See How One Family Lives Well On $20,000 a Year

one family living near the poverty lineMeet Jennifer Wurst and Michael Flemming. They live in a quaint Maine cottage that looks straight from the pages of a Martha Stewart magazine: rustic facade, elaborately decorated interior filled with treasured pieces. But their attractive dwelling, with its artful decorations, has a surprising origin: the local dump. Seventy-five to 80% of Jennifer and Michael's home and its furnishings comes from found materials.

Jennifer, a stay-at-home mom, says the junkyard is her "ultimate shopping spot."

That's just part of this family's commitment to a simplified life. Jennifer, Michael and their son make do on an income of $20,000, which means that, technically, they're hovering just above the poverty line. But as Jennifer says, "We're poor on paper, but we don't look poor... We're living a very creative, unique, unusual lifestyle." And that means no heat, savings, life insurance, trips to the mall or cable TV.

Michael, an artist, combs the nearby beach for driftwood that he fashions into furniture and sells. He relishes his autonomy, not having to get to work at 8:30 and put in 14-hour days. And the couple takes obvious pleasure in making money last. "She could stretch a nickel," Michael says of Jennifer. "She could stretch a nickel into a dollar, and that dollar turns into five."

"I actually have fun figuring out how little I can spend," Jennifer says. "At the end of the month I feel so proud that we've gotten everything paid, we've eaten well, we've done what needed to be done, and it was all covered."

Watch Today's profile of Jennifer and Michael, as well as an interview with author and self-professed cheapskate Jeff Yeager on how average Americans, who might not be ready to get off the grid, can begin to learn from such extremely thrifty examples.

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The comments here are not the rich that have worked hard for it. The rich that have stolen it form others are the ones everyone is so so very angry about. I know personally what they are all talking about. So oh well life goes on at least someone had a great time on my hard earned money never was me now i'm sick and passing so, just maybe it will be better some day in the future doubt it but there is always hope.

July 04 2012 at 4:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

They are living the simple life of their choosing.....not having to ride a crowded subway to work, job stress from a bad boss and a thousand other things that aggravate most people. We all need to live more simply. No more big cars and mini mansions. That is a bunch of bunk that the press is promoting until your 80's (or until you drop) to provide for a full retirement. I have been retired for 18 years, and love it. I live simply, love retirement, and can do the things I love to do like volunteering for needy causes. I do not miss not having expensive things, and would rather spend time with my grandchildren. Retirement, as we used to know it, is doomed. companies cutting out pension benefits, 401 k.s being devastated by the stock market, and the banks paying you miser rates of interest on your savings.

December 23 2011 at 9:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Tough way to live! I worked for 45 years to get a pension and SS. It wasn't easy either. But it's OK now. You have to think about the end game even though you might not get there

December 20 2011 at 9:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

how much do they get in food stamps ?

December 19 2011 at 11:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Probably $20,000 reported earnings to the Irs and $$$$? unreported earnings.

December 19 2011 at 10:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I never thought I would see the day in this country that hard work that leads to wealth would come to be a crime in the eyes of so many people.. Shame on you liberal lazy do nothing people who think I have to give you a fancy home. I am not wealthy, most of my life I have earned under 20,000 per year and raised a family of three. I never once had to beg for food or anything else. I learned to live within my means like these two are doing. So get off your duffs and get to work, and quit knocking those that do..

December 19 2011 at 12:53 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to dgoerger's comment

What about liberals who make way more money than you do and work 70 hours a week, are we cool with you?

December 19 2011 at 3:10 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

two losers they are made for each other

December 19 2011 at 12:01 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

Remodelers toss out a lot of perfectly good stuff just because the customers get tired of the old looks... A lot of good stuff like interior doors, panels, windows, sliding glass doors, carpets, fixtures, you name it... Yes there are salvage stores that collect them for resales but most of the good stuff still get tossed out into the dumps !! What a pity.. But I wouldnt accept old upholstered furnitures or bed mattresses,, they belong to the dumps, eeeeeeeeeeeewwwwww!!!!!!!

December 19 2011 at 11:53 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

Corporate america would love all of us to make 20,000 a year.....they would be grinning from ear to ear.

December 18 2011 at 10:13 AM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to uniondriv's comment


You got greed on both side.
Merit should be a priority not tenure, many corporations would be more generous with good workers instead of being forced to pay everybody at the same rate regardless if they performing the job or not, the result is poor workmanship, bad service and everybody is basically screwed.

December 18 2011 at 11:14 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

As a social worker, I know some people who can make 20k+ a year out of thin air. First, you would need to have as many kids as possible, but don't get married! You could collect a social security check for each kid! Next, get hooked on drugs or some other substance -- you will get free rehab, healthcare, a vehicle, job training and most likely a government job someplace, but why work when the benefits keep coming??? So, one will take advantage of all the food stamps, meals on wheels, utility bill help, and section 8 rent help. Now, this is an important part of the scam people pull, they put their kids on adhd drugs or some other drugs to increase the payout on the social security checks; the doctors peddle them as many pills as the government will pay for, then the mother usually gets the kids to sell them to their friends and their friend's parents for 20-30 bux a pop. Finally, there are many sidewalks with uneven surfaces, branches hanging low, and other things you could slip and fall on -- there are so many lawyers out there waiting for these lawsuits -- its easy money! Landlords are also an easy target for fraudsters, as they tend to sue the big corporate ones and get an easy settlement most of the time. I will say that these scams won't work for everyone, especially if you appear to be a decent or semi-articulate person. The system is not designed to support poor people who really need help, rather it is designed to support those who know how to play the system. I'm always amazed when I pull into a driveway in an impoverished area and the mother is driving a luxury car and there is giant TV in the living room along with a leather couch and all the video games consoles available and every unmarried male in the area is hanging out there.

December 17 2011 at 4:15 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply