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.

Getting Started

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.

Categorizing Expenses

Once you’ve made your (ahem, comprehensive) list of monthly expenses, ask yo’self:

  1. 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.
  2.  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.

I'm sure these eggs are amazing, but for $8 a dozen, they better cook themselves

I’m sure these eggs are amazing, but for $8 a dozen, they better cook themselves

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!

We also took the Eat ALL The Things! challenge to, well, eat everything (edible) in our house. Also, make sure your breakfasts aren’t secretly destroying your grocery budget.

2. What can I substitute for a similar, less expensive experience?

Homemade coffee for two!

Homemade coffee for two!

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!

Lifestyle 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?

Exhale and look at Frugal Hound doing Thriller. Feel better?

Exhale and look at Frugal Hound doing Thriller. Feel better?

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!

YogaExtended

Me doing free yoga

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).

FrugalHound in the tub!

Frugal Hound in the tub!

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:

  1. Do it to establish your savings baseline (ours is 71%, which you can read about here)
  2. 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!)
  3. Commit to making these changes and tracking your expenses for the month
  4. 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.
  5. 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!
  6. Think about your financial destination and decide what it’s worth to you.
  7. 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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48 Responses

  1. I think we may do a uber frugal/no spend month sometime, but we live pretty simply all the time. I think my goal, once I get a bit further into the homesteading, would be to have a zero grocery spend (or close to it) month.

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Now there’s a challenge! That’s our dream too once we have a homestead–we’re currently surrounded by concrete :). I’d love to hear how that goes, keep me posted!

    • thefrugalchick says:

      That’s my goal too. I’d love to grow year round and raise everything we eat.
      When I do go to the grocery store I look at what I buy and think about how I could eliminate those costs or reduce them.
      I bought grapes and then realized I could have easily picked some at my mom’s (ack, impulse buy!)
      The kids love yogurt….but it sure is spendy and unhealthy at the store. So I make it myself.
      I’m going to try making mozzarella cheese this week and mayonnaise. 1 less thing to buy at the store 🙂

      • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

        Nicely done! We love cooking everything from scratch (saves so much money) and look forward to the day when we can grow our food too.

  2. I wish my yoga place did that. I gave it up too and I do I miss it, but not for 14 bucks a class! I sometimes attempt to do my own sessions at home but it’s not quite as relaxing when you have a 3 year old clinging to your right leg. (On second thought, I guess it just makes my workout a little more hardcore and intense with the added resistance.)

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      $14 a class–ouch! Too bad it’s so expensive, boo! Hey, a 3-yr-old definitely sounds like you’d be taking your practice up a level :). Thanks so much for stopping by!

  3. Pichirino says:

    Love the blog,so far i’ve managed to do Ultra Frugal months every month!
    Groceries currently at 55$ per month(1 person) I still consider that I have many luxuries since I still eat meat and have basic coffee amongst other things.

    What would you do if cable and internet came together and could not be seperated?It’s my only real vice but I bear with it since my savings rate is between 75% and 90%

    There’s so many more hacks I made in my life but I wouldn’t bore y’all with the detaills 🙂

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you so much! I appreciate the kind words and I’m so glad you’re enjoying Frugalwoods! Congrats on being ultra frugal–75%-90% is straight-up awesome. Bummer on the cable and internet. Our internet is pretty expensive too, but, we don’t want to live without it. Feel free to share your frugal hacks anytime!

  4. ok Mrs. FW – I’m catching up on your blog since our google chat this past weekend. It was great to “meet you” and now I feel like I better get to know your blog too 🙂

  5. thefrugalchick says:

    I’ve been challenging myself every month and there is always room for improvement. This month I’ve been focusing on lowering my gas expense. I drive an SUV….it sucks. I’d love a small car, but the husband does not want me or the kids in a small vehicle (safety reasons). I’ve been able to cut my gas by half (so far, by staying home as much as I can or carpooling .

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Way to go on challenging yourself every month! That’s awesome! Gas is a tough one for sure. We’re able to avoid driving a lot by walking or biking, but, I know that’s not possible everywhere. Good luck to you and thanks for stopping by!

  6. Michelle says:

    I admire all of your frugal ways. I am trying to cut back by making small steps in the right direction.

  7. Kelly says:

    Really glad I came across your blog. It’s not easy to find folks going a little more radical. It’s a motivator to me. I refer to it as Ultra Frugal Mode. My husband laughs and asks if he gets to stay when I talk about pairing back. He and my son are really good sports when I announce the next wacky thing we’re going to try. Thanks for your blog!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you so much for reading, Kelly! I’m glad you found us :). We’re definitely on the frugal weirdo extreme of things. I like ‘ultra frugal mode’–that’s a good way to put it. Frugal on :)!

  8. Hannah says:

    Im rereading your entire blog because it’s so helpful! Thank you for being so frank and open about your lifestyle. Im in Cambridge, too, a greyhound superfan, and I have so much debt and ashamed but accepting of my behavior patterns. Still, Im constantly overdrawn -even when I don’t touch my debit/credit card – even though I make more than I ever have (grad school had SOME purpose!)…it’s still a struggle, but I really appreciate your writing. Thank you!

    • Mrs. Frugalwoods says:

      Thank you so much for reading, Hannah! And, I think your desire to get a handle on your finances is such a crucial first step. With the attitude of wanting to do it–you’ll be able to! Good luck to you 🙂

  9. Hannah says:

    Too sweet! Will do,
    H

  10. TomTrottier says:

    Fwiw, you can save even more if you get a thermal cooker and/or a pressure cooker.

    Thermal cookers are a pot that comes with a tight vacuum insulated case. Caterers use them to keep stuff hot (Thermos “shuttle chef”). But the ordinary mortal can use then like a slow cooker which doesn’t use power. You bring your meal to a boil (stew, brown rice, beans, lentils, soup, even cake) & put it in the case for the next 6+ hours. Voila!
    It’s also good for travelling & camping – cook while you drive. Of course, some people just wrap their venison in foil and put it on the engine to bake…..

    Pressure cookers heat to a higher temperature, reducing cooking times, and since steam conducts heat really, really well, (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heat_pipe), it cooks very evenly. So 20 minutes for brown rice & lentils, maybe 2 minutes at pressure for broccoli.

    • Mr. Frugalwoods says:

      Huh, never heard of thermal cookers but it totally makes sense. I’ll check ’em out, thanks!

  11. Shanna says:

    I have been working on a way to overhaul my entire financial health. I love this idea! I think it is good to know where you can cut corners and save. I have never been a saver but I am working on a plan!

  12. Mimansa says:

    Mrs.Frugalwoods, you are an inspiration (you too Mr.Frugalwoods).
    My boyfriend shared this with me since we both plan to retire REALLY SOON and open a quaint little bakery in a quaint little Indian town (we are from India).
    We already save 40-50% of our earnings. Someday would save more (as right now we have his student loan to pay and our rents to pay).
    We cook our own meals, walk to work and save as much as we can.
    Going to follow this blog diligently.
    Say hi to Frugal Hound for me! 😀

  13. Mrs Spendypants says:

    Dear Mrs Frugalswoods, I am obsessed with your website! Love your style of writing – humorous, honest, inspirational and nonjudgmental! I love all the pictures of Frugal hound – so adorable! As per my pen name (don’t judge me), I was the typical Mrs Spendypants on steroids. Happy to report last November I decided to change my errant ways and transformed from a Shopaholic to a Minimalista (cold turkey). With the last kid flying out the nest and retirement looming up quickly, it was time to get real about the finances. I’ve cut our monthly expenses to the bone (eliminated cable, stopped shopping for clothes and non essentials, colored own hair at home, cut out eating out unless its business related, no manicures, pedicures, spas, massages, etc, the list goes on – a blog maybe?) Today, we are debt free except for the mortgage but have a lot of catching up to do with our retirement savings. I am inspired by your Uber Frugal Challenge and will start officially September 1. Why not now, you may ask? Because have to fly across the country next week to drop off the last child at his college. Thank you for all the frugal tips on how to travel – will definitely be packing food to snack on during that 9 hour flight! Keep the blogs coming and thank you again for the courage to share your life with us. Aloha!

  14. Sarah says:

    The one thing I haven’t found is what you do for a phone. It sounds like you have internet, do you have a phone? or Voip or Skype etc? This is a place I’m trying to cut back, but being self employed, I have to have one. Thanks!

  15. Laura Beth says:

    This is a great post. Just when I thought I had cut out everything I could, you’ve made me think about some new areas of my life where I could possibly do more.

    It’s amazing how we think everything we have is a necessity, when it’s really not.

    Thanks,
    Laura Beth

  16. Rikke says:

    Thank you for your post and this blog in general:) It has given me the motivation to budget and plan how I spend my money – something that has always been a too daunting task! Actually, I’m starting my Uber Frugal Month today and hoping that I’ll be able to save money and pay off some debt. I’ been making a very specific budget, using cash and writing down everything that I spend. I’m actually a little nervous that I won’t have saved anything by the end of the month, but hoping this challenge will prove me wrong!

    Thanks for posting this and keep up the good work!

  17. Kathi says:

    Great post! Frugalwoods and ERE are the 2 best frugal living sites I’ve ever read. So inspiring! Wish I had started the frugal life a lot sooner!

  18. Lanae says:

    So happy to have found this blog. I am planning an Uber frugal month in June but have a question…if someone else takes you out for meals does that lessen the impact of frugality? Will I be able to tell if I will be successful not eating out if I am still eating out…but not paying for it? These are the kinds of questions Socrates should’ve addressed…..

  19. Maria says:

    A fabulous post Mrs Frugalwoods – LOVE the name!! Thank you. I’m so impressed as we too are in the throes of doing a similar thing, sadly without the stringency that you have applied!!! We’re also a tad older!

    Just check out the last few words of your first paragraph. I think you have left out the ‘what”.
    ‘excited at (WHAT) we uncovered.’ Sorry – can’t help myself, but I’d rather someone tell ME!

  20. Great idea! Since I’ve started looking at my budget more every month, I think I might give this a shot for June or July!

  21. Lindy says:

    What about live music? My husband and I thrive on dancing, it is our exercise, our social time, and our dates. We spend lots of money driving to places and paying to hear live music.

  22. Melissa says:

    Faithful Reader, First Time Commenter 🙂 After months of reading all of your posts I have convinced my husband to participate in this Uber Frugal challenge. I feel like we are already semi-frugal people, but we are looking to cut way back so that we can find financial freedom before we have kids and I stay at home. In a world of over consumption, you have inspired me to embrace my inner “frugal weirdo” and I’m glad to see that there are so many others out there!

  23. amanda says:

    I live quite frugally on an ongoing basis, but I accepted the extreme frugality challenge during a recent three month period when I was preparing to move halfway across the country and anticipating a drastically reduced income. The first thing that I did was to inventory all the food that I had in my freezer and pantry. Once I had the inventory done, I realized that I could, with some ingenuity, manage a zero food budget. Although some of the third-month menus were a little odd, they did meet basic nutritional requirements. I also decided that I was not going to do any discretionary spending. This, too, was possible because I had bought laundry soap, paper goods and household cleaners in bulk earlier in the year,and had access to free bus service and a good library.
    I spent a lot of time wrestling with the urge to spend in order to assuage my worries about the move and -ironically- about the income drop. For instance, although I was already drastically downsizing my giant book collection, I kept thinking that one more book would help me feel less stressed and anxious. I didn’t give in, though.
    I had a savings rate of over 50% of income before the challenge. During those last three months I saved 75% of my income. Literally the only money that I spent was for rent, utilities and a couple of medication copays.
    The three uber-frugal months gave me a great deal of confidence about my ability to manage a serious financial challenge. They also enabled me to increase my savings.

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