Is $38,000 a Year Enough to Live Comfortably? A Financial Expert Weighs In

Living comfortably is a subjective idea that varies from one person to another. However, regardless of individual preferences, there are basic needs that everyone must meet to live a comfortable life. People often seek to know if their salaries are sufficient to meet these needs and provide for their families. In the United States, the median household income is around $68,703 per year, making $38,000 fall significantly below this number. Therefore, it begs the question, is $38,000 a year enough to live comfortably?

In this article, we will explore what it means to live comfortably and examine whether it is possible to achieve comfort with a salary of $38,000. Additionally, a financial expert will weigh in on the matter to provide a better understanding of what is feasible on this income.

What Does Living Comfortably Mean?

Living comfortably entails having enough income to meet one’s basic needs while also having some disposable income to enjoy life, such as eating out, having a vacation, and saving for emergencies. In simple terms, living comfortably means having enough to live on without constantly worrying about meeting the basic needs of life.

On a $38,000 salary, an individual can live comfortably by having a budget that prioritizes essential needs, such as housing, food, utilities, and transportation. By cutting back on discretionary spending and creating a strict budget, it is possible to live within one’s means and still have some money left over for occasional indulgences.

Factors to Consider When Budgeting on a $38,000 Salary

To achieve comfort on a $38,000 salary, there are factors to consider when budgeting. These include housing, food, transportation, healthcare, and entertainment.


Housing is the most significant expense in anyone’s budget, with rent or mortgage payments typically taking up a large chunk of one’s income. To ensure that housing expenses do not exceed 30% of one’s budget, it is recommended to opt for housing that is below this limit. For instance, a one-bedroom apartment in a suburban town can cost $700 per month, leaving approximately $23,000 for other expenses.


Food expenses are another significant factor when budgeting on a $38,000 salary. Eating out regularly can add up quickly, so it is recommended to cut back on dining out and focus on home-cooked meals. An individual can budget roughly $300 per month for groceries while still affording nutritious meals.


Transportation can be a significant expense when commuting to work or running errands. One can budget approximately $100 for monthly car insurance, $100 for gas and maintenance, and $80 for public transportation, depending on their location.


Healthcare expenses are essential in maintaining physical and mental wellbeing. The cost of healthcare can be significant, but it is recommended to compare various health insurance plans to find one that fits your budget. Budgeting around $200 per month for healthcare expenses can be reasonable.


Lastly, entertainment expenses should not exceed $150 a month, which can be used on movies, streaming services, and any other activities that one enjoys.

Expert Opinion on Living Comfortably with a $38,000 Salary

To gain a better understanding of whether living comfortably on a $38,000 salary is feasible, we spoke with financial expert, Ryan Inman, CFP®. Ryan is a fee-only financial planner at Physician Wealth Services and co-host of the Financial Residency Podcast. He specializes in working with physicians and their families by focusing on debt management, student loan repayment, and investment strategies to help his clients achieve financial clarity.

According to Ryan, living comfortably on a $38,000 salary is achievable. He advises that before creating a budget, it is crucial to understand one’s monthly expenses, including rent, transportation, healthcare, and other recurring expenses.

Ryan stresses that individuals with a $38,000 salary must prioritize their needs and define their wants. In his words, “If you can afford the necessities, you can start to find creative ways to cut costs to maintain the ‘wants’ while keeping a budget.”

Ryan also recommends looking for ways to increase income, such as taking on a side job or working overtime. Additionally, he advises individuals to consider living in a shared housing space, purchasing used cars, and preparing meals at home to cut expenses.

In conclusion, Ryan opines that living comfortably on a $38,000 salary is feasible, but it requires careful planning and budgeting.


1. What is a reasonable salary to live comfortably in the United States?
A reasonable salary to live comfortably in the United States is often considered to be around $68,703 per year, which is the median household income.

2. What is considered basic needs when budgeting on a $38,000 salary?
Basic needs when budgeting on a $38,000 salary include housing, food, transportation, healthcare, and entertainment.

3. How can individuals with a $38,000 salary increase their income?
Individuals with a $38,000 salary can increase their income by taking on a side job or working overtime.

4. Can living comfortably on a $38,000 salary be achieved?
Yes, living comfortably on a $38,000 salary is achievable through careful planning and budgeting.

5. What are some tips for budgeting on a $38,000 salary?
Some tips to budgeting on a $38,000 salary include prioritizing needs over wants, considering shared housing spaces, purchasing used cars, and preparing meals at home to cut expenses.

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