Living on Half a Dime a Day

Read by Sue Anderson

(4.4 stars; 82 reviews)

How to live on 5 cents a day! How to survive financial ruin without losing your house! How to keep to a bare bones budget and still have money left over to buy books! Tough questions! They were tough questions even in the 1870’s, when Sarah Elizabeth Harper Monmouth penned her quirky memoir, the subtitle of which was “How a Lady, Having Lost a Sufficient Income from Government Bonds by Misplaced Confidence, Reduced to a Little Homestead Whose Entire Income is But $40.00 per Annum, Resolved to Hold It, Incurring no Debts and Live Within it. How She has Lived for Three Years and Still Lives on Half a Dime a Day.” Sarah Elizabeth (‘Lizzie‘) Monmouth, born in 1829, was a Civil War widow, living on a run-down small farm in New Hampshire, when her investments imploded. She awoke one morning to find herself poor--an old roof above her, “dearer than life,” but “not a dollar of money left.” For months she was “paralyzed with cold, clammy terror . . . stunned and knew not what to do.” Then her “mind stepped to the front with a bold standard displayed.” She said to herself “Understand, once for all, that I rule and make your plans accordingly.” She devised (and stuck to) a YEARLY budget, which consisted of $17 for food, $13 for fuel, and $10 for reading! How she managed this makes sometimes harrowing, sometimes amazing, and always fascinating reading. Food: “a pound of oatmeal cooked on Monday would serve for a dessert through the week.” Shoes: “I took the soles of worn-out rubbers, lined them with flannel, and laced them on my feet as sandals.” Books and magazines were the sole exceptions to her parsimony. “My mind . . . is the humored child. Reading is my salvation from total wreck . . . My one solace and relief in darkest time.” In very cold spells, she would save firewood by crawling into bed with mittens on her hands to “read a while, and when the room became too cold for this, cover all up and think over what I had read. This saved me in a degree from enervating myself further by fruitless poring over poverty and privations.” Lizzie Monmouth’s tale will make you stop and count your blessings...

How Lizzie Monmouth surmounted her poverty is an equally fascinating tale. She had an artistic bent and a knack for creating folk art from found materials. Working primarily with donated wallpaper sample books and tissue paper, she filled her home and a nearby church with floral garlands and elaborate paper mosaics featuring homilies and bible sayings. Visitors started coming to see her decorations, which an 1879 correspondent to the New York Times said “produce an effect strange, curious, and wonderfully artistic and beautiful.” Lizzie began charging for home tours and selling picture postcards and pamphlets. The enterprising Mrs. Monmouth said of her new livelihood: “I have honestly endeavored to get a ‘show’ worth a dime.” (Summary by Sue Anderson)

The reader thanks the volunteer staff of the New Hampshire Historical Society for help in researching Lizzie Monmouth’s life. (1 hr 16 min)


1 - Section 1 21:06 Read by Sue Anderson
2 - Section 2 15:14 Read by Sue Anderson
3 - Section 3 14:34 Read by Sue Anderson
4 - Section 4 16:26 Read by Sue Anderson
5 - Section 5 8:58 Read by Sue Anderson


Appropriate for our times - top notch narration

(5 stars)

This story was interesting because I have many concerns about our own economy and worry that many of us will be needing to learn to live on a 1/2 dime a day. I think I would actually like to listen to the book a second time to make sure I get as much out of it as possible. The author does give some interesting information on how she pinched her pennies but the story I think is more than just about that. The story is about the importance of feeding the mind body and spirit. Sue Anderson is a wonderful narrator. She has a charming voice (frankly she sounds a little like my grandmother who would have been a wonderful narrator herself.) Sue has narrated some other stories I have listened to. Her voice and intonation are perfect for this story of a practical lady who made it through some tough times.

A Must-Read Before Offering Help to Others

(5 stars)

This brief account should be read by all well-meaning souls who offer advice to those less fortunate. While the author takes great pride in finding creative ways to stretch her miniscule budget, her pain is evident when so-called friends advise her to give up her modest property. People require different things to feel some degree of comfort. Most people would prefer to suffer deprivations rather than give up their family's land. If we are not in a position to offer real help, the best we can do is listen and try to understand their specific situation. I think this is what the author wanted most of all. While prices certainly change, this book remains timeless. Many people experience similar situations today, as expectations change with the economy. This book serves as a reminder to listen instead of telling the other person what they should do. Well read!

a sad true tale of events

(4 stars)

a true life account that i could not have picked to read at a better time. i thought of my recently widowed aunt the whole time i listened to this. the ingenuity and industriousness of this lady was impressive yes... but i was more drawn to the fact that she was willing to make those changes agaist her lifestyle & comforts. my aunt is being put in a tight spot & i just wish she could recogize & adjust as this woman did. bravo to her. if u like the history channel or biography channel you will enjoy this short read.

True Charity

(4.5 stars)

I agree with the reviewer who urges that people read this before offering "charity" or " helpful" advice to people who have had hard times fall on them. The most important part of caring for another person is paying attention to her, listening. I have the feeling that the most welcome help to Lizzie would have been a book!

Not what I expected...

(4.5 stars)

This is an interesting piece written by an infeebaled woman who looses all of her money and is forced to live on $50 a year. The reader of this election does excellent job, and you begin to feel that you are listening to the author as she goes through her ups and downs.

Tugs at your heart

(5 stars)

An amazing story of incredible self-reliance. I wish I could have donated to a "go-fund-me" account set up for her. Once you discover a great reader like Sue Anderson, you should pull up a list of her books to see that she has given us a treasure trove of the greatest stories.

(5 stars)

An amazing story of incredible self-reliance. I wish I could have donated to a "go-fund-me" account set up for her. Once you discover a great reader like Sue Anderson, you should pull up a list of her books to see that she has given us a treasure trove of the greatest stories.

this is a must read ...

(5 stars)

this lady makes it work when most of us would want to declare bankruptcy or worse when we can't afford to buy a second latte. this shows you it IS possiible to live on nearly ZERO.