How I Live On $1,614 a Month In Portland

I have lived in Portland, Oregon for four years.

The motto of the state represented exactly how I felt after leaving university and moving halfway across the country.

Alis Volat Propiis– She flies with her own wings.

In those four years, I explored all four corners of the city. I kayaked down the Willamette River, brunched in quirky restaurants, and learned to like IPAs. In a lot of ways, I felt like I was learning to fly– flying into a new adventure, into adulthood, and into a new nest.

Perhaps most importantly, I established a spending pattern.

Now that I’m moving across the country (flying to New York next week!), I thought it would be a good time to take a snapshot of my average monthly spending in a medium cost of living city. Here’s the breakdown:

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My monthly flow of money. Build your own graph using this tool: SankeyMATIC.

My salary breaks up into three categories:

  • Taxes: 30%
  • Retirement Savings: 18%
  • Income: 52%

Out of the income that ends up in my pocket, I spend about 20% and save 80%.

I will pause here to point out the obvious: as a software engineer, I have a higher-than-average salary, so I can save a higher-than-average amount of money. If you are interested in focusing on the income side of the equation, I’ve written articles about my change between industries and how negotiation helped me increase my income:

For this exploration, I’m going to focus on the spending aspect. I wrote a money diary about a week in Portland, but what does an average month really look like? Let’s break it down.

This is the average monthly spending for just me:

Average expenses in a month living in Portland, OR

Rent – $930

Average rent in Portland, Oregon for a 2bd: $1,334/month

When I first arrived in Portland, I split the rent with two roommates and rent was just under $600. After tiring of my two-bus-ride commute to work, I moved closer to the city. With just a single roommate, my rent shot up to $1000 a month.

Mr. Mechanic and I started looking for a place to live for the long term, and we found a spot right on the river. He had a 10-minute commute by bike into work, and mine was just 20 minutes to get into the heart of downtown. We loved living there, and $930 each ($1,860 total) was a great price to pay.

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The view from our balcony

Groceries – $108

 The average grocery bill for a female aged 19-50 on a ‘thrifty’ budget: $164/month

Every weekend, Mr. Mechanic and I would tromp out to the grocery store. We experimented with meal planning, and eventually brought our average grocery spending down to just $108 per person (read more about that here). Meal planning combined with big crockpot meal preparations were the star of the show for this line item.

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Our homemade Poke bowl treat!

Travel – $107

Average spent on travel in the US: $100/month

We love traveling. Mr. Mechanic doesn’t get much time off, so we mostly take advantages of weekends by heading to the coast, but we did pull off two big vacations this year:

For weekends we often visit friends and family, which keeps accommodation costs low, and usually go on a hike, hit the Oregon coast, or check out a nearby city.

I was surprised that our spending is actually over the amount usually spent on travel. I wonder if that is because I included weekend trips. We generally think of ourselves as very frugal travelers, even though we go big when it comes to our destinations.

Canoeing in Canada

Out of Pocket Healthcare – $96

I don’t spend that much going to the doctor usually, but I got two big bills– one for pink eye ($653 total) and one for two root canals. This is on top of whatever insurance covers. I pay about $88 per month towards health insurance out of my paychecks.

This year, I developed similar symptoms as my last year’s bout of pink eye, but decided not to go to the doctor. It’s all clear now, so that’s another ~$600 saved. Normally I wouldn’t recommend skipping a doctor visit but in this case, I’m glad I did.

Car Insurance – $81

The average cost of auto insurance in Oregon is $69/month

Mr. Mechanic and I both pay $81 for car insurance for his Toyota Rav4. We should probably look into bringing this expense down as we don’t drive much, and we’re paying more than average.

Restaurants – $73

The average spend on restaurants for people ages 25-34 is $284/month

I always find myself full after eating just half a portion at a restaurant. Luckily, Mr. Mechanic feels the same, and we started splitting entrees at dinner. It’s a huge cost saver! Also, we generally try to snack a little bit to take the edge off before dining out, which makes us a little more reasonable when ordering.

We are also lucky to have some generous family that give giftcards to local restaurants for Christmas presents.

ice cream at Salt and Straw
Ice cream at my favorite shop: Salt & Straw

Settling Up/Utilities – $70

Utilities (a combo of electricity, heating, water, and garbage) in Portland averages $171.38/month

The miscellaneous category for split expenses. This includes the utility bill for electricity and heating (the rest is covered by our landlords).

Luckily, Portland has rather mild weather year-round. We only use the air conditioner one week out of the year, and we bundle up in the winters to avoid putting on the heat. We both take short showers (mine are shorter now that I don’t shave my legs) and overall this keeps our utility bills low.

Electronics/Household goods – $41

The average amount spent on electronics: $100/month

Since I started working from home more often, I invested in a nicer monitor. This spending will likely continue as I go full-time remote this year.

Internet – $28

Oregon’s average cost per month for internet: $63.23/month

We used to have free internet due to a nearby hotspot, but the quality worsened so we ponied up for proper internet via CenturyLink. This is my half. For both of us, we pay about the average. We have wondered about trying to split the internet bill with some trustworthy neighbors but the risks involved (and honestly the fact that we never got to know our neighbors) put this on the backburner for now.

Entertainment/Hobbies -$28

Spending on Entertainment and hobbies averages $267/month

Things like concerts, skiing, and my blog go in this category.

Mr. Mechanic in front of extreme terrain sign skiing in the mountains
Mr. Mechanic ready for that extreme terrain

Fuel/Automotive – $24

Fuel and other automotive costs totaled an average of $164/month

We don’t drive much, but we’re happy with the car we have. The Rav4 has 24 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. We split the cost of fuel.

Clothing/Shoes – $15

The average spent on apparel: $153/month

This is now $0, as my clothes buying ban started in June. However, in the last year, I spent about $15 a month on clothes and shoes (mostly shoes for hiking).

Gifts – $13

For Christmas alone, the average spending is $638 for gifts, or $53/month

We try to do homemade gifts when possible, but this is a category where we get a lot of joy trying to find something meaningful for our friends and family. With a little more planning, I think we could plan for experiences as gifts, or start earlier on homemade items.

Conclusion

This sticker combines the Oregon state bird the Western Meadowlark, with the hand lettered Oregon state motto,
Artwork by acbcDesigns

One exploration by GoBakingRates looked at the income a single person would need to be comfortable living in Portland, OR. Using data from surveys on average spending on rent and food, they determined that the income necessary is $60,195 a year, or $5,016 per month.

Portland

  • Income needed: $60,195
  • 50 percent for necessities: $30,097
  • 30 percent for discretionary spending: $18,058
  • 20 percent for savings: $12,039

I lived quite comfortably in Portland at an average of $1,614 per month, or $19,400 a year for necessities and discretionary spending. This allows me to put away the majority into savings.

It gives me a lot of security to consider that I am living a happy comfortable life on less. Even if my salary were to drastically decrease, I have a large cushion to fall back on.

We had a blast in Portland exploring the lush Pacific Northwest. It’s amazing to look back on the last four years of living there and reflect on all of the experiences we had. Now that we are moving to New York, I will be excited to compare my spending in a completely new area.

What’s your monthly spending?

Where do you live?

How does your spending compare to the averages?

Let me know in the comments below!

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4 Comments

  1. For the travel, you might be about average simply because you travel more than most people. I know plenty of people in Oregon that are either unable to take time off or simply don’t take vacations. The lack of spending might bring the average down. For the auto insurance, there are a lot of Oregonians who only have the minimum coverage required by law, which might also bring the average down. For example, we have two vehicles, the 88 only has liability coverage and the 11 has full coverage. The average between the two is about on target for the average you listed, but liability really brings the average down.

    1. Two very good points. We definitely travel frequently, so compared to those who don’t travel at all or have very few days off, I could see how our spending could surpass theirs.

      Also a good point about the insurance. The coverage definitely would affect the averages!

  2. I was shocked by the average for eating out costs! I think you can still have the social aspect of going out for drinks or for a meal without emptying your wallet. I’ve always felt comfortable ordering a side of fries while my friends go for the full burger, milkshake, fries or whatever the equivalent is. My newest ‘hack’ has been ordering a lime and soda while my friends order fancy cocktails (the lime and soda and my nearest bar is 40 cents).

    1. That’s a great hack! Sometimes it can be awkward to stand around with no drink, so the alternative of a lime and soda is a great way to handle that! It sounds like you have a great plan for eating less if you need less while eating out 🙂

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