The Numbers Are In…

With pie charts and everything. And it’s not even close to zero.

That Frugal Challenge. Originally, the plan was to exclude all regular bills – basically just a challenge to our ‘optional’ expenses. The idea was to find our “minimum number” – what it really costs us to live a minimalist lifestyle in the U.S.  It also happens to be a good way to put more cash into the travel kitty.

Breaking it down completely takes a bit more effort on Mint, so we’ve kept it simple and just presented everything.  I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.

Mint makes these nice charts for you, so it was effortless. We’ve had an account on Mint since it was first launched but never really used it until now… and now we’re looking at it almost every day. There’s lots of good info in there if you care to use it.

Untitled Untitled2

If you’re going to save your money to travel the world, retire early, buy a bigger boat, or whatever then you need to understand where your money goes and how to keep it from disappearing. If you’re motivated and do this little one-month test, you might just change some habits and move yourself closer to your goal. It’s working for us –  we’re already making changes.

Our biggest budget-buster was food. This was a bit of a surprise, but makes some sense since we already live pretty lean. We were originally going to exclude this expense since we have to eat anyway – but it’s our biggest expense at $875 so probably needs a longer look.

Did you know that in the U.S., the average family of four spends $1000 a month on groceries? I didn’t. That seems ridiculous to me, but it’s about what we spent this month on all things ‘food’. Cutting out alcohol and a few restaurant meals would cut our ‘food’ expenses almost in half. It also doesn’t help that we only have one grocery store in our town and everything has to be trucked in over a mountain pass – things just cost a little bit more up here. Still, our month’s grocery bill of $525 could easily be cut down even more if we bought in bulk (tough if you’re gong to live in a bus) and focused even more on meal planning. We found that we seemed to be eating healthier and cooking better food once we shopped more deliberately. Frugal grocery shopping means focusing on the fundamentals of nutrition and preparing all your own meals – you save money and get healthier at the same time. Win. Win. Get lazy at the grocery store and you lose money and get fatter.


It costs us about $500 a month to keep a roof over our heads and that’s pretty cheap by U.S. standards. Living and camping in the bus can be cheaper, but not always. Living on the beach in Peru is cheaper. Living on the beach in Brazil is not.

The next one was a surprise – the vehicle expenses. They’ve been near zero for a few months, but our trip to Denver required two tanks of gas. And, the insurance bill came in ($180 for 6 months via Geico – let me know if you get a better deal for your VW bus) and the California registration came in this month at $72 for the year. That works out to $432 a year for the vehicle – even if we never drive it.

Bills. Yeah, we got those. The big one is electric, since it’s about 20° F outside and we have electric heat. But, we also have the overpriced internet and cell phone plans. For the two of us, we pay about $75 total for unlimited everything cell phone plans. We thought it was actually a good deal by U.S. standards, but there’s still room for improvement. In Mexico, we paid about $15 each per month for equally good service. After a bit of looking around I found something I think will get our bill down to about that level: Ting*. Check out their rate plan – it looks appealing. We just signed up, so I’ll let you know how well it works if you’re interested. In any case, we found another way to save money and use it to do something fun.

Entertainment? Books for Bode. New books are spendy. Ebooks and used books would keep this down – but the kid loves new PAPER books.

Health and Fitness? Dentist bills. We already pay for dental insurance (not included here), plus we pay again when we visit the dentist, then a few weeks later the dentist sends us a bill. Great system.

Shopping? Trip to Target in Denver. Angela needed ‘stuff’. And, Skittles. Not zero, but acceptably close for an entire month of ‘shopping.’

Education – art classes for Bode.

That’s it – we blew $2200 bucks this month. Total. If we cut out more ‘optional’ stuff that we failed at cutting out in February, then maybe we could get it down to maybe $1500. Maybe. Based on expenses, this would literally have us living below the U.S. poverty line. Our goal is not to live poor, of course, but to find our minimum without sacrificing quality of life. Like a billionaire** once told me  – “it’s just a game and money is how you keep score.”

So, we’re thinking of more ways to save and fund the next travels. We’ve recently been connected to the cult of Mr. Money Mustache and it’s been inspiring. If you’ve got your own tips or ideas, please comment below. Every extra penny goes into the Red Beard travel fund.


*Please follow this link if you want to sign up. You’ll get a $25 credit and I’ll get one too.

**I really do know a billionaire. He drives an old Ford and owns 4 pairs of pants. Apparently, you don’t get rich by spending it.

5 thoughts on “The Numbers Are In…

  • March 2, 2015 at 2:05 PM

    2200 is our total family income, both working 45 hrs a week…

  • March 2, 2015 at 2:45 PM

    Then you can come live in Winter Park, CO! 😉

    When writing this, I knew it could trigger different reactions depending on individual experiences. For sure, the cost of living and expenses vary greatly around the world. Some people might think we’re living cheap – others won’t.

    I found average cost of living estimates for our county and we came very close. They say we should need $2900 a month to live here. So, we’re living $700 / month cheaper than “the average family.”

    For us, tightening the budget was intended to stimulate our own discussion on how control our finances so we can achieve our savings goals. We set some goals and we failed – we certainly spent way more than we thought we would. The good part is that we know we can do better.

  • March 3, 2015 at 8:53 AM

    Neat, we should try that some month. Insurance and taxes are always the shockers for us.

    Too bad you can’t do the same thing with time, we often say we should have someone follow us around for a month and tell us what we’re doing wrong since we never seem to have any.

  • March 3, 2015 at 9:18 AM

    “Insurance is just a tax on people bad at math” – Mr. Money Mustache

    And, you can keep those other taxes down by having less income 😉

    I’ve been thinking hard about options for my next venture (another consequence of the experiment). Life auditor? What would you pay me to follow you around and tell you what your’re doing wrong? 😉

  • March 3, 2015 at 11:48 AM

    And here I though lottery tickets were the math tax.

    Nice article, I always respond to extended warranty offers with “if you guys can make money on those odds I think I can too”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Warning: A non-numeric value encountered in /homepages/3/d286990369/htdocs/bodeswell/wp-content/plugins/ultimate-social-media-icons/libs/controllers/sfsi_frontpopUp.php on line 63
Follow by Email