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Secret Formula Revealed: How I Keep My Expenses Low

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If you read my blog, you probably know that I shared my budget (and secret formula for my high savings rate) for the first time earlier this week.  And it was pretty anti-climactic.  After all, I only have ten real budget categories and they’re all super boring.  In the comments, some of my readers and fellow bloggers asked some serious questions about my budget.  Like, why don’t I budget for clothes?  And, where is my budget for personal care?  Don’t I shower, shave my legs, and moisturize?  Am I secretly disgusting?

Don’t despair, my friends.  Even though I quit my job and work from home, I still shower.  I still shave my legs.  Sometimes.  I always brush my teeth.  You can believe that.  I even wear deodorant most of the time.  But, even though I do take care of my body and my home, I don’t excessively budget for every single category.  But, I am able to keep my expenses extremely low.  How do I do it?  I’m happy to share my secret formula.

Transportation Expenses

We have a 2007 periwinkle dodge Caravan and a 2009 red Toyota Prius.  Both cars are paid for….and awesome!  And since I work from home, I rarely get gas.  Hell, I rarely drive at all.  I actually drive so little that I forget how to drive sometimes.  In fact, one of my favorite pastimes is pretending to be lost and freaking my four-year-old daughter out.  I try to take it to the verge of sincere frustration and tears before magically figuring out where I am and finding my way home.  It’s hilarious!  (she doesn’t think so)

Greg drives more now that he’s started his new career, but he still gets 40-50 mpg since he has a hybrid.  Between the two us, our transportation costs are very minimal.  We have car insurance with Allstate Auto insurance which costs about $450 every six months.

The Extras

We don’t have cable television or a home phone.  Instead of cable, we pay $8 per month for Hulu and Netflix to stream to our Roku Box.  Our home phone only got collection calls for someone named Alan Smith so we cancelled it years ago.  I also absolutely hate the sound of a home phone ringing.  PET PEEVE OF THE UNIVERSE.  Since we don’t have a home phone, Greg has a cell phone through Page Plus Cellular and his monthly bill is $55.  I have a cell phone through Republic Wireless and I shouldn’t have a bill for at least the rest of this year due to a promotion I signed up for.  Fingers crossed!

Clothing

Do people really budget for clothes?  If I budgeted for clothes, I would be tempted to…..buy clothes.  If no one needs clothing, I’m not going to budget for it.  Thanks to garage sales, my kids are set on clothes for at least the next few years.  I don’t know when we’ll need new clothes again.  But when we do, I’ll budget for them!

Daycare

My daycare costs are one of the reasons that I love living in a low cost area.  I only pay $125 per week for full-time care for two children.  Not only is my daycare affordable, but it’s conveniently located and I absolutely love my daycare lady!  And let’s face it; daycare is the reason I’m sane.

Personal Care

Listen, I used to coupon.  I will never run out of floss.  I REPEAT: I WILL NEVER RUN OUT OF FLOSS.  I also have an infinite amount of shaving cream, soap, shampoo, razors, toothpaste, lotion, and things like that.  I haven’t bought laundry detergent in over a year.  I don’t budget for these things because I’ve still got a stockpile from my crazy days of extreme couponing.  I’m not proud of it, but I’m not ashamed to reap the benefits either.

I Don’t Owe Anyone Money

Except for my mortgage with Amerisave, of course.  My mortgage could also be a lot lower if we chose to go with a longer term (ours is a 15 year loan).  Since we’ve paid off all of our debts, we don’t owe anyone anything.  Therefore, we don’t need to make monthly payments anymore.  It’s a great feeling and part of the reason that my expenses are so low.  In fact, I would say that becoming debt free is definitely part of the secret formula for a high savings rate in the first place.

Are your expenses low?  If so, how do you keep them low?  Are there some categories where you could improve? 

 

 

 

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92 Comments

  1. Ha, I was probably one of those people that asked you wasn’t I? We budget for anything and everything we can, hence our projected expenses account although clothing is not a projected expense. The money has to come from somewhere though when and if we spend it. We budget $50 a month for clothes and if it does not get used it goes into savings. The point for us is that the money is there and we are not taking it from emergency savings because clothing is not an emergency. That’s our personal way of doing it and everyone is different. Personal care, we are like you have enough floss, toothpaste, body wash and who knows what else for a LONG TIme. The expenses that do come up fall under grocery budget or we have a prescriptions category for over the counter and not. The projected expenses is what has helped us the most. No more sneaking from the emergency fund because there is a new account that has all the money we’ve been saving all year for expenses that we know are on the way or the money is there if we want to spend it because it accumulated, ie Christmas, birthdays etc. Thanks for the breakdown Holly…

    1. Hey, whatever works! Everyone budgets their own way. I was joking around in this post! =)

  2. Our expenses are a bit higher than you in some areas (our car insurance is about $700 for 2 cars every 6 mos), but lower in others (Kitty PoP doesn’t need dayare!). There are definitely categories that we can improve on (groceries, eating out, cell phones…), but we’re working on it and will get there eventually.

    1. Yeah, I hear ya!
      We have room for improvement as well.

  3. Food is the big waste in my budget. Being lazy and hating cooking means I buy more expensive take out. Fixing is my current personal financial challenge. I have natural peanut butter and bananas and dipping the bananas in the PB is my current easy and very nutritious supper.

    If you hate the sound of phones ringing what ring tone does your cell have?

  4. That’s awesome you have a year’s supply of shampoo/shaving crea/etc. We try to have a few extra on hand (through using coupons/deals), and it definitely is nice to not have to run out and pay full price when we run out. I also would love to join you and eventually be completely out of student loan debt as well as mortgage, auto, etc.

    1. It took a while to pay everything off but it was worth it!

  5. I read the post twice, but I couldn’t find the budget for off-resort libations on vacations! Or does that come under Personal Care? Great post, by the way… 😉

    1. Ha!

      I budget for vacations on the month that I pay for them. We’re not going anywhere this month =(

  6. I think people go overboard in their budgets… the minutia to me is overdone. I like how you keep things relatively simple, ten categories and that is it. Not owing money to anyone except the bank is awesome, perhaps in a future post you can describe it to us slow, sultry like… you know, like we a naughty. You know a lot of us are fantasizing about it.

    1. Sure, Mitchell. I’ll try to use more descriptive words next time.

  7. “In fact, one of my favorite pastimes is pretending to be lost and freaking my four-year-old daughter out. I try to take it to the verge of sincere frustration and tears before magically figuring out where I am and finding my way home. It’s hilarious! (she doesn’t think so)” Lol! I do the same exact thing with our kids. Of course, it drives them nuts most of the time.

    We’re in a similar boat in that we don’t owe anyone anything, other than the mortgage and are able to keep the majority of our expenses fairly low. I actually had to get gas the other day for the first time in over a month and it was such a shock to the system.

    1. My minivan needs gas right now too and I probably haven’t filled up in a few months!
      It has a huge tank so it lasts a while. I mostly just putt around town so I don’t use much gas at all.

  8. I’m not one for breaking my budget down into great detail either. All of the bills that get paid individually, like mortgage and utilities, have their own category. All the flexible stuff, like groceries, clothes, and health and beauty, come out of my weekly spending money. I like the flexibility of being able to spend on what’s important or needed that week. I tried breaking things down more, but I always ended up robbing one category to pay for another. I am considering creating a category for Home Improvement though. My little fixer-upper still needs a good deal of work, and it’s hard figuring out where to take the money from.

    1. That doesn’t sound like a bad idea if your house needs repairs!

  9. Wow, your secret formula for lowering expenses are really good. Budgeting on clothes is one part which I need to take care now after reading your post. I spend quite a bit of amount on clothing which can be cut down. I am happy to hear that you need not budget for your personal care for the next one year

    1. Yeah, I really won’t ever run out of floss. Really.

  10. It’s actually great to have a good supply of things. Something I am kind of ashamed of was hoarding… food. A huge supply of canned food has been bought by me from two reasons: a) I thought that if things go even worse with the recession, we at least have food to offer us a minimum until we sort things out and b) the part I am ashamed of: I consider that the idea of an apocalypse (be it zombies, meteors or viral infection) is not that exaggerated so we have to be prepared. I chose food because it’s easiest to store and those cans only start expiring from 2016. And to be honest, we even jump in every now and then when we’re too lazy to cook something…

    1. I have been using up my canned food items over the past few months. Now I have it down to a more reasonable level!

  11. Haha oh my I cannot stop laughing about how you pretend you are lost. That is hilarious. We don’t budget for clothes either, I would be way too tempted to spend if I knew I had an allowable amount.

  12. OMG! I love the part about pretending that your lost. I might have to do that once and see what my girls do. I don’t know if they’d panic or think it’s funny that mommy got lost. Probably panic……maybe I shouldn’t lol

    I like how simple your budget is. I live in a low cost area too. I have a private babysitter and pay $150 per week leaving them there for a full time job.

    1. $150 a week isn’t bad at all. I would be happy with that as well.

  13. Paying off all of your debts is a great way to keep expenses low! When I first graduated, my debt payments were taking 27% of my net income. Soon that percentage will be a big fat zero.

    I also live in a cottage in the woods, which lends itself to low rental fees. 🙂

  14. I don’t have cable either, and where I live barely need AC two weeks a year, and never heat so that’s great. Used to stockpile, then move house and be annoyed to have to carry all the stuff around, so now I pay a bit more but don’t have clutter.

    1. I hear ya. I don’t stockpile anymore….just living off the stockpile I have!

  15. Lile you, we’ve made an effort to figure the big things out and form regular habits that keep us spending less than the norm. If you can do that, and if you have sufficient income, you don’t have to micromanage every category. I like to track a few more things than you guys so I can get a sense of what our long-term habits are, not to put a limit on any particular month. But to me the real point of budgeting is to make sure you’re hitting your savings goals. If you can do that, then the rest of the approach is, in my opinion, fairly irrelevant.

    1. Yep, pretty much! I mostly don’t budget out for sub-categories because I don’t have time to.

  16. HAHAHAHA! The pretending to be lost with the 4 yo and and deodorant really got me, Holly. And yes! To hell with the land line ringing and interrupting guitar practice or even clipping my nails! The cell I mostly ignore. Great point on clothing too. I use a uniform: shorts, t-shirt and sneakers (orange). This is awesome Holly and almost precisely how we budget. We made it simple. If you don’t or hardly ever purchase something, then do not budget for it. What a waste of time and energy! We do not stock pile either. We know what we need and get it when we need it and we know what the least expensive options are. Love the simplicity of your budget, low pressure, low stress!

    1. I never answer my cell phone and I’m pretty sure that it drives some of my family members crazy. (Sorry mom!)

  17. I like to have simple budget that is easy to stick to that can be adjusted as needed. The wifey gets a little upset because I tend to overbudget for somethings. It works though since you never know when the cell phone company is going to hit you with something. We haven’t cut cable and besides electric and cell phones we dont really have anything we need to cut. I glad to hear you wear deodorant most of the times!! LOL only when it counts huh Holly?

  18. We worry about odd expenses the month they happen too.

    I will need to buy a dress to wear to a wedding sometime in October. The one I wore to the last X weddings is probably ready for a change-out.

    1. So, would you budget for it in October then?

      That’s what I do. We write our budget on the 1st of the month and we both throw anything in that needs to be paid for. Like, next month Greg needs an oil change and most of his suits drycleaned so we’ll budget for them them.

      1. Technically we don’t really budget. At first we didn’t spend anything that wasn’t fixed or necessary, so no need to budget. Then when we had more money, any time I wanted to spend on something optional I’d look at how much we had in savings compared to how much we’d need and if we had more than we needed, I’d feel fine about the spending. Then we had so much extra money (60%+ take-home pay saving rate, dropping to 40% after baby #2) that I could just buy whatever. Now we’re back to our spending being similar to our earning so I’m still trying to figure out how to deal with budgets going forward. We’re in flux and I keep changing my mind.

        Most likely we’ll move to a look-back approach, did we overspend last month, or we’ll use a “is there enough in savings” approach. I dunno. I don’t have the mental power to guess what we’re going to need on the first of the month or to research how much it will cost, especially with DH doing most of the grocery shopping.

        1. Hey, whatever works! Each family has to do what makes them sane!

  19. Tara @ Streets Ahead Living says:

    lol, my sister is 12 years older than me so when she got her license at 17, she would torture me with the “check oil light” that would pop up on her dash (her first car was a very-used 8-year-old RX-7). She’d tell me, “oh no, the car’s about to blow up!” and I would freak out til she got me home. Eventually I realized it was not really going to blow up but I still remember that dirty trick 22 years later!

    i’m with you on stockpiling things and then not budgeting for them. I’ll buy hygiene products when they’re on mega sale and then not have to buy any hygiene products for months. And I totally agree about budgeting for clothing—if I did budget for clothing, I’d continuously buy it and I really don’t need any!

    1. Yep, pretty much! And now that I work from home, I need even less clothing than I did before.

  20. In the past, I’ve budgeted the smalls things and it was just too much. At the end of the day, spending an extra $5 a week wasn’t going to hurt me.
    I also don’t have a home phone and just get by our my cell phones, which is fine for us. And it saves a lot of money.

    1. Us too. We just don’t need a home phone right now. We might get one again later when the kids grow up a little.

  21. ha ha I was one of those people who asked! But I think one big difference is you have personal care stockpiled…that kind of adds up for me and buying in bulk is challenging for me since my places is so small. Overall my expenses are low except for rent, and I still have trouble with my misc. category and food. I don’t know how much I’m willing to budge on my food budget, but misc. is still somewhat of a mystery to me. I could really stand to track every expense in that category to see what holes I need to plug. Thanks for sharing your budget breakdown!

  22. No debt is the biggy.

    I need to shop around on my auto policy, our household mileage is similar to yours and we’re paying a good bit more than you are. Not fair!

    Also, I just can’t let go of having a home phone line, maybe it’s nostalgia?

    1. Check out Allstate (and feel free to click on my link for a quote!)

      I have been with them for 15 years.

  23. We just bought a Prius and are in love. We bought the V3 and can fit three seats across the back! I’m still so happy with this decision! We don’t budget for clothes either– I rarely shop for clothing for us– and we get the kids the things they need as they need it, and do so frugally.

    1. Yes, exactly. Whenever we need clothes, we just put it in the upcoming month’s budget.

  24. This will probably put me on the black list of the pf community, but I don’t budget for groceries, personal needs, clothing, entertainment, or gas. There, I’ve said it! I absolutely cannot stand micro-budgeting. I budget for bills, savings, and extra debt payments. In my budget, I leave an extra amount leftover from each pay after all of those budgeted items are deducted. That is the amount that is used for all unbudgeted items. When the next pay is received, whatever is left in the checking account gets split between savings and an extra debt payment. It’s what works for us!

    1. Hey, whatever works for you! If you’re saving a lot without doing a budget then you’re doing great!

  25. Okay, it must be a parent thing, pretending to be lost. I can’t do it anymore (unless I am actually truly lost!) because the girls are too big. 🙂 I do have a clothing budget because I like to get a few new pieces every year and it keeps me honest. If needed, it’s also money I can easily use on something more important. And yes, not having any consumer debt makes it shockingly easy to save!

    1. Yes, it does. Cutting out all those extra makes it easy to free up extra cash!

  26. Keeping my expenses low is a game for me! My utility bill shows a comparison to similar homes. Of course, I am lower by a lot. If I keep my expenses low, I can save more and spend on the things that are important to me.

  27. Thank you! This is exactly what we do too! No clothing budget, and our personal junk wraps into the food budget. It’s really not that hard to eliminate a bunch of categories with some smart shopping and thrift stores/garage sales. w00t!

  28. Wow, so you have one of those stockpiles like in that Extreme Couponer show? I’m jealous, it looks like a mini-mart in their garage! I think that’s smart about clothes shopping (though I still might incorporate a twice a year allocation for it in my budget next year) – it’s a great way to avoid temptation!

    1. I don’t have that big of a stockpile! And I do have a lot of closets in my house so my stuff is nicely organized and out of sight. I hate clutter!

  29. I do not budget for clothes. I shop for clothes once every year or once in two years. However, the Mrs. is different and wants us to budget for it but instead we decided to put some miscellaneous money aside to cover the un-budgeted stuff like clothes or any other things that come up. Our gas price was way up there until we moved closer to our jobs. Sometimes I actually walk to work and run back home or use my bicycle. We also swallowed our pride and left a luxury apartment complex and for almost 2 years now we live in a place we pay $627/ month compared to the $900 we used to pay. Unfortunately we have to go to the laundromat now and miss other things you get in luxury apartments but we will live with it another few months and save more money.

    1. I bet you will be glad you made those changes once the money starts piling up =)

  30. I want to get to your position one day. Right now that is so tough. I always deem to be 2 steps forward one step back! Bahh!

    1. The key to paying your shit off is……wait for it…..paying your shit off!

  31. Sounds like you have it all figured out, Holly! As DINKs, our biggest expenses are food and fuel. I don’t budget for clothes shopping either, for the same reason you noted above. If I allocated x-amount for clothing and shoes every month, I’d spend it! Better to stay away until absolutely necessary.

  32. I am jealous of your daycare expenses. in a HCOL area we paid close to 2k/month for a year when the kids were both in full time. my daughter went to JK last year and it dropped to 1400-still a fortune but it felt like a winfall! 1 more year of daycare this high and then it will really drop. Because our mortgage and daycare take up such a big chunk of our income i look for other ways to keep our expenses low, room to save and still save for the ‘treats and fun’ that make life with 2 kids under 5 fun!

    Recently found this blog and started following you on Twitter, love it!

    1. Isn’t it crazy how daycare costs can be change so much based on where you live? I live in small town Indiana and daycare and housing are downright cheap! It’s really boring here, though, and I suppose that’s the price I pay.

      Yay- I got a new reader!

  33. I generally keep my expenses low, and I big way I do that is by not owning a car but transiting everywhere.

  34. The first 2 paragaphs of this article are HILARIOUS. You should take a stab at at blog comedy 🙂

    Anyhow, I’m impressed that you took the “risk” with a 15 year mortgage. It can save a ton of money, the challenge is we never know if hard times will hit down the road and if we can always make that payment. Still, wise choice and well done!

    1. Risk???

      Why in the world do people want to pay on their house for thirty years? That sounds much more risky to me! I’ve only been alive for 33 years….a 30 year mortgage sounds like a nightmare to me!

  35. Day care is one major advantage to the side of town you live on. Up here $125/week for two kids gets you a scary day care where you pray you child gets fed and changed. We have some friends that moved from one of the less expensive suburb areas back to closer to their parents (and work) and were shocked at the cost increase to find good day care.

    1. Haha!

      I know! My brother and sister live in Fishers/Geist and daycare is crazy expensive there. My sister-in-law pays $500 per week for her three youngest to go to Goddard!

  36. I do almost everything you listed here. The key takeaway is that it is really quite easy to keep your expenses low when you have NO DEBT!

  37. I have to admit that when I first started working from home I did let all of the basic rules of normal living go out of the window. I still kept my hygiene but my routine for everything else went wildly astray. I’m back to living like a normal person now though 🙂 You’re doing a great job with those expenses, who really needs a home phone anymore?

  38. I laughed at, “Listen, I used to coupon.” I knew right then there was a stockpile. Like you said, reap the benefits…no need to budget for stuff you don’t actually need to buy.

    Thanks for the peer into the Club Thrifty budget.

    1. It’s not a huge stockpile anymore…but it used to be!

  39. I love your easy budget. When we get our house paid off, we should be able to live on less than $2K per month for basic stuff and sock the rest away and/or use it for travel. You can live a very good life for very little.

    1. Yes! Same here. We don’t have a lot of expenses besides our mortgage!

  40. We very rarely buy clothes either and we save a lot of money because of it. The amount of money some people spend on clothes absolutely blows my mind. I even have way too many clothes and I have nowhere near as much as some people I know.

    1. I know! I still have a ton of clothes even though I only shop second hand. New clothes are such a waste of money!

    1. HA!

      I still do basic hygiene but I don’t feel the need to shave my legs every single day. This winter I definitely won’t!

  41. Hi Holly,
    This secret formula is amazing. We really have to minimize our expenses to avoid going over-budget. We can save on a lot of things like groceries, vehicles and other luxury items.

    1. We really like it. We have plenty of TV to watch when we feel like watching it.

  42. Always a work in progress it seems. Mrs. Warrior and I are working on focusing less on cutting (which is still a priority) and focusing more on generating more income. I think I, too often, focus on the cutting aspect. The problem with that is that at some point you can’t cut anymore and I might miss out on other revenue generating opportunities along the way.

    Thanks for sharing where you guys have cut. Inspiration never hurts. 😉

    The Warrior
    NetWorthWarrior.com

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