How to Manage a Bare-Bones Budget

Bare Bones Budget While I’m figuring out the next steps in my professional endeavors, I could potentially be dealing with a significant reduction in salary. Whether or not it’s going to be a short-term or long-term reduction is still up in the air and contingent upon finally hearing back from these positions I’ve been interviewing for.

Until I’m certain of what my next steps are (ie. an offer letter that’s signed, sealed,and delivered!), I’ll be adhering to a bare-bones budget plan.

What is a bare-bones budget?

A bare-bones budget is exactly as it sounds: Adhering to a budget that’s based on the absolute minimum amount of spending for which your situation allows. It’s a no-frills, no-extras-allowed plan that’s as strict as it is necessary when you’re faced with a substantial reduction in income.

What does a bare-bones budget include?

Your bare-bones budget should only include necessities such as food, housing, healthcare, insurance, and debt payments. For me, this includes the following:

  • Mortgage payment
  • Condo fee
  • Groceries (basics only!)
  • Utilities
  • Insurance (car & homeowner’s is now fully paid for the year)
  • Student loan payments
  • Retirement savings (a non-negotiable for me)
  • A small amount of long-term savings (can be used as a buffer for unexpected expenses if this salary reduction continues for longer than anticipated)


What a bare-bones budget does NOT include:

All frivolous expenditures are officially out the door! For me, this means no more:

  • Dining out
  • Movies, concerts, events that require a ticket purchase
  • Shopping for anything other than groceries
  • Vacations (although Kilimanjaro is still on as it’s fully pre-paid already!)
  • Hobby-related expenditures
  • “Extra” personal care such as cosmetics, manicures, etc. (although I’ve never had a manicure, pedicure, massage, etc. so this doesn’t really apply to my situation)


How to maintain motivation during this phase:

Sticking to a bare-bones budget isn’t going to be very fun. But, it’s necessary and it will be a great exercise in personal strength, tenacity, and willpower. Also, there’s not many better ways to hone your ability to delay gratification!

For those moments where I’m particularly feeling the need to splurge, I’ll be doing the following to ensure my motivation remains high to get through this phase with my e-fund still in tact:

  • Reminding myself that this is a temporary phase. I’m very close to securing a new full-time job, so I know this will be a temporary phase. Unfortunately, these hiring processes are taking much longer than I had originally anticipated, but I will continue to remind myself that I’ll be settled in a new job sooner than later…
  • Seeking out creative options. Reducing expenses to the bare-bones minimum doesn’t mean that fun and socializing goes out the door. In fact, it’s almost more motivating to me because now I have to come up with creative options for spending time with my friends. I’ll be relying on the plethora of free summer activities available in the city as well as surrounding my social time around activities such as running, biking, and hiking–which are free and healthy!
  • Remaining positive. I’ve weathered a great deal of storms in my life, and I know I can get through this phase just fine. I’ll keep a smile on my face and a spring in my step knowing that I’m headed towards nothing but greener pastures. Even if the road to those pastures is a bit uglier than I had hoped, it’s absolutely still one worth navigating…


What do you think of the bare-bones budget idea? Have you ever adhered to one? Do you have any other tips/suggestions?


Photo credit: pathfinderlinden

- Jen Smialek

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Freelancer; reformed spendaholic; risk taker; adventure seeker; world traveler; rose smeller; debt destroyer. My mission is to inspire others to live a healthy, balanced life one cent at a time.


How to Manage a Bare-Bones Budget31

    • You're welcome! And welcome to the PF blogging world; thanks for the link love in your post yesterday :)

  1. I haven't had to use a bare-bones budget before but I do like the idea of having one as a back-up plan. Especially if you have to start dipping into the EF, cutting back on all but essentials helps that last longer.

    I have a question for you though. Your Kilimanjaro trip is already paid for, but if you get that job are you going to be able to still go on it? Is that something you are negotiating with them?

  2. So often I am asked by people how I got in control of my finances when the perfect storm hit – I tell them with a twinkle in my eye "First you must stop spending" – and the look of horror is usually priceless!!

    It really doesn't register that your spending today will have absolute consequences tomorrow.

    Thankfully this "bare bones" period is usually quite short – sometimes just one cycle through of the DD payments can get people onto a more even keel – or at least far enough out of the mire to make a plan.

    And we are back onto the modified "bare bones" for the next 3 years as we have a specific goal in plan and we are allocating every penny.

    • You're so right! That look is definitely priceless–it's like people don't want to truly acknowledge their situation which is what can cause huge problems down the line in so many cases.

      I like your idea of the modified plan–it's most likely something I'll be taking with me moving forward regardless of what pans out job-wise.

    • Definitely! It will be a good refresher for me regardless–hopefully I'll fine-tune some habits that will last far beyond this job transition

  3. My husband was out of work for a year so we had to get really familiar with the bare bones budget. I think that even during the lean times, you have to give yourself a small amount to play with in order to give yourself some freedom. We each got twenty dollars a month as our fun money, and that really helped us to be strict in the long run.

    • Yes! I'll most likely do the same. I'll be figuring out all of the specific details today, so I'll most likely post an update about those choices and how it's going.

      A year is a long time, wow! Is he back to work now? Kudos to you two for weathering that kind of storm so well!

  4. I haven't had to use a bare-bones budget, but I like the idea of being prepared and knowing what expenses to cut before I have to. Might have to make one and base part of the EF on that.

    Question for you, your Kilimanjaro trip is already paid for, but what happens if you get this job? Is that something that can be negotiated with the company prior to accepting the job offer? Also if they say they can't give you the time off for the trip do you have insurance on the trip incase you have to cancel?

    • I think that's the best part–the idea can translate to any financial goal. Let us know if you move forward and how you'll tweak the idea for your situation.

      About Kilimanjaro, I just hope to be able to negotiate the time off. If things don't pan out with either of these jobs, there's a chance I'm going to just pick up another PT job and move full steam ahead with my business plans. We'll see where the flow takes me!!!

      And sorry about the commenting–for some reason, Akismet is moving ALL comments to spam so I have to find them and manually approve. Hopefully I'll have this sorted out sooner than later but if you submit a comment, it's there! :)

  5. I've been living on a barebones budget for about 7 months now since I became self-employed – it's much easier to do it when you have to! One thing I've noticed, though, is that it's hard for me to transition back the other way. When I want to buy even the smallest non-essential, my brain goes, "That's money you could be saving. That's money you need to hold onto."

    Right now I need to buy a laptop for work. It's a legitimate need and something I've been thinking about for months, not an impulse decision. But every time I think about actually clicking the button to order the laptop, I freak out and feel like I should have the money instead. Don't get me wrong; I'm glad I'm finally able to control myself! But it's hard to find a balance when I've been living on the minimum for so long.

    • I think you're doing a hell of a great job!!! And yes, it's so true that it's easier to do this type of thing when you have to…

      I'm with you on the laptop stuff–I have this nagging feeling that I should just concentrate on my business efforts in lieu of going back to a full-time office gig. If I go that route, I seriously need a new computer and I need to finally give in & get a smartphone. Lots of $$ to be spent, which will most likely give me heart palpitations as I do it…haha!

      For your situation, I think it's vitally necessary. Figure out your budget and go for it–you'll make the investment up back in no time!

    • Rewarding yourself is definitely a must-do from time to time.

      This may end up being more permanent than I had originally thought, but I still need to figure out a few things before I make any final decisions :)

    • Thanks, Lena! I think regardless, my take-away from this is that it's a great exercise and experience in trimming down my "wants" and luxuries.

  6. We did the "Bare Bones Budget" last year for 6 months. Hubby's company was continuing to do layoffs, I was afraid we could be next. I sat a goal of saving 40% of our take home pay for the year to see if we could live on less just in case. The first few months went really well, it turned out to be a fun experiment, but it was only an experiment had it been real I don't know if it would have been much fun!!!! We too continued our retirement savings and other extra's that we would have given up if the need was there, security system, internet/phone/cable, boat slip rental fee (had to be paid for the year). We learned A LOT!!! It was amazing really how much money we were wasting on stuff that we thought we needed, many times no thought at all had gone into our spending before that time. We are lucky in that I have always believed we should live below our means so our home is way below what we can really afford, we have had no debt for many, many years. We meet the goal of saving 40% of our take home pay and still had a few vacations, special treats and such. I think it is a GREAT thing for everyone to do!!!!

    • Wow, amazing work, Debby!! Kudos for accomplishing such a feat. You're officially part of my motivation to make this work for me, too. :)

  7. I think a bare bones budget is great for when you need it. Out of curiosity, do you including things like Cable TV in your bare bones budget? I'd keep the internet but if I had to go to true bare bones my cable TV would be gone.

    • Great question! I've never paid for cable before, so that's a big, fat "No!" for my bare-bones budget :)

      However, I do include Internet in my utilities pile. It's a necessity for one of my part-time jobs, so I can't go without it

  8. We did this for many years… I've been a SAHM ever since I had my first child (out of 4!) and for many of those years hubby worked part-time (32hrs). We covered the basics & were grateful when there was extra to save & sometimes even for something special! :)

    • I love it! I love how you were able to re-adjust your priorities and still make ends meet–plus some. :)

    • Of course!! And thanks–I'm sorry yours was dropped inadvertently during my blogger–>WP transition…eek!

  9. I think the most important aspects of any bare bones budget is to have discipline and to always remind yourself that it is temporary. Light is at the end of the tunnel. You should also remember not to go wild at the end in celebrations as that can be dangerous as well.

    I know great things are ahead for you.

    • Absolutely! Being disciplined is key to most things in life. And yes, your bit about the celebratory stage is so true. If get this job, the only excitement will finally be getting a smartphone as I'll absolutely have to have one.

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