Long time no blog! I am using this time of quarantine as a way to get reacquainted with the wonderful habit of journaling and blogging with a first person voice, keeping you and me entertained in the process. You may feel like you have missed a few episodes, or rather a whole season! I will try to catch up as we go. In the meanwhile, stay safe and wash your hands 🙂
Living on a budget in San Diego is pretty hard, but I am living proof it can be done. Military families living cheaply in San Diego do exist and I can share a few tips right here.
First, we do get $3,165 per month as a housing allowance. As I discussed recently, we pay $1,400 to live in an RV on the beach, which includes everything, even the truck and RV loans.
So we have $1,765 left on that allowance, which is tax free, to live on before we even start touching David’s salary. Usually, it is more than enough, and even if I don’t pay rent, I do buy groceries, alcohol, improvements for the RV, and cover my personal expenses as well as holidays.
He doesn’t need to touch his salary every month, and is on track to max out both his IRA and 401(k) this year.
We do keep our finances separate out of simplicity. I am an additional user on his Amex cards so we can rack up points, and I pay for what I spent at the end of the month. But that’s another topic.
Back to living in San Diego on a budget, we rarely spend more than $3,000 between the two of us.
- Housing is $1,400 for the RV park ($900 average), RV and truck loans ($300), insurance ($90), propane to cook ($20) and random tools and accessories we are always buying ($90)
- Food is around $200 including his energy drinks, our beers and my wine. We keep it low because I get a ton of free stuff from the USO and other military initiatives, and cook mostly from scratch.
- Going out I’d say $50 on average, we get $200 credit on the Amex each year for Uber eats and use that on top, we don’t eat out out of convenience, but once a month you’ll find us at In-N-Out, some seafood place on the harbor, or grabbing beer at a ChooseFi meetup.
- We don’t pay electricity, water, internet, property taxes, trash or landscaping at the campground. I pay $15/month for my T Mobile on a grandfathered family plan and David pays $20 for Mint.
- We have $10 Netflix and just got $8 Disney Plus which are both free for six months thanks to Amex, to compensate for the fact we can’t use airport lounges during COVID.
- We put less than $100 in our cars every month. One campground is 3 miles from work and I can cycle there to use the gym, the other one is on Coronado island so I cycle to the beach and drive maybe every 10 days to buy food.
I am at $1,800 so far, and without a travel budget right now to take myself to Europe or Guatemala, or much to do, I don’t think we cross the $2,000 line unless we buy stuff for the RV. We have a bathroom full of products that we are going through and came from the apartment, same for cleaning products, we get pantry items from the USO, I haven’t bought pasta or soap or canned vegetables since I got here.
I have chosen not to insure the dogs, Tijuana is next door if something bad happens (hopefully after COVID!), they eat very well and are healthy and we have had a $120 bill for two wellness exams and some ear cleaning stuff for Kodiak who had a little infection, and $100 for Napoleon who played too rough and was peeing blood.
Stuff we get free thanks to the military include
- Dog food. I still can’t believe that one, I have like 400lbs of dog food in my car we got for free from the USO. They have a pantry where you can get three items a day and we’ve found so many awesome things but $40 bags of dog food have been the best.
- Bread, cookies, muffins, danishes… also courtesy of the USO.
- Gym is free on base and has a sauna, free Zumba, Crossfit, Yoga and more!
- Movie theaters are free on base and we’ve watched a few movies. Popcorn is like $2 lol
- The library has awesome books, craft days where I have been making birthday cards, and online accounts for free movies and ebooks/audiobooks.
- HEALTHCARE oh yeah. I can get dental for $120/year but I’ll start it when I need it. Everything else is covered.
- Tax prep. Basic tax prep is available on base.
- Balboa park has a free pass to all museums for a year for military families. You need to apply. Otherwise, museums take turn on Tuesdays to be free for all residents of San Diego and military. First Tuesday of the month it’s a bunch, second Tuesday a bunch more etc.
- Tickets for sports games and theater plays when they used to happen, we won a few thanks to the USO.
- Free restaurant dinners thanks to the USO. That’s all lottery based but we’ve been lucky.
- Sea World! We went to Sea World for free last year and get tickets every year, 4 tickets total.
- National Parks are free for military members, you get a free annual pass.
- I did a free 7 habits of highly effective people class (usually worth thousands of $$$) and got tickets for Rise San Diego for August (worth $300 or so) which is a kind of Tony Robbins motivational thing held by best selling author Rachel Hollis.
- Every two weeks, the USO hosts a farmers market where they give us tons of fresh vegetables and a few staples, the best days have included tons of avocados, asparagus, organic grits, watermelons… it’s always fun, there is music playing, they do it in the park, give away prizes and even give diapers and wipes if you have kids.
- I have like 10lbs of Sees Candy right now, USO is making sure I put on my quarantine 15.
- There are so many activities that are free or heavily subsidized, we went hiking with a small group of 6 for $10 each with private transportation and a guide for a whole day. You can rent kayaks, paddle boards, etc. the base we are on has a tennis court, some have swimming pools, it’s crazy how much entertainment you can get for free or super cheap.
- Bowling is free every Friday on base.
- Once a month, base hosts a free tacos and free beer event. We faithfully attend.
- We also don’t pay for haircuts, David shaves his head and recently cut my hair, we will park half a mile away if that means free parking
So between that and the high housing allowance, we are living large in San Diego as a military family.
While many of these things would be cheaper in Guatemala, the amount of free stuff we get is incredible, and makes up for living in a high cost area.