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

one family living near the poverty line
one family living near the poverty line

Meet 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.