I love stories of extreme personal finance. In the past I’ve written about a guy who was homeless by choice, how to pay off your mortgage in three years, and about the most fuel-efficient driver in the world. Regular readers know of my fondness for these stories and sometimes e-mail other examples.

None, however, compares to the story Dave recently sent to me: In Albuquerque, New Mexico, there’s a guy who lives on less than $10 per day. Don Schrader, a Bible major and former pastor, survives on just a few thousand dollars per year. He lives in 151 square feet of space, which he notes is just 1 square foot more than Thoreau’s cabin by Walden Pond.

A recent Albuquerque Tribune feature on Schrader included the following sidebar summarizing his personal finances:

Don Schrader lives more than halfway below the threshold for taxable income for an adult younger than 65 (which is $8,750). In 2005 his expenses were $3,885. His 2006 tally of $3,635 was his second lowest ever.

“I’m in severe poverty, and I live well. Really well,” he says. “I wouldn’t trade places with any millionaire, any billionaire on the planet.”

Schrader turns 62 on Nov. 20, and that will make him eligible to collect Social Security. (His main job over the years was as an $8-an-hour nude art model at UNM.) His monthly benefit is expected to be $357, which is about $50 more than he usually lives on, including his rent, which is $210. (His food budget is about $2 a day.) … He has bank statements that listed his balance at a local credit union at about $14,000.

Schrader doesn’t own a stove, a fridge, a television, a shower, or a sink. According to the New Mexico Daily Lobo, he hasn’t owned a car since 1979, and hasn’t ridden in one since 07 April 2001.

He’s healthy, happy, and fit.

Why does Schrader live this way? Why does he voluntarily submit to poverty? He’s an anti-war protester, and has been since 1969. In his hand-written Wikipedia entry [PDF], Schrader argues:

Nothing in life is more important than refusing to pay federal income tax for war — no matter who is president. The best way to refuse to pay federal income tax for war, with no fines and no threats from the IRS, is to live simply — below the federal income taxable level.

Schrader’s choices are too extreme for me. I could not make the sacrifices he makes. Much about his lifestyle makes me uncomfortable. If this is what it takes to live on $4,000 a year in the U.S., I’m not willing to do it.

Here are the articles I drew on for this story. But beware — Schrader’s lifestyle and philosophy will be extremely distasteful for some readers. (I’m not joking.)

What about you? Could you live on less than $4,000 a year? What values are you compromising to maintain your current lifestyle? How wrong is it that we all make these sorts of concessions? How do we decide which principles are worth standing up for and which we’re willing to let go for a few bucks? For a few thousand?

Photograph by Kit_Z.

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