We decided to take a look at just a few radical examples of frugal living to try and figure out just how little a person can live on in 2022.
Example #1: Young, healthy, 20-something individual living in NYC
Since it’s practically impossible to live in a city by yourself for really cheap (and still feel relatively safe), I’m going to say this person lives with two other roommates.
In NYC, a three-bedroom apartment costs (based on my extensive searches on Zillow, apartments.com, and Trulia) around $1,600-$1,800 without utilities. Including utilities, I’ll round up to each person paying $800-$900 a month (and that’s still for a pretty small place).
Now, if everyone wanted to spend as little as possible, this means there wouldn’t be internet or cable in the apartment. Each person would have to settle for coffee shop or library Wi-Fi.
Total so far: about $900
Luckily, I’m basing this in NYC so there’s access to nearly every kind of pay-as-you-go cell phone service out there. It’s nearly impossible to operate without a phone, so a basic phone plan is the cheapest option.
TPO Mobile offers a 1GB, unlimited talk and text plan for just $21 a month (with auto-pay)—that’s a pretty basic plan. The 2GB plan goes up to $25 and 3GBs goes up to $35 a month.
Total so far: $921
Since this individual lives in NYC, it’s likely they don’t have a car. Which is probably for the best, because driving in the city sucks and parking costs are astronomical.
So they would either take the bus or ride the subway, with a 30-day unlimited pass for $121.
Total so far: $1,042
If you avoid going out frequently (which, yes, I know if highly unlikely for the 20-something individual I’m using as an example), you can eat fairly cheaply.
I know people who live off of $35 worth of food a week ($140 a month). It’s not the most comfortable thing to do, and you wouldn’t be eating much besides pasta, chicken, and some frozen vegetables, but it’ll keep you fed and relatively healthy.
Food costs can vary depending on where you shop—so this individual would have to stick to larger grocery stores. Avoiding Whole Foods would also be a must.
Total so far: $1,182
For this example, let’s assume this individual doesn’t have a student loan. This is highly unlikely if this person went to college, but let’s make this imaginary person’s life a little easier by granting them the luxury of no college debt.
All other factors
So far, the total cost of living in New York City with a bunch of roommates, no car, and a very low food bill is just $1,182. That’s pretty cheap. But, since life isn’t that simple, there are a lot of other factors to consider as well.
They include clothing, health bills not covered by insurance, a couple nights out on the town (because realistically you’re not going to stay holed-up in your apartment all the time), and a handful of other situations it would take too long to mention.
Example #2: Young, healthy, 20-something individual living outside a city in Holyoke, MA
Since not all people enjoy living in the city (or can afford it), let’s take a look at what living outside of a major city would cost the same 20-something, single, healthy person.
I’m using Holyoke, Massachusetts, because it’s right outside of cities like Springfield and Chicopee, and is a short distance from five colleges.
Since apartments are cheaper in more rural areas, I’ll do an example of a person who lives with a roommate, versus the cost of a one-bedroom apartment.
According to the online real estate databases I mentioned earlier, a two-bedroom apartment in Holyoke ranges between $1,000 and $1,300. So a person would likely not pay more than $650 a month with a roommate.
Total so far: $650
Holyoke is still considered a city, but I went to college in the area and can tell you, that’s pushing it. That being said, there aren’t as many phone service options.
Verizon’s most basic plan, is the best option. For an unlimited plan, it’d cost $75 a month.
Total so far: $725
The great thing about having so many colleges near Holyoke is that this means there’s excellent public transportation, which is unusual for such a rural area.
A PVTA (Pioneer Valley Transit Authority) monthly pass is $45, with unlimited rides during running hours (the last bus is usually around midnight, depending on the time of year).
$45 a month is cheaper than car maintenance, a potential car loan, and gas. These bus rides can be long though since they make so many stops.
Total so far: $770
Internet or no internet
There is a plethora of libraries around that offer internet, as well as many coffee shops with internet access, but on the outskirts of Holyoke, internet wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Verizon internet offers a $40 plan for 100 mbps.
Total so far: $810
Using our super frugal food bill from the example above, you could spend as little as $140 a month.
Total so far: $950
Since a large portion of people that live in Holyoke or nearby were (or are) college students, I’m going to factor in the cost of a student loan.
The average student loan debt for 2017 is about $37,000. Using this amount, and 5% interest rate, there’s a couple of different options for monthly payments:
- Standard (make the same payment) 10-year repayment: $392 a month
- Graduated (payments increase every two years) 10-year repayment: $222-$666 a month
- Standard 25-year repayment: $216 a month
- Graduated 25-year repayment: $154-$352 a month
- Pay As You Earn 20-year repayment: $99-$393 a month
Since this is about living in the cheapest way possible, let’s use the Pay As You Earn 20-year plan, that’s another $99 a month.
Total so far: $1049
Example #3: An average, somewhat frugal, young person living in Chicago
Taking a look at how an actual young person lives, let’s see what the cheapest you can live on including “necessities” like basic internet and a decent phone plan.
Chicago is way less expensive than New York City. A person living in an apartment with a roommate (again according to my findings on, Zillow, apartments.com, and Trulia) could pay as little as $700-$800 without utilities. So each person would be paying (averaging in utilities) about $600 a month (and that’s rounding up).
Total so far: $600
Like most cities, there’s not much of a reason to have a car, unless you enjoy traffic jams and pedestrians constantly darting out in front of you.
A CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) bus and train pass is $100 a month.
Total so far: $700
An average twenty-something is going to have internet. Binge-watching Netflix shows isn’t as socially acceptable in coffee shops as it is from your own apartment.
RCN of Chicago offers basic internet (155 mbps, which is a really good deal) for just $44.99 a month (not including equipment). The one thing to note—their customer service rating is pretty bad, but that seems to be a theme with internet providers.
Total so far: $745
Like NYC, in Chicago, there’s access to nearly every kind of pay-as-you-go cell phone service.
Again, TPO Mobile offers a 1GB, unlimited talk & text plan for just $21 a month (with auto-pay). The 2GB plan goes up to $25 and 3GBs goes up to $35 a month.
Total so far: $766
Food & dining
Let’s be honest, any 20-something is going to go out at least once a week. Whether that’s to a bar or ordering takeout.
As a 20-something myself, I can probably say a really frugal eating out budget is $100 (it’s probably more like $150-$200), depending on where you live.
If you’re in an expensive city, drinks and food will cost more. If you’re in a rural area, maybe there’s only one or two bars that serve the same $2-$3 Bud Light, but you’ll make up for that cost in Uber fares.
Total so far: $866
Using the student loan info from above, you could get away with paying $99 a month, with the lowest possible payment.
Total so far: $965
Wrapping everything up
Theoretically, a very frugal person, who doesn’t go out a whole lot and can settle for basic everything, could live (in Chicago, at least) for under $1,000. That also assumes you don’t have any health issues, a car, and you don’t buy any new clothes for a while.