a cellphone calculator and cash on a flat surface

How to Create a Bare Bones Budget

One of the mottos that I like to live by is ‘prepare for the worst and hope for the best’. It feels as though we live in uncertain times, what with the pandemic and at least for us here in the UK, Brexit. Although you may not be able to control whether you are furloughed or lose your job, or just have to cope on a lower wage, what you can control is your response to it. Have you ever thought about working out the minimum amount of money that you could live on? A bare bones budget. This is a phrase that I have heard mentioned a couple of times recently. Therefore I thought that I would consider the minimum that one would need in order to survive.

So what do you need to live? In 1943 the psychologist Abraham Maslow came up with the ‘hierarchy of needs’. The basic ones are warmth, water, food and rest. You need to be able to eat, drink water, have a place to live that is warm and somewhere to sleep. On top those everything else is a bonus.

So let’s look at each of those in detail and how they can help you to create your bare bones budget…

brown wooden house surrounded by grass
Warmth doesn’t need to be provided by living in a mansion
Bare Bones Essentials

First, warmth. That’s basically somewhere to live which will protect you from the elements. At its most basic it could be a cave in the hillside or a log cabin. In reality it is probably a house or a flat. Unless you already own your house outright you’ll have your monthly mortgage payments or rent. Whether you’re renting or a home owner then you have to pay council tax. Along with your home comes the cost of warmth, or perhaps keeping it cool in summer, so you have to pay gas and/or electricity.

Next is water, and that doesn’t need to come in plastic bottles from the supermarket, just out of the tap. For this you will need to pay whichever company is supplying your home. Water is actually the only drink that we require and whilst just drinking water may seem boring it is possible. Many of us love that first hit of caffeine in the morning, but it isn’t essential. That’s hard to imagine. It’s something that we take for granted, but in many countries safe drinking water is hard to come by and people walk miles to collect it. In the West it is literally ‘on tap’ and many people choose not to drink it.

Food is one of the big three expenses that we all need to pay and which can vary enormously. If you need to decrease the amount that you spend on food then check out these posts.

Simple and Healthy Meals for the Freezer

Monthly Meal Planning

Ideas for Meal Planning

You may need to ask yourself hard questions such as do I really need to eat meat every day and how much alcohol should I consume. Cutting out both of those would reduce your costs greatly. For me I indulge on avocados and expensive peanut butter, neither of which are necessities.

Finally, there’s rest. The truth is that if you have a home you have somewhere to rest, even if it involves sleeping on the floor. A bed would be nice, but it isn’t a necessity to get rest.

So that’s it. The areas you need to cover in your bare bones budget in order to live. That seems extremely basic. Essentially you would still survive, but you’d probably be pretty miserable.

selective focus photography of black rotary phone
A phone line is a modern necessity if you need broadband
Modern Necessities

If we consider the times in which we live two other items are a home phone and broadband i.e., the land line and TV licence. In this day and age it’s hard to imagine life without either of these. If you’re still working and that’s at home, then you may need broadband. If you can find a deal with unlimited data and can use your hotspot for your other devices getting rid of broadband may be an option.

As for the television licence, again it’s hard to imagine life without a TV, but it isn’t a necessity and if needs be you could get rid of it. If you were to keep your broadband there are other options out there which don’t require a TV licence to watch them.

Then there’s your mobile phone. I expect you’ll want to hang on to this. Is it a necessity? The answer is no, as there are people who still don’t have mobile phones, mainly the older generation. I have to admit though it does make life difficult and it can also be isolating as so much social interaction takes place via phone.

Other categories are all of the costs associated with having a car, if you have one. Again, it’s not a necessity, particularly if you live in a city with good public transport. Now many of us are working from home more you might want to reconsider whether you do need a car. If you and your partner each have a car if you could go down to one. Journeys should be limited to essential ones and try to batch errands so you only go out once a week. How much you spend will obviously depend on whether you’re working out of the house or not.

close up of woman having manicure
Beauty treatments are a luxury
Optional extras

My monthly budget no longer includes spending on beauty treatments. Could you dye and/cut your own hair? Manicures and facials are off the agenda. Consider spending on home treatments instead, which will be a lot cheaper. Paying for social activities would be off the agenda, although there are lots of free activities to do. Check out my post on having a great staycation.

a view at vegetables on shelves in a grocery store
There are lots of savings to be made on food shopping
Making savings

Within each item there’s also the option of reducing the cost of those. Some are fixed, such as mortgage payments and council tax. The others depend on your consumption. There’s plenty of room in most people’s food budgets to make significant savings.  

I expect that much of what I’ve talked about will seem rather drastic to many people, but making savings is all about asking yourself difficult questions. You really need to consider if something is a necessity. Not whether your friends have it or your neighbours, but is it essential to your survival. It might just make the difference between losing your house and keeping it if you find yourself falling on hard times. Hopefully that won’t happen, but just knowing that there’s plenty of slack in your budget can be reassuring. So, go on, create a bare bones budget. Write it down somewhere. Hopefully you’ll never need it, but it will be there if you do.





October 22, 2021 at 10:44 pm

Hi Sam

Great post!

It’s true, you really can live well on a bare bones budget – and still get some ‘luxuries’

During our most recent lockdown, going out for meals, bars and coffee were not an option.
However personal trainers were still allowed to train clients in the park as long as it was 1 on 1.
I was able to take the money i would normally spend on meals out / beers, etc (already very meagre) and spend it on getting fit instead.
That also meant that my alcohol and ‘fancy’ food intake went down (even though we enjoy a take out meal every once in a while)

As we come out of lockdown i am hoping to continue hitting the bar bells rather than the bars, and achieve my fitness goals.

All on a bare bones budget, of course.

Keep these great posts coming.

Shaun Hasablog.

    October 23, 2021 at 5:02 pm

    Shaun, it’s always lovely to hear from you. I think that one of the benefits of lock down is that it has made us realise that many of the things we used to think were essential are really unnecessary, but we have been persuaded by society that we really need them. Best wishes, Sam

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