Uber Frugal Month: Challenge Yourself
How much money could you save in a month if you were uber frugal? We’re talking FRU-freaking-GAL. Establishing a baseline monthly savings rate is key to figuring out how much you can save annually. Even if you’re already a cheapskate, like yours truly, there are probably areas where you can thrift it up. Mr. Frugalwoods, Frugal Hound, and I decided to take the Uber Frugal Challenge a few months ago and were pretty excited at we uncovered.
At the outset of your frugal month, create a list of everything you spend money on. I recommend starting a spreadsheet so you can get fancy with your figures. Plus, it feels mega official. Your list will probably include things like: groceries, transportation, kayak klub, clothing, Spanish lessons for your llama, household supplies, entertainment, restaurant meals, ferret day camp, and croissant rolls for your corgi.
In any given month, you’re going to have fixed mandatory expenses: stuff you have to pay for and can’t easily adjust such as rent, mortgage, and student loans. Include these on your list for reference and make a notation that they are mandatory and fixed.
Beyond these mandatory expenses is your discretionary spending… AKA the murky abyss into which your funds evaporate. This is where we’re going to surgically examine savings.
Now, for serious, think through your daily routine and write down every single time you spend a dime. I bet you have more things on your list now, right?!? We sure did.
Once you’ve made your (ahem, comprehensive) list of monthly expenses, ask yo’self:
- Is there anything I can completely eliminate? We at Frugalwoods, for example, banished all meals outside of the home: coffee, cocktails, lunch, dinner… you name it, we don’t eat it.
- Is there anything that isn’t a fixed mandatory expense, but that I can’t change? Our item: dog food. The Frugalwoods resident hound has to eat and we couldn’t find a way around buying her kibble, which, unlike human food, does not fluctuate in price. However, we did find a cheaper alternative at Costco (same kibble, generic package)!
Once you’ve identified everything that falls into these two categories, take a look at the rest of your list and figure out how to trim the costs of your remaining items.
1. How is my grocery bill looking?
We all gotta eat and it’s easy to think of your grocery bill as a fixed mandatory expense. Newsflash: it is not! But, fear not, it’s possible to spend less and still eat well. Mr. Frugalwoods and I long ago gave up most meat as a cost-saving measure, but, we were buying expensive veggies like whoa.
By thinking carefully about exactly how much we eat in a week, avoiding the epic money drain of food waste, and cooking from scratch rather than getting semi-prepared foods, we were able to get our monthly grocery bill down to less than $330 for two adults. And we’re not starving, we swear! We eat fresh, homemade, often vegan meals, which turn out to be super healthy and super cheap. Tangent: if you haven’t discovered beans, lentils, and quinoa yet, do it now!
2. What can I substitute for a similar, less expensive experience?
Mr. Frugalwoods and I do love a good date night dinner, but, per our decision to cut all restaurant meals, we’ve moved our dates home. Buying some wine (boxed, ‘natch), cheese, avocados, and chocolate to eat at home is vastly cheaper than a meal out but provides the same experience of spending quality time together.
Substitution is a central tenet of living a luxurious life while being a frugal weirdo. Don’t give up your passion for museums, visit on free days or volunteer as a docent. Don’t stifle your adoration of excellent coffee, buy nice beans and grind them at home instead of incurring the exorbitant overhead of your local coffee haus. Bonus: also eliminates holier-than-thou hipster barista encounters!
3. Where can I trade time for money?
Identify expenses related to time-saving and turn them into money-saving: embrace (or develop) your inner DIY! Mr. Frugalwoods and I both have full-time day jobs and we’ve sometimes fallen victim to the dreaded convenience trap. Faster almost always = more expensive. I was buying canned soup for my take-to-work lunches and we realized it would be cheaper, but take longer, for Mr. Frugalwoods to cook a huge batch of homemade lentil vegetable soup (or quinoa or rice-n-beans) on Sundays.
By substituting the time-saving of canned soup versus cooked soup, we saved about a dollar per meal. Insignificant until you consider this is circa $240 a year–which Mr. Frugalwoods just pointed out is the cost of one cord of split, dried, and stacked firewood. I was thinking more along the lines of how much boxed wine and chocolate I could buy… but, either way, it’s not small change!
OK now your list is categorized and you’re all like HEEEEEYYYY I’m ready to uber frugal it! But wait! You’re not! The next part is the hardest to come to terms with. It’s…GULP…lifestyle change (dun, dun, dun). This is tough but remember, this IS a challenge and with that in mind, dare to ask: is there anything on my list that I love and don’t want to give up but is costing me a ton of money?
Remember, just asking yourself this question is the first step and YOU CAN DO ANYTHING FOR A MONTH! Push yourself, my frugal friend.
If you’re serious about saving money, there are probably a few monthly expenses that you just need to get rid of. For me, it was yoga class. I enjoy yoga and it’s good for me, right??? But, it was costing me $18 a class! Dang, namaste!
Solution? I’m now a volunteer receptionist at my yoga studio for a mere 30 minutes per week in exchange for free classes (hello, welcome to yoga, would you like a mat with that?). I didn’t even know my yoga joint offered this before we embarked on our uber frugal month and I had the motivation to find an alternative.
These expenses are usually–like my yoga classes–emotional, fun, or masquerading as fixed mandatory expenses. It could be a car payment on a too-pricey ride, lunch out every day, going to the movies every weekend, or top-shelf groceries. Be honest with yourself and decide what you can give up, or substitute, and still enjoy your life. This is about changing your lifestyle so that you’re not ruled by money and not a slave to spending it.
Commit for ONE MONTH
I’ll say it again, you can do ANYTHING for a month–so yeah, make yourself a little uncomfortable with the thriftiness you’re undertaking. Break a sweat trying to slim down your Whole Foods kale chips budget; cut your own hair; cancel your cable; wash your own dog (yes we bathe Frugal Hound in our bathtub… let’s just say, everyone gets damp and furry).
After you’ve analyzed everything on your list, pledge to follow the decisions you’ve made for the full month. At the end of the month, review how much you’ve saved in your frugal month versus in a regular month. Now, decide how this will impact your budget going forward: can you live with all of these eliminations/substitutions? Some of them? Here’s a motivator: punch the amount saved into your spreadsheet and check out how much you’d save in a year by living frugally versus your previous rate of saving. Then, consider if that’s worth it to you.
Why Would Anyone do an Uber Frugal Month? It Sounds Awful!
For Mr. Frugalwoods and me, saving money is all about our long-term goal of retiring to a homestead in the woods at age 33. If you know what you’re saving for and what you want your life to look like down the road, it’s not hard to give up lattes, fancy dog coats, and video games in the short term. Having a financial destination makes these immediate sacrifices much more tenable. It’s about structuring your life so that giving these things up doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. It’s about cutting back to a life that fulfills you and only spending money on things that bring joy and value to your life.
Uber Frugal Month Recap:
- Do it to establish your savings baseline (ours is 71%, which you can read about here)
- Make a list of all monthly expenses and categorize them as:
- fixed mandatory (BEWARE OF IMPOSTERS!)
- able to eliminate entirely (YAY!)
- not fixed mandatory, but unable to reduce
- able to reduce through substitution (DATES @ HOME!)
- requiring lifestyle change in order to reduce (YOU CAN DO IT!)
- Commit to making these changes and tracking your expenses for the month
- At the conclusion of your month, determine if you can continue saving at this rate, or if you need to add back some expenses. Try, at the very least, not to add back all of the expenses you reduced or eliminated.
- Do the math to see how much you’d save if you did a year of uber frugal months… two years… you get the idea and now you’re moving towards financial independence!
- Think about your financial destination and decide what it’s worth to you.
- Consider re-architecting your life so that you don’t need to spend a ton of money every month to be happy, fulfilled, and at peace. That’s really what this is all about.
Update: curious to see how a year of Uber Frugal Months impacted our lives? Check out How A Year Of Extreme Frugality Changed Us.
Have you done the Uber Frugal Month Challenge? Let us know how it worked out for you!
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