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How Low Can Your Spending Go?

You can either trim down your spending categories or cut them out altogether. The more radical you get the more liberating it is. I’ll give some examples here.

Imagine, you wake up to another brutal shift in the urgent care and dread going in. You have a few hours to kill and a growing to-do list, with zero drive to want to address any of it.

You feel panicked and the idea comes into your head that you just want to quit. You want to leave your job and just get away.

But how are you going to get by financially? You pull out your spreadsheet and look at the different spending categories you have and you start shaving off a little of each category.

You have no student loan debt. Your car is paid off. You don’t have a mortgage. You don’t have any major financial commitments and yet there are so many numbers on your screen.

No way, you think to yourself, no fucking way you could live without a physician income and still enjoy a lifestyle that doesn’t involve cat food and broth.

Cutting Spending

I write for a very tiny audience in the physician world. Usually it’s the single guy with multiple hobbies, none of which involve medicine. Or the single female doc who doesn’t want kids.

The rest of you probably tune in for a few doses of my f-bombs and my personal disaster stories which I morbidly enjoy sharing.

What we all have in common is that we have all tried cutting our spending at one time or another. Call it budgeting or dabbling in frugality.

Cutting spending means looking at the budget and putting it on a diet. $500/month for entertainment becomes $250. $650 on groceries becomes $400. It’s a haircut at a salon with a blowjob – blow job… you know, when they blow-dry your hair.

But for this little experiment we are going to skip the appointment with Antoine at the salon and instead just buy a shitty Bic razor for $1. (Don’t buy plastic razors, they are terrible for the environment, use the old school metal blades.)

How low can you go?

Believe me, you can get your spending far lower than you think. You can probably go so low that you can retire today. Right now. Immediately.

Before writing this post, while sitting at my favorite coffee shop, I had myself just one of them delightful panic moments; with the medical board investigation looming, no job prospects, and a raging coffee addiction, I got low, desperate – I pulled out my spreadsheet and just started trimming down my spending.

And guess what, instead of attacking the whole budget broadly, I started making ineffective minute adjustments – the classic tunnel vision approach. So, that’s my first advice, don’t pare down each category, instead eliminate everything and then add only the most essential back in.

Want inspiration? Google: <how to live without [cell phone:wifi:internet:health insurance:rent]>. At least see what’s possible. Some very interesting people have lived without what many consider basic necessities of life.

Start with zero

Health insurance – 0.
Cell phone – 0.
Transportation – 0.
Dining out, coffee, entertainment – 0.
Gym, exercise, climbing – 0.
Haircut – 0.

Man, it’s so liberating to do this. You see the zero, you’re like, no fucking way, how am I gonna …. oh, actually, I don’t really need xyz to be happy.

We forget that we live in a society in which the most basic of living conditions, I’m talking about the lowest of the low, still is far above the standards of other countries.

We have paved roads.
A solid public health campaign.
Relative safety and security on the streets.
Community services such as parks and public pools and the library.

In fact, the only categories for which I added values are the following. The figures are averaged monthly spending:

  • condo HOA dues – $290
  • property tax – $175
  • property insurance – $30
  • home maintenance – $50
  • groceries – $300
  • electricity – $25
  • WiFi – $40
  • biking – $5
  • clothing – $5

Everything which is set at zero includes:

  • health insurance
  • entertainment
  • dining out
  • financial advisor
  • board certification
  • transportation/car
  • gasoline
  • auto insurance
  • vacationing/traveling
  • health insurance
  • cell
  • gym/exercise
  • storage
  • subscriptions

Basic necessities to live in the US

To live a functional and satisfactory life in the US all we need is an internet connection, good friends, a grocery store, and a place to live.

Health insurance

The premise in this post is that you are going to stop working. You will have no earned income which entitles you to free or nearly free health insurance and lots of other perks.

If you absolutely cannot live without health insurance then consider a short-term health insurance policy for less than $40/month.

Digital connectivity

Would I need a cell phone? Sure, I can carry one but don’t need cell service since most cell phones will work fine on WiFi. I can make calls, send text message, etc. – all without cell service.

I lived without a cell phone plan for 6 months. My dick didn’t fall off. My friends didn’t abandon me. Patients continue to need medical care.

If I had to, worst case scenario, I could ask my neighbor D. or my other neighbor C. for their WiFi passwords – I’m sure they’d share it with me.

Living location

If you decide to stop working then you can live anywhere. You can move to a city like Portland or to a country like Spain where having a car is more of a nuisance.

It’s not something we consider often. For example, I live in Portland, a rather expensive city compared to the rest of Oregon. I can move to a much cheaper city if I wanted to, either within Oregon or, as I mentioned, to a different country. Portugal. Mexico. Canada. Australia. Spain.


You can get around on foot or on a pink, folding bicycle. Even public transportation costs money.

Then again, once you don’t have any earned income, you can qualify for free public transportation tokens.


Socializing is the tough one. Most of us have friends who spend lavishly on drinks and dinners and other forms of entertainment. But I’ve also met up with friends at parks, gone hiking with them, went surfing with them, or visited them at their home. It’s doable and spending isn’t necessary.


You can retire your medical license and that way you wouldn’t have to pay your medical license fees any longer.

You can also consider volunteering for a healthcare organization who might agree to pay for your medical license, if that’s important to you.


I can get free books on audio or an e-reader or stream free movies from my library.

I can go to free community events and probably score some free food as well.

Farmer’s markets are a great place to walk around and enjoy the presence of others. And they give out plenty of food samples.


We subsidize a lot of shit in our economy. The reason your gasoline is so cheap is because the government subsidizes petroleum products.

We subsidize the dairy and farming industry. Same with banking and the automotive.

We also subsidize the poor. This is why our society is as civilized as it is for being so complex. You may not like that someone can live for free off of gov’t cheese but I bet that very few actually do so because they want to live in shitty subsidized housing.

I won’t go into living a subsidized life. If I were to go down that rabbit hole, there are all sorts of things which would allow me to live an even better lifestyle than I enjoy now.

But remember, if you do decide to forego your income, if you have almost no reportable income coming in, then you will suddenly become eligible for all sorts of gov’t subsidized services.

The lowest monthly budget

The lowest number that I could come up with is $922/month.

With this kind of spending I would be able to continue living in my condo in Portland. I would be able to hike the same beautiful trails nearby and socialize with my friends here.

I think it’s unnecessary to bother with numbers less than $900. Sure, it’s possible but the current minimum wage in Portland is $12/hour.

If I decided to be employed, I would need to work <20 hours a week at minimum wage to make my above lifestyle work. Living on minimum wage in 2018 isn’t bad at all.

But why work at minimum wage when I already have college teaching under my belt as a skill-set. I can get paid $60/hour doing that. Only 4 hours a week – or one class – would be all I need. It comes with free health insurance and free class credits.

It’s not hard to make $1,000/month but, of course, you’re probably thinking, who the fuck wants to live like that!?

If your work-life has gotten bad enough, if you’re desperate enough, if you’ve resorted to far more unhealthy habits to escape that lifestyle, then living on a thousand dollars a month with minimal work probably sounds heavenly.

The point isn’t to embrace the extreme but to realize what’s possible and recognize that you have options. That you don’t need to suffer and that you eventually will be faced with a very tough decision – to continue suffering or make a change.

Change is hard. But it’s easier when you know that you have options. And it’s even easier if you can engage with others who are living similar lifestyles.

Generating $1,000/month

There are all sorts of little gigs that people do in order to earn $1k/month. They write blog posts, articles, sell their photos online, edit text, or create infographics.

Those who live on very little a month usually earn their money from all sorts of interesting work. Peruse the Reddit digital nomad forum to get some ideas.

Passive income

Passive income makes sense to me and it has been lucrative in practice.

I’ve earned income from renting out my condo, from selling products on my blog, and from my index fund investments.

A $300,000 portfolio invested in index funds should earn you around $12,000/year or $1,000/month.

If index funds aren’t your cup of tea then you can always invest in real estate or CD’s or Treasury Bills. It’s unlikely that you’ll need more than $500k to live very comfortably on that budget.

In fact, with those return rates, you would likely be able to live indefinitely with that kind of low spending.


Realizing that I can spend less than $1k/month and still enjoy a comfortable lifestyle is liberating. This is as close to my definition of freedom as it gets.

My goal isn’t to freeload or be an unproductive member of society. Freedom means being able to do the things I want to do with my time.

For some of you it’s not the goal to stop earning an income. You just might need a break. Maybe you have that feeling to tell everyone to just shut up for a minute and let you breathe.

Once you get your free time back, you can experiment with different projects in order to find what work inspires you and excites you. Maybe you’ll start your own health coaching business. Maybe you’ll do telemedicine.

Maybe you want to just prescribe medical marijuana at a clinic or do DMV physicals. All these are possibilities which you can pursue as long as you can take a break from the pressures of high spending.

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