I live comfortably in a resort town on $35,000 a year -- here's how I do it

Business InsiderOnly spend what you can afford.
  • For Business Insider’s “Real Money” series, a 23-year-old journalist shares a week of spending on a $US35,000 salary on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.
  • She usually eats at home and loves a good (free) workout, but this week spent money on bills and plane tickets to visit family.
  • Want to share a week of your spending? Email [email protected]

My dad taught me to live within my means.

I take that lesson pretty seriously and never spend more than I can afford. This can be challenging on my budget – I make $US35,000 a year – but by spending carefully I make it work.

I live a pretty thrifty lifestyle and while my income doesn’t allow for a lot of saving, I still try to save a couple hundred dollars and contribute to my 401k every month. I love travelling, so I also try to put aside some cash every month so I can buy plane tickets to go visit my friends and family and explore new cities.

My boyfriend and I share the expense of living at our resort apartment on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, which keeps my rent affordable. The resort is extremely quiet in the winter and we get to enjoy the vacation amenities like hot tubs and tennis courts regularly, especially during the off season for tourism. On days when I don’t spend any money, I’m still able to enjoy indoor workouts, swimming, or a friendly game of tennis, which is an added bonus.

Here’s a closer look at what I spent over the course of a recent week:

My boyfriend and I split our $US1,150 rent evenly, and every month I pay gas, car insurance, and a gym membership.

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It’s hard to save money on my budget, but I try my best.

Luckily, my parents were able to support me through my four-year university, so I don’t have student debts. I’m also still on my parents’ health care plan. My mum works at a hospital and gets great health insurance, so I’m planning to say on my parents’ plan for as long as I can!

I take home $US479 a week from my $US35,000 salary, and I keep my spending within what I can afford.

Business Insider/ Jennu Cheng

Some days I don’t spend any money at all. Other days, my purchases just seem to add up. Grocery shopping on Saturday, for example, took a toll on my budget, and my electric bill set me back $US46 on Thursday.

On Friday, I woke up to a notification that $US29.95 was charged to my Discover card by Blue Apron.

Business Insider/ Jenny Cheng

I’ve recently jumped on the meal subscription bandwagon and am loving it. Tip for all you frugal people out there: Try a company once to get their intro deal, which is usually $US30 off your first box. So far I’ve tried Blue Apron, Home Chef, and HelloFresh.

After a quiet night with my boyfriend listening to records, I make a mental note: Tomorrow morning will have to start with a trip to the grocery store. I can only have so many pieces of toast and bowls of Cheerios in a single day.

Saturday, I go on a five-mile run along the beach, and head to the grocery store.

Business Insider/ Jenny Cheng

I try to spend $US50 on groceries per week, but we’re out of beer, so I also pick up a 12-pack of Modelo, bringing my grand total to $US61.37.

We buy plane tickets to visit my siblings in California for $US295, and my boyfriend picks up the tab for drinks at a new bar with live blues music to celebrate a professional award I won early in the week.

I wake up on Sunday, planning to head to the beach for another run, but the couch potato in me decides to make a cup of Earl Grey tea and watch a couple episodes of “This is Us.”

Business Insider/ Jenny Cheng

It’s a little foggy out again today, but my boyfriend and I decide to take our bikes out and go for a ride along the beach. When the tide is low, Hilton Head’s beach is hard enough to ride your bike on and it’s by far my favourite thing to do here.

After a free personal training session through my gym Monday morning, I shower at the gym and eat a peanut butter, jelly and banana sandwich on the 15-minute drive to work.

Business Insider/ Jenny Cheng

During my lunch break, I run out to Kroger to grab a $US4.23 birthday card for my grandma, who turns 91 this week.

I signed up for a library card at the start of the year and made a new year’s resolution to read more. Each week I try to set aside a few hours for reading. I’m currently halfway through “The Colour of Law” and couldn’t recommend it enough. In fact, I’m already planning on buying a copy on Amazon once I’m finished with it.

Instead of driving to the gym on Tuesday, I go to the gym in our apartment complex and jump on a stationary bike for about 45 minutes.

Business Insider/ Jenny Cheng

Just like pretty much all weekdays, I packed my lunch for work, but at 2 p.m. I meet a source at a local coffee shop in town and spend the rest of the afternoon working remotely. I love Chai Tea Lattes, so I buy one for $US4.86 to sip on while I’m working.

It’s Valentine’s Day Wednesday, and even though we decided not to give gifts this year, I feel like I should do a little something.

Business Insider/ Jenny Cheng

I run into the grocery store on the way home and spend $US11.73 on my boyfriend’s favourite ice cream, Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked, and his favourite oven pizza. When I get home, a big bouquet of flowers is sitting on the kitchen table, awaiting my arrival.

On Thursday I force myself out of bed at 5 a.m. and go to my second personal training session of the week.

Business Insider/ Jenny Cheng

When I get into work at 7:30 a.m., I check my email and see that the electric bill is due and pay it online. It was abnormally cold here last month (snowed for the first time in nearly ten years!!), so the electric bill is higher than usual – $US46.

It’s 75 degrees out, and I’m disappointed that I’ve been cooped up in an office all day, so I go on a short run as soon as I get home from work. It’s great to see people on the beach again, couples holding hands, people walking dogs and other just sitting on beach chairs waiting for the sun to go down.

It’s starting to feel like spring.

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