Uber Frugal Week Day 1: Know What You Spend and Where You Can Save
Welcome to Day 1 of my pandemic-inspired, 8-day, what-do-I-do with my money, Uber Frugal Week series. For more about this series, including an overview of what I’ll cover each day, check out this.
Uber Frugal Week: Day 1
We’re in a weird, uncertain time and when things get weird and uncertain, it’s time to save more money. I’m going to skip the goal-setting and discernment exercises we do during the Uber Frugal Month and assume we all have the same goal here: to stay afloat, pay our bills, and not go into deep debt during this coronavirus pandemic/recession/end times.
I’m writing under the assumption that there are probably three categories of people reading this:
- People who’ve already lost their jobs due to the pandemic
- People who fear they might lose their jobs soon due to the pandemic
- People who believe their jobs are stable at present, but want to be prepared in case the recession is worse than anticipated and they lose their jobs at some point in the future
This is an oversimplification of everyone’s unique circumstances, but keeping these three categories in mind will hopefully help me to tailor my suggestions to meet your needs.
As you go through the Uber Frugal Week, please understand that my advice isn’t going to be perfect–or applicable–for everyone. The series is designed to get you thinking about what YOU need to do with YOUR money. And what you need will be different from what the next person needs. Everyone’s spending is different, everyone’s circumstances are different. Focus on what you need to do for your family and let others do the same.
If you’re in category 1 or 2 (you’ve lost your job or think you will soon), you need to figure out what your monthly income will be from unemployment benefits. Identify that number and work backwards to craft a budget that’ll fit that dollar amount. As a heads-up, Day 2 will cover specific resources for people who’ve lost their jobs and Day 3 is about how to save more money (find the full table of contents here).
The bottom line:
- If you’ve lost your job, you should plan to live on your current unemployment benefits for at least the next six months.
- Maybe you’ll get another job, maybe your benefits will be enhanced, but it’s wise to plan your spending with the worst case scenario in mind.
Disclaimers About Me
Be forewarned #1: there will be humor and levity in this series because that’s the way I stay sane. Do not interpret my irreverent tone as tone-deaf to the trauma and death happening all across the globe. I know it’s bad and I know it’s going to get worse. Let me lighten things up a tad with terrible puns and subpar humor.
Be forewarned #2: there will be math involved because money involves numbers. Don’t worry, you can use a calculator. I know I do.
Be forewarned #3: a disclaimer that I am not a trained financial professional and I encourage people not to make serious financial decisions based solely on what one person on the internet advises. I encourage everyone to do their own research to determine the best course of action for their finances. I am not a financial advisor and I am not your financial advisor.
Ok, let’s get to it!
Step One: Write Down What You Spend Every Month
Before we can make a plan for saving our money, we’ve got to know how we’re spending our money. It’s my favorite, it’s the thing I harp on all the time, it’s what I’m know for, oh yes, it’s time to review your spending!
In an ideal world, you track your spending every month so that you have a complete overview of what you spend in a year. If you haven’t been doing that, no sweat, because we’ve all just learned that the world is not ideal. If you don’t have past months of spending to reference, do your best to estimate your monthly expenses and write them down.
If you’re a spreadsheet person, I highly recommend busting one out for this exercise. Full disclosure: it’s possible I’m a tad obsessed with spreadsheets. What, everyone doesn’t have their grocery list in a spreadsheet?! Listen, they’re useful. But if you’d prefer to write your expenses longhand on dinosaur-themed stationary, that 100% works. Don’t get flustered by the format, the point is to create a comprehensive list of your spending.
If you do want to use a spreadsheet, you can copy the format I employ in the below examples. You will recognize this format from my monthly expense reports and my Reader Case Studies. I’m a creature of habit, what can I say.
If this is your first time compiling your expenses, here are a few tips:
For bills that are paid annually (or quarterly, etc), list what the monthly amount would be:
- For example, if you spend $500 on Christmas every year, record that as $41.66 per month, because $500/12 months = $41.66 per month.
- Also for example, if you pay your property taxes in installments of $1,000 every six months, record your monthly expense as $166.66, because $1,000 x 2 = $2,000 (what you spend on property taxes in a year) and $2,000/12 months = $166.66 per month.
- Don’t fear the calculator here.
Remember to include all of the following:
- Mortgage/rent payments (and property taxes)
- Utility bills (electricity, gas, internet, etc)
- Cell phone service
- Insurance (car, home, life, etc.)
- Household supplies (toilet paper, laundry detergent, soap, toothpaste, etc)
- Pet expenses (food, medications, vet visits, etc)
- Subscription services (such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, etc)
- Restaurants, take-out, coffee, bars
- Entertainment, concerts, movies, etc
- Clothing, shoes, accessories
- Personal care (haircuts, salon treatments, etc)
- Home goods (vacuums, candles, pillows, etc)
- Debt repayments (car loans, credit cards, student loans, etc)
- Car-related expenses (gas, insurance, maintenance, repairs, parking fees, inspections, taxes, etc)
- Vacation and travel expenses
- Holiday, birthday, anniversary, and special occasion gifts
- Kid-related expenses (diapers, daycare, sports/activities fees, clothing, etc)
- Medical expenses (prescription medications, co-pays, over-the-counter medications, therapy, chiropractor, etc)
- Charitable donations
- …and anything else you spend money on!
- Make a list of all of your expenses.
- Include everything you spend money on every month.
- Be realistic. If you cheat, you’re only cheating yourself. No one else is looking at this list, so it’s kind of weird if you lie to yourself about what you spend. Just saying.
Step Two: Sign-up For a (free) Expense Tracking System
If you’re not already doing so, now’s the time to sign-up for a FREE expense tracking system. I use and recommend Personal Capital (because it’s easy to use and free). Having an automated way to know what you spend every month will make it easier for you to understand what you truly spend over the course of a year because spending varies wildly month to month. Skip this step if you already have a system for tracking your spending.
Step Three: Categorize Your Spending
This is my favorite thing to do! I know it’s yours too. In fact, I don’t think I’ve met anyone who doesn’t list “categorizing spending” as one of their top five fave activities. It’s up there with flossing, people.
We’re going to categorize every single one of our expenses as: Fixed, Discretionary, Reduceable, or Forbearance Eligible (brand new pandemic-inspired category!).
Here’s what each category means:
1) Fixed expenses are seriously unchangeable and include things like rent/mortgage and property taxes. You should have very few Fixed expenses because, as we will learn in a moment, most expenses are able to be reduced or eliminated. For example, a cell phone bill is not Fixed, it is Reduceable. Groceries are not Fixed, they are Reduceable.
2) What are Reduceable expenses? I’ll admit, I made this word up because pandemic. Reduceable refers to any expense that could possibly, potentially be reduced. The grocery store bill could be reduced, the cell phone bill could be reduced, the household supplies line item could be reduced. Fear not, I’ll cover HOW to reduce the Reduceables on Day 3. The goal of this exercise is merely to identify them.
3) Discretionary expenses can be eliminated wholesale. Discretionary expenses include stuff like take-out, haircuts, and entertainment because these are all things that can be eliminated. Is it fun to eliminate this stuff? Heck no. But is it necessary? It very well might be. Plus, you’re not committing to eliminating this stuff forever, just for now.
4) Forbearance Eligible are expenses that might be eligible for some type of pandemic-related forgiveness or delay from either the government or private lenders. I will address these programs in greater detail during Day 2. For now, it’ll be helpful to identify which expenses might fall into this category. Examples include: federal student loans, credit card debt, and mortgage payments.
Here’s an example of what your list might look like after completing Steps 1-3:
(this is an example and not my actual monthly spending; see my Monthly Expense Reports for my family’s monthly spending)
|Item||Amount||Notes||Fixed, Discretionary, Reduceable, or Forbearance Eligible|
|Mortgage||$1,500||Includes insurance and taxes||Forbearance Eligible|
|Groceries||$700||Includes all food||Reduceable|
|Household supplies||$200||Includes toilet paper, vitamins, toothpaste, floss, laundry detergent, etc||Reduceable|
|Dinners out||$200||Includes take-out, fast food, and restaurants||Discretionary|
|Home goods and home repair/maintenance items||$200||Includes candles, tools, throw pillows, etc||Reduceable|
|Student loan repayments||$160||For two people||Forbearance Eligible|
|Cell phone service||$150||For two cell phones||Reduceable|
|Cable||$125||Doesn’t include phone or internet||Discretionary|
|Haircuts||$100||For all family members||Discretionary|
|Kid stuff||$100||Includes toys, clothes, and camp fees||Reduceable|
|Pet food and supplies||$100||For dog and cat||Reduceable|
|Medical||$50||Co-pays for doctor’s visits and prescription medications||Fixed|
|Beer and wine||$50||Discretionary|
|Water and sewer||$50||Reduceable|
|Holiday, birthday, and Christmas gifts||$50||Discretionary|
|Home phone service||$40||Discretionary|
|Credit card debt repayments||$25||Minimum monthly required payment||Forbearance Eligible|
Step 4: Identify A “Proposed New Amount” For Every Single Expense
It’s time to set a savings goal. Write down what you think you might be able to spend on every item on your list. This is your “Proposed New Amount” and it’s your goal of how much you think you can save.
- For all Fixed expenses, the “Proposed New Amount” will be the same as what you currently spend.
- For all Discretionary expenses, the “Proposed New Amount” will be $0. As in, zero dollars. As in, that expense is axed, gone, iced, and heretofore removed from your budget.
- For all Reduceable expenses, the “Proposed New Amount” is your estimate of how little you can spend in that category every month. For example, if you’ve been spending $500 per month on groceries, you might set a goal of spending $50 less, which means your “Proposed New Amount” will be $450 (because $500 – $50 = $450).
- For everything that’s Forbearance Eligible, keep the amount the same FOR NOW. Until you know for certain that an expense will be delayed/forgiven, you can’t delete it. Keep Forbearance Eligible expenses the same for now and happily delete or reduce them once you receive confirmation from the government/lender/landlord.
|Item||Amount||Notes||Fixed, Discretionary, Reduceable, or Forbearance Eligible||Proposed New Amount|
|Mortgage||$1,500||Includes insurance and taxes||Forbearance Eligible||$1,500|
|Groceries||$700||Includes all food||Reduceable||$450|
|Household supplies||$200||Includes toilet paper, vitamins, toothpaste, floss, laundry detergent, etc||Reduceable||$100|
|Dinners out||$200||Includes take-out, fast food, and restaurants||Discretionary||$0|
|Home goods and home repair/maintenance items||$200||Includes candles, tools, throw pillows, etc||Reduceable||$50|
|Student loan repayments||$160||For two people||Forbearance Eligible||$160|
|Cell phone service||$150||For two cell phones||Reduceable||$25|
|Cable||$125||Doesn’t include phone or internet||Discretionary||$0|
|Haircuts||$100||For all family members||Discretionary||$0|
|Kid stuff||$100||Includes toys, clothes, and camp fees||Reduceable||$25|
|Pet food and supplies||$100||For dog and cat||Reduceable||$75|
|Medical||$50||Co-pays for doctor’s visits and prescription medications||Fixed||$50|
|Beer and wine||$50||Discretionary||$0|
|Water and sewer||$50||Reduceable||$35|
|Holiday, birthday, and Christmas gifts||$50||Discretionary||$0|
|Home phone service||$40||Discretionary||$0|
|Credit card debt repayments||$25||Minimum monthly required payment||Forbearance Eligible||$25|
|TOTAL:||$3,935||Proposed New Amount TOTAL:||$2,595|
The reason for this exercise is to create a realistic, achievable savings goal. Saying you’re going spend $1,000 less every month without knowing where that $1,000 will come from doesn’t work. You need to know where you actually have room in your budget to save.
Remember that this spreadsheet is an example of a fictitious family who apparently has a dog and a cat. So don’t take this as a prescriptive spreadsheet, it’s merely an example. I, personally, am actually spending MORE on groceries right now because I’m making a concerted effort to buy farm products from my neighbors and to support small, local businesses. So everyone’s spreadsheet will look different. Once again: the goal is to get a handle on what you’re spending and where you could save, if you needed to.
Step 5: Total Your “Proposed New Amounts”
Now’s it’s time to total your “Proposed New Amount” column. This total will serve as your targeted new monthly budget. It’s still an estimate, but it’ll be an important guidepost in figuring out how little you can spend each month in order to weather this crisis.
Do not panic (yet) about how you will achieve these “Proposed New Amounts.” I’m going to cover that soon. The goal in this first day is to identify the areas in your budget that are accessible to you for saving. Trust me, I’m a professional. Actually, I’m not. Not at all. But I am here to help you and helping people save money is my favorite thing to do. So, there you go.
As you can see in the above sample spreadsheet, the savings I identified total a whopping $1,340 per month (that’s the current total of $3,935 – the Proposed New Amount Total of $2,595).
Summary of Day 1 Exercises:
- Write down all of your monthly expenses.
- Sign-up for a free expense tracking service if you don’t already use one (I use and recommend Personal Capital, here’s why).
- Categorize all of your expenses as Fixed, Reduceable, Discretionary, or Forbearance Eligible.
- Estimate how little you could spend on every single one of your expenses:
- Fixed and Forbearance Eligible expenses will remain the same
- Discretionary expenses will be $0
- Reduceable expenses will be your estimate of how little you can spend. This is called your “Proposed New Amount.”
- Tally up your “Proposed New Amounts” to reveal your barebones, baseline budget. This total is the absolute LEAST you could spend every month if you had to and it will serve as your “time-of-crisis” savings goal.
Under normal circumstances, I’m not an advocate for cutting every last discretionary expense. It’s not super fun and it robs us of luxury and stuff we enjoy. But in a time of crisis, in a time when people are losing their jobs and unable to pay their bills, cutting your discretionary spending–and reducing everything else–is a way to keep your house and feed your kids. This is a crisis time budget and the goal is to help you retain what’s most important to you and your family. Once the economy is better, once you’re employed again, once the risk of lay-offs has passed, you can (and should!) look at re-introducing your most beloved discretionary expenses. This is a cleanse, a fast, a diet for your spending. It might be hard, it will be hard, but hopefully it’ll allow you to get through this storm without too much damage.
Everyone’s circumstances are different–now and always. Everyone’s spending spreadsheets and goals will be different. And that is fine. The goal of Day 1 is to get a handle on what you’re spending and where you might be able to save–if you need to. This isn’t a time to judge our neighbor’s spending (or saving), it’s a time to look inward and identify what we can–and need–to do for our families. Some people will spend more on groceries (that would be me!), some will spend less. Some people will keep Cable, others have never had Cable. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you know your own situation and what you need to do in order to come out of this recession as intact as possible.
What questions do you have about the Day 1 exercises?
Here’s the link to the next post in the series: Day 2.
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No Alcohol. It”s money down the drain. Being mentally impaired is not good.
If one is cutting literally every discretionary expense, sure, alcohol is absolutely discretionary. But if one is not cutting literally everything, then the whole moralising tone of ”being mentally impaired” feels sanctimonius. Because you personally (clearly) disapprove of drinking, then everyone should immediately, and as a moral imperative, never let a glass of wine pass their lips.
For many, we have tiny things that we love, that are discretionary, not strictly necessary and if the situation demands it, would have to curtail, but morally, your donut / lipstick / manicure / hair cut / fancy cell phone plan / birthday cake is no more morally superior than another person enjoying a craft beer on a Friday evening. It just isn’t.
Thank you, Caroline! I agree with you completely. My husband and I enjoy our “porch time” with a craft beer and it’s become a nice time out from all of the corona stress 🙂
To add onto what Caroline said, beyond the judgement issue, it also can be more dangerous for people with substance abuse issues to just cut it out altogether. There is a reason that (to my knowledge, all) stay at home/shelter in place orders are including liquor stores as “essential businesses.” If people just quit cold turkey then they are likely to go into withdrawal which may require medical attention, taking up valuable resources at the hospital and putting them at higher risk of exposure. Here in MN, doctors were the ones to remind the governor to not shut down liquor stores as a public health issue.
I don’t think Rhonda was being judgemental, and not sanctimonius. That is just her opinion, and this is suppose to be a site where people are not jumping down people’s throats, so give her a break please. Alcohol is strictly discretionary, and yes the liquor stores are open so people can exercise their discretionary choices.
Rhonda’s comment was, by definition, judgemental. Saying “Being mentally impaired is not good” is a judgement.
And as I said above, medical professionals have explicitly asked for liquor stores to be open because, for people with substance abuse issues, it is necessary to have that access in order to avoid a need for medical care in a time when access to medical care is limited and potentially dangerous. While this may be a convenient time for folks with substance abuse issues to start cutting back on their consumption, quitting cold turkey can be dangerous and, again, require medical care. Especially considering the fact that people with low incomes are statistically more likely to have substance abuse issues, saying that people who are financially struggling must cut it out altogether is incredibly reckless from a public health perspective.
I think Rhonda’s statement regarding mental impairment could be viewed as a simple fact, at least in most situations. I can’t think of too many instances where being mentally impaired is to someone’s advantage, except perhaps if you are having surgery.
The first comment, and already you’re breaking the “no judgement” rule of this site! I mean, it’s even in bold, right there above the comments line: “This isn’t a time to judge our neighbor’s spending (or saving), it’s a time to look inward and identify what we can–and need–to do for our families.”
Really good advice.
While I agree that groceries are a reduceable expense, I think people need grace in this area right now. Our discount grocer is in another town that we don’t feel comfortable travelling to. We also often have to make substitutions with more expensive items because it is the only one left on the shelves. My husband lost his job and we are cutting back, but I am actually leaving more in the grocery budget than normal because that is our own reality and shopping for food is stressful enough right now. On the bright side, we are saving a ton on car gas!
Yeah, I just saw that Florida and CA farmers have been hit especially hard and tons of food will go to waste because they can’t sell to restaurants. VT dairy farmers are also dumping food. Really important to support your local farm so that we will still have food to eat.
I also just did a grocery delivery order because I don’t feel safe going to a store right now, especially with my dad living with us.
Yes, I agree. The goal of the Day 1 exercise is to identify where and how you might possibly cut back. My family is actually spending more on food right now because we’re buying lots of local products from our neighbors, which we’re thrilled to do. Everyone’s circumstances are different right now and, if you can spend money to support farmers, do it. But if you’ve lost your job and are facing the prospect of being unable to support your family, you may need to cut back in every possible reduceable area. This isn’t a prescriptive cut-back, rather, it’s designed for each person to identify their own personal needs and abilities to save.
I am doing something similar. I definitely have enough preserved food in my house (I love my 22cf freezer) that I am able to get through the next several months without buying any food, but I am making sure to buy food from local farms, and even the occasional restaurant, just to help them stay afloat. Definitely shrinking my food budget, but not eliminating everything I can because I still have just a little bit of wiggle room.
Just wanted to pause here and say I get it Susan. My family, too, is having to choose to spend more to minimize risk. It just isn’t reasonable for us to visit multiple stores looking for generic condiments/eggs/bread/other staples in stock without taking on more health risk. We feel its darn near impossible to cut back on grocery costs at this time. We are cutting costs anywhere else we can find to reasonably do so and trying to make peace with the grocery budget increase issue.
I’m in the same boat. My grocery bill has gone up because I’m only going to one store now, and the sale items are almost always sold out when I get there after work (essential government employee), so have to buy non-sale items. It’s been frustrating to cut back in many areas but still have a similar rate of spending each pay period because of groceries.
Groceries are going up! Eggs that used to be 1.99 2 weeks ago are now 3.99 or more per dozen. The stores are having trouble getting “sale” items…..so for me I’ve been spending alot more for groceries. I like to shop every day or two (very local market) now I’m trying to figure out how to buy enough food with an 18yr boy who inhales food….I end up with peanut butter and tomato sauce stored up. (Bread is also hard to get)
Yes-I’ve noticed they prices are higher now! This is exactly how I’ve been used to buying food-every other day. Now I go once a week to one store, and my husband goes once a week to another as they they may have different products. My 3 kids inhale food (9, 7, and 3 year old) especially fruit/veggies. We limit bread, pita, and croissants, using freezer/fridge space. We find most of it at Aldi.
It would be nice if they would adjust and sell to individuals offering next day shipping.
I agree with you, Susan. Having groceries delivered, as a means of social distancing, is also adding to the cost of groceries. And if I am not mistaken, it seems that prices have gone up on some essential items. People are shopping different now.
Yeah I thought we were going to save so much money at the grocery store but shortages can make it harder to price compare sometimes if you really need to buy something you have to just buy what’s on the shelf or go without.
Plus I swear my kid is hell-bent on eating me out of house and home. I know I’m not the only parent who feels like their kid is asking for a million snacks
I make my kids alternate snack foods-want a cookie? Eat these carrots first. They stay fuller longer and do t ask for as many snacks since they don’t want to risk having to eat a banana before getting some chips lol! Now I’m rationing the fruit/veggies though so circumstances are reversed!
It’s always nice to get a refresher on cutting back expenses! I need to do a check up on mine and see if I can lower any reduceable expenses. Thanks for writing this.
Great point! It is nice to get a refresher!
This is perfect timing! We just learned yesterday that my husbands raise isn’t happening (has always been guaranteed because it is part of a contract) and there is a good chance he will be furloughed, which in his job means he still has to work 5 days a week but will only be paid for 4 days a week and then at some point in the future (normally a year when this has happened before) will be paid for the 5th day each week. I’m a substitute teacher so I’m out of a job also, no unemployment for me either. It’s so stressful. My fuel expenses have dropped significantly but my grocery expenses are much higher. We are rural with only 2 grocery store options within 40 minutes. I’ve been scouring our budget for ways to trim costs and increase savings, it’s not very encouraging. =(
I’m absolutely no expert, but under the new unemployment bill you are probably eligible for some form of unemployment. You should absolutely try to file. It specifically covers part-time workers and contractors (of which I am as well).
Jessica, in the state of Rhode Island you are eligible for employment compensation if you are a substitute teacher. The amount you receive will be based on your prior year’s earnings. The regulations for collecting benefits have been relaxed because of the present situation. You should check into this, although it is not something that is being talked about. I became aware of this because two former colleagues applied and are now receiving benefits . It does not hurt to fill out an application on line.
Not sure if anyone already commented on this, but the new federal unemployment benefit of $600.00/week is on top of the state unemployment and it looks like they are going to pay it to just about anyone that applies for it that can associate their reduction in earnings to Covid 19. Now many employees will be paid more to not work than to work. In some states they will nearly double their salary by going on unemployment.. Utterly ridiculous legislation. (I probably shouldn’t have made that comment as it might be viewed as being judgmental) So make sure you thank your Walmart, Aldi and fast-food workers the next time you venture out of your house.. I am sure it must be very difficult for them to come to work, knowing they can get sick while being exposed to the public, when business such as Macy’s, Equinox, Tesla and a long list of others are all furloughing their hourly employees.
The federal government calculated the average working family’s need and came to $600/week. The fact that some people made less than that means that they weren’t making a living wage at their jobs.
Hi, Frugalwoods Family! Would you be willing to share a blank template of the spreadsheet that you use? I’m terrible at creating them. Thank you!
Groceries – I know probably will spend more as I will purchase groceries the safest way possible. Right now no pickup times anywhere – so will only go to one store as compared to making trips to several stores to save money. Going on three weeks without a grocery store visit – so I am due for a trip.
Also, did not see any catagory for vehicle expenses? My only expense right now would be gas but I am not driving anywhere and own my car but I know for some families – car payments are a piece.
Yep, car-related expenses (car loans, maintenance, gas, insurance, etc) are all included in the “Remember to include all of the following” list I provide under “Step One.” The spreadsheets in this post are just examples; the full list of what to consider including in your spending list is located under “Remember to include all of the following.”
Our category is no potential job loss but definitely reduced income. We also must spend more on groceries but we are getting creative here. We never know what will be available. Our family made a spreadsheet for two weeks out based on what we have and what we are likely to obtain. I have a son who is horribly allergic to dairy products, so tricky. Another thought is instead of forbearance on mortgages ( and its disadvantages ) those with lower incomes could negotiate with their mortgage company to just pay interest for awhile. I negotiated this for my sister when her husband died about five years ago. Hopefully, we won’t have to take this action, but one never knows. We have been paying extra towards principal. It seems some of our discretionary expenses have been eliminated for us. Glad we like to read and garden! Best wishes to everyone.
Two areas I want to flag, unfortunately internet access & cell phones are not ‘Discretionary’ expenses. Many people who are working from home need internet access to continue working. Those who have lost their job or fear losing their job need internet access & their phones to apply and interview for jobs. Students also need internet access to complete schoolwork. If anything, this pandemic has shown how essential internet access is. There are few (if any!) public spaces with internet access that are currently open (libraries, Starbucks, etc.). As important as it is to cut back on expenses, Internet and cell phones aren’t a great area to cut.
I agree–that’s why cell phone service and internet are listed as “Reduceable,” not as discretionary. I’ll cover ways to spend less on cell phone service on Day 3, but I’m not advocating for anyone eliminating those two categories–I know I won’t be!
Ah! Apologies – quarantine brain! I misread the post. ☺️
Thank you for this post, Liz! One thing I’ve found really interesting as I’ve reviewed my past month’s budget is how many things we haven’t spent money on because we generally only “go out” once a week (except for exercise, which is more frequent). I’m thinking of things like not driving nearly as much as we normally do (so saving on gas), spending less on groceries so we can use up more of what we already have before re-stocking, not going out to the occasional dinner with friends since restaurants are closed (but chatting over Zoom to catch up instead), etc. It’s something I’m trying to keep in mind moving forward as we re-craft our budget so we can continue to eliminate expenses we didn’t miss and bring back what we did. A silver lining to be sure, though not how I would have wished to experience it.
As far as food goes……I realize that this may be a huge stretch for many of us as I believe we are a pretty self-reliant group, but please consider going to your local food pantry if things become tight. We have one at my church in Jacksonville, FL that gives out food weekly and in the last 2 weeks, our distribution has jumped from 150 families to over 300. Many communities have food banks and are happy to have you come. All will ask you questions such as where you live, number of people in your family, if anyone is disabled or on social security. These questions may seem invasive or judgmental but they need the answers for the regional food banks where most of the food comes from. I know this may be a hard pill for many, but please consider it if things get tough. If you don’t know where the food banks in your area are then contact your city or town government or call a local church as they will often have this information. When this is over, then consider giving back by volunteering or contributing to these organizations but please contact them first to see what their needs are. Virtual hugs and thanks Mrs. F for doing this!
Thank you so much for sharing this, Sally.
Totally second using a pantry if you need to to make ends meet/stay fed!! Also, if you are in a better financial state then please give back to the local community pantry if you can!! They are overwhelmed for sure…
Thank you, Sally, and for anyone who knows they can and will be able to afford doing this, please donate to local food banks. The food banks can get food from some organizations like Second Harvest, but they have to pay for it, or still did the last time I talked with a food bank volunteer. You may or may not support the church or organization itself, but these food banks are lifelines for many, and I know in our small towns, the churches that have them are taking quite a hit, at the same time that they can’t hold services, so donations put in the plate are non-existent.
Same goes for animal shelters. They are getting more animals, less adoptions are happening, and they really need help keeping the animals fed, housed, and/or transported to rescue organizations and no-kill shelters.
Thanks for this post. I think having a plan makes people feel like they have more control, which lessens the fear. I’ll be reading every day. I am still working, but my hours could be reduced or we could be furloughed, so I am trying to be careful.
Liz, thank you! You’re proactive encouragement and guidance is just what I (and dare I say everyone) needed. It’s a scary, uncertain time and having something within our span of control to focus on is good for our mental health and general preparedness.
“This is a temporary feeling. I will get through this.”
Hang in there Frugalwoods nation!
Bare bones budget is never a fun thing. My ex husband and I lived on bare bones in the early 70’s when he was finishing his last year of college on the GI bill. I spent 15 dollars a week on food. We went out one time for dinner and felt so guilty as the amt we spent would have bought our groceries for nearly a week. We spent time walking. Walked to grocery stores. Made one whole chicken last 3 to 4 meals for us. We had one 6 pack of pop and one 29 cent cream pie in that 15 dollar budget. We ate a lot of chicken. Fun, no. We made it through that year on his GI bill and my work as a grocery store checker. He became a teacher and then it was my turn to go to school to be a nurse., so more budgeting. Those were tough years but you absolutely can do it. People are spoiled. They have not been through a crisis quite like this, myself included. My parents lived through the depression. They were children then but it stuck with them. They were always frugal! I learned from them, even though I was not as tightly frugal as they were. Could I do what they had to do, absolutely!!! You do what is necessary in times like this. Maybe this will alarm people to the point that they will understand the term 6 months of emergency money. Teach that to your children. My grand daughter at age 24 has just over 6 months of emergency money saved. If she can do it, so can everyone else. Do not expect the govt to always have a plan. Your family is your responsibility and you can do this and get through it. We are fortunate to live in the United States where the govt does have programs to help in this crisis. We have a fearless leader who will help to get us through this but each person needs to do their part too. Stay safe and do what is asked of you by the government.
Jean, I understand you don’t mean to be judgmental but this is a pretty ill-informed comment. Wages have not kept up with the cost of goods. People do not have the same ability to save and get ahead today that they had decades ago. It might do you some good to spend more time listening to people and less time judging them.
By the way, your $15/week grocery budget in the early 70s is equivalent to $90-100/week today after adjusting for inflation. Your income and college benefits wouldn’t exist for someone with the same job today. Your “struggling” years would be a dream to low income workers today. The world has changed.
I have long kept a catalog of monthly expenses and very nearly hit this budget target, but the items that blow it out of whack are always related to home care and improvement (we have an 1880s farmhouse in Vermont), as well as property maintenance, which the Frugalwoods can surely understand– items like chainsaws, larger lawn mowers, replacement tools and the like add up quickly. But now that we’ve placed a moratorium on such purchases, the monthly budget has really dropped. Gas expense has dropped almost to zero, and my own categories of Eating Out, Convenience Stores, Sports, Misc. and Health and Beauty Aids/ Grooming have all dropped to zero, equating to a savings of nearly $1,000 in my monthly budget. You’ll notice I did not include alcohol in the items that have dropped to zero. We did reduce this line item by 25%, because let’s face it, the simple pleasures of a glass or two of wine have enormous mental health value and I would sooner starve than cut out alcohol altogether 😉 Peace!
I know I’m not your target audience, but there is another category of people: retirees living on fixed incomes. Ironically, the current disruptions do not significantly affect my finances, but that is because for many years I followed the principles you outline. Before I retired at 62 I eliminated all debt, including mortgage so that I could live within the confines of SS and a small pension. Yes, my savings have taken a hit with the stock market, but that will eventually rebound. I am amazed that in my 60s and retired I’m in better shape than I have ever been. After many years of plodding away month by month, when I could not possibly have survived without the next paycheck, I now can. I’m not gloating, really, just want to inspire hope and, where possible, use my small surpluses to help others.
I’m coming up on retirement in a couple years and trying to do what you have done. SO Good Job! Great example to others!
Since my job involves literally going to people’s houses (I’m a field canvasser for a nonprofit), my department shut down weeks before there was even a stay-at-home order in place in MN. I have a certain amount of job security in that I definitely have my job back once we are running again since I’m a manager, but in the meantime, we’re just not running shifts at all. I made spreadsheets weeks ago of all of the potential financial scenarios for me: No unemployment both with and without my normal secondary source of income (which is currently delayed but not interrupted yet), with unemployment payments both with and without my secondary income, etc… I have a lot of spreadsheets in that document right now.
Since I can make it work on the unemployment payments (definitely not making as much as I normally would, but enough to cover essential expenses), I am staying at home and focusing my efforts on getting my TEFL certification and expanding my garden for better food security for my household, and hopefully my neighbors if it’s productive enough! While my job being temporarily nonexistent is definitely stressful, I am counting my blessings and practicing mindfulness , accepting the things that I cannot change and focusing on what I have control over. I am definitely grateful to be in the situation I am given the current circumstances.
I have kept track of every penny spent for the last 18 years. I have had over 13 surgeries and one where I was off 6 1/2 months. Never once did I touch my savings. I feel like those years were just preparing me for this epidemic. At any given time I could look and see where I could cut back. I am a server and I live within my means.
Thank you! This is timely; my SO’s income remains stable but as a substitute teacher, my income is gone. We’ve got two college students and two high schoolers e-learning from home. I know expenses will increase – and am not sure how to plan accordingly.
I budget by paycheck and just worked on 2nd half of April. It’s not pretty.
We’ll just need to make it happen!
Laura, as mentioned above, you may be eligible for unemployment. Check with your state. I hope so!
Love the blank template idea! I always miss categories when I make mine.
Contact your car insurance company. We have American Family Insurance coverage on 2 vehicles. Their COVID-19 program is going to be sending us a $100 check ($50 per vehicle) because, in general, car accidents are down due to everyone staying home.
Sadly, not every insurance company is so generous. Ours is waiving late payment charges which is great if your premium is due during this time and you are short on funds. Ours isn’t due.
I’m with State Farm and the rebate is going to be in the form of a credit on your next bill. That will be October for me!
This was really helpful – my husband was laid off but we have savings and my income is the primary one, so we’re okay for now. But recognizing how many of our “expenses” are discretionary was eye-opening. We could cut them completely out for some period of time as needed – for some reason I hadn’t seen that before, had just been trying to reduce them a bit. Now I’m ZEROING them out! Thanks for this.
Without negating at all the goal of treating groceries as a reduceable expense, I’ve noticed here that prices are rising and that needs to be factored in your budget. Stores in my area have also stopped listing sale items and taking paper coupons. With certain items either out of stock or limited in quantity to purchase, comparison shopping no longer works for me. If I need milk and the only kind available costs $1 more than what I’d normally buy, so be it. If I need eggs, I’m going to buy them even if they now charge a lot more. One suggestion, and I’m sure Mrs. Frugalwoods intends to cover it, is to assess what you truly need to get by (and the overall availability of those items) and target your grocery shopping for those items.
I actually wrote down my expenses and I can see some areas where I can easily cut down, like gifting, non-vital grocery expenses, and eating out. Our car insurance company is giving us a break and returning 20% of our premiums for the next couple of months, so that was a welcome refund. My recreation and entertainment expenses are on haitus while we are under quarantine so I am saving some money there. Our recreation department is extending our passes from the time the quarantine started (March 13 here) until they open up again hopefully May 15. Too bad we can’t go anywhere right now because gas prices are the lowest in years!
What are your thoughts on spending to save? For example, I’ve been intending to buy a modem to save the modem-rental fee on my internet bill, but just haven’t gotten around to it. Something to do now, or wait until the dust settles?
We’re not in any danger of my husband losing his job as he is one of the most valuable techs in his dealership and they’re still considered essential, but his hours are drastically down. He gets paid flat rate, so his hours are based on what he does, not how long he’s there. If there’s no work, there’s no pay. Figuring out a budget has always been tricky for us as his income can fluctuate so much. We definitely need to take the time to take a hard look at our spending.
Same situation as yours, husband is a top tech at his dealership. The ways ours has handled it is they are paying the techs an hourly wage during this time that is an average of their last 10 weeks flate rate. That newly established hourly rate is what they will receive for 40 hours per week, if they are on the clock for at least 38 hours. They can work on cars, they can clean, they can organize, whatever. I think it’s a great compromise.
This is definitely a difficult time and the lock downs instituted in many states are going to cause serious long term damage of businesses failing, riots and even suicides. And now they are saying that 94% of those infected will have zero to mild symptoms from the virus.
So businesses should take reasonable actions of cleaning and disinfecting. The better course of action would be those who are at the most risk to self quarantine as those with weakened immune systems, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, asthma, COPD, emphysema are having the worst reactions. These are the same people who most affected by the seasonal flu.
For those who have seen their paychecks suddenly stop are definitely the most hurt as 70% of Americans of all income levels are one paycheck away from financial ruin. Food banks are seeing long lines and closed businesses are being robbed. For those who have arbitrarily been identified as “essential” versus “nonessential”, their paychecks still are coming in but face difficulty in dealing with the stress of their jobs, especially in the health care industry where they are working long hours and they are concerned about being infected and impacting family members.
Prioritization of paying bills of rent/mortgage, utilities, car payments and food are foremost. Given the businesses that are closed, eating out, going to the movies and other entertainment, which are nice to have, are not open to spend their money. Another area that is upsetting a lot of people is that barbershops and salons are closed. For those who have already been insourcing their haircuts, this is not a big deal. For us with my husband being the family barber and stylist, my teen boys have been getting their regular haircuts uninterrupted. I had a trim a while back and I will be getting one at the end of this month. I have seen a couple friends posting pictures of their first attempt at home haircuts, and given that they never acquired the proper tools and supplies to do them, they look rough, but they are working their way through it. Hubby usually cuts my mom’s hair, but given that she is a high risk due to her diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, she is staying home. I told her when she feels comfortable enough to come over, she will get a haircut, in the meantime, just put your hair in a ponytail and deal with it. Thankfully being my husband is collecting retirement pay from his military service, that is not interrupted, that is deposited into the bank account the beginning of each month. Once things do start to open up, while we don’t usually eat out, we plan to in order to help some local businesses get income from our patronage. We try to give our business to local small shops and other businesses, rather than the big chains. They certainly need it, especially the dairy farms that are losing their primary customers of schools and restaurants.
Hi Carolyn, I think it is important to remember that the “mild to moderate” symptoms the majority of COVID patients including anything short of hospitalization. A lot of people at home are really sick. I am a health care professional and spoke to a generally healthy woman yesterday who was on her 6th day of high fevers and had been sleeping 15+ hours a day. Paula Pant describes it well on her blog: https://affordanything.com/i-tested-positive-for-coronavirus/
Because we’re doing everything we are doing in the US, we probably will lose fewer than 100,000 people to this, but if we hadn’t the estimates were in the millions of lives lost.
Hi, Liz! you might be tackling this question in a separate post, so forgive me if I’m jumping ahead. My husband is a barber and temporarily unemployed while I’m facing a reduction in hours with my work. We’re in the process of negotiating all of our fixed bills and, thankfully, have emergency savings to tide us over. Since retirement contributions make up a significant portion of our monthly budget, do you recommend reducing or even pausing them until we’re fully employed? Thanks!
I’m in a weird position of being really income limited now with no idea of when that will change yet needing to both stock up and add to the infrastructure here at my new(to me) home. Given my desire to stay out of the stores as much as possible(plus of course many have closed) I’ve had to buy needed items online; can’t find them used at a yard sale now. (Well given that we are being buried in snow once again as I write this, no yard sales for a while!). Also, I’ve been buying local eggs, honey and veggies straight from their local source which definitely costs more than buying them in the grocery store but all of the money goes to the farmer and that’s helping keep them going. A conundrum as I’m spending more(a lot more) yet needing to watch the outflow of cash which seems to be hemorrhaging. I guess I just need to hang in there and have faith that it will all work out in the end.
What a gift you are to the world – every day and especially now.
Thank you for posting this information. I’m definitely going to use it and I appreciate you sharing your knowledge and experience with me and others during this difficult time.
Hi Mrs FW,
Thank you for your new mini-challenge.
Woohoo!!! After weeks of procrastination and lots of youtube tutorials, I finally cut my husbands hair for the 1st time today, and it looks great! Thanks for the encouragement, and I now feel like I’ve graduated into a proper frugal weirdo.
By way of encouragement to anyone who is new to the uber-frugal challenge, I’ve done many rounds of it, and every time I find some new ways of reducing our expenses without compromising our quality of life. In fact, it becomes slightly addictive, and my husband and I are definitely in competition for who can be the most uber-frugal, so good luck.
I didn’t get Day 2? Am I missing something?
Hi! It’s not a daily email like the frugal monthly challenge. She will be posting on the blog spread out over 9 posts. 🙂
Or a day 3?
Hi! It’s not a daily email like the frugal monthly challenge. She will be posting on the blog spread out over 9 posts. 🙂
Our grocery bill is UP. Cooking at least once a day and using up all the leftovers. Eating out, though, is non-existent (the one time we thought we’d do take-out it turned out they were closed, so…). Gas usage is nearly nil and the car insurance bill is lower. However, hubby’s pay is down 20% in an attempt not to furlough people his corp has cut salaries for a minimum of 3 months (CEO took a 50% cut, he leads by example) and my hours (I’m self-employed, no ‘help’ coming my way) are down to less than 50% of the 1st 2.5 months of the year. Naturally the daughter starts college in the fall… hopefully.
I’m in Canada and have been following for a while. Is there any conversations on here that addresses Canadian credit cards/shopping etc.
Also regarding the alcohol. My husband and I sit behind our barn at around 5:00 most days and enjoy time together with me a glass or 2 of wine and him a couple of beer. I look forward to this time each day that we spend together away from 2 teen children. One who is difficult to deal with at times because of the isolation. So it helps us connect and it is our time and it is enjoyable for us.
I can totally empathize with your difficulty with the isolated teen. It’s harder than childbirth with no sign of a wonderful outcome or an epidural. I love my child more than life itself, but this isn’t the time to quit happy hour behind the barn (or on the patio listening to feel-good 90’s music.) And because maybe some people are thinking this since it’s out there, alcohol isn’t the epidural – it’s metaphorically feeding or rather hydrating the soul. Every time I drink a really good beer or sip a wonderfully cool gin and tonic on a hot day, the flavors evoke the sensations similar to those of enjoying a fantastic meal with family or friends. There’s something so deeply satisfying about sharing something you look forward to and enjoy with someone dear. Some people feel the same way about solitude. Either way these experiences bring peace. That said, we’re here because we aspire continually to raise our own personal bars even in desperate times. We’ve got this!
What other personal tracking tools do u recommend? The personal capital tool doesn’t work in Australia and a lot of others don’t let me properly classify inter account transfers that are not spend – e.g. putting money into a savings account with another institution
This post is full of great advice even for a long-time hard core budget tracker like me. I am in a good financial position with zero debt and 18 months of basic expenses in an emergency fund. I am also very lucky to still be working full time at full pay from home, but that could change at any time. Unfortunately my sister has completely lost her income and has no savings (thank goodness for Canada’s CERB emergency support!) and my mum is on a very small pension with very little savings. We all live in the same condo building so we are able to emotionally support each other while staying isolated.
I’ve been buying food for all of us for the last month so my grocery budget has nearly tripled, especially since the more expensive grocery stores are the cleanest and least busy/safest to shop at right now. BUT – I am saving a ton on transportation and other discretionary spending (who needs a haircut when you don’t even brush it on the regular!). I’ve actually blacked out those rows in my budget for the next 3 months as a visual cue to not spend in these categories. I can still choose to if I need a morale lift of course, but I take this seriously and want to be ready for the worst scenario.
Still saving nearly half of my income each paycheque as I have been for the past few years, but have put a pause on investing so that I can have those funds easily available if needed.
As a nurse my income will not be affected. I am saving more now than I ever have. With my kids being home this has saved me tons of money. No extra curricular activities has saved me over $500 month. Our Kroger food store has had full shelves since the beginning of this pandemic. Prices have not gone up and I stop by weekly to get our groceries. Getting 15% reduction for car insurance from Geico. Got $2200 for stimulus and have added this to my emergency fund. I am debt free. My house will be paid off in 18 mos at the ago of 50. Having job security is why I chose my profession. Stay safe.
A nice refresher on budgeting and preparing/responding to emergencies. Something we are following in our home. That said, I think this template needs to realistically consider healthcare in the USA. Many people would need to purchase COBRA or ACA healthcare coverage with a job loss which may significantly increase their monthly budget. My budget would increase, even with a bare-bone budget, with a job loss – COBRA for my family would be well over $1000 a month. If you have the privilege of saving, I would recommend including non-employee sponsored healthcare in 3-6+ months of emergency savings.
Doing a cleanse, fast or diet usually results in positive changes even after cleanse/fast/diet is over. It will be very interesting to see what “luxuries” we want to let back into our lives after living without for a while.
It’s interesting that our grocery spending is definitely up. Prices have gone a bit higher here (thankfully there’s still a lot of supermarket competition!)…but we are also choosing to shop at a more expensive grocery store.
Why? Where we now shop is very close to home. But more importantly – It is nearly empty when we shop there early in the morning. We just feel so much safer shopping there right now. It’s a small store too, so we can make quick work of our weekly shop and then head home.
I’m thankful that we can afford to spend the extra dollars, and feel so much safer. Our regular supermarkets are often packed with people. I would feel very anxious there.
And…we’re spending so little on anything else, that I don’t feel bad to spend a bit more on food.
Order from Misfit Market and help the farms.
I like that you all track alcohol purchases.
I do the same with my budget and find it a way to help additionally track consumption.
Great way to monitor health