Living cheap

Living On $1,800 A Month: Budget, Lifestyle And More

When I first moved out, I got by on roughly $1,200 a month. I don’t miss the crappy apartment, the ramen noodles or the lack of a TV, but still, I look back at those times with a broad smile.

Living on little builds character. But at some point, we all have to make some financial changes. After all, it’s basically impossible to feed a family on less than $2K/month.

Anyways… Let’s get to the point:

Yes, a frugal single person can live on $1,800 a month in most cities in the U.S. On average, if you live 40% below the median cost of living, you’ll have $100 left to save and invest every month.

In the rest of the article, I’ll look at the cost of living in different cities in the U.S. and try to help you figure out if living on $1,800 a month is possible for you.

The Places You Can Live On $1,800 Per Month:

Location is a huge factor when it comes to the cost of living. Both the rent, taxes and “price of stuff” depends on your city. For example, moving from Tulsa to New York you can expect to double your monthly living expenses and rent.

In the table below, I’ve looked at a bunch of different cities and found the median cost of living (expenses + rent) for single people.

Spoiler alter: looks bad if you’re trying to live on $1,800 a month…

LocationExpenses Including Rent:
New York, NY$4,193
San Francisco, CA$3,843
Oakland, CA$3,403
Washington, DC$3,113
Boston, MA$3,268
Pittsburgh, PA$2,178
Nashville, TN$2,766
San Diego, CA$3,118
Miami, FL$3,086
Chicago, IL$2,611
Philadephia, PA$2,430
Los Angeles, CA$3,044
Dallas, TX$2,496
Atlanta, GA$2,365
Las Vegas, NV$2,130
Orlando, FL$2,364
Austin, TX$2,668
Huston, TX$2,163
Tulsa, OK$1,709
(Data sources: Cost of Living and Rent IndexCost of living in New YorkMedian rent in New York)

Observations based on the table above:

  • Tulsa is the only city affordable enough to live on $1,800, given a “median lifestyle”.
  • The average monthly cost of living for a single person is $2,834. That’s roughly $1,000 more than your budget.

Even though basically all the cities are more expensive than $1,800/month, there’s still hope:

The numbers above are the median expenses and rent. By making frugal decisions, you can get by on much less!

Let me be clear: Living frugally does not mean living in a tent and eating ramen noodles…

You just need to cut down on “the big stuff”. Here’s what I mean:

The typical American household spends roughly 35% of their money on housing and another 16% on transportation. 12% goes to food (groceries and eating out). This means that Americans generally spend over 60% of their money on rent, their car(s) and on eating out.

This info can be leveraged practically – making frugal decisions on the three biggest things, which are housing, transportation and food, you can live far below the numbers in the table above.

I did this (and still stick with it) and cut my expenses by 40%.

How To Live (Frugally) On $1,800 Per Month:

Having only $1,800/month makes it necessary to cut down expenses. Luckily, there are ways to achieve this!

In addition, it doesn’t cut it to just “get by”, and live paycheck to paycheck. You should always have some leftovers to put into savings or investment.

Not saving and investing significant sums every month is a huge issue, especially in times of high inflation.

To read more about why inflation necessitates saving and investing, check out these articles:

As mentioned earlier, living frugally doesn’t mean living in a tent and eating ramen and cold hot dogs…

Here’s the secret to living frugally:

The number one thing you need to understand is that small stuff makes a small impact and big stuff makes a big impact.

Here’s what I mean by that:

If you cut out your Netflix subscription and stop drinking the occasional Starbucks coffee, you’re probably only saving $50-$75 a month. In addition, you have to make the choice repeatedly every time you pass a Starbucks or get bored and crave a good movie.

On the other hand, if you move into a cheaper apartment closer to work, you might save hundreds on cheaper rent. In addition, you’re saving hundreds on transportation costs at the same time. Also, once the move is made it’s made – you don’t have to “stay disciplined” because it’s hard to reverse it.

Basically, this principle can be summarized like this:

Make frugal decisions on the big stuff like housing and transportation and make them hard to undo.

This way you save a ton of money, and even better, you’re automatically saving that money every single month!

Oh, and the best part is that you don’t have to cancel your Netflix subscription!

“Great, but what are the other “big” things?”

Here’s a table of the four biggest expenses American households have:

CategoryPercentage of Monthly Expenses:
Personal Insurance and Pensions11.8%

source: https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/consumer-expenditures/2020/home.htm

Based on the data above, here are some concrete actions you can take to save and invest large sums while living on $3K a month:

  • Get a cheap apartment to save on housing.
  • Live close to where you spend the most time. This is often work and friends.
  • Don’t eat out. At least not more than what social relationships demand.
  • “Shop” for insurance. You can often get cheaper insurance if you “look around”, or haggle on the price.

I personally combined the two first actions on the list above, moving into a cheaper place closer to work. This cut down my expenses by a whopping 40% every month.

You can read more about cutting costs and increasing income in this article: Can’t Save Money Because of Bills? Here’s What I Did

Assuming you’re able to do something similar, let’s cut 40% off of the median numbers, and take a new look at the different cities:

Cost of living frugally in different cities: is $1,800 enough?

Below you’ll find the same table as at the beginning of the article. But this time I’ve cut the numbers by 40%.

LocationExpenses (including rent):
New York, NY$2,515
San Francisco, CA$2,305
Oakland, CA$2,041
Washington, DC$1,867
Boston, MA$1,960
Pittsburgh, PA$1,306
Nashville, TN$1,659
San Diego, CA$1,870
Miami, FL$1,851
Chicago, IL$1,566
Philadephia, PA$1,458
Los Angeles, CA$1,826
Dallas, TX$1,497
Atlanta, GA$1,419
Las Vegas, NV$1,278
Orlando, FL$1,418
Austin, TX$1,600
Huston, TX$1,297
Tulsa, OK$1,025
(40% below median)

Immediately it’s easy to see that $1,800/month will work in a lot of cities. Here are some additional observations:

  • Living frugally, a single person can survive in all the cities above except Los Angeles, Miami, Boston, Washington, Oakland, San Francisco and New York.
  • The average monthly living expenses for frugal single people is $1,700. That’s BELOW the target of $1,800.

A single person with average frugal living expenses ($1,700) living on $1,800 a month, will have $100 left every month to save and invest.

Suggested reading: Is Saving $100 Per Month Good? (Worth it in the long run?)

Budget For Living On $1,800 Per Month:

To ensure you can survive on a monthly income of $1,800, you should create a budget.

Step by step guide to budgeting for $1,800/month:

  1. List all categories/items you’ll spend money on.
  2. Figure out how much money you’re likely to spend on each item.
  3. Add it all up and figure out your total expenses.
  4. Put the rest into savings/investing.

The items/categories in the example below are the most significant, but there are several others. You’re the only person knowing how you spend money, so feel free to add additional items, or change the existing ones.

Housing (including utilities)$500
Personal care$100
Other Stuff$290
Total Expenses$1,750
Left For Saving/Investing ($1,800 – Total Expenses)$50

The numbers in the table above are random, but you get the idea. Write a list of the items you’ll spend money on, estimate how much you’ll spend on them, and sum it all up at the end.

If your “Total Expenses” are below $1,800, put the rest into saving/investing.

If your “Total Expenses” are ABOVE $1,800, you need to manipulate the different items to make them fit. Make some hard decisions and cut the expenses sufficiently.

If you can’t make it work, you’re unable to live on $1,800/month. You should aim for living on $2,000 a month, or maybe even living on $3,000 a month first.

If you have no experience making budgets, or no idea what you’ll spend money on, here’s a table from The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics you can use as “inspiration”. It shows how the average American spends their money:

ItemMonthly CostPercentage of Budget
(Rent or mortgage and utilities like electricity and water)
(Car payments, gas, bus tickets, vehicle insurance etc.)
(Groceries and restaurants)
Insurance & Pensions
(Personal insurance like life insurance, pension savings etc.)
(Subscriptions, TV, Speakers, a new Phone etc.)
Apparel and Services$1202.3%
Personal care$541.1%

You can read more about the different items over at The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/cex/csxgloss.htm

The numbers above are for households, not single people. Therefore, don’t get hung up on the “Monthly Costs” collum, but rather look at the “Percentage of budget”. Use the numbers to get an idea of how the typical household spends its money.

Lifestyle For People Living on $1,800 A Month

After looking around on different forums, I found a guy on Reddit who lives on $1,800 a month. Here’s what he says about it:

I live on $1800 a month, in Chicago. I do it by having a roommate and trying to keep my spending habits in check. Roughly $1100 a month are living expenses (food/housing/gas/utilities) and the rest are currently being funneled into student loan debt.

It isn’t amazing, and it isn’t glamorous, and I sacrifice having a lot of the things I want, but it is doable.


Actually, he lives on $1,100 a month and uses the rest to pay off debt. If you don’t have debt, you could probably live pretty well!

He lives in Chicago, which is a relatively cheap place. The median cost of living there if you’re frugal is roughly $1,500.

Another guy, from Reddit, wrote this:

I live on almost exactly $1800/month in the Midwest (metro Detroit). And I feel as though I’m living comfortably, not struggling or anything. I live in a decent apartment, can afford to go out relatively often, buy things I need and want, and put money in retirement accounts.

For housing, aim for a studio apartment, or a 2-bedroom with a roommate. Learn to cook so you can eat at home on the cheap. Get a place as close to work as possible, to save on gas (or walk/bike to work as often as possible!).

$1800/month is ~$30k/year, which is plenty.


This guy gets the point: Live in a cheap apartment close to work!

I guess what we can take away from these guys is that living on $1,800 a month is definitely possible, but it requires a tight budget and a frugal mindset.

Conclusion: Yes, You Can Live On $1,800 A Month!

Living a “normal” lifestyle is not possible at $1,800/month in most cities in the U.S. However, if you’re able to make frugal decisions, you can get by.

If you move into a cheap apartment close to work, you save hundreds on rent and transportation monthly. If you also spend mindfully on food and cook most of your meals you should be able to live a decent life.

On average, a frugal single person will have a cost of living of roughly $1,700 a month. This leaves $100 to save and invest.