Finances, Simplified

finances simplified with a bare bones budget
Do you know how much money you need to live?

I'm not talking about how much do you budget, but how much of your budget is absolutely essential?

It's called a bare bones budget and we usually know this number right along with our regular budget number, and yes, they're different.

This is the amount, that if our income quit tomorrow, we would need to cover a few specific minimum expenses. In a bare bones budget, we basically include two essentials: food and shelter. Although depending on the circumstances, we'd likely add to that things like insurance, phone bill (especially if there's a high amount to cancel it), etc.

Why does a bare bones budget matter?

1 | It's too easy to confuse wants and needs.

Our budgets show our confusion between needs and wants when we end up with line items for frivolous extras that we're not willing to budge on.

2 | We just might find ourselves needing to live on a bare bones budget.

We did two years ago. We were temporarily jobless and homeless, staying with my sister while we looked for a job and a place to live. Our last paycheck from the previous job came in June, and we had minimal savings that we used up in moving ourselves from Florida back to the Midwest. We didn't know when we'd find jobs, what they'd pay, or when they'd start.

We had no choice but to fall back on our bare bones budget.

What's in Our Bare Bones Budget

What we live on now, might be considered a bare bones budget by some. Simply because our income while I stay home with the kids isn't much above covering our basic essentials. Whether it's our current income or we find ourselves needing to make do with even less, here are some categories we consider for a bare bones budget.


Giving 10% of our income is non-negotiable. If we have anything coming in, we tithe on it. This is included in our bare bones budget, unless we have no income (i.e., living on savings), then we'd wait to give when we have something (anything) coming in.


The amount set aside for food is lowered for our bare bones budget. I've mentioned before that we budget about $100/wk for food that covers $75/wk for groceries and $25/wk for eating out. If something major came up, we would likely lower this quite a bit, possibly to as low as $250/mo. Now, some might wonder how that could sustain a family of four. It'd be a challenge, but dry beans, pasta, rice, oats, a 10 lb. bag of potatoes and few select produce items are super affordable and can go a really long way in making lots of different semi-healthy meals. Remember, the point of "bare bones" is survival, not luxury.


Our rent is included in a bare bones budget. Unless, of course, we lost our jobs. For instance, when we were living on our last paycheck in the summer of 2011, we were staying at my sisters and didn't have to include housing in our bare bones expenses. I'm sure that might have changed if we stayed there a long time; but within a couple months we had an income and a place of our own, so we were blessed with their generosity for that temporary transition.


We intentionally do not maintain any car loans, so only need to include gas and insurance in our bare bones budget. If things got tight, we'd really limit use of the car possibly dropping refills from two-a-month down to one-a-month, and selling the car would probably be a last resort. (Especially considering we plan on being a one-car family for a while.)


Internet and cell phone is a part of our bare bones budget. Having at least one phone for our family is important. If needed, we could likely take data off our plan to save a little money each month. Internet could be cancelled if necessary, especially when it can be used for free at so many places around town. With things like phone and internet, we'd consider if we're still in a contract because of cancellation fees.

Debt or Bills

Private student loans have to be paid no matter what, while federal student loans can usual be deferred or put on some sort of payment plan to match new circumstances. Debt or other monthly bills would need to be considered case-by-case. We don't have anything beyond student loans, so this is pretty simple for us. If you have credit cards or medical bills or anything else, minimum payments would likely need to be included in a bare bones budget.


In a truly bare bones we've-been-homeless-for-months type of situation, spending/blow/fun money should not be in the equation. However, if there is any room for it, it's helpful to have a tiny amount available for the unplanned. This might cover a necessary (and discounted) clothing item, a very occasional (and affordable) family night out, etc.

There's something so freeing about viewing our finances from this simplified, bare bones perspective. Especially when we found ourselves jobless and homeless, I feel like this was the commonsense that backed up my faith.

Faith in God--that He was leading us back to the Midwest, that He would lead us to a job and a home--that faith definitely kept me going and gave me the security I needed to feel at peace through the transition.

Having a realistic understanding of our budget--of needs vs. wants and knowing what was truly essential--that truly lowered our stress and our uncertainty and gave us space to enjoy the unknown.

Simplifying our finances through a bare bones budget certainly helped in that time of heightened stress. But it's real purpose comes into play each month.

Whenever we find ourselves overspending in an area, or having an unexpected medical bill to pay--these basic financial survival skills of evaluating needs vs. wants are the only thing that keep us from getting further in debt, or falling into a trap of bad financial decisions.

We have a long ways to meet that debt-free goal. And we're doing it one simple baby financial step at a time. Eliminating that debt makes living simply and on less a lot easier.


also read:
simplicity, simplified series
cash envelope system
save money on groceries
monthly dose of simple