There was a story that went viral last year about a young couple that was determined to see how little they could live on each day. The project was called the One Dollar Diet Project. The couple managed to live an entire month off of just one dollar a day for food expenses. While this project was meant to shed light on the poverty that exists in the world, it also demonstrated the extremes of frugal living. Today I thought it would be beat to determine the minimum amount of money that it would take for you to live with only the bare bones essentials.
How much money do you need to live?
Housing costs are a total of the basic necessities that you need to live. This would include your monthly mortgage payment or rent payment. You would need to add in the cost of all necessary utilities like gas, electricity, telephone and water. Any housing related insurance fees and property taxes are also important to include. Leave out cable television and satellite television. Also, remove DSL and cable modem expenses.
Food costs would be a sum of the total of how much money it would cost to feed your family on a monthly basis. This includes meals, beverages, snacks, desserts, and all essential items needed for food preparation. Base this cost around if each meal each meal was prepared at home. Going out to eat is considered a luxury and not a necessity of frugal living.
Clothes are a necessity. Designer name brand clothing is a luxury. Monthly clothing costs would include any pants, shirts, dresses, shoes, and outfits that are needed for you, your spouse, or your kids. These items could be work related or for casual purposes.
Soap, deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, toilet paper, and many other essential toiletries would fall in this grouping. If you really wanted to be frugal, you could make a lot of these products yourself. You can make homemade soap, toothpaste, detergent in just a couple of minutes. We do this and it works great. In fact, we prefer these products compared to what we can buy in the store. Although you can do this too, we will leave space in the budget for you to buy these items.
This is the category where cell phone bills, movies, electronics, video games, and the internet would fall. These things may make our lives a whole lot easier but they are not essential to living. This portion of the budget would be a big fat zero. If we are looking at frugal living then we want to eliminate these luxuries.
Now, figure out the costs for each of these items over a 30 day time period. Total up each category and this will show you how much you could really live off of if you had to. Your actual budget and your frugal budget should technically not be that far off from one another. If there is a big gap between what you could live off of and what you do live off of then I would suggest you start trimming some expenses.
So readers, after doing this, how big was your gap? Was this exercise enlightening? If you have made changes in your budget to spend less, what did you do? Please share.
What a great question! It really helps to sort through the needs and the nice-to-have’s.
Also, I had not heard of the One Dollar Diet project before, and am excited to check it out.
@ Amanda Yes it is a pretty inspiring story what that couple set off to do. A great lesson for all of us.
We’ve taken a look at a what-if scenario if Mrs. SPF’s contract wasn’t renewed and she used EI but that hardly felt like minimalizing things. The great news is that she won the job she is in as a “permanent” employee – so we both work for the Ontario government now. Neither of us thought we’d end up in such a nice position but we certainly are not complaining.
We do plan to ditch the tv and phone for cheap or free options and to reduce our internet soon – likely a 70% savings. And we could choose to eat less healthy foods to reduce the food budget. Lots of places to save if we had to.
I think being aware of where you can cut is an important first step.
@ SPF I totally agree. You two have a sound plan if you need to cut back unexpectedly. Many people don’t have a clue as to where their money is going every month. It is good to know that you you both will be ok if something happened with your jobs.
We too are looking at ditching the TV soon. Let me know if you find any good online Canadian options as replacements.
We cancelled cable TV years ago – and haven’t missed it. We have plenty of other things to do with the time that would otherwise be spent watching TV – my son plays hockey, my daughter does dance, they both play musical instruments… We read, play board games, study, go for walks, have friends over… when television is desperately needed, my daughter occasionally watches things on YouTube, but our primary replacement is DVDs that we borrow from the library. Cost = FREE, Selection = GREAT.
@Siobhan. Wow, you are an inspiration. Sounds like your family knows how to have fun and be happy the right way. I think it is great that your kids are involved in sports and music. It is really good for their development. I also think it is cool that you borrow DVD’s from the library. Genius idea for saving money.
How much money can we live off of? Darn little, actually. There’s very little difference between our “bare bones budget” and what we do now. We could eliminate our Saturday morning breakfast and get rid of the car.
You didn’t include transportation. Most people who are living on a good income have a car, or even two. The only really, truly frugal transportation is walking. All others have either huge upfront costs (like bicycles, especially when you have small children) or ongoing expenses (carsharing, occasional rental, ownership). We’re struggling to decide the best option for our family and it’s tough.
I would, though, have to disagree with you about the internet. Even the Frugal Zealot (Amy Dacyzyn) has said that the internet is one of the best tools currently available for saving money. If I had to choose phone or internet, I’d pick the internet.
@ Canadian Doomer. You make some good points. It is inspiring to hear how well you are and your family are doing. Keep it up.
As far as transportation, you do have a point. Many people do own cars. The point I was trying to make here is to think about other things besides the obviouso f transportation. Lots of time when people think of cutting the budget they think of driving less. I was trying to provide other areas they could assess.
When it comes to the internet, I was saying how it doesn’t need to be part of the internet. There are many places like the public library etc. that offer free internet. If one really wanted to take frugality to the max they could cancel their own internet and use public access sources. Granted this option would not be one everyone would choose, but it is still an option to be considered.
Fascinating read and a wonderful experiment. I try to go a day or two without spending anything.
@Barb. Good for you. I usually don’t buy something every day either but I know a lot people that do. Even buying lunch at work every day can really add up.