Like all good conversation topics (joking), this idea came to me when someone asked in a Facebook group “Is there such a thing as a ‘how-cheap-can-I-be? calculator?”. I immediately looked to my husband to see if he could build a fancy pie chart pivot table spreadsheet, and alas, that wasn’t what I got.
Instead, he replied with some no-nonsense advice.
“YA NEED A BUDGET!”
Practical, true. Realistic, yes. But how do you calculate just how frugal can you be?
Let’s take this “how frugal can you be?” question into experiment mode!*
*I’m nerding out hard here… so hang in there while I get super-duper excited about frugality.
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So really, how do you see how frugal can you be?
There is a little work to be done on your part if you want to see just how frugally you can live. Yeah, sure I could list of some really frugal things you can do to save money. But that doesn’t help much if you aren’t looking at your bigger financial picture.
Step #1 – Spending Audit
I have a whole, in-depth post on how to complete a spending audit. It is highly recommended that you read the post in full before calculating just how frugal you can be.
In completing a spending audit, you’ll see exactly where your money is going. Whether that’s put into savings (good for you!), or spent entirely on eating out and consumer goods, you need to know where your money goes. How can you live your best frugal life if money is slipping through the cracks?
Step #2 – Get Rid of Unnecessary Spending
Because of your spending audit and a little elbow grease, you should now have a pretty clear idea of where your money is going. Now let’s look at what can be cut.
Not all unnecessary spending will show itself in big ticket purchases. Instead, small purchases are regularly to blame for out of control budgets and lifestyle inflation.
Some expenditures to consider cutting:
- Subscriptions (magazine, newspaper, monthly boxes, streaming services)
- Memberships (Costco, Sam’s Club, gyms)
- Eating out
- Entertainment (movies, going out to bars, concerts)
- General “Shopping” (everything else that isn’t clothing)
- Personal Services (nails, hair, eyebrows, massages, etc)
- Home Services (cleaning, yard, etc)
Now, I’m not suggesting that you cut everything you enjoy out of your life. There is a fine balance (which we’ll get to) between spending money on things/experiences that make you happy and spending money to be happy.
Dan and I are pretty frugal. When we started our no-spend 2020, we began to test just how frugal we can be. Things that we cut included:
- Eating out
- Shopping (unless on our 72 Hour List)
- Netflix (subscription)
- General Shopping
- Personal Services (I cut our own hair with scissors and Wahl Clippers)
Most tips on my Frugal Living Tips page we personally implement. So you can view that and get a better idea of how we live so frugally.
Step #3 – Total How Much You Could Save
You’ve taken a good look at what you can cut from your budget. You have a good idea of how frugal you can be. But let’s get some rough numbers together.
Take the items you want to cut from your budget and find the dollar amount of each one.
For example, if you want to cut Netflix, that would save you $9 a month. Cutting your own hair would be $40 a month. Limiting eating out to only two meals a month rather than ten is around $300. Not purchasing new clothing would be $100.
You’ll have your own numbers of course. To get your numbers, refer to your spending audit totals.
This total you calculate from your cuts should be your goal for saving next month.
Step #4 – Balance Spending on Things/Experience for Happiness Rather Than Spending For Happiness
There was a point in my life where I spent money to be happy. Not necessarily on things or experiences that made me happy or brought me joy. It was the action of spending that was giving me that high. That feel-good action left my pockets shallow and my home filled with unwanted things.
I turned a corner when we found minimalism. I realized that I was suffocating in my unwanted things that I once thought brought happiness. When I looked at the piles of these item at our garage sale and then in the back of our car as it when to the thrift store, I vowed to never let our home or our life get like that again.
This shift from spending for happiness to spending on things and experiences that make me happy and bring joy to my life has taken time.
When we test how frugal we can be, I keep in mind that I should not deprive myself or my family of things that we truly enjoy.
Step #5 – Consider a No-Spend Challenge
To get to a bare bones budget, I challenge you to a no-spend day, week, or month.
A no-spend challenge at any length allows you to experience how little you can spend. Consider it a test in frugality, if you will. It will reveal how much you don’t need to spend to live a full, wonderful life.
Of course, you’ll need to spend money on food to nourish your family, on bills, your mortgage, and all other necessary expenses. But do you need a new sweater or are the three you already just fine? Did you walk into Target just to buy diapers or did you really want to look for something new to buy (guilty!)?
After you do a no-spend challenge, you will see how frugal you can be. You’ll of course have your savings goal from items you’ve committed to cutting from your budget. But what else can you remove to save money and live more frugally?