Household Budgeting On $800 A Year


Photo courtesy of GoldenEel

Yes, you read that correctly. Could you live on $800 a year, excluding utility bills, clothing, gifts, car, and house? Your reaction is probably like mine – what’s left?  Well, a lot, actually.  Consider how much money leaks through your budget on things like food, pet food, entertainment, and other miscellaneous categories.

I stumbled across a blog post at Jane4Girls $800 Annual Budget that proves it is possible to live on an $800 annual household budget (by “household” I mean things like food, cleaning supplies, health and beauty supplies, etc.). Here’s an excerpt from her site which explains the mechanics behind how she pulls it off:

I have basically put $800 cash into an online savings account. This is for 4 people, one adult, 1 teen, two tweens and two dogs.  This averages out to 54¢ per person per day. Any time I have to pay out of pocket for something I will use a credit card that I earn rewards on, either cash back, gift cards back or college savings. Then I will transfer that purchase amount from my online account to my checking account to cover the cost of those items when the bill comes in.”

It is hard to believe a mom and three kids (and two dogs) can really live on $66.67 a month, but when you really dig in to Erin’s system you find that a lot of what she uses has been stockpiled and/or acquired by combining store sales with coupons.  That is a great strategy, and one we tried last year after signing up for the Grocery Game.  The service published a list which matched up store sales with available coupons from the Sunday paper (and a few online sources).

During weeks we stuck to the game we saw some significant savings, usually around 35% off regular, retail grocery store pricing.  However, we also found ourselves buying a bunch of stuff we didn’t really need, just because it was a “rock-bottom price.” As the stockpile of unused stuff began to grow we realized that stockpiling wasn’t working for us because we bought more of the things we didn’t need and that offset the savings of buying the things we did need.

It is an interesting exercise nonetheless, to imagine just how low you could go on annual household spending. Without knowing much more about Erin I assume she is doing this because she has to, and we are fortunate that we don’t have to mind our pennies quite as closely. I would rather spend a little more on things like food to eat healthier meals, more fresh produce, etc. rather than always hunting a coupon bargain.

Still, there are some opportunities for us to cut costs, and use more coupons on the foods we do buy, particularly basic staples.  I get bored too easily to track spending at such a granular level for an entire year, but I might just try something similar for the month April. Stay tuned.

Comments

  1. Great article… very interesting. This is a great example of wants and NEEDS. You never know what you can live without, until you live without it!

  2. Two years ago I used to hard core do the grocery game as well and got it down to where I could go grocery shopping for about $50 to $75 a week easy, but then like you, I realized that my house was stocked with stuff we no longer wanted to eat. All that processed boxed stuff. On top of that, doing the grocery game encouraged my pack rat tendencies. Buying more and more “just because it’s only a dime” and this behavior was leaking into non-household parts of my life. I noticed that the clutter was building everywhere. I couldn’t get rid of anything because what if I need it someday?? And what a shame it would be to spend money on it when I do. But what I didn’t realize at the time is that the cost of rebuying something for $5 is much lower than the cost of storing it in my house, thinking about it in my house, getting angry at it for cluttering up my home, and just making me feel so tied down.

    So I stopped the grocery game for two years, I used up our stockpile and got rid of all the other clutter in our house. I feel so much lighter now and I don’t feel bad about the possibility of having to rebuy a few things here and there. Since the cost of groceries has gone up as of late, just last week I decided to start in on the grocery game again, but this time I am fighting (very hard I might add) being a pack rat with it. My rule is I am only buying enough for 4 weeks no matter how good the deal is, and I am only buying stuff we have actually eaten in the last 6 months or so (when I had no stockpile left and we were buying full price from a grocery store). So though I am not buying as much, it’s still a great savings to my food budget and I can still get by on $75 a week doing this so I am very happy.

    Rachel

  3. It’s amazing that she’s been able to do that. Thanks for sharing the story with us.

    I know there are a lot of places we could cut back on household expenses. I am pretty careful about getting deals, using coupons, and buying things on sale, but we tend to lose some money to “leakage” — lots of small purchases on things we don’t really “need.”

  4. Wow, that really is impressive! Our typical grocery list for a week for 2 adults runs about what her’s does in a month for her entire family. I did attempt a similar experiment where I was able to lower our cost per meal to about $1.16 for one week. Lowering it much further wouldn’t have been impossible, but difficult. I’m impressed, though I’m not sure how long I’d want to have to limit myself to that sort of a budget. Not that it is unhealthy, because that’s probably not the case at all, but just that I don’t need to and I enjoy eating too much! :)

  5. That is absolutely amazing!!! I would love trying that but agreeing with everyone else I like to feed the family healthier foods and that would cause a problem. I am willing to try something like this though. Why not making it a game for whoever wants to try this. And then we have to report in either every week or month to see how we are doing and/or give tips on how they saved so it helps out everyone else. I have to say that I have an online business paypal card due to a small business I have on the side. I have thought recently about taking any extra money I can find and transferring it to that card to get it out of my checking account. I earn money back on that card. Not much but if its in my account then we tend to use it. I read your article about taking any extra money each week and then putting that towards debt. Thats how I came up with that idea but dont know if that is a good way to go.

  6. This is interesting, but in her blog she notes that the figure of $66.67 per month does NOT include the value of stuff that she “stockpiled”, because she paid for it once, and isn’t going to count it again.

    Well, by the same logic, if I “stockpile” $25,000, then I can quit my job and live comfortably for a year on an income of $0…

  7. Wow, that’s impressive. I’ve been wanting to do the “grocery game” for a while now. My boyfriend and I spend about $80/week on groceries and household items. The problem is, it’s hard to reduce your spending when you’re buying mostly clean, unprocessed food and produce. Almost every coupon and sale out there seems to be on all of the unhealthy overly-processed stuff that I have no interest on. It would be nice to be able to find better deals on household items like paper towels, TP, pet food and cat litter, and cleaning supplies. I doubt I’d save all that much money, though. Most of the money goes toward food.

  8. I’m not amazed, I find this story incredulous. Frankly, I do not believe anyone in the United States can live on this per week, let alone four people and two dogs. And I do not believe it could be a healthy diet (i.e., some fresh fruits and vegetables). I don’t care how many coupons they cut. (Somebody is supplementing them in some way.)

    Maybe the woman had tons of non-perishables food and paper goods stocked up, but even then, 54 cents a day, per person to cover EVERYTHING. Get real.

    Posting this kind of stuff doesn’t inspire frugality. It’s the kind of thing that people read and think: Who are they kidding?

    Where does this woman live? I live in a major city, don’t have a car and don’t have access to any of the big box stores. We shop carefully, not wastefully. Buy in bulk online (when it makes sense), use coupons, and are always on the lookout for ways to cut costs.

    But there is no way we could feed our family in a healthy fashion on this amount of money.

    I wonder how the calculations are done, because I suspect that if you factored in the “real costs” (there is issue of the cost of the cash back, etc.), it would NOT be 54 cents per person, per day.

    Misleading post, to say the least.

  9. Hey, it’s the internet. I believe everything on the internet. Don’t you?

    I’m going to have to agree with IRG somewhat. There is basically almost no way they could be on even a slightly healthy diet at $0.54 per day in the United States. They are either using stockpiles of food, or are living on a farm with fresh meat and vegetables and are not factoring in the costs of that into their “budget” — either of which would be misleading to say the least.

    Otherwise if they are on TWIC or a food gifting program or something like that, I could believe that too. But to say that they live on about $67 a month with 6 mouths to feed in the US is a highly dubious claim.

  10. I briefly scanned the lady’s site and found that she does do a lot of gardening and only accounts for the purchase price of the plant into her budget. (For some of us, the labor time must be counted as well as it subtracts time from our side-hustles.) She also appears to have certain staple foods stockpiled from the previous year and doesn’t count that in the next year budget. There is also at least one instance where she purchased a non-food item and used a savings coupon from it to purchase food which she does not count in her food budget. She also does get some leftover fruits/vegetables for free from people around town and such.

    I’m not sure that it is as much an “example to live by” as it is a site for “look at what I can do!”

  11. Hello everyone, this article is about my website. Let me set you straight on a few things so you don’t assume.

    First off, no I don’t have to coupon, but did when I first started about four years ago. Over the past four years I have been able to stockpile on non-perishable food items and HBA items. What does that mean? That means I have already paid for that in the past and am using it later. I don’t count stuff I purchased last year or the year before into my budget because I didn’t buy it this year. At the stroke of midnight on New Years Eve everyone doesn’t just toss out all their bills and expenses and say “let’s start over”. No, you learn from the prior year, and still carry over items from the prior year (in my case my stockpile items) and learn how to be smarter the next time around.

    The $800 a year is just that $800 for the entire year. So one week I might spend $100, the next only $20. It does not matter as long as I stay under the $800 a year.

    I live in a state where we can double and triple coupons making many things (healthy things included) free. Yes I buy processed food, everyone does unless you are growing it yourself, which I do also. I have a nice size garden and also barter for other item I need. Does this cost me money? No, so I don’t count that in my budget.

    If you have any other questions please don’t hesitate to ask. Don’t assume anything.

  12. This is an awesome article to get people thinking about living a little closer to the bone. I think we need to include the cost of the stockpile. Her “inventory reduction” could account for a lot of “savings.”

    Still, Erin’s adventures are very instructive. Thanks for posting.

  13. I just got on my little blog I started and saw on my blogroll that Frugal Dad had posted about living on $800 a year. Coincidentally,I just posted last night about my coupon “test” at a local grocery store yesterday and my subsequent results. I had run across the Jane4Girls website also, and I have her bookmarked so I can check inperiodically to see how she does things. She is part of the reason I decided to try and use coupons on my trip to the grocery store. I just wanted to say good post by Frugal Dad, and that I hope that I can learn more ways to save money. As for Erin at Jane4girls- I must say that she is doing a great job, and like she says in her response dont assume things about her or others. Whats wrong with saving money, whether you have to coupon or not?? RyansDad http://www.moneylifedebt.blogspot.com

  14. I kind of agree with some of the other commenters – you have to factor in the value of the stockpile that you are eating through. In my home, we spent a LOT more on food and household items – typically $300 – $500 a month, and there are only two of us. I consider it a kind of health insurance.

    I used to do the grocery game, but them I realized that it’s not worth it to save a buck and sacrifice my health by eating all that processed, boxed, junk! I started to feel this way when I visited some websites where people where showing off their stockpiles of boxed mac n’ cheese and hamburger helper. Whenever the family showed a picture of themselves, the family was almost always grossly overweight and unhealthy. It’s just not worth it to save a buck and sacrifice your family’s health to heart disease, diabetes, infertility, and obesity. Your health is one of the most valuable things you have, it makes no sense to sacrifice it for 25c mac n’ cheese.

    I also don’t want my money supporting the giant processed food companies – I would much rather that my money went towards supporting my neighbors – local farmers and producers.

  15. Hi I have a budget for food shopping of £57.26 ($78.9898) I do not stock pile and there is no opportunity of growing my own. from this I have to not only pay for cat food buy gas(cooking fuel) electric and cell phone credit, (we have a prepayment system here) there are also 3 adults whom need to be fed3 meals a day every day of the year and 7 cats who if you don’t feed then gang up on you! lol. It is possible to do it on this sort of money and you are right there are compromised to be made but I rarely if ever buy processed foods, I bake and cook all meals from scratch and use the humble quiche as a leftover staple my Nana told me if you always save back any veggies cooked but not served and you have cheese and eggs u have a meal for up to 6 people. So I do take some kind of issue here with people who say you can only buy processed foods not so, and before you say well foods cheaper in England truly I can assure you its not. Thanks for sharing folks by for now
    Rachel

  16. I went to Erin’s blog and watched the video clips and read the text and I see how she does it. The stockpiles are items that through the ‘on offer/coupon/store coupon policy’ combination she has bought a lot of what she will use in time for sometimes free/nearly free.

    One of the most interesting blogs I have read for a very long time. Erin makes it work, good for her!

  17. This is an interesting story. I know I come closer to spending $800 a month than I do spending $800 a year!
    Maybe the story is not 100% true (as other comments have suggested), but it does stress the point that each of us can tighten our belts a little more.
    The thing that would concern me most (as noted by others) would be the quality of the diet if you are spending so little. Saving money by giving up fresh fruits and vegetables and quality meats will hit you harder in the end.

  18. I follow, and enjoy, Erin’s blog. I also buy things when I can combine a store sale with a coupon and a double coupon and often get items free or nearly free. Some of these are boxed or frozen items that I get because they are handy to have during a busy day or in an emergency. But the majority is items that are healthy. Recently I bought a LARGE amount of Green Giant Steamers for .17 a bag with coupons. A few months ago I got a LARGE amount of oatmeal free using a combination of coupons doubled along with a store sale. And I can afford to buy plenty of fresh fruit and meats etc. because I pay next to nothing for cleaning supplies, toiletries, and the like. The tradeoff is that I don’t always get to use my favorite brands/flavors. My point, (in what has become a book!) is that I think that what Erin does can be done in a very safe, healthy way. And just one more thing…I may be wrong but I do believe that her stockpile comes from last year when she also had an $800 budget.

  19. People who pull out the “health card” to criticize other people’s cheap/frugal food habits need to stop. I personally spend around $120/month on groceries which is a lot more than the linked article but people think is not enough and that I must be unhealthy.

    Yet .. my BMI is 22, all my cholesterol, glucose, and triglycerides levels are all immaculate. BP is a little high but I attribute that to the fact that I pout salt on everything.

    The post linked to is nice and I have zero doubt that it can be done. One month during college I ate on $30.00 for a whole month and actually pretty well. If you are serious about eating on very little try beans, rice, & tortillas which you can easily achieve the figures quoted here, and are delicious (add some tomatoes also). Honestly I don’t know what people are doing to get grocery bills to $300 and up. I wouldn’t know what to do with so much food.

  20. My wife has proven couponing to me by her receipts. I’ve enjoyed seeing her be more strategic in her purchases. With a salary cut on the horizon I am her biggest fan. I wrote a post about couponing on my site. Come on over.

  21. I’m with frugal bachelor, Ken, Sandy and especially Diana. Those who play the health card – the stockpile was already there – it’s impossible card, have clearly not visited and explored the site.

    Erin gives a detailed account through the months of what she has bought and how much she paid. This is something she has been doing for over a year.

    I would suggest that before commenting on this blog go over and read it. Look at her spending accounts. Erin is a woman who applied her intelligence to a financial problem. She has done her research and formed networks of bargain watchers. Because she has been doing this for a long time she has become very good at it.

    It is so easy to disparage it by saying it isn’t possible for all the reasons in the negative posts – maybe this is because saying these things is a justification for not doing it? Why not come out and say – ‘I don’t want to be bothered with this’, I like my ‘high on the hog’ lifestyle, I like my brands, I like to eat out where I fancy not where I have a deal.

    Erin is well placed for what life can throw at people in the current climate. I can’t do what she does because here in Britain we don’t have the same coupon culture. However, she has a lot of ideas and information that I can incorporate straight into my life and which will save me money.

  22. @Isabelle,

    What some of us have a problem with is the claim that it is possible to feed 6 mouths with a budget of only $800. This claim is not quite true. She is not counting the stockpiles of dry/stored staples from previous years in this budget. (And I do not agree that she purchased those with only her $800 budget from last year.) She is also not counting non-grocery purchases that have grocery coupons or rebates attached. She is also in a unique position that other people not in her geographical area are unable to get fresh fruits and veggies year round, especially free from friends and neighbors who have large gardens and over-produce for their own needs. Another thing is that she is not usually counting the cost of the plant (she sometimes does), the water (it could just be rain), the soil/fertilizer, and the man-hours involved in tending her own large garden. Most of us just do not have that kind of time on our hands and can do better for ourselves actually earning money with that spare time rather than picking weeds and turning soil all evening.

    I also wonder about how much gas and time is used going to different stores in order to get the good deals. Is that factored into the budget as well? While I spend upwards of $250-$300 for the two of us and 6 cats per month, I also only make about 2-3 trips to the store during that month which is only 3 miles away. Not 10-20 trips all over town. (My monthly budget includes household items, HBA, the food we eat along with the cat stuff. Good litter is expensive!)

    Also, to say that the health argument is unfounded, many people in the US are not getting their full requirement of vitamins and minerals so that claim is not without merit. She may not be any different. One can have the most normal BMI, but that doesn’t mean you are healthy. It means you are skinny. Dehydration, iron/zinc deficiency and a host of other problems can occur at the same time you think you are maintaining that wonderful BMI.

    I see her claim as more of a “look what I can do” rather than as an example for the rest of us to follow. Some speak of “living high on the hog”, well Jane can brag of her “living on a tight budget” and it amounts to the same thing. Boasting. Being frugal isn’t a competition or even a line in the sand. It’s either a monetary or a lifestyle choice — sometimes both.

  23. Wow – I apparently spend an exorbitant amount on food. I’ve been following my grocery and restaurant budget for a year on Mint.com and it varies from $1400/month to a low of $800/month (when I was really trying to cut back). We have two adults and two small children. We apparently eat quite well! I don’t waste food and am very good at cooking and using leftovers, etc. But I don’t cut coupons and I do go to the expensive grocery store since it is really close to my house and I can get a whole week’s worth of food in 30 minutes of shopping (I know where everything is).

    I suppose I could spend time online and cutting coupons and reduce our budget by about $400/month easily. However, I just haven’t put forth the necessary mental resources given that I am already strapped for enough time to devote to my business. Every spare moment is spent on my business. I guess we all put our efforts for saving and making money in different places.

  24. I might be wrong but I checked out the site in question too and read through quite a bit of the older posts and it seems she is really doing what she says. She takes her family out to eat on occasion using coupons and free offers, takes advantage of many “free” offer she sees (take a test drive and get a $25 gift card, B1G1Free) and uses these freebies towards her purchases. I read it that she is just saying she is keeping her out of pocket spending at under $800 for the year. It looks like she did last year but regardless, why not give her credit for trying hard to spend what she has carefully and thoughtfully and making a chronicle of her journey?

    I say kudos to her…I don’t have it in me but I’m impressed that she does!

  25. It truly is possible. Not easy and it requires devotion but it’s totally possible. I can’t even tell you how much I get for free by shopping the drugstores, free gift card for prescription hopping and watching for sales to combine w/ coupons. I never pay for toilet paper anymore because it’s always free! I have a great stockpile of toiletries and household cleaners that were all either free or under $1 each.

    If you approach it like a game of strategy, it can be a lot of fun.

  26. Wow – my hats off to her!
    It makes me take a look at my own budget.
    I guess we really do waste lots of money.

  27. O.K. since my last posting I have listened to all the good and bad about this topic. I have gone on the website and checked into this a lot more. My final answer is that She had to have worked very hard at this in the beginning. Probably has a system in place by now but I think it is like a game or challenge and I am going to try this. I am not going to put 800.00 in an account for the year at this point but I am going to try this for a few months and see what all I can save. I have to say that it seems like it can be addicting. Its Sunday today so all new coupons should be out and I know that the grocery stores change there fliers every Thrusday so that is going to be my start.. We will see how I do.

  28. Hi,
    I follow Erin and also coupon shop.While I am no where near where Erin is with her budget yet, I plan to be in the future. I have a family of 5 (2 adults, 1 teen boy, 1 tween boy, and a growing daughter) and we average about $30 a wk on groceries. And no one in our home is obese or unhealthy in any way. If you take some time to look at Erin’s site she feeds her family very well, she just spends some time thinking and planning her shopping trips. It is possible after some time and thought to live on $800 a year and she shouldnt be criticized for teaching those of us that must live this way how to do it. It seems that if you are reading a frugal blog you would at least give this her an opportunity before playing judge and jury.

  29. That’s good for those who can do that. However, if you plan to eat as healthy as you can, this is basically an impossible goal (not to be pessimistic or anything). Living in the city purchasing such items as antibiotic free chicken, 8L of milk per week, foods that are higher in fibre, whole wheat foods, etc, (not even including other household items), I don’t see how $800 is achievable. If I can spend only $100/week, I’m happy. Am I waaay off base? (A 4L bag is roughly $4, or $5.50 if buying premium, 8L a week is $415-570/year on milk ALONE!).

  30. I’m “delurking” to toss my two cents into the ring – I think this manner of buying works out great. And as far as not counting things that were bought previously, it works out because when you buy in bigger amounts you aren’t using it all NOW, it’s for the future, so it is all working out in the long run. Not sure if I’m explaining it correctly but that’s my own worthless two cents. I love your website though, thanks for sharing!

  31. This is all perception. When I look over her website I feel inspired to do better with the resources I have. I am inspired. She does not use just grocery stores but includes drugstores. She does not spend hours on shopping. I know people who spend 20-30 hrs a month shopping and window shopping at malls. I also look for tips that will work for me. There is a saying “take what you need and leave the rest”. I do buy things I don’t need to make a deal that will make money for me in gift cards and rebates. I then donate those things to food banks and churches. I only need so much toothpaste, shampoo, etc. but I’ve made $50-100 in a month doing these deals that can go to my food/household budget and feel good donating to help others. I like couponmom.com for a free grocery deal service and slickdeals.net for drugstores, food stores, general shopping and even vacation deals. If you get even one idea to help you be grateful and leave the rest, don’t tear it down cuz it isn’t all for you.

  32. While I think it is interesting, I know I can’t achieve this without a LOT of complaining. My spouse equates his hard work with being able to eat well. My kids all like to eat plenty of meat and veggies. When we have company, I tend to spend over $300 on one shopping trip. I can’t imagine going past one week doing this.

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