How Low Can You Go?

Based on this already “old” post by Early Retirement Extreme (ERE), Jacob was able to live off $5.000-7.000 per year, as late as 2011. For argument sake, let’s assume that this $7.000 annual spending in 2011 is now $7.714 in today’s money (2018). This would be about €6.250/year (current exchange rate ~$1.233/€), can you survive on this amount in the Netherlands? How low can you go? In the Netherlands at least!

How low can you go?

We have done earlier assessments about how much money we would need in various scenarios for FIRE. I’ve plans to revisit this post and apply the 2018 taxes. But it also got me thinking, how low can you go? Let’s have a look!

How Low Can You Go? FIRE Limbo
How Low Can You Go?
FIRE Limbo!

Some boundary conditions to consider:

  • No insurances other than mandatory ones (e.g. health insurance);
  • Bare bones living, no fluff/holidays, but  some leisure is included;
  • No government benefits included;
  • You still need to be able to stay healthy (e.g. eat/sleep well);
  • Let’s assume you are FIRE and have no need for a job (i.e. no commute, limited clothing costs, etc.); and,
  • It has to be legal!


The idea is to live a cheaply as possible, so we will look at extremes here.

How Low Can You Go? Living in a Garage
How Low Can You Go?
Living in a Garage?

Options that I found/could think of are:

  • Camping out in the “wild” (read public lands or forests) = Free, but very much illegal in the Netherlands. You would still need a tent too!
  • Live in your office = Free, but probably illegal and not applicable as we assume you are FIRE.
  • You could also live in a box truck  = Free and illegal. However, buying the APK approved truck (i.e. road legal) would be rather expensive around here, probably not really an option.
  • Garage box (€35/month). You probably need some funds (or do dumpster diving) to make it “habitable” and a gym membership to be able to shower (€25/month). Total costs about €60/month. Also illegal!
  • Room for rent (€50/month). The lowest I could find was really cheap, but you had to help with choirs around the house. Let’s go with this one (not discounting that you might be able to live somewhere for free if  you work on say a farm).

Since we are law abiding and we want to do as little as possible (i.e. limited work), the yearly expenses for living are about €600 (including utilities!).

A more reasonable/realistic number, if you want to have your own “private” room is about €250/month including utilities (€3.000/year). But again, this is not really barebones, eh?

Food and Groceries

Based on our own grocery expenses (with 3 people, about €350/month), you should be able to easily live off €116 per month. Let’s assume you are good at cooking and very efficient. You also don’t want to die from malnutrition, so let’s assume  you can live off about €3/day (€90/month). This include toiletries as well.

Total costs per year: €1.080

How Low Can You Go? Groceries
How Low Can You Go? Groceries

Side note: according to the NIBUD (a budgeting site from the Netherlands) I’m grossly underestimating. They recon you need €5-6/day as a minimum per adult person. However, despite the NIBUD stating our expense are “not possible”, we managed to do this already for a few years in a row.  I’ll take their numbers with a grain of salt.


In the Netherlands you are required to insure yourself, its mandatory by law. The lowest rates I could find, based on an adult, was €75/month (no dental/highest deductible/basic coverage). Assuming nothing bad happens and you are healthy and brush you teeth, the total yearly expense are €900.


We are in the Netherlands, so you will have a bike! Depending on how much you use it, let’s include €50/year in costs related to wear and tear. There might be things you need to do that are not within cycling distance. For this let’s assume €250 in transport related costs for public transport or occasional car rental for a day.

Total yearly expenses: €300

How Low Can You Go? The Bicycle
How Low Can You Go?
The Bicycle


We said bare bones with no fluff/holidays at the beginning. In short, most leisure activities are things like reading books, going for a hike or cycle ride, volunteering & visiting free activities around town. However, it’s not about becoming a hermit, so let’s include some minor expenses for the occasional leisure event.

Total yearly expenses: €200

Other Costs

Considering life has become increasingly digital at the moment, you will need access to internet (for banking, health insurance, taxes, etc.). Some access can be free at the library, but let’s assume you cannot always time things. Let’s also include mobile phone (sim only, no data) and banking fees with this. Total costs per year €125.

You also need cloths, thrift stores are great for this obviously, but they may not always have what you need. Since you have time on your hands, you already repair some of your own cloths. Total expense for the year €150 (I’m generous here).

I’ve probably forgot a few items, so let’s include another €225 for unforeseen expenses.

Total other costs sum up to a total of €500 per year


The grand total of the expense noted above is €3.580. That is really low! It’s also very much barebones, not easy and you are really just “surviving” with the occasional exceptions. If something happens the expenses will quickly rise. For example, if you are taken to hospital, your deductible of up to €885 will be added to your expenses. If your bike breaks, that’s likely another €50-100 (for a used cheap bike). Perhaps you need glasses? You see where I’m going with this. The number above does not include for any buffer! Nor does it include replacement costs. Perhaps a value in the order of €5.000 is more reasonable (add in the “private” room and you are at €7.400).

For reference purposes; what’s poverty level in the Netherlands? It’s about €1.030/month for a single adult (2016 numbers). This is a total of €12.360 per year. Welfare support at the moment, for a single adults over 21 year of age, is €992,12/month (€11.905,44 per year). There are all after taxes.

The point I’m trying to make is that it is possible to survive in the Netherlands with very little money. How much you will enjoy life, and how comfortable it is, is a different thing. It seems that the numbers by Jacob are achievable, even in the Netherlands, but not easy to manage. Then again, we are talking Early Retirement Extreme here!



  1. I love this post! Looking at extremes is always a good way to get a clear picture of what you need and want. Thank you!

  2. That’s extreme indeed. We wouldn’t go that low. It would be too stressful (and that’s not our definition of FIRE/HOT).
    Furthermore, if your budget is so extremely small but FIRE your better option would be moving to a low cost land like Thailand or eastern Europe or south America. Your life would be a lot easier…. (if not sick, robbed, etc.)

  3. Good post Cheesy. It’s interesting to see how low expenses can go, but I have absolutely no desire to live on that little.

    For me, having a flexible budget with plenty of room for “fun” expenses is key. We travel quite a bit for example.

    1. Completely agree! Albeit in this neighbourhood doing with less can get you to FI a whole lot quicker. We are aiming for what most people would consider Lean FIRE, otherwise we have to continue for at least another 4-5 years longer. Since I’m already not motivated, that ain’t happening. Perhaps some side hustles during FI will help get us that level of luxury?

  4. I realise I saved enough to afford this from today 🙂 (if I want it, because is not not for as neither). You can go cheaper in Belgium (assurances is around 130 /year, and maybe find a house for free against some services). Or Romania? 😀 .

    But I lived like this during my university (for several months, 3-4 times) and I survived happily with nice memories.

  5. As much as I appreciate what Jacob does and what he’s done as a pioneer in the FIRE community, that level of bare-bones is not for me. Although I have dabbled in extreme bare-bones in each of those categories from time to time. I once lived in a 150sq ft. room right after college. It was dirt cheap and all I really needed since I was out drinking in the bars all the time anyway. But to do that now… uh, no thanks.

    1. It’s not for us either, but that is besides the point. I was just really curious how low you could go on the Netherlands to survive, seems that you don’t need that much!
      On the note of small rooms, I once rented a 11m2 student room (118sqft), which were actually two separate rooms on either side of a hallway! One was 4.5m2 the other 6.5m2. The first was used for a bed and desk (stacked) and the second was kitchen/dining room. Very cozy 😉 We had a shared bathroom/toilet along the hallway. I think I paid about €275 for it (it was in a city with University), including utilities.

  6. If the reason behind all this is because you’re living on a small percentage of your money that’s in investments, then another big yearly cost to take into account is the taxes you need to pay.

    Would be an interesting calculation; if you have 100,000 in investments and use the 4% rule to draw 4000 euros a year for your expenses before taxes, how much money will you need to have extra in order to live off 4% AND pay taxes?

    1. Well, assuming you have €100.000 wealth, your taxes (as per 2018) would be €420 (first €30.000 is free; next €70.000 is taxed at 0.60% net = €420). Add in the €3.580 for bare bones expenses and you’d have €4.000 in total expenses! So in theory (at least of the first year of your 4% withdrawal) you probably would indeed have enough with €100.000 to live barebones in the Netherlands (including taxes).

  7. Bare bones is not an option for me. I prefer to have a job on the side then to enjoy some luxury and have less limitations in my leisure.

    Another thought could be to go bare bones on a lot and splurge on a few.

      1. No wealth tax and cheaper health care mean you should be able to go even lower in Belgium than in the Netherlands. The lowest to go legally would be a combination of using Camelot for housing ( and dumpster diving for food. I think 200.000 euro for a single who is prepared to be ‘creative’ in some areas could provide a nice and comfortable life.

        I know I would have pulled the plug by now if I was single (mainly due to our way too big house). Then again, single me would probably be sitting on a beach in Thailand/Vietnam at the moment, living a cheap beach bum life and letting the stash grow a bit more … So the question would be, how low can you go when living in Vietnam?

      2. To answer the last question, probably even lower! 😉
        the Camelot is a good point, we have similar agencies that allow cheap living.

  8. Wow, these are extremes like you said. But I think it’s great to show that people on welfare support have quite some options if they just.. search in the right direction. I myself would prefer to keep working a few extra years instead of (almost) becoming a hermit but it’s great to know what the absolute minimum is to at least work towards that number right now!


    1. Searching in the right direction is one, but as noted, there is no buffer in these funds. Life can be very unfair to some people (outside their sphere of influence), with such associated costs it’s easy to understand that they have a hard time surviving on welfare. That being said, some will be to proud to take the necessary steps to make sure they get around on very little.

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