If you watch pretty much any documentary on most third world countries, at some point someone will bring up a statistic on what percentage of people in that country live off $1.25 or less per day. It was during one of these documentaries that a thought occurred to me that here in the United States you probably couldn’t live off $1.25 per day, even if you wanted to.
Now one side of me likes money, and as such, I go through all the requisite practices to acquire it. But another side of me, contemplates how I could go about living as a hermit out in the mountains and what it would take.
Since I live in Colorado, I’ll use that as an example. Luckily, we have a lot of National Forest and BLM land out here to take advantage of. So, $1.25 per day gives us an annual budget of $456.25.
Fortunately, camping is free so we haven’t eaten into our budget at all just to reside somewhere, the only stipulation is that there is generally a 14-day limit on camping in one spot so we’d have to move around quite a bit.
Food is the next issue. Since we are camping on national land, we can’t do any farming, but we can hunt and forage a bit. Foraging is free, but only viable a few months per year, and only to supplement what we would be hunting. Hunting is not free, but given that we are residents of Colorado, prices for licenses aren’t too bad. Between an annual fishing/small-game license, and we’ll say one elk license and one deer license, we should be able to keep ourselves fed for the year if we are lucky and have a way to store our harvests.
The habitat stamp in order to get these licenses is $10 but lasts for a year. A combo small-game/fishing license is $41, an elk license is $49, and a deer license is $34. In total we have spent $134 on licenses. In order to get licenses, you also need an ID such as a driver’s license ($26), and a hunter education certificate ($10).
Luckily, we only need to do hunter ed. once and a driver’s license is good for a few years, so it isn’t that obnoxious to our budget, therefore we’ll exclude those from our calculations. That leaves us with $322.25. If we don’t need equipment, we’re actually in pretty good shape; that’s enough money to get food and supplemental equipment if something breaks or food is scarce. If we do need equipment (I’m using pretty generic prices here) a tent is $80, a knife is $20, a bow (if we’re being frugal) is $150, arrows $20, fishing rod $50, sleeping bag $70, fire starters $5, a water bottle $8, and a metal container $10. There are some other things that would be nice obviously, but bare minimum, I’d say you could get by with that. That comes out to $413 bucks; we’ve broken our budget. I think you could probably get all of the things I listed for less and for under $322.25 but you’d be really rolling the dice on reliability and quality. So, as far as living as a hermit out in the mountains of Colorado with some camping equipment and hunting licenses, yes, I think you could if you wanted to legally live off of less than $1.25 per day, and since you are making less than the tax threshold, you don’t need to file taxes and get charged for not having Obamacare.
But what about owning land? Obviously, purchasing any land for $450 bucks is pretty much out of the question anywhere in the country (I’ve looked), but what if you already own land? Using Colorado again, the first thing you’d have to is set aside something for property tax. Unfortunately, this could be all over the board. As near as I can tell it’s assessed on location, value, and level of development; I’ve seen property taxes as low as some 70 bucks and as high as the GDP of some third world countries.
Going with the lower end (provided the land isn’t zoned for anything) we could subsistence farm: crop seeds would be about $50 for everything you’d want to grow, garden tools $50, water storage $100, chickens for eggs, say 10 at $3 each for $30, chicken feed (a bag every 2 months at $10 a pop) $60, structure and enclosure for the chickens $150, and the same camping stuff from the previous section for $413. Assuming you don’t already have a setup, we’re looking at a very vague estimate of $920.
Again, we have broken our budget, but provided we have all the infrastructure we need from the get go, chickens will lay eggs for years, replacing them is cheap, seeds are cheap, and water is free if you can capture it; so yeah, I think you can live off of $1.25 per day provided you have the requisite equipment from the start.
This all brings me to another point though. While we have established that you can probably, legally, live for less than $1.25 per day in this country, it’s annoying to me that something millions of people do all over the world without thinking is something that here in this country requires research, nuance, and tiptoeing around to stay within the bounds of the law. Of course, I realize that in many countries the way in which people are living off $1.25 per day may be illegal in some way as well, but the fact that it isn’t enforced means that they have the de facto freedom to do so.
Again, I realize these people don’t necessarily have a choice, but if you wanted to shed your current lifestyle, go to one of these remote villages and live as they do, you probably could, and the respective government probably wouldn’t give you any grief about it.
Here however, all the aspects that make living off the grid attractive are still subject to the scrutiny and regulation of the government, which to me is a bit antithetical to the concept. I probably fall in more of the lowercase ‘L’ Libertarians in terms of federally owned public lands (I like the idea that there are huge swaths of land that anyone can enjoy), and I get that things like hunting/fishing licenses are useful for keeping track of who is shooting what, but at the same time, I feel like the number of people who would/do take up such an off the grid lifestyle would be such a minor factor in anything they do that they should be generally ignored by the government, and yet, they won’t. Someone will harass them about their property taxes, someone will harass them about what permits they do/don’t have, someone will harass them about how many fish they caught that day, and someone will harass them about how long they’ve been camped in that one spot.
In light of that, while not monetary, the cost of eschewing the typical lifestyle of an American becomes obnoxious and unpalatable when forced to deal with the government. The whole point of disappearing into the woods in the first place is to avoid just that. That isn’t freedom.
So, can you live off of $1.25 per day? The answer is technically yes, but it wouldn’t be worth it.
* ColoradoYeah runs the Libertarian leaning website (read: blog) coloradoyeah.com. He doesn’t have enough time and money for epic, cross country, road trips.