossible (I won’t consider subsidized housing for this post). Just thinking about not being able to afford a place to live gives me anxiety.

Two things quickly become apparent 1) living in a big city isn’t an option 2) renting is the only option unless I start camping out (which wouldn’t be awful in the summer, but not realistic in the winter).

Looking on Kijiji in Barrie, ON, I found a 1 bedroom, basement apartment that is furnished for $550 and about 3km from the downtown area. Which means I’ve spent 39% of my net minimum wage earnings on housing and have a remaining $850 for everything else.




I know this budget cut will be the deepest…

Typically my household spends approximately $350/month in groceries PLUS about $250/month in eating out, booze and other luxuries = $600/month. The grocery bill is only for two adults and no kids (I know those with growing children will cringe in comparison). We do grocery shop fairly modestly, but when it comes to the few times a month we eat out we don’t hold back – it’s a great balance.

Now, spending $600/month would all but demolish the remaining $850 budget so I would aim to cut down the booze and eating out and could probably reduce this figure in half to $125/month (I like McDonalds just as much as Kelsey’s anyways). I’d still try to maintain the grocery bill at $350/month because eating well is a huge part of my lifestyle for a total of $475/month.

I’m now down to $375 of the original $1,400/month spending budget.


I group all this together because most of this stuff really is discretionary spending and can be reduced to very little with the right thinking.

“Jonny, you mean I don’t have to buy a $3,100 pair of Gucci jeans?”


No, go to Winners and get a knock off pair with a stich going the opposite way for $20. I seriously can’t tell the difference, and pray I never can.

“Jonny, I HAVE to buy a gym membership otherwise I’ll be out of shape and depressed”

Really? Check me out a few years back (note: before I landed a hot gf and got a bit lazy).


That’s not a $50/month LA Fitness body, that’s a Run Your Ass Outside and Do Some Chin Ups body. Am I bragging? Absolutely! But my main point is we’re conditioned to throw money at a problem or issue rather than solving it ourselves. As a plethora of new January gym members find out every February when they stop working out, just because you spend money, doesn’t mean you’ll get results.

Even in my current household we probably spend approximately $250/month in this broad category. It should be noted we typically go on vacation once a year, but if I was working on minimum wage that would turn into a staycation with some camping in the backyard and neighbourhood pool hopping.

Lastly, I want to introduce perhaps one of the best resources for entertainment and learning – the library. Now, this was a place I avoided like the plague throughout most of university, but I’ve really come full circle and love going.

If you’re tight on cash or running a monthly deficit (spending more than you make) cancel your internet, cable, Good House Keeping mag and any other subscriptions you may be paying. You can save hundreds of dollars each month by going to the library regularly. Books, magazines, movies, music albums, cooking clubs, an old lady in glasses telling you to be quiet…all at your fingertips for free!

I was in there last weekend and rented The Theory of Everything (2014). I started getting teary eyed part way through the movie, but it wasn’t because of Stephen Hawking’s health struggles, I was still overwhelmed the 2 week rental was free! No wonder BlockBuster went belly up!


So here’s how my budget for a two-person household earning one minimum wage salary would look each month:

Gross Earnings                                  $1,600

Taxes & Remittances                      ($200)

Housing                                              ($550)

Food                                                    ($475)

Clothes/Fun/Other                           ($250)

Earnings Remaining                           $125

A couple things come to mind looking at this budget:

  • There’s not a lot left over for emergencies (health/medical) – which is scary. I think this is typical, even for those earning a lot more, which results in higher levels of debt when emergencies do come along
  • I haven’t budgeted anything for transportation, but if you’re on minimum wage a money pit car should be avoided and instead live close to work and amenities. I’d love to get rid of my current car…
  • Parents with kids and a modest pay check are miracle workers!

This is an extremely rough budget and more of an exercise of self-reflection than advice.

Take a look at your own budget and see where you might be able to trim down of the fat. I’d be interested to hear what you think about this exercise and where you can cut some needless spending!

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  1. As a fellow accountant, I can’t help but track my expenses regularly to see how I am doing. The biggest challenge for me is eating out. After a long days work, it’s too easy to just go pick-up a nice king-sized steak burrito. If I do this more than once in a week, I’ll occasionally eat it in the car and dispose of the evidence before I get home so my fiance doesn’t yell at me. :-)
    Brian @ Accounting Newbie recently posted…Rise of the Cloud-Based CPAMy Profile

    • Jonny

      Haha, I love it Brian!
      I think my equivalent would be smashing half a bag of chips when my gf goes up to shower!
      I’ve come to terms with the amount of times we eat out. It’s really the only area in the budget we splurge on and we really enjoy it.
      Thanks for the comment and confession :)

  2. I know what its like to live on a budget !We had to live on my husband’s pension when we return to Australia and it was not much. We bought stuff on marked down prices to stretch our dollars. I do my homework before we go shopping so we know where to get cheaper chicken!
    Elle recently posted…Morganfield’s Ibérico Baby RackMy Profile

    • Jonny

      I’m completely with you on the cheap chicken!
      Looking back on that time when you and your husband were surviving off one pension: can you recall being overly stressed?
      I remember in university I didn’t own more than a bed and a cheap computer, yet living with a low overhead didn’t seem to bother me much…in fact it was pretty liberating at times.
      Thanks for the comment!

  3. hi Jonny
    Love it, and what a reality check! As most of us would not be able to live this way. But get this. I work with individuals on income assistance and disability. In BC, they get 610$ on income assistance and 906$ on disability a month. Try living off of that. It is a daily struggle that most are facing. In Vancouver, housing costs are so high that one has to go for lower end options (hotel rooms to rent) or subsidized housing. There is just no other options when one’s earnings are that low. There are some good places to live but oftentimes there is a huge waitlist. One thing you did not mention in this post are bills such as phones. As oftentimes it is their lifeline. And for a prepaid cell phone, that another 40-50$ a month. And then food. And for some, unfortunately, an utter inability to manage their funds and budget. There is no judgment on my part in this statement as I truly do not know if I would do any better. But i can only imagine how hard that would be.
    Emily recently posted…Native American rivalry: Cree vs BlackfootMy Profile

    • Jonny

      That is an extremely tight budget with a lot of margin for error. Besides subsidized housing what do you see people doing to make ends meet on a $1,500 budget? Balancing a $1,500 budget would be a difficult challenge even for the most fiscally aware household.
      Haha, yes, I forgot phones…I think I got overexcited about the library! What’s interesting though is throughout most of university I never had a phone of any sort and still managed to survive. Email and instant messengers allowed me to communicate more than enough. I wonder how that would go over now…
      Thanks a lot for stopping buy!

  4. I agree with you that this is a tough budget. But I also agree with you that we can still live a quality life on a smaller budget it we learn not to through money at everything and instead come up with creative ways to get the things that we want. Congrats on getting the body you want with out having to spend $100s at the gym and yet many people including myself have signed up for gym memberships and never attended for more than a few months.
    Sheni recently posted…The Danger Of Drinking Diet SodaMy Profile

    • Jonny

      Thanks Sheni – your comment about quality of life without a hefty budget is something I’ve only come to realize over the last few years.
      Really appreciate your thoughtful comment!

  5. Great post Jonny, as a father of 2 and a fellow online entrepreneur I can fully relate with having to have a solid budget in place!

    As we plan to live a complete digital lifestyle travelling abroad it is important for my family to be as frugal as possible.

    I really enjoyed reading this article and I wish you all the best.


    Beau recently posted…Is Epoll Surveys Legit? We Find OutMy Profile

    • Jonny

      Cheers Beau – I really appreciate it.
      Sounds like you’re living an adventurous life traveling abroad!
      Sticking to a budget allows you to plan to do things that are important. So often people feel a budget is a constraint when really it has the opposite effect.
      Thanks for the comment!
      Jonny recently posted…How Little Could You Live Off?My Profile

  6. Hey yeah if you have kids and you go to the library and you look at movies from the library and read books and stuff like that you don’t have to worry about the commercials telling your kids what they need to have far as when you do it newest and greatest games that they should have make a present build something that’s what you do in other countries that don’t have near as much as we do with $1,500 I see people throat half of their meal away after ordering it at McDonald’s or something right on brother

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