What to Include in a Bare Bones Budget

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Fallen on hard times? You need a bare bones budget! Whether you’re struggling to make ends meet or you’re trying to find more money to put towards debt, we’ve all been there.

We had two kids before my husband graduated from college with his Bachelor’s Degree. We were living on student loans and only able to work a few hours a week, combined . . . we were broke! I know what it’s like to only be able to afford the bare minimum.

The point of this type of budget is to cut back on spending to free up money to put towards your debt or help you make ends meet. You will probably have to cut some things out of your budget entirely, for now. You will have to make sacrifices to get by. After several years of dedicated budgeting, I’m pretty familiar with which common budget items are “needs” and which are “wants”. However, this list is just a guideline if you are looking for some direction. You may need to tweak and customize this list to make your own bare bones budget.

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Here is what you can confidently include in a bare bones budget:

  1. Groceries
  2. Rent or Mortgage
  3. Gas or public transportation costs
  4. Vehicle repair/maintenance costs
  5. Utilities (electricity, water, gas, etc)
  6. Life insurance (on whoever makes income)
  7. Car insurance
  8. Health insurance and health care costs, like copays
  9. Mobile phone bill
  10. Tithing (or other belief-based charitable giving)
  11. Internet 
  12. Household items/basics
  13. Taxes and other non-optional fees
  14. Minimum payments on debts*
Groceries are an essential part of a bares bones budget

Here’s what you might consider cutting out or cutting back on:

  1. Restaurants and eating out
  2. Beauty
  3. Gym memberships
  4. New clothing
  5. TV or cable, maybe Internet if you can 
  6. Personal Allowance
  7. Subscriptions
  8. Entertainment
  9. Home improvement
  10. Gifts
  11. Impulse purchases and joy shopping
  12.  401k or retirement savings* 
Beauty is an area you may have to cut back in

Now keep in mind, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give gifts or enjoy any entertainment, it just means you need to get creative and do those things for cheap or free. E.G. weed your Mom’s garden as a Mother’s Day gift or have a picnic at the park for family entertainment night. Let your personality and creativity shine through, and don’t limit yourself by your lack of funds!

*Making minimum debt payments when fallen on hard times . . .

Some debtors, e.g. student loan servicers, will allow you to postpone your minimum payments if you are experiencing major economic hardship, like you lost your job or are going through a major illness. It’s typically called forbearance. You may also be able to defer student loan payments, meaning they won’t start for a while, if you’re having trouble finding a job after graduation. However, be very careful with both of these, because your interest is typically still accruing the whole time. Depending on the type of loan, the government may pay the interest during deferment, but chances are they won’t and your loans will be growing larger by the day. To find out more, reach out to your student loan servicer.

There may be other debtors that allow you to postpone your payments, but again, be careful here because they aren’t trying to help you. You’ll ending paying more in the long term because interest will pile up fast.

Bottom line: it’s best to keep making your debt payments unless you are experiencing extreme circumstances.

*Stopping 401k/Retirement contributions . . .

Be very intentional about stopping or continuing retirement savings. If you are creating a bare bones budget for a few months after experiencing a job loss or becoming a single parent, it might be a good idea until you get back on your feet. If you are simply lower income and looking for a budget you can use for years to come, you probably still need to be contributing to retirement in some way. However, like I just said, if you have an emergency and need to cut way back for some reason, you can cut out retirement savings for a short term (it doesn’t benefit you to be contributing to retirement but using a credit card to get by because you can’t make ends meet). Just make sure you get back to it as soon as possible, especially if you have any kind of company match. We don’t want to pass on free money!

Bottom line: keep contributing if you can swing it, but if you are using credit cards to make ends meet, stop the contributions temporarily.

Make it Yours

Lastly, your budget is a reflection of who you are, and you don’t have to cut anything out of it that feels special or essential to you as long as you can swing it. For example, say your gym membership is absolutely precious to you. You value your health and it’s the only solace you get away from the kids or your job. You will still be able to pay all the bills on time if you keep the membership. By all means, keep it!

However, on a bare bones budget, there’s a good chance you’re really tied up for cash. If you’re having a hard time getting the bills paid or have no money leftover afterward, and you’re desperately looking for money in your budget, the gym membership might have to go. You’ll have to exercise at home for a while!

You will get through this tight time. I know it’s hard and you might be scared and frustrated, but remember, this is temporary! Whatever sacrifices it might require, you can do it.

Need help getting started on a budget? I have a full description, video tutorial, and free spreadsheet to get you started. You don’t have to do this alone!

Do you have any questions? Let me know in the comments. Otherwise, good luck to you!

Need more help? Check out these related articles:

The 7 Steps to Paying off Big Debt

New to Budgeting? Cut Back in These Top 6 Areas First!

Your Pre-Debt-Free Journey Checklist

An awesome FREE course I recommend:

free budgeting course
Magic + Money FREE Course by Sami Womack of A Sunny Side Up Life

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About the Author

Welcome!

My name is Merilee and I’m the creator of Easy Budget. I started this blog to help other families like mine crush debt, budget, manage money, and meal plan like pros!

Everything you find here will be useful, motivating, and always easy. Need to contact me directly? Reach me here!

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