Slashing Monthly Expenses- A Real Family’s Example

The Today Show recently aired a segment featuring a young couple with two kids who were challenged to cut their spending budget in half.  These types of stories are always intriguing, and not just because it is fun to pick apart another family’s budget (human nature, I suppose).  It is inspiring to see what lessons the people actually learned when the process was over.  Often times individuals have no idea how much they are spending on a particular category because they’ve never taken the time to add up the daily expenses and convert them to a weekly or monthly outgo.  Here’s a look at the couple’s before budget:

The Roberts Average Weekly Spending Budget

  • Gas:  $25.00
  • Starbucks:  $20.00
  • Eating Out:  $165.00
  • Grocery Store$140.00
  • Entertainment:  $100.00
  • Lawn/Home Care:  $95.00
  • Night Out With Friends $40.00
  • Shopping:  $75.00
  • Total Miscellaneous Expenses:  $660.00 per week

That’s Not a Typo – $660 a Week

The budget probably doesn’t look all that different from other families out there (I even saw a couple familiar frivolous activities I used to engage in, and a couple I still occasionally do).  Like most young families, the Roberts like to eat out several times a week.  I know from experience this gets expensive when you have four mouths to feed.  And from the video it didn’t look like they were dining at a budget eatery for their evening meals or using coupons or deals when possible.  Even Chick-Fil-A adds up quickly if you visit a couple times a week!  Mrs. Roberts was seen in the video getting a pedicure and manicure, and paying $25 to get her SUV washed and detailed.  All signs pointed to the fact these guys were mega consumers.

What Lifestyle Changes Were Implemented?

During their weekly spending diet the Roberts participated in a pot luck dinner, rather than going out to eat.  They washed their own car, mowed their own grass, and made lunches at home.  All great moves to cut back on spending.  They also visited a farmer’s market to help cut down on their grocery bill.  Here’s a look at their after budget:

  • Potluck Dinner:  $30.00
  • Lunch Out:  $6.00
  • Farmer’s Market:  $12.00
  • Gas for Lawn Mower:  $3.95
  • Drug Store:  $24.64
  • Grocery Store:  $95.00
  • Total Miscellaneous Expenses During the Spending Challenge:  $109.38

Lessons Learned

It’s difficult to determine from an eight minute video whether or not the family’s lives were really changed.  I got the impression from the segment that both the husband and wife enjoyed spending money, and spent freely before the Today Show challenge.  It would be interesting to follow up with them in six months to see how many of these changes “stuck.”  One thing I did see in the video was the family engaging in more quality, family time.  They spent a Friday evening at the park feeding the ducks, and a weekend day playing on a Slip-n-Slide in their backyard.  It appeared they really were living the good life.  I don’t think it occurred to the Roberts prior to this exercise that it was possible to have fun without spending money.  Hopefully they now appreciate that less is more, and that they can put the excess money they were spending frivolously to better use.

I’ve included a link to the video segment:  Living With Half as Much


  1. $660 a week? You have GOT to be kidding me. That is just, insane. Really, truly insane. I can’t believe people spend so freely and can be so completely oblivious… Seriously, $300 a week on food?! Besides, my husband and I, save for a couple weird times, usually eat out once or twice a week. Even for just the two of us any more than that adds up! (Though we did spend $300 on two weeks of meals out right before he left…)

    That really just boggles my mind, to be honest. I can’t imagine paying somebody to mow my lawn and detail my car for me to the tune of $90 a week! (But of course, I’m living a small step above the poor student lifestyle, so that’s a lot of money to me. :))

  2. I just recently added you to my google reader list and am pleased with your writing and links. My hubby and I close on a house on the 24th and I am grateful for the self examination your writings encourage! Thanks!

  3. Interesting. I obviously didn’t see the segment, living outside the US, but those little blips about cutting a family’s budget are always intriguing to me. It seems like most families have way higher frivolous spending “budgets” than ours. Then again, we tend to think the cheap stuff is fun – many times, I prefer doing a potluck over going out to eat anyway.

  4. Okay, question…what do you mean by “potluck”? Inviting friends and asking them to bring a dish?

    I didn’t see the segment, but any idea how the family felt about their savings?

  5. i saw this segment, and frankly i can’t imagine spending $600 a week on stuff like that! they did seem surprised to see that you can have a good time with your family without spending money, but i can see them slipping back into their old habits once the novelty wears off. unless there is some kind of external pressure (job loss, savings goals) that keeps them on track.

    and as a grocery gamer, i laughed out loud when they were excited about $5 savings in coupons. oh, the things i could tell them!

  6. @Emily: Yes, basically everyone is responsible for a dish to make one big meal. It’s a fun way to celebrate family gatherings, such as birthdays or reunions, without everyone going out to a restaurant.

    @Make Every Day Count: I also chuckled at the $5 savings – I guess it’s a start!

  7. Good Grief! They’re now saving $2,000 per month?!?
    That’s insane! They can pay off debt, invest, save for college, or save for retirement. That amount of money, compounded, will quickly add up to a significant amount.

    It just goes to show you that if you “have” to save it, you really can.

  8. interesting.. my weekly monthly spending is usually abit over 200€ and monthly outside of fixed expenses rent etc is usually 1200. This breaks down as follows

    30 shopping 1 (picking things up during the week)
    50 shopping on Sat (main shopping of the week)
    30 gas (no 40 due to sky rocketing cost of oil)
    30 Eating out I tend to go over on this one
    30 misc usually meds or similar stuff

    As well misc purchases car repairs dentist appointments etc tend to round it out to 1200€ a month.

    I keep track of it all in a small spiral notebook. I divide it into four parts Gas Shopping (food) misc and coffee (eating out) additionally I make a note of any expenses that are on top of that, car repairs dentist things that aren’t fixed or regular payments.

  9. Wow! That is a huge drop in spending! Like others, I’d be really curious in seeing a follow up on the show. After all, some people like to spend, regardless of whether it really adds value to their life.

    Honestly, it’s hard to think of anything more fun than a Slip N Slide Saturday. You’d have to pay me to do something else!

  10. @Andy: I wondered about that myself. I’m guessing maybe since the Mom stayed home most of the week they only compared her before/after gas expenses.

  11. I used to be in the mega consumer camp. A low month for eating out used to be $2,000 a month. On top of that, groceries ran $1,000 per month and entertainment fluctuated between $500 and $1,500 a month.

    These days, I limit combined spending for groceries, eating out and entertainment to an average of $1,200 a month. The $2,300 saved is now used toward savings and investing.

    Gas: $120 budgeted per week (this has not changed in 2 years)
    Starbucks: $0 (this used to be $20 per week)
    Lawn/Home Care: $40 per week
    Night Out With Friends: varies, but more limited now.
    Shopping: $60 a week (this used to be anywhere from $120 to $400 a week)

  12. Wow! Impressive. Hopefully a few changes will stick with them … they could make a serious difference in their lives and others’ with those savings.

  13. Wonder what else I can cut? I will not cut my tithe or offering as I feel very strongly about this. Also I think giving my boys allowance is important. With there money they tithe, save, & buy all there own stuff including going out, gifts for friends parties, and more. I work four days, plus Sat. nights so I can not really work anymore. The two days a week, plus Sat. nights I work outside the home, I have a free sitter. And two days a week I do in home childcare so I do not need a sitter. My priority is to be with my kids as much as possible being a single mom. They do not see there dad, but once a year for about three days.
    I am very blessed as my grandmother retired and I am able to live in her house for just her costs for 5 or 6 more years. This has been very helpful as my rent used to be $1240, but now is $400 plus any house maintance.
    The great thing is we have everything we need! God is so good we even have many things we want. I even have 3 months living expenses in an emergency account, and am taking two mini trips this summer. These I have the money for. We also have a small quick set pool in the yard that my boys saved for and bought themselves. We love it! Just wanted to share that it can be done on less and we are happy! Plus we have only one debt (I owe QVC $80 for a camera I bought on easy pay 2 months ago (I know I should have waited until I had the cash first.) Thanks for your blog! -Becky in NJ
    p.s.I live in central NJ a very expensive area.

    Becky’s Budget July 2008

    Jason $386
    Joshua $170
    Daycare kid #1 $206
    Daycare kid #2 $ 88
    Office Work $450 (missing 1 week for VBS)

    Total $1300

    Tithe $130
    Savings $
    Offering $ 70 (compassion child $35/Solutions $25/focus on the family)
    Rent $500
    Car Repairs $
    Car insurance $125
    Gas for car $120
    Allowance $60
    Gas & electric bill $170
    Phone & online $70
    Business supplies $0
    Food $100
    Non groceries $20
    Spending $0
    Clothes $0

    Sat. night job $120
    Tithe -$12
    QVC payment -$40
    Budget short -$65

  14. Are those numbers supposed to add up to the $109 figure? If so, that seems like a pretty big error…

  15. $660 a week is pretty crazy. Here is my most recent budget outlay.

    The first column is my budget amount, the second is the actual. Usually I don’t dine out as much and we also took my in-laws to dinner for their anniversary.

    Grocery 300 -283.38
    Gas 130 -230.67
    Dining 40 -132.44
    Entertainment 18 -6.75
    Car 10
    Home 20
    Family 10 -50.00
    Boys 15
    Wife 20 -18.76
    Mike 10
    Flying 150
    Misc 20 -50.02

    Total 743 -772.02

  16. @Jean: Great point! I copied the numbers and just assumed they were correct, but after watching the video again I’m not sure what the $109 figure is supposed to represent. The correct total for the amounts shown is $171.59. Maybe I’m missing something.

  17. Thanks for including the was interesting to watch…

    660.00 is a lot for a week. I do most of the things they paid for. Can you imagine how much they can save if they put away $550.00 a week for a year? Close to $30,000….Wow.

  18. I’d have to say $660 is about my total spending for the month…. 🙂
    It was obvious that they had so many splurges that it would be pretty easy to cut it down to the $300/wk level.

    They are obviously way higher on the income pole than I am 🙂

  19. Gas bill: $80/month now. Short commute.

    Lawn mowed: $10 twice a month. I actually own a lawn mower, but until I get my shed built, it is stored elsewhere as I am afraid it would get stolen as it’s brand new and shiny.

    New wood shed: 7×10. Total cost will be $40 for roofing (rest have been free finds) and $5 for nails etc (rest were freebies). ALL the lumber,plywood, and beams, door, and window were scrounged Free 🙂

  20. well, great to see they were able to cut down their budget in a particular week. It doesn’t indicate if that was a typical week for them. for instance, Taking kids to the water park on entertainment –> do you think that is a typical week. do they really take kids to the water park every week? do they have the potluck dinner every week? if not, it is not a typical week that is claimed as $660 per week. Car wash – it doesn’t really have to be a weekly process.

    Agreed, they were great points to show the areas or tasks where one can try to control his/her personal budget. at the same time, video or interview should have considered a typical week and if the same objective was carried through for several weeks.

    just my thoughts 🙂

  21. You will laugh when you find out that our family was asked if we wanted to do this segment. We were profiled to be a Money Magazine family (didn’t get chosen) and then they thought we might like to do this.

    I told them that it would be a pretty boring week because it isn’t hard for us to not spend money. There would be no moaning and crying over not being able to use the credit cards and that I didn’t even have one 🙂

    I knew it wouldn’t make for good television 🙂

  22. @Amy: Not surprised you were a candidate! Wonder if they would do a segment in the other direction – take a family of cheapskates (like us) and see how much we could spend in a week. I don’t imagine it would prove much, but it would certainly be entertaining!

  23. OMG!!!! That is just crazy…. I wish my fam were like that!! jk but seriously way to much money