How much money do I really need to live?


Announcer: Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from HowStuffWorks.com.

Josh Clark: Hey, and welcome to the podcast. Chuck is cracking up. What is going on, Chuck?

Chuck Bryant: I just can't believe I said that. That is so gross.

Josh Clark: Yeah, we can't repeat what Chuck just said. He's a dirty, dirty boy.

Chuck Bryant: They're all gonna wonder.

Josh Clark: His name is Charles W. Bryant. My name is Joshua M. Clark. I go by Josh. He goes by Chuck or Compass Head and Chuckers. And this is Stuff You Should Know. Thanks for tuning in to our podcast.

Chuck Bryant: Are you on uppers?

Josh Clark: Yeah, I did a bunch of amyl nitrate, man. Everything is weird.

Chuck Bryant: Good for you.

Josh Clark: Thanks. So Chuck, times are tough right now, as you know.

Chuck Bryant: Indeed.

Josh Clark: They're particularly tough for me. I am broke all the time. Right?

Chuck Bryant: I know that.

Josh Clark: Actually, we have this cool monthly - yeah, you know that because I like to bum money off of Chuck once in a while. We have this monthly expenses calculator on the site. Have you been on it?

Chuck Bryant: No.

Josh Clark: It's unnerving. It's got all this great stuff. Like estimate how much you spend on gas a month, cable, your phone, insurance. All this, and then you put in at the top your monthly gross income. Somehow, I'm living on negative $254.00 a month.

Chuck Bryant: That's awesome.

Josh Clark: I have no idea how I'm still alive.

Chuck Bryant: But Uncle Sam has - well, Uncle Sam is in trouble, too. They take quite a bite.

Josh Clark: Well, imagine if I had put my net income in there. I'd be in the hole like a grand every morning when I wake up. But yeah, so I mean like I said, times are tough. We're all very, very happy to be here at HowStuffWorks.com. HowStuffWorks.com. We love this place. Love it, seriously. Please don't fire us.

Chuck Bryant: Very fortunate to have jobs.

Josh Clark: Exactly. As we know - remember, we met that guy, Chris, in our podcast.

Chuck Bryant: Yes.

Josh Clark: Yeah, so - no, I'm sorry. Our spoken word album! I just got the cockeye from our producer, Jerry.

Chuck Bryant: The stink eye.

Josh Clark: She's like, "And don't even say audio book, kid." Yeah, so it's a little rough right now. One of the things I've learned is that as long as I have gas in the car, beer, and cigarettes, I'm set. Because really, honestly, I have virtually discontinued eating! I don't eat breakfast. I rarely ate breakfast anyway. I don't eat lunch, and dinner is usually kind of small, that kind of thing. And it's amazing how quick your stomach shrinks. Right!

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: You just - I'm not hungry. I'm rarely hungry. Usually, by about 7:00, which is when I'll eat dinner if I do? I'll be kind of hungry, but if I just say, "No, I'm not really hungry," it goes away.

Chuck Bryant: Sure. You drink some coffee.

Josh Clark: That helps.

Chuck Bryant: Because caffeine is -

Josh Clark: The problem is there's an arch where appetite is suppressed, appetite is suppressed, and then all of a sudden, caffeine just screams into your stomach, and it really points out how empty your stomach is. So you have to know there cutoff point is. Right!

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: I've been writing a lot of health articles lately, and it turns out that there is a well-known fact in the medical establishment. This isn't crackpot fringe stuff.

Chuck Bryant: That you're really unhealthy because you don't eat?

Josh Clark: No, that I will probably live longer than I normally would have because of a calorie restricted diet.

Chuck Bryant: Right, which we've talked about before.

Josh Clark: We have, and I have found out, quite happily, that I accidentally fell -

Chuck Bryant: Backwards.

Josh Clark: Thank you, backwards. I'm like hung up on profanity. Into a calorie restricted diet and I will live longer. Even smoking cigarettes!

Chuck Bryant: Well, good luck with that, my friend.

Josh Clark: Thanks. But the point is I've found that you can get by on very little money. And that just so happens to be what we're talking about right now.

Chuck Bryant: That was the longest set up in the history of Stuff You Should Know, which is good. A new record!

Josh Clark: Thanks.

Chuck Bryant: I wasn't knocking it.

Josh Clark: Do I get a medal of any kind?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: Because I would totally pawn it right now.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, to buy cigarettes. So yeah, Josh, you can get by - I think what's the name of the article? How Much Money Do I Really Need to Live?, written by Jane.

Josh Clark: Yes, our colleague, Jane McGrath, who is our fine fine financial and money writer. And she also has her own podcast, Stuff You Missed in History Class with Candace Gibson, editrix extraordinaire. Actually, no! It's not Candace Gibson any longer. Our dear Candace got married.

Chuck Bryant: Candace Keener.

Josh Clark: Candace Keener now. CK. So Chuck, how much money do we need? I don't know how much I need to live, but as far as the government is concerned, don't they have some sort of estimate that I may have heard of?

Chuck Bryant: I think you're talking about the poverty threshold.

Josh Clark: Yes, which again, reading this article, that's very little money that the government considers the poverty line. I looked it up in 2009 for a single person; the government thinks you can get by on $10,830.00 a year.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I actually lived below the poverty line one year.

Josh Clark: No, you didn't.

Chuck Bryant: I did. Not too long ago.

Josh Clark: Wow, Chuck.

Chuck Bryant: This was when I was in the film business, and I was working as a PA, and I made very, very little money. But like with this article, I had very cheap apartment.

Josh Clark: In LA?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: Is there such a thing?

Chuck Bryant: There was at the time. I had a really good deal going. And you know how it works, dude. I didn't buy much food. I bought really cheap food. And I was able to do it. I was shocked when I got my statement at the end of the year. I was like, "You've got to be kidding me. I lived on that?" And I didn't feel like I really missed out on that much.

Josh Clark: That's crazy. Well, it's because you're hanging out with Matthew McConaughey the whole time.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, true. Matty!

Josh Clark: So that's for one person. Ten grand, $830.00!

Chuck Bryant: Right, that's absolute poverty, which they've been looking at this kind of stuff since the 1960s.

Josh Clark: Right, well, let me say also a family of four as far as in 2009 supposedly can get by on $22,050.00. A family of four! That's insane to me. But yeah, so this is - this all comes from the '60s. There was an analyst named Molly Orshansky, and he came up with the poverty line. Basically, what he did was he estimated the total annual cost of a healthy diet in America, and then he multiplied it by three because he read that a 1955 USDA report that said that Americans spend about one-third of their income on food. So that would make sense. You figure out how much food you need and then multiply it by three, and then you have the poverty line. That's the least amount of money you need to make to get by.

Chuck Bryant: Right and the Census Bureau adopted that. They're like - this is a great job.

Josh Clark: True, and unfortunately, they've been using it ever since with very little adjustment. So they adjust for inflation, increases of the price for food, that kind of thing, but really, it's still based on that original formula.

Chuck Bryant: Right, with the one-third number. I think that's what's causing a lot of issues. Some people say that one-seventh of your income is what you actually spend on food now.

Josh Clark: Yeah, and also, you have to take into account back in '50s and early '60s; you didn't have to get a loan to buy a car. They become exponentially more expensive. You also didn't have cable TV. You also didn't have wireless internet. You also didn't have cell phones.

Chuck Bryant: Any internet, for that matter.

Josh Clark: That is true. Thanks for that one. We have so many more bills today that the formula should have been changed years and years ago.

Chuck Bryant: Right, but the bills, I think, this is the crux of the matter is want versus need, and that's kind of the crux of the article is do you need wireless internet? People think they can't live without their cell phone, but not too long ago, all of us lived without a cell phone, and it wasn't that big of a deal.

Josh Clark: Well, there's this thing called relative needs. Do you remember when we talked about the five-day weekend?

Chuck Bryant: Uh huh.

Josh Clark: We talked about relative needs, and it was - like say your neighbor gets a really big TV, and all of a sudden, you need a TV, but you need a really big TV.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Right, that's a relative need. But not all relative needs are kind of wanty, grabby needs. Like I need to beat my neighbor! They also reflect the competitiveness in the marketplace in the labor force. Right? Like if you have a cell phone and the guy who is up for a job next to you has only a landline and has to go home to use a pay phone to stay connected, who is going to really come out on top?

Chuck Bryant: Or you might just miss the one call that you need.

Josh Clark: Sure. So there are certain things that you could say, "Yeah, that's kind of frivolous. We did without them." But the fact is everyone else has them, so you kind of have to have them to stay competitive. Like I've been trying to find any way I can to cut down on monthly expenses, and one clear way is just to get rid of my cable. But I'm not going to get rid of my cable entirely because I still need wireless internet because I work at home a lot.

Chuck Bryant: Sure, and we have a research based job, so we need the internet.

Josh Clark: Exactly. And the cell phone! Like yeah, you can pare it down. Like I can have a pretty bare bones cell phone plan and it would save a few bucks, but if you really look at it, it's like I'm saving 30, 40 bucks a month, which technically adds up over the course of a year. But really, you're like, "I just went through that in gas." So it's kind of a frustrating balancing act trying to pare down monthly expenses. Right?

Chuck Bryant: Yes, absolutely.

Josh Clark: So what are some of the things you can do there, Chuck, if you want to really look at how to live on the least amount of money?

Chuck Bryant: Well, Josh, I was raised by my mother and father. But namely, my mother raised our family of five on an elementary school principal salary in the 1970s and '80s.

Josh Clark: It was just your dad working?

Chuck Bryant: Just my dad. My mom quit teaching to raise the kids and then went back to teaching once I was older.

Josh Clark: And she did a sterling job, by the way, Chuck.

Chuck Bryant: Thank you. Thanks, mom. But my mom was and is a master economist, micro-economist. She was able to - she clipped coupons, which is one of the things we highly recommend. I mean she had a box filed with coupons, alphabetized. It was all very organized. We shopped at the discount clothiers, like Marshal's, places like that.

Josh Clark: My mom did that, too. My mom was pretty good like that, too. She could never understand why I just refused to wear Knights of the Round Table clothing. She's like, "It looks exactly the same." Like, "No, see that? That's a little flag."

Chuck Bryant: Is it supposed to be Polo?

Josh Clark: Polo. It looked just like the Polo thing, except instead of a Polo mallet, the top of the mallet, it was a flag. And I got to tell you, when you're 11, every kid around you sees that flag. They zero in on that flag.

Chuck Bryant: Well, try me, buddy. Not only that, but my family, we shopped at the store that had the flaws in the clothing.

Josh Clark: Oh, an outlet store.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Well, no, it wasn't an outlet store. It was called - I can't remember what it's called.

Josh Clark: Factory store?

Chuck Bryant: No.

Josh Clark: Liquidator?

Chuck Bryant: No.

Josh Clark: I don't - I'm out of - I got nothing.

Chuck Bryant: It's basically like it'll be the name brand. It'll be like, "Hey, look at those Converse shoes," but they're missing two eyeholes, or your jeans are missing a zipper. That kind of thing!

Josh Clark: What's funny is as I've grown older, I've come to see the value in stuff like that.

Chuck Bryant: Absolutely, man.

Josh Clark: Like who pays full price? Who pays retail?

Chuck Bryant: Not me, and that goes back to my point is growing up, I always felt like I was maybe missing out here and there, and not that we were poor by any means. I always felt like I had everything I needed, but I didn't get the members only jacket and I didn't get the parachute pants. And now I look back -

Josh Clark: Which is actually good?

Chuck Bryant: I know. Now I thank God for my mom not getting me those things. And the end result is as an adult, I have a natural inclination toward being a little more frugal and watching my money in some ways. But I'm also my father's son, who is notorious for blowing money on flights of fancy. So I also had that. So it's a nice balance.

Josh Clark: That is a good balance.

Chuck Bryant: Like I won't - I'll walk around behind my wife turning out lights, and I'll try and recycle everything under the sun and reuse it, but I'll go out and blow $500.00 on a guitar without even thinking.

Josh Clark: And he will, people. I have been there with him when he did. It was a great guitar. What was it?

Chuck Bryant: Well, it's a nice guitar.

Josh Clark: Okay. Chuck is afraid you're going to break into his house and take his guitar.

Chuck Bryant: So, coupons.

Josh Clark: Wait. Let me also say that I want to give a shout out to my mom who was a very, very great woman at being thrifty, but also making her kids feel like we were rich. As I've grown older, I've realized not everybody at turkey loaf and drank green Kool-Aid for dinner. You know what I mean? Yeah, so now, I'm kind of like, "Hats off."

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, hats off to moms. Mother's Day is approaching. Let's just say thanks to all moms.

Josh Clark: Yeah, here's to you, moms. Great.

Chuck Bryant: So clipping coupons is a good way, Josh. Buying generi!. I know there was a great grocery store in Atlanta called Kroger. I don't know if they're nationwide. I know they're in the southeast.

Josh Clark: Kroger is - yeah, they're pretty big.

Chuck Bryant: But man, I buy the Kroger brands. It's always cheaper, and it's just as good.

Josh Clark: Especially their delicious private stock brand.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Chuck, do you remember the generic brand? There was a brand that was like - it was a white box. And it would say in black block letters, "Bran Flakes," and then there was a UPC code, and that was it.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Did you ever see the beer?

Josh Clark: No.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, it was great. My first - this was when my brother lived in Los Angeles. My first visit ever to LA! Me and some friends from UGA went and stayed with my brother. We went to the store to get some beer, and literally, the first thing our eye went to was the six-pack of white cans that said, "Beer." And we loaded up. It was awful.

Josh Clark: Oh, was it bad?

Chuck Bryant: It was terrible.

Josh Clark: Could you stomach it? Did you finish it?

Chuck Bryant: Of course. I was in college.

Josh Clark: I have never seen that. I would love - I'm going on eBay after this to see if I can find some.

Chuck Bryant: Well, it's not around anymore.

Josh Clark: Somebody has got it in their garage somewhere.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, probably. Some 2012-er!

Josh Clark: We could probably find some Billy Beer on there.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, yeah, from Billy Carter.

Josh Clark: Sure. Some 2012-er! So Chuck, we've got coupons.

Chuck Bryant: Coupons, generic.

Josh Clark: We've got generic. There's also - cooking at home is huge. No. 1, if you're like out and about and you're not cooking but you're poor, you're - say goodbye to vegetables in your diet. Because no fast food place sells vegetables, and if they do, they're no longer nutritious. They have been slathered in fat and deep-fried so long that you might as well just eat blocks of cheese. That's it. So yeah, if you can cook at home, No. 1, it's cheaper. No. 2, it's healthier. And in the article, Jane cites a source that says if you bring your own lunch to work every day, you can save about $960.00 a year. Struck me as very low! Because around here, you can't get lunch for less than $10.00!

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, eight to ten.

Josh Clark: Let's go with ten because the math is a lot easier. But that comes to - if you go out every day, which there's a lot of people who work with us that do. That's like $2,500.00 a year. That's a lot of cheese.

Chuck Bryant: I feel guilty when I eat out lunch. I do. I feel like it's a complete waste of money. If I don't bring my sandwich or something and I'm forced to eat out, I try and skip lunch. But yeah, it makes me - I don't want to go home and say, "I spent $12.00 on lunch."

Josh Clark: I don't either. I know what you mean.

Chuck Bryant: I value a buck.

Josh Clark: I'll treat myself sometimes. Generally, I don't eat lunch. I'm a Gordon Gecko adherent. But let me give you a little tip, and I know you already know this. If you ever happen to be hanging around the courtyard downstairs around 12:00, 12:30, and you see Roxanne Reid, strike up a conversation wither her because she has a policy of buying lunch for whoever she runs into while she's down there.

Chuck Bryant: She bought me lunch one day.

Josh Clark: She bought me lunch twice.

Chuck Bryant: Well, we just need to time this better. Alternate.

Josh Clark: Yeah, we can both just be there with big dough eyes, like, "Hey, Roxanne."

Chuck Bryant: So yeah, need versus want, Josh. That's what it comes down to. If you're suffering in these tough times, I think what you need to do is take a good, hard look at your finances, break it down, line it out item by item, and really think about it. Do I need cable, or can I get rid of it for the next six or eight months?

Josh Clark: Especially with the new digital transmissions. Apparently, they opened up - if it works, it opened up a lot more channels than was available with just rabbit ears. And it's a lot clearer, too. So that's something.

Chuck Bryant: I went without cable a couple of times in my life for extended periods, and I thought I was going to miss it, man, but after a little while, you just kind of forget.

Josh Clark: It's like not eating. Yeah. I've done it once or twice before, and you get used to it really quickly.

Chuck Bryant: Right, although, we're not saying that you should not eat, people. That's Josh's bag.

Josh Clark: Nice, thanks, Chuck.

Chuck Bryant: Not healthy. We're not encouraging that.

Josh Clark: Okay. So yeah, I think the irony is in this article, we never really say how much it takes. It's more like a relative thing.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, it's all personal.

Josh Clark: Yeah. So as you were saying, it is time for us to take a good, long look at our finances. It seems like we're coming out of a phase where just conspicuous consumption is a thing of the past. You see somebody riding around in a Hummer. It's like, "Did you miss the memo?" I realize you can't sell that thing to anybody or give it away for free, but it seems like at least the US is taking this new tack where we're getting a little more frugal, and there's a big difference between being wealthy and rich and being able to take care of yourself and your family. And it's good that it's in. I feel good about that. And the other thing is don't forget to save.

Chuck Bryant: Save money?

Josh Clark: Saving is huge. It's an important thing. We are not a nation of savers. And apparently, we're becoming more and more of a nation of savers, which is heartening. It's a good thing.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. You know what I hope, dude, is that this whole recession blows over, and that we're all better for it in the end.

Josh Clark: Ultimately, we will, but you know like the Great Depression era grandparents that everybody gripes about? It's like, "God, okay, yes, I understand. You can use this coffee can for 80 different things, and you have been." We're that generation, dude. We're in the making. We are going to annoy the kids that come behind us badly.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, that's how it always works.

Josh Clark: So look forward, you whippersnappers, to hearing from Chuck and I because we're going to tell you all about how bad it was in '09. I would like to also say if you want to learn more about how much money you need to live, you can go to - you can type that into HowStuffWorks.com in our handy search bar. And there's that monthly income or monthly expenses calculator is in there. There's a bunch of really great personal finance links in that article. It's a good one, again, by Jay McGrath. So let's do the blog thing, Chuck.

Chuck Bryant: Right. Speedy plug, we have a blog now. We've been writing on it. We have people posting comments, and it's a lot of fun, and we encourage you to check it out on the right side of the home page.

Josh Clark: And also, I'm glad you said that because you just gave me my new hotel pseudonym.

Chuck Bryant: What is it?

Josh Clark: Speedy Plug.

Chuck Bryant: That's pretty good. We actually had a bunch of people write in with suggestions for new pseudonyms.

Josh Clark: Yeah, we need to do that listener mail next time.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I need to compile those. Those are good.

Josh Clark: Yeah because there were a lot of them that were French. Did you notice that?

Chuck Bryant: No.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: So should we - and quickly, our audio spoken word record album -

Josh Clark: Our spoken word album, called The Stuff You Should Know Super Stuff Guide to the Economy, it's up on iTunes, $3.99, worth every penny we're coming to realize. And you can type in Super Stuff in the search bar of your iTunes while you're searching the iTunes store, and it should be the first thing that comes up. And if y ou want to buy it, great for you!

Chuck Bryant: Right, help support Josh and Jerry and Chuck so we're not begging for nickels any time soon. Is it time?

Josh Clark: It's time for listener mail.

Chuck Bryant: Okay, Josh. I just have one today. This is from Patrick. Patrick was writing in about déjà vu. The déjà vu episode! He wanted to respond because we talked about biological déjà vu, and he has some insight. He has an affliction, and this is really odd. He's had it since he was 12. He's now 25. "Occasionally, I'll experience an intense sensation of déjà vu, almost like a dream. I'll remember some scene or dialogue that feels incredibly familiar." Sounds like normal déjà vu so far. Right? "However, during this episode, I feel dizzy, start to mumble, and I usually need to brace myself against something for about 20 to 30 seconds. I recover; have a slight headache, and the dizzy spells occur in clusters. So I'll have five or six of these in a given day and then not experience them for a month or so. However, I'll just have one really intense déjà vu episode that will cause me to completely lose consciousness for about 30 seconds."

Josh Clark: Okay, can I interject here? What is this person's name?

Chuck Bryant: Patrick.

Josh Clark: Patrick. I would like to strongly urge you to go see a neurologist, like immediately.

Chuck Bryant: I'm not done. Pay attention.

Josh Clark: Thanks.

Chuck Bryant: Some other weird traits. These happen once a month, almost to the day, which is interesting. After the episode is over, he can't remember anything about it. No memories of it. He attempts to write things down or describe them while they're happening, but it's just gibberish. It usually happens in the morning, but in all kinds of situations. Standing, sitting, running, stressed, calm, whatever! He's gone to the doctor. No one can explain it. He's had two EEGs and an MRI. And various theories have included seizures, inner ear problems, salt deficiencies, and low blood pressure. Luckily, it doesn't interfere too much with my daily life, aside from interrupting a conversation every now and then. Patrick.

Josh Clark: Long story short, Patrick is a stigmata.

Chuck Bryant: Is he?

Josh Clark: I think so. That's my theory.

Chuck Bryant: He was very open. I appreciate Patrick sharing that.

Josh Clark: Yeah, thanks, Patrick. And I'm glad you did go see a doctor.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, I hope that you don't have anything really wrong with you.

Josh Clark: No, I mean hey, as long as you're not going bonkers or you're not hurting yourself, that's cool. So yeah, that's my professional medical opinion. Of course, my formal training is in pediatrics.

Chuck Bryant: He actually did ask us to posit an opinion on it, but we can't do that.

Josh Clark: I did.

Chuck Bryant: Because we have no idea.

Josh Clark: I already did.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, but that's bunk.

Josh Clark: Okay, so that was that. That was Patrick. We appreciate you Patrick, the stigmata. And if you're a stigmata, you suffer from some sort of religious affliction, or if you just want to say hi, you can send us an e-mail to StuffPodcast@HowStuffWorks.com.

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