I’m a Former New Yorker Living in Rural California on $20K a Year

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I’m a Former New Yorker Living in Rural California & Homeschooling My Daughter on $20K a Year. Is Our Lifestyle Comfortable? Ha! Does It Work? Yes.


My age and occupation: 45, full-time student, copywriter, jewelry designer, website manager
My partner’s age and occupation: 43, videographer, web designer, kitchen prep
Annual household income: $20,000
City: Mount Shasta, CA

Childcare costs per year: not much because all our other work is intentionally from home, but what we do spend is under the table.
How we found our childcare: neighborhood connections
Our child’s age: 8

photo: Creative commons

We live in a small community in Northern California called Mount Shasta—you may recognize the town’s name as the namesake of the local volcano just nine miles away. There are only a little over 3,000 people in town, which means those of us who live here are close. For my wife and I (we’re both women), community is literally everything. Having a network of trusted people we can rely on—for childcare, support and networking—makes our life in this tiny town actually possible. We make collectively $20,000 per year, which means we know how to budget, trade and make a dollar stretch way more here than if we lived anywhere else. Curious how we do it with an eight-year-old? Here’s our story:

Morning: Homeschooling Days Are My Favorite

Every day in our family begins at 7 a.m. when we get my daughter ready for school. She goes to a charter school three days a week and the other two days she’s homeschooled. For five months this year my wife did not have work and took predominant responsibility for getting our daughter to school. During that time since my wife took morning duty, I studied, focused on client work or headed off to class.

photo: Annie Spratt via Unsplash

Now that my wife is shuffling jobs (typical here in Mount Shasta), we split duties. Lately, I drop my daughter off at the local charter school, which is nine miles away from home, then head to class or head home to study or work. Two days a week our daughter is homeschooled, which generally involves required worksheets and nature hikes. I love our homeschool days because we garden, head out into nature or learn show tunes, cook and do other things I can integrate learning into. These days with my daughter are my absolute favorite.

Mid-day: Hustling to Make Ends Meet

My wife and I both cobble together a variety of different gigs from working in a restaurant to video editing to web work, which is great that we’re both home so much for our daughter, but we’re constantly hustling to cover our monthly expenses every moment of the day.

photo: Pixabay

Expenses now includes utilities, old car maintenance, gas (up to $4/gallon in California right now and when you live rural, you drive), rent and dance classes for our daughter. We also pay for a summer camp, but it’s cheap. It’s run by an Emmy-award winning Broadway performer and is a theater camp, and it costs less than $200 for the summer. Our monthly expenses can stress us out, but I feel lucky that my wife and I are on the same page and split responsibilities (with our daughter and otherwise) evenly.

Afternoon: We Lean on Our Community Every Day

Like I mentioned, community is everything to us here and we’ve been lucky enough to find our niche. Since everyone is community-minded, no afternoon is the same. We share responsibilities (the term we use is “kid-shifting”) like picking up, dropping off and bringing kids to and from dance classes like hip hop and ballet. Most of our friends aren’t working a standard 9-5 lifestyle so this kid-shifting works. We’ve put a lot of time and effort into maintaining a community here and swapping with other parents.

photo: Matthew Henry via Burst

It’s such a relief to know we’re not alone and if my wife or I have something we can’t get out of, we can rely on our tribe to help us with our daughter—all without ever feeling guilty about asking or that we owe them one in the future. Despite our community what does make me the most anxious are those days when we can’t find someone to take her. Next semester she might even be coming to class with me!

Evening: Sometimes I Wish for More

We have dinner together and then our daughter goes to bed at 8 p.m. and we stay up until at least midnight working and studying. Our family’s lifestyle at this stage of life works for us but is it seriously comfortable? Ha! Now, “comfortable” is subjective. The truth is that we live rural in an old house, which is a far cry from our previous lives as a New Yorker and a Canadian in Paris. We live very simply, intentionally, to avoid much debt. We buy everything second-hand. We don’t go out much, cook simply and I manage my daughter growing out of stuff constantly by maintaining credit at a consignment shop. I used to own one and also worked as a “picker” for a while, so I’m good at that.

photo: Nicole De Khors via Burst

But…even $40,000 a year would mean the ability to pay for a new-to-us vehicle. A truck would be helpful so we could get our own firewood for the winter. We’re working on it. My wife is Canadian and wasn’t legally allowed to work for a year, and I was building a business online and waiting tables to support us, and then I decided to go back to school. It took her another year to build her own business (jobs are scarce here, especially anything that really pays, and she has two degrees in her field). Because I am in school again and being with our daughter is more important to us than constantly working, we do this all very slowly. My credit is really good because I manage it really well. But tell me any family lives “comfortably” on $20,000 a year.

Sure, I want more financial resources (who doesn’t?), but if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change anything. I don’t believe in thinking like that.

Interested in telling your story? Start by filling out our questionnaire here. All stories are anonymous.


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