When the news of this challenge spread around I heard many times that it was impossible, especially since many people stated that their mortgages were that amount alone. I understand that in many areas of the country that this challenge would be impossible. We live in the Midwest where the cost of living is low. Our mortgage is just $461 a month. When added all up, our fixed expenses (mortgage, electric, gas, phone, life insurance) are around $850 a month. Which means that we could attempt this challenge and possibly succeed!
Why did I decide to do a challenge such as this? I wanted to see just how low my family of five (plus three dogs and two cats) could go. It may prove helpful in the future if we have a lot of unexpected expenses…we will know how and where to cut back to meet those extra needs. I also wanted to point out that my goal as a stay-at-home mother raising a family of five on a fairly small budget (more than $1,200 monthly, thankfully!) could not only live within our means, but rather, live below our means. I want to prove that it is possible to live on a small income and yet not live paycheck to paycheck, even with a larger family. In this economy, many people are loosing their jobs or getting their hours/pay cut. I also wanted to walk a mile in their shoes. They don’t have a choice on how much to live on a month. Some families are trying to get by on less than $1,200 a month. Others make enough money to survive but spend so wildly that they are living beyond their means and don’t know where to begin to cut corners. I wanted my challenge to bring awareness to both those facts.
I also wanted to discern, for myself, between our needs verses our wants. What does a family in America need to survive and how much more do we spend on wants each month?
When all is said and done, we came in at $175.78 over budget. That means that this family of five was able to live off $1,375.78 for the month of June.
Could our family had survived off $1,200 for the month? Yes. Looking back, we could have cut out the $30 some odd dollars we spent on fast food. I could have cut out all treats and extras at the grocery store. I could have not made as many grocery store runs and saved money with more organized shopping. I could have not bought the throw pillows for the couch and the small rug for the kitchen.
$1,375.78 isn’t a bad number though. As a matter of fact, I am proud that we were able to get so low in the first month of trying. We were able to accomplish this by not eating out much except for a couple times, one occasion being a birthday and the other times just picking up sandwiches instead of whole meals. The rest of our food was prepared at home.
We saved money by not going out of town often. It saved gas and unnecessary expenses. We took advantage of local free events (Bible camps, library programs, parks) instead of paying for activates. We celebrated a birthday on the cheap, spending less than $40 for the presents, cake, and food. Father’s Day was creative as I pulled a gift out of the gift closet for my hubby and made him a nice steak dinner (all for under $15) and made my own father a double batch of his all time favorite cookies. Special days don’t have to end up costing a fortune. It seriously is the thought that counts.
Had I known in advance about my challenge I could have saved more by reducing our electric use in May to have a smaller bill this month. Had this challenge been later this summer our grocery bills would have been less due to our garden produce. This challenge made me look at every way we spend money and see little changes that could add up to big change (pun intended).
Could this challenge work for us every month? No. $1,200 leaves little room for any extras…such as underwear or other basics that need to be purchased a few times a year. I also chose a month to do this experiment when our city bill (water, sewer, garbage) was not due. Our city bill comes every other month and averages $140. We didn’t have to pay our car insurance this month either as we pay it bi-yearly. Those two expenses would have made this challenge impossible. Winter in the Midwest would also make a challenge such as this impossible as there are heating costs which bring our expenses up even higher.
We now know what we are capable of if needed though. We know where to cut corners and what our low number could be. It may never be $1,200 but $1,300 looks possible. As a matter of fact, I will be attempting this challenge once again in August to see if I can take what I learned this month and meet the challenge then. July will find me working on a healthy eating $400 grocery budget challenge.
For those few readers who attempted this challenge along with me, how did you do? Please update us of your progress in the comments below.
Any questions about this challenge can also be asked below and will be answered in a Q&A post.