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29 January 2016

Extreme Penny Pinching


Could you go without shopping for non-essentials for an entire year? Could you refuse to buy anything new, instead only reusing what you already have or buying previously used items? Could you survive on $126 a month for groceries? How extreme could you go when it comes to penny pinching?

Maybe you’re saying to yourself, “But, I don’t need to pinch pennies or track my spending. I’ve got enough money to pay for everything I want and save for the future.”  If that’s the case, well done – that’s awesome! But, not everyone is in that position. Perhaps they’ve got overwhelming debt they need to get out from under. Or, they’ve got enough money to cover their monthly expenses, but don’t have any savings to cushion the financial blow that a job loss, serious illness or other unforeseen event might deliver. Or, they may even want to chuck it all in and go off adventuring – to experience life while they still have their health, energy and freedom.

Those are the types of people who might need to pinch their pennies. People like us. After many years working in corporate la-la land, making a decent salary and generally enjoying my work, it was time for a change. Scott felt the same way – running his own business was great, but he wanted to explore the world now, rather than wait until it was too late. So, we took stock of our financial situation and starting pinching pennies so that we could go adventuring sooner rather than later.

We had both seen too many people whose lives had been cut short long before they should have, as well as people who had lots of things, but weren’t really fulfilled by them. That wasn’t going to be us.

There are a number of ways you can pinch pennies. One of the easiest ways is to stop buying stuff. That’s what Cait at Blonde on a Budget is doing. She’s in the middle of a two year shopping ban and, except for things like groceries, kitchen supplies, cleaning products, toiletries and a few other items, she has committed to not buying anything new. Her shopping ban has enabled her to increase her savings, kick bad shopping habits and develop a more conscious consumer mindset.

Katy’s approach at The Non-Consumer Advocate is to use it up, wear it out, make do or do without. Katy isn’t ashamed to pick through free piles and reuse what others throw away. Her family’s frugal lifestyle helps them pinch their pennies for what’s important – like putting their children through university.

Taking on a shopping ban or choosing to do your shopping at Goodwill instead of Neiman Marcus is one way to pinch pennies, but it isn’t always enough. For some folks, it’s about downsizing and taking a more minimalist approach to your life. What possessions do you really need? What things really make you happy? What can you get rid of? For some, downsizing is dictated by the type of life they want to lead and the adventures they want to go off on. What can you really fit on a sailboat, RV or in a backpack?

When Scott and I decided to chuck it all in, instead of buying new clothes and knick-knacks, I started selling what we already had or giving it away to charity shops. You can find tons of other examples of folks who are getting ready to set off adventuring who are in the midst of doing the same thing. My bloggy pals Melissa at Little Cunning Plan and Cheryl of Mid-Life Cruising are great examples of this. They’ve been downsizing like crazy. It’s definitely painful at times, but they have their eyes on a bigger prize.

Now that we’ve all briskly set off down the path of 2016 (yes it’s the end of January already), I decided to have a look back at our expenses for 2015 and see if there were areas where we could pinch some more pennies. To be honest, I didn’t find too much else to pinch. Or rather, I didn’t find too much else I wanted to pinch. If I had to, I could cut costs some more, but I’m generally okay with our expenditure. (You can see details of what we spend on this page.)

For example, on average we probably spend about $100 a month for the two of us on entertainment which includes going out to eat, takeaway food, movies, going to events like the rodeo and fair, books and the occasional lottery ticket. That seems pretty reasonable to me. There are enough “outings” and treats to keep me entertained without breaking the bank. The other area I thought we might be able to cut back on is clothes, but we only spent $211 in that category last year.

About the only area we really spend money on these days is our boat and she’s not cheap. We knew when we bought her that there would be a number of things we would need to purchase for her and upgrades we would have to make. That’s just the way it is with boats – they cost you money. We do however prioritize what we spend on her and look for bargains when we can.

I did find one area where I could possibly trim some fat. And it might just trim some fat from me as well. That’s our grocery budget. I’ve been averaging about $230 a month on groceries just for me while Scott has been working overseas. Granted, a fair bit of that spend has been in building up our food stores, but I bet I could cut that back a bit. When I read how people in the States on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (“Food Stamps”) get only $126 a month for food, I have to say I was a bit dubious that it was even possible But then I talked to some friends of mine who spend around $120 a month per person on groceries and their tab also includes things like shaving cream and kitchen supplies, so I guess I can do a bit better than $230 a month.

It will be a bit of a personal challenge for me during February – how creative can I get with my meal plan on a budget? How many pennies can I pinch over the course of 28 days? I'll let you know.

What about you - are you a penny pincher? If so, what are your tips and tricks? And just because I'm nosy, how much do you spend a month on food?

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18 comments:

  1. Hey! Have you seen this? There's a free PDF (or you can buy the digital version for a small price) AND is full of budget friendly recipes - eating under $4. I haven't really dug into it yet, but plan to start seeing what I can do with our food budget as well.

    http://static1.squarespace.com/static/52f120cfe4b0bf8fcb650b3e/t/53f4441ae4b08fc795a1a352/1408517146323/good-and-cheap.pdf

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    1. Thanks so much for this! I haven't seen it yet. Looking forward to getting creative with some new budget friendly recipes.

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  2. I had to go look and we're spending around 400.00 per month on food for the two of us. Hubby tends to stock stuff though so that's why it's so high. We do eat well though. I so remember in my younger years having very little money for anything. I can remember in the 70s having a budget of $20.00 per week for food. I made it work too.

    Have a terrific day. ☺

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    1. $400 for two people probably isn't all that high, especially if you're eating well - it's less than what I currently spend. It will be interesting to see what I can get Feb's food spend down to if I'm more conscious about what I buy.

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  3. Great post Ellen. I need to follow your lead and get some more $$$s flowing in to my savings!

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    1. I think it's probably so much harder to be frugal if you're leading a "normal" life on land, working and have kids at home. From reading your recent savings post on your blog, it sounds like you've got a good handle on financing your dream though.

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  4. We've raised five kids on one income (and not a big one at that) for the last 20+ years, so being frugal is just how it is for us. Now that we're living aboard and leaving the US, the challenge for us is knowing how to best spend our money HERE so that we can still be frugal elsewhere.

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    1. That's a really good point. Getting the boat outfitted and provisioned takes a lot of money, but hopefully once you're out there, your expenses will be much less.

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  5. Oh no! I am going to blow your budget here; February has 29 days this year. This is going to put you over buy 3.57%. Can you handle it? I guess we'll have to wait and see. Oh dear lord - the suspense...


    Mark and Cindy
    s/v Cream Puff

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    1. Oh no - it's a leap year! I didn't realize. Guess I'll have to do some fasting during Feb :-)

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  6. Thanks for the shout out! We appreciate it. I have no idea how much we spend on food for just the two of us. When the kids leave again, I will have to pay attention. But one thing is for sure: if I were to stop going to Costco, maybe I would spend less. Alas, the other thing I would have to do is give up expensive items like good meats and cheeses. I don't know... maybe I'm more attached to my good food than my clothes. It's easier getting rid of those. Eating low carb is not cheap.

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    1. Mmmm...cheese. Not something I could easily give up :-(

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  7. How very timely, Ellen! Just yesterday I said "Say, I'm going to keep a tally of our food & supplies expenses between now and when we move aboard in August; please save all your receipts!"
    I'll let you know how we're doing, but I'm pretty sure already that the columns for "wine" & "rum" are going to be a problem!

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    1. Once I got into the habit of saving our receipts, it became pretty routine to track our expenses on a spreadsheet. Of course, I'm one of those people who enjoys spreadsheets :-) Good luck with tallying up your expenses.

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  8. We spend $65 a month per person. I have found that protein is the hardest and most expensive. One thing we try to do is fish a lot to up our meat intake. Our kids are becoming pro fisherman. The $65 doesn't include cleaning supplies, toothpaste, or anything like that it is solely food. Another trick is we don't buy boxed or processed foods. Sometimes people give them to us and we hang onto them for a while as back up, but usually end up passing them along. They seem relatively cheap, but generally are more expensive than if you made it yourself.

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    1. I just read your post on feeding the family on $5 a day. Pretty impressive! I'll probably be relying more on beans for protein during Feb than meat. Pretty awesome that you've got the kids out fishing and contributing to the family's dinner table.

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  9. We spend about $200 a month on food for the both of us. We eat lots of chicken, beans, eggs and ground beef .. which aren't as cheap as they used to be. We also make our coffee and bring cold sandwiches with us to work every day. We spend about another $200 a month on toiletries, eating out and entertainment. For the past few years, our entertainment pretty much is eating out at inexpensive restaurants or going to a happy hour. Everything else is pretty cheap ... we don't go clubbing and it's not hard to spend the day people-watching in the French Quarter! We go to a movie about once a year so don't spend much there. We often have a Groupon or LivingSocial coupon when eating out, so we save there too. We just took a quick trip to Miami and found LivingSocial deals for Senor Frogs, two boat rides and a bus tour ... saved about $150 bucks! We also stayed at a hostel on Miami Beach .. much cheaper than the hotel rooms nearby and we enjoyed our stay.

    It's amazing how our plans have changed our wants. We've always been frugal, but now when I see something really nice .. I appreciate it but don't have the slightest desire to buy it. It has felt so good to get rid of all the "stuff" that we never used. Other than boat stuff, we're not tempted! Oh, and no manicures, massages or fancy hair cuts. Getting my hair washed twice a year when I get a hair cut is my "massage" .. LOL!

    Thanks for mentioning us!

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    1. Wow you guys do great on your food budget! I do miss manicures and massages - something I used to do back in the "old days".

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