According to the latest Poverty Guidelines released by the U S Department of Health and Human Services this past March, the poverty level for 2011 was set at $22,350 (total yearly income) for a family of four.
Can a family of four actually live on that, or say, a little less, at $20,000 a year?
It can be done, and this writer knows families that have done it, and are doing it now. It is best done in the country, if you have a car that at least runs -- yours truly's first car was a 1965 Rambler with no radio or heater; it did the job -- and the ability to grow a garden of at least a quarter-acre, as well as keep a pen with chickens, maybe a (female) goat for milking. It can be done in the city, where you may be able to get by without a car, and can grow a garden in your yard, or obtain a share in a community garden. Unless you can grow a garden, it can almost never be done in the suburbs, where you have the disadvantages of both urban and rural living, and not necessarily the advantages. Click here to learn more.
You'll give up on a lot of creature comforts that many families that are technically in poverty manage to enjoy, like big screen TVs and the like. Get a smaller digital TV, especially if it doubles as a DVD player, or use Hulu or TV.com on your laptop for entertainment, and Newsy.com for news. (Find a sample of the latest update here.) Pop a lot of popcorn for movie nights. If you have a gas stove instead of electric, you're better off. At least if the electricity goes off, you still have gas for the stove. Read books from the library. Find books at the discount section of bookstores or at thrift shops. Never pay full price for a book, assuming you haven't tried the library. I have found that with an e-reader, I don't buy nearly as many books (and I have WAY too many books as it is).
And speaking of the stove, here's a video on how to feed a family for $15 a day.