Corbett Barr

Lifestyle Business Weekly

Why I Decide to Live Off Pennies

living off pennies

Guest post by David Damron of The Minimalist Path

This time last year, I was bringing home (after taxes and retirement contributions) about $1,000 every two weeks. I know that, by many standards, this may not be a lot of money, but in my eyes, it’s a kings ransom these days. Why you ask? Because I am the sole contributor to my income this year. In other words, I am living off pennies.

This article was inspired by Corbett’s question Is Lifestyle Design Dead Already? Hopefully, this post will help show you the realities of lifestyle design and why you should still focus on creating your own.

Lifestyle design can be somewhat utopian I must confess, but the dreams and desires come at a price. I am responsible for continued income flow and the only way this happens is by working until 4:00 am on projects like my book PROJECT M-31, which drive my income. If I decide to lay around and play Modern Warfare 2 for hours on end, my progress comes to a halt and the productivity continues to fall from there.

I must continue the progress started months earlier while juggling every aspect of running a small business. Designing the lifestyle you want is a joy, but running it is another story.

My days begin early and my nights end late. I have set myself up to do this. I enjoy working for 2-3 hours at a time with intermittent breaks for rest, workouts, running, eating, etc. By not working the typical 9-5 hours, I have chosen to work sporadically throughout the day. Sure, it is nice to hit the gym at 8:00 am when no one is there, but that also means that around 9:00 pm at night I am working on some project, replying to e-mails, paying affiliates, tweeting random things and writing new articles until the wee hours of the morning.

These give and takes vary for every person. I read that Sean Ogle tends to work 6 hours in the morning and then enjoy the afternoon followed by a little work in the evening. I like to follow that similar path, but even this example is different than mine. The key is putting in more hours than you think you need to. In your own business, there is always something that goes wrong or something you need to take care of, so the hours tend to grow longer. All of this is done in hopes of one day having a stream of income flowing without me being glued to the monitor.

The worst part of lifestyle design is clearly the support factor. When you create a lifestyle that is supported by the hope that others will enjoy your product, you tend to constantly worry.

This is not any different than your local small business owner. Everything, at least at first, is on your shoulders. Running your own business is like being beaten by George St. Pierre for 3 5-minute rounds in an octagon all while holding a bag of cement above your head. There is always something wrong and it is up to you to fix each and every issue. I couldn’t tell you the amount of time I wasted working on WordPress issues this week. With all that said, my decision is the right one for me.

My main goal is to be financially self sufficient. There are many other goals, but this one in particular will effect the other goals the most.

Total Expenses Plus 30% for WTF Moments

Currently, living in Phoenix and renting a room with my girlfriend from a friend is helping keep my financial situation in good shape. I have chosen to practically live off pennies because, well, that’s what I am making. Okay, I am making a few greenbacks, but not much. To do this, I have decided to follow the one and only Tim Ferriss (I think you all have heard of him) and his Monthly Expense Calculator. Being that debt is a small issue in my life, I am able to limit my expenses to the survival needs.

Roughly, my expenses total $750 before the added 30% increase for the WTF moments that happen in life. If you divide the total $750 that is absolutely necessary by 30 day’s/month, you will get 25. So, I just need to make $25/ day to break even.

I am sure there is either one of the two following thoughts going through your head right now: 1) “Do you really want to live on $25/day for the rest of your life?” or 2) “Wow, $25/day is really do-able in your situation.” Let me answer the first one by saying that I definitely do not want to live my life on only $25/day forever. But, to reach my goals, I am willing to scrape by now to one day make $50/day and then $100/day and then $250/day and so on.

As for the second thought that may have gone through your head, $25/day is definitely do-able. Just by launching PROJECT M-31, I have been able to generate this and that is only one source of income. Whichever way you look at it, the end result is continued growth. Getting to that destination is the difficult part.

By now, you are probably still asking why in the world I would live off pennies rather than go back to my old job and bring home much more right away to go along with my passive income. Well, my ultimate goal is to be my own boss, make way more than I did prior to my 9-5 departure and be happy. Most of my bosses in my life have been great, I have made decent wages, and I was somewhat happy. However, all of these were not helping me follow my LifeExcursion motto of Living Life to The Max.

Why would I want to settle for an okay life when I could live a kick-a** one? I understand that we need trash collectors, but it doesn’t have to be me. So, I took the giant leap of leaving comfort for excitement and true passionate success. That is the reason we, lifestyle designers, choose the life we want. It may not be to have all the security in the world at times, but is your “day job,” honestly, all that secure anyways? Living off of pennies is just a short term issue that really isn’t that big of an issue.

What I want you to take away from this article is that it is possible to design your utopian lifestyle. Sure, it may take a while to become perfect, but the journey is exciting and your own. This has been occurring since the dawn of man and will never stop.

The paths all may be different, but the desire to live the life we want is still possible, alive, and strong. Design your life and be more than society says you can be. I promise you will be happier and more successful this way.

David Damron writes at The Minimalist Path and is the author of PROJECT M-31: Simplify Your Life in 31 Days.

photo by Jonathan Pobre

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  1. David,

    I really enjoyed this post, in part because I think I can relate to it so much (thanks for the shout out by the way). I am currently doing the same thing, my monthly income is quite low, but I’ve also adapted my lifestyle to work around it – and you know what, I’m happier than I have ever been.

    Sure it is easier to spend little in a place like Thailand, but it can be done anywhere with some discipline and creativity. I also maintain that a few years of living off pennies is really not such a bad thing considering the potential it gives you for the future. Good for you for doing what it takes to achieve your goals, I am proud to say that I’m right there with you.

    • Thanks Sean!!!

      It can be done anywhere as you well know. I think people overthink how easy it is. The toughest part is the initial sacrifices. However, if one can get past that, it can be a life they truly do enjoy.

      David Damron

      • David, you explain the ins and outs, pros and cons of being self-employed so very eloquently and in a wonderfully encouraging and positive way! Just want to say thanks!

  2. It’s good to see how people set their lives up. Getting it down to basics like you have is nice. People are stunned by how little we actually need to live on, even in the U.S.

    I have said before that I have had a great many things in life at times, but I’ve never been as happy as with virtually nothing. After trying to maintain an expensive “American Dream” lifestyle, living free of all the stuff we’re told we need is incredibly liberating.

    • Hey James—-

      It is quite shocking how many don’t realize how little we need.

      In many western cultures, sacrificing cable television is like death. Surprisingly, the realization when you don’t have so much stuff isn’t so bad.

      Thanks for commenting…


  3. It’s awesome to read that you are doing things your way! So many people would get scared and return to the comfortable job and steady income. With the kind of work ethic you have, David, there is no doubt that you will go far and reach your goals as far as income and living the exact lifestyle you desire. GREAT STUFF MAN.

  4. Hi David,

    I also have scaled back my life a lot since I left Japan. Consuming many things just adds complexity, stress and extra work. I really am surprised at how liberating it is to give everything up and start living a minimalist lifestyle.

    I definitely think less is more.

    It is also great to hear about the work and sacrifices that are necessary to build a business of value. Too many people write about how easy it is to make a lot of money fast. I haven’t found it easy at all. Good luck with your endeavors!

    • Hey John—

      As I know you know, the tough parts of life are usually the most rewarding. Following you for some time now, I know you are headed towards great success.


  5. David, we are about to embark on our trip around the world and we’ve budgeted $100/day. You really can live well on a very small budget if you plan it. Good for you for keeping tabs on your spending now instead of waiting until later to figure out how to pay for the life you already have.

    My favorite quote of late is “Great does what mediocre doesn’t want to do.” I’ve been applying it mostly to my training for a half-marathon on those days I don’t want to get out of bed early to run, but it applies for lots of other things, too (like video gaming instead of building your empire).

    Much luck to you on your path to personal and financial freedom.

    • I like your $100/day plan. I did the exact same thing when I went to Europe by myself and it was the smartest thing I could have done. When you budget for things, you end up enjoying your time just as much if not more than if you weren’t budgeting.

      Have a good journey….


  6. David,

    We don’t need very much to live and be happy. You have discovered that, and you’re using it to your advantage. Good job!

    I’m about to embark on a world trip and I plan on spending, on average, less than $20 a day. And I plan on being happy!

    Have a good one!

    • It’s crazy to think how little we actually need. Usually, I am so much more creative than when I focus on spending.

      Thanks for commenting Eric


  7. The article is really to the point. Mobility Tips for the Traveling Entrepreneur – Handling Email, Phone Calls & More! is a good read for traveling tips.

  8. In the midst of reading the likes of Leo Babauta and Everett Bogue it is nice to run across a blogger just scraping by but still not conforming to the 9 to 5. Thank you for reminding us all how much work it takes and how uncomfortable one must before to reach their goal.

    • I am glad you enjoyed Nick. I hope I can be as successful as Ev and Leo soon, but maintain this simplified life.


  9. Trever

    Love the article! I’m kind of on a similar path myself right now. I was laid off from my cushy, $50k a year IT job, and now I think that it was the best thing that ever happened to me! Luckily I’m getting unemployment for the moment, but believe me, it’s nowhere near $50k! It’s allowed me to finally get serious about all of these projects that I’ve had bouncing around in my head, which include the launch of a physical product as well as an unrelated blog. Keep the great posts coming!

    • Thanks for sharing your story Trever.

      I think breaking free from conformity makes us re-analyze our decisions and choices.


  10. Nice post. i feel the same way.

  11. I totally agree with you here. Currently I’m unemployed and looking for a go-to job with my heart set on what I’m doing right now which is blogging. I learn more and more about it every day and have gotten myself on a schedule where I can make both happen.

    I’m hoping to be making some money in a few months as I’m releasing a free book to start my mailing list and work my butt off to make this all work.

    I’ve even had those WTF moments in my life, as I’m sure everyone has, but it’s excitement I look at as well.

    What do you think?

  12. I guess I’m living a similar lifestyle to you at the moment…I’m currently making the least amount of money I have ever made in my life…but I have never felt better about life. I’m doing my own thing and working towards getting to the top of the mountain, it is a tough, hard climb but I know I’m going to get there and the sacrifices that I’m making now will make it all worthwhile in the end.

  13. While, I am still employed by my 9 to 5 at a bank, I have been “living off pennies” for quite some time as if I was not employed. This has been in anticipation of not having the steady stream of income. It gives me much freedom and mobility by having saved for the time when I will not be bound by a 9 to 5 and will have the time to devote to my projects and life goals. The small (and large) sacrifices made now are made completely worth it, by the future freedom earned!

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Happy ! Thanks for reading.

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