My Bare Bones Budget

Bare bones budget
What do I really need?

I hate budgeting. In fact, I don’t budget.

So what is a bare bones budget and why do I want one?

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When I finished tallying up my 2020 expenses, I was ecstatic. It was the lowest amount spent since I started tracking expenses in 2018. It shouldn’t be a surprise as I didn’t travel overseas at all.

I’ve always been concerned about having too much work in my full time job and being burned out again. Until 2020, that is – when the possibility of being out of work suddenly seemed more real.

I do have an emergency fund with six months of expenses, based on 2018/19 expenses which include travel and holidays.

What I want to know is – how much further can I stretch this emergency fund, if I only spend on the essentials and nothing else?

And that is a bare bones budget – a budget where only the essentials are considered ie only your needs, not wants or desires or nice-to-haves, no discretionary spending at all.

Having a bare bones budget should help me sleep better at night – this is the figure that will enable me to survive in a worst case scenario.

So I deep dived into my 2020 expenses, critically looking at each expense with this question – do I need this or do I want it? The exercise is harder than I thought it would be!


Housing - my biggest expense

Housing which includes utilities is my biggest category – and 2020 was no exception. It accounts for 35% of my total expenses.

So what is essential and what is not?

The essentials are:

Local council rates $1733

Home and Contents insurance $989.81 (with $500 excess)

Water $953

Gas $1081.16

Electricity $195.05

Home phone & internet $900

Home maintenance $1396 (front door lock & 2 insurance claims)

Garden $303 (potting mix, manure etc, vegetable seedlings)

Total = $7551.02

Note to self – must look at internet provider and see if I can switch to a cheaper provider

My non essentials included a cleaner and gardener and buying 3 wicking garden beds. I used to have a cleaner for 2 hours once a fortnight but that ceased in early March last year. I will not engage another one. My Roomba is doing quite well with keeping my floor clean.

The gardener is another issue – I used to classify the expense as essential when I worked all hours in the day. But now that I’m working less hours and learning how to grow vegetables, I will reduce the frequency and take on more tasks in the garden.


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Food, glorious food (& groceries)

Part of my 2020 food & grocery expenses included buying for my parents during the second hard lockdown but I was shocked that my 2020 food category was $2000 more than in 2019!

This doesn’t include eating out and entertaining at home, which I hardly did in 2020.

Surely, I didn’t buy that much chocolate, chips and ice cream! I know I indulged in comfort eating last year … but holy smokes!

Fresh food has increased in price plus I shopped at local vegetable and fruit shops instead of the more economical markets a bit further from home. I already don’t buy much processed food or convenience style foods eg ready made sauces – I make a lot of my meals from scratch.

So, let’s watch this space in 2021. Fingers crossed, with my ramped up efforts for vegetable gardening, I can reduce some of this expense this year.

What was essential? I’d say $3500 would be reasonable.



I didn’t visit a GP at all in 2020 but visited the osteopath more than usual. Had a couple of falls and needed extra work.

Osteopath $450 – but is it essential? Debatable as I would put up with the pain and take pain medications? I would probably reduce the frequency or limit it to treatment rather than tune ups.

I visited the dentist twice in 2020 for routine check ups at out of pocket cost of $177.40 (the balance covered by my health insurance). This is on the low side for me – nothing major needed fixing last year.

I pay my health insurance annually – $1621.72 – if I were stretched financially, I would pay monthly but it is an essential expense for me.

I do take a few supplements but are they really essential? Guess not. I also take over the counter medicines for my hayfever … are they essential? Perhaps.

And my personal trainer? Nope

So, my essential spending for health related expenses would be $2300, with a small buffer for GP visits or prescription medicines.

Professional registration and indemnity insurance

I would still need to be registered by my professional body and have adequate indemnity insurance if I were unemployed and looking for work in the same industry. Plus I am a member in the professional association.

I pay these costs annually. Even though they are tax deductible, I will still need to pay the fees up front then claim back on my tax return.

Total = $1417


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I spent a whopping $13 on socks in 2020. I didn’t buy any other piece of clothing or shoes. I basically lived in my pajamas and work uniform, such was life in 2020.

It’s probably unrealistic to assign zero dollars to this category – so let’s assign $200 as essential.

Personal hygiene & grooming

I’m fairly low maintenance but do suffer from eczema so I use body wash from the pharmacy instead of soap. I’m allergic to most make up so don’t use make up at all.

I was getting my hair cut at a home salon ($15) but since the Coronavirus outbreak, my hairdresser has ceased operations. Having my hair cut in a cheap, no frills, no appointments necessary hairdresser in a shopping centre mall cost $35 to $45. So I’ve been trimming the fringe myself and letting the rest grow longer.

My essential spending here is $350

What is missing?

Currently, my work provides me with a car and mobile phone so I have no expenses here.

Therefore if I lose my job, these privileges would be lost too.

I am assuming that my job loss is temporary – I will get by with public transport, Uber and perhaps borrowing my parents’ car. I can walk to my local shopping centre to buy food and groceries. But I will need to travel to job interviews.

So I’ll assign $1000 here.

I have old mobile phones that I can just insert a pre paid SIM card so maybe $600 here is adequate.


To summarise:

Housing $7551

Food & groceries $3500

Health $2300

Professional fees $1417

Clothing $200

Personal hygiene & grooming $350

Transport $1000

Mobile phone $600

Grand total = $16918

This means that my current emergency fund can last for more than 12 months, based on my bare bones budget. What a relief!

Final Thoughts

Having a bare bones budget is highly reassuring.

I now know the minimum I need to survive for a year, if I were to lose my job.This minimum amount is based on real figures (except for the transport and mobile phone parts which are estimates) so I can be confident it can be done.

Going through my expenses and asking if I needed or wanted it is eye opening. I do ask myself this as I am spending but perhaps I’m not so honest in the heat of the moment 🙂

I am very glad I did the exercise as I have identified further areas that I can work on in 2021. It is comforting to know there are areas I can improve upon and thus achieve extra savings.


Have you ever done a bare bones budget?

8 Replies to “My Bare Bones Budget”

  1. Thanks for sharing. My bare bones budget is approx $550 NZD a week (Family of 3 now – one moved out). I’ve only got $5k in my emergency fund but can draw down a further $70k from liquid assets if required. No debts to speak of helps. Certainly a much better position than where I was at a couple of years ago when a job loss would have meant disaster!

    1. Congrats, Vinnie! Debt free rocks 🙂
      I just have to hang tight for another 5 to 6 years – that full time income will enable me to retire fully soon

  2. Hi,
    Thanks for sharing. How on earth do you keep electricity at $195/yr? Solar? Probably propane stove, water heater and heat? Thanks. Good job

    1. Hi Lolly, yes I do have solar. Installed it in late 2018 and has never looked back. My goal is to build up enough credits during summer and not pay anything in winter 🙂

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