How to Live Without a Salary in the U.S.

Did you ever wish you could escape from the daily grind…permanently? Or at least for a long time? Living a carefree, Bohemian lifestyle isn’t easy in today’s U.S., but it is possible. You’ll need some source of income, but it doesn’t have to be a regular job. If you’re careful and creative, you can get by with doing odd jobs for the neighbors or working through a temporary agency. Here’s how you can make it work:

  1. Unemployment
    If you were laid off, apply for unemployment right away, even if you don’t intend to go back to work. It’s not a lot, but some income is better than nothing.
  2. Medical care
    Many training schools provide medical, dental, and vision care at greatly reduced rates as part of their students’ training. Students are supervised by instructors, and you can get the care you need without eating up the month’s entire budget. (Hint: Beauty schools often do this, too. )
  3. Housing
    Housing is the biggest expense for most people. Temporarily, you may be able to bunk with a friend in exchange for small financial contributions or for doing chores. For the longterm, find the least expensive rental home in the best neighbourhood you can afford. See if you can get reduced (or free) rent in exchange for performing maintenance or remodeling work. Other options for free housing include house sitting and “staging” houses that are on the market.
  4. Transportation
    If you live in a city with a good mass transit system, that’s almost always the cheapest way to go. If you need your own car, get a used one with good gas mileage. Just be sure to balance the purchase price with the need for repairs: A $100 car could end up costing you more than a $1,000 car after a few trips to the mechanic. As far as insurance goes, most states require you to have liability insurance (meaning insurance that will pay for damage to the other driver’s car or for their medical care if you cause an accident), but most don’t require you to have insurance that pays for repairs to your own car. Depending on how old your car is and what shape it’s in, you may consider going with just liability insurance.
  5. Food
    Food is another big expense, but most people make it a lot more expensive than it has to be. First, forget about eating at restaurants – unless you can do it free. If you befriend the owners or managers of a few local restaurants, they may be willing to give you some of the food that’s leftover at the end of the day. Other than that, make it a point to always eat at home with food you’ve cooked yourself. If there’s a “scratch and dent” grocery in your community, that can be a great way to get food for pennies on the dollar. At regular grocery stores, look for items that are marked down as a “manager’s special” because they’re about to expire.
  6. Clothing
    Goodwill and thrift stores can be a great source for food, clothing, and other household items. People sometimes donate name-brand items that have never even been used. If you befriend the manager, you may even be able to persuade him to give you a call when especially good items come in.
  7. Entertainment
    Most bigger cities always have some kind of free entertaining going on, and you can discover what those things are with a quick internet search. A lot of museums, zoos, etc., have weekly “free” times. Outdoor festivals are another option (and you can often score free food). As easy as it to download a book, the library is free, and you can often rent inexpensive movies there, too. And, of course, there’s always the gold standard of hanging out with friends.
  8. Bartering
    If you have special skills, or just the ability to do manual labour, you can trade your work for food, clothing, household items, etc. Once you get out of the idea that work always has to be compensated with cash, it opens up a world of possibilities.

Living without a salary isn’t easy, but it’s doable. If a carefree lifestyle where you answer to no one but yourself is more important to you than owning the latest video game, these are some ways you can make it work. Like many things, it’s all about priorities.


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