Uber-Frugal February: Spending Analysis

After a month delay, we at the FP family did finally undertake our Uber-Frugal Month challenge, as prescribed by the folks over at Frugalwoods. Sort of. The idea has hit a minor and a major stumbling block. The minor stumbling block is less than complete buy-in from Mr. FP, who has been making some special effort but has not been willing to forgo a couple of solo weekend day trips featuring gas and dinner and especially not willing to forgo buying the Dave Matthews tickets that went on sale this month.

The major stumbling block: We got a contract to buy a house. Yay! While this is great news, it involves the writing of large checks. It has also cut into our intellectual energy and free time for identifying places to cut and for blogging about the process, which is why it has taken me until halfway through the month to finish this spending analysis.

But I did it! I laboriously combed through Mint records to take a look at where our money has been going and took a look at the Frugal Woods questions. Folks, it was pretty illuminating. You can read my answers or just skip to the end for the totals.

Is there anything we could completely eliminate?

Well, yes and no. We COULD completely eliminate restaurant meals, evening babysitting, all paid entertainment (ie, concerts) and activity fees (my YMCA membership, classes for the kids, and Mr. FP’s occasional sports leagues), but we’re pretty sure we would be unhappy about it. But skipping  the first three just for Uber-Frugal February may help us get a better idea of what we really find worthwhile. These categories are definitely too high.

How’s our grocery bill looking?

Pretty good, really. We have twice as many people as Frugalwoods and spend less than twice as much, so we must be doing something right! (Not that it’s a contest, I just generally admire their spending habits.) Aside from food, we spend very little on toiletries (no shampoo or conditioner for me; bar soap for all of us; reusable substitutes for tissues, most paper towel uses, and lady things) and cleaning products (I make my laundry detergent and we clean with vinegar and water). I make my own hummus, granola bars, and yogurt, shop for best prices on staples, and use meat only as a flavoring (never a main dish). The things that I don’t make from scratch, like bread, are things that don’t seem to be worthwhile (I can get whole wheat bread at the used bread store for $1.50 a loaf, for instance).

That said, we identified a couple of areas for potential improvement: breakfast (going to see how much Mr. FP’s Grape-Nuts habit is costing us and if there’s an alternative), Greek yogurt (I made it! yay me! that stuff is expensive!), and certain luxuries. I’m going without my juice-and-seltzer treat this month–now I will appreciate it better next month–and I didn’t buy the boys any Ovaltine this month. They haven’t asked for it! Also: Get more sleep and drink less coffee.

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

We’ve been getting a babysitter and going out to concert or just to walk around downtown most months. I’d like to try to make a point of doing at some at-home date nights, with some sort of special adult snack and some boxed wine. It will be hard, because I tend to put the kids to bed and then crash unless Mr. FP has made plans for us, but I’ll give it a try.

Where can I trade time for money?

Honestly, I dunno that there’s anything left in this category. See above all the things I make! I also mend and hem our clothes (look for a post soon about my battle to keep my menfolk in pants). While I’m not one of those people who’s like, “Oh, my house is such a mess because I’m such a good mom that I spend all my time playing with my children” (I have two; they can play with each other), I do need to get out of the kitchen eventually and, you know, read them some books or something.

Unfortunately, we will probably actually be doing LESS of this time-for-money thing this month because, well, we’re moving. I’m sure we’ll keep moving costs down (we have a good track record in this area) but there’s probably some takeout pizza and convenience food in our future.

If you want the details…

Here is my Google Sheet detailing my best analysis of where our money goes. We’ve been spending about $2175 a month outside of housing and childcare or $2054 if you subtract travel. (Mr. FP wants, in the long run, to have a separate budget for travel.) To buy our house, have money for travel, and save for the future, we’d like to cut that down to closer to about $1750. Restaurant meals, babysitting, entertainment, and shopping are all obvious targets. Mr. FP is motivated by travel and I’m motivated by a growing bank balance, so we’ve both agreed to track our spending very carefully to stay under the limit. Stay tuned for an actual budget when we have a chance to work it out together.

Any of you tried a financial fast or uber-frugal month? What were the results?

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About frugalparagon

I'm a part-time librarian and mom to two small boys. I blog about striving for the long-term goal of financial independence while running a tight ship at home.

3 responses to “Uber-Frugal February: Spending Analysis”

  1. David says :

    We haven’t tried an uber-frugal month because, to be quite honest, every month with us is uber-frugal. We spend very little on any ‘fluff’ with the exception of our small mad money accounts.

    On travel, consider the ‘sinking fund’ approach. Because our income and expenses are somewhat variable (less so now that I’m retired) we fund the travel account with a set percentage of the surplus leftover at months end. Though right now it’s full enough to cover both of our planned vacations this year, so I hit the pause button for a bit so we can pay more debt.

    On the house – is Denver looking long term enough that you’re willing to buy?

    • frugalparagon says :

      Yeah, we’re set here for the foreseeable future.

      The sinking fund approach is basically what we have in mind–he gets half for travel, I get half for socking away :-). We’ll probably need to make it a little more elaborate than that, of course, to have funds for things like car maintenance and replacing our furniture, pretty much of all of which is ancient, kind of gross, and ill-suited to our new house.

      We already knew we had some fluff in our budget. I think the uber-frugal month is not exposing just that, but also the gray area between necessities and fluff–like clothes and bike supplies. (I did buy a new inner tube this month as I somehow shredded one, but am holding off on buying the rearview mirror I want.)

  2. Mrs. Frugalwoods says :

    Very cool! Congrats on working through the Uber Frugal Month, that’s awesome! Sounds like you’re spot on with the areas that could be cut, if you so choose. Congrats on making plans to buy a house–looking forward to hearing more details.

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