Extreme frugality blogger Mr. Money Mustache and his family famously live on less than $25,000 a year. Of course, it helps to have a paid-off home and live in a relatively affordable town in northern Colorado. Getting around by bicycle or on foot also saves money on gas and keeps the family car-payment free. It’s an amazing example of frugal living which has inspired legions of followers called Mustachians.

I also track my family spending and Mustachians would be shocked to learn that the Engen’s will spend more than three times the amount of MMM’s typical family living expenses this year.

Where does all the money go? Let’s take a look at our anti-Mustachian family spending summary:

HOME EXPENSES  $ Comments
Mortgage/Rent 15,362 Mortgage balance of $244,000
Property Taxes 4,282
Utilities 3,437 Electricity, gas, water
Cell phone 895
Cable/Internet 1,666
Furnishings/Appliances 665
Lawn/Garden 151
Maintenance 392
Total HOME EXPENSES 26,850
DAILY LIVING
Groceries 13,210 Includes household items such as toiletries
Clothing 1,421
Dining/Eating Out 3,078
Haircuts 640
Pet Food 657
Alcohol 1,252
Miscellaneous spending 3,500
Total DAILY LIVING 23,758
CHILDREN
Preschool expenses 1,265
School supplies 100
Sports 482
Piano lessons 750
Ballet 490
Total CHILDREN 3,087
TRANSPORTATION
Vehicle payments 8,263 Will be paid off this fall
Fuel 2,246
Maintenance 421
Registration/License 169
Parking 49
Total TRANSPORTATION 11,147
INSURANCE
Auto 1,328 Two vehicles
Home 1,400
Total INSURANCE 2,728
CHARITY/GIFTS
Gifts 2,050 Birthdays, Christmas, etc.
Charitable donations 755
Total CHARITY/GIFTS 2,805
ENTERTAINMENT
Netflix 110
Google Play Music 96
Photography 53
Movies/Theater 50
Books 30
Total ENTERTAINMENT 339
SUBSCRIPTIONS
Amazon Prime 83
Credit card annual fees 219
Costco membership 116
Library 15
Total SUBSCRIPTIONS 672
Vacation
Travel 6,031 Kelowna, Vancouver, plus misc. day trips
Total VACATION 6,031
 
Total 2016 Expenses 77,417 Estimate

We’re on track to spend an estimated $77,417 this year. Keep in mind this amount does not include any contributions toward my pension, RRSPs, TFSAs, or RESPs, and does not include any extra amounts we might pay towards our mortgage.

Turning around this anti-Mustachian budget

How can we reduce our spending down to a more respectable Mustachian level? Paying off the car this year will bring our total annual spend below $70,000 and free up nearly $10,000 to put towards our savings goals. PS – I can’t wait for the last car payment to go through in October!

Total spending could then be reduced to just $53,792 by paying off our mortgage – but that goal is at least eight years away. Besides, I prefer to steer any extra income into our savings and investing vehicles rather than using it to pay down our mortgage at 2 percent interest.

Next we have to look at groceries and household items – a category that will need to be cut in half to be on par with the Mustachian annual budget. Let’s take carve off $6,000 for groceries, and take $2,500 out of the anti-Mustachian dining out and booze budget to bring our total family spending down to $45,292 a year.

Now it’s time to get creative. I live close enough to work that I can walk, so by selling our second vehicle we can save $1,400 a year in gas, insurance, maintenance, and registration fees. So this is what Mustachianism feels like!

Miscellaneous spending can be reduced by $1,500, while cutting the cable cord can save an additional $900 a year. Scaling back on gifts and kids’ activities might put another $1,500 back into our wallet.

This would bring our family spending down below $40,000 ($39,992 to be exact!).

Vacation costs are rather high this year so we can either skip travel altogether or cut our budget in half. This takes our family spending down to between $34,000 and $37,000 a year.

Earning more vs. Spending less

I’m just going to stop right here because this is getting ridiculous and depressing. I’d have to use a scalpel to trim the rest of our expenses down to the bone and get to $25,000 a year.

Frugality can only get you so far, and even the most frugal people like Mr. Money Mustache, Sean Cooper, and Derek Foster started their journey from a position of strength. It’s easy to preach living the life you want when you already have a paid-off home, six-figure income, or made a lucky bet in the stock market.

The question is, can you live this way on your path to riches, or does it only work once you’re already there?

You can’t frugal your way to early retirement. That’s why in the debate about earning more versus spending less; I stand firmly in the ‘earn more’ camp.

Yes, we need to be prudent and watch our expenses. Believe me, I can’t wait to be car-payment free in a few months and start using that money to help reach financial independence faster.

But I’d much rather find ways to earn more money than cut out the things that make life more enjoyable.

Some extra time and effort spent on my side business this year will allow us to take out additional income of $6,000. We’ll spend a bit of that money on a trip for our 10th anniversary and save the rest. Doesn’t that sound better than cutting $6,000 from your family spending?

Readers: How much are you willing to cut from your budget in order to reach your savings goals faster? Can you live on $25,000 a year?

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37 Comments

  1. Michael James on June 12, 2016 at 3:16 pm

    My family doesn’t spend much less than yours and we have no house or car payments. I guess we’re even less Mutachian than you are. Every so often I find small ways to trim our expenses, but big cuts would require us to move or get rid of a car — not likely.

    • Echo on June 13, 2016 at 8:09 am

      Hi Michael, I was worried the legions of Mustachians would come out and chastise me for spending recklessly on things like “cable” and “going out to eat”.

      • Million Dollar JOurney on June 19, 2016 at 7:52 am

        Hi Robb,

        I would consider our family fairly frugal and conservative, and our annual bill is about the same as yours when you remove your mortgage and car payments costs.

        You guys are doing great, keep on trucking.

        • Echo on June 19, 2016 at 11:14 am

          Thanks FT! I think we’ll make some big strides in the next year or two with the car payment gone and a bigger focus on saving.

  2. Cool Koshur on June 12, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    Another gem from you Rob. You motivated me to do my living expense estimate. We are family of 4, with two kids 11 and 5 and live in Greater Toronto area. Here is my breakdown
    Total HOME EXPENSES 30,212 (Mortgage Balance = 285,000)
    Total DAILY LIVING 16,800
    Total CHILDREN 1,150
    Total TRANSPORTATION 2,820 ( We manage with one car (15 years old) and is paid off
    Total INSURANCE 2,500
    Total CHARITY/GIFTS 1,450
    Total ENTERTAINMENT 300
    Total SUBSCRIPTIONS 115
    Total VACATION 2,500
    Total 2016 Expenses 57,847

    Our family income is $110,000

    I can potentially save some money by trimming my vacation, cutting down on grocery bill from $900 /month to $750/month. This would bring down my total expenses to approx. $53000

    • Echo on June 13, 2016 at 8:05 am

      Hi Cool Koshur, thanks for sharing! Good for you for getting around with one 15-year-old car!

  3. Tawcan on June 12, 2016 at 9:12 pm

    How come I don’t see life insurance? MMM’s expenses are extreme for sure… might be a bit challenging in housing crazy Canadian market right now.

    • Echo on June 13, 2016 at 7:56 am

      Hi Tawcan, life insurance premiums get deducted from my paycheque and I didn’t include those items such as taxes, CPP, and EI. I pay about $360/yr.

      • Tawcan on June 13, 2016 at 12:48 pm

        Ah I see, makes sense. 🙂

  4. Stephen Weyman on June 13, 2016 at 5:58 am

    Although I’m pretty anti-mustachian myself and I believe earning more money is a great option for early retirement, I’m not sure I agree with you about the frugality statement.

    Most people who are living typical lives where they have a day job that pays pretty well and they invest in their career advancement normally only have a relatively fixed lifetime income. The fastest way to early retirement in that scenario is lowering your cost of living and keeping it low throughout retirement.

    You won’t catch me with a Mustachian budget anytime soon, but I will always be trying to cut expenses in ways that don’t sacrifice much in terms of quality of life.

    • Echo on June 13, 2016 at 7:59 am

      Hi Stephen, there needs to be a balance, for sure. You can’t let your spending get out of control, but optimizing it to the core, as in, inventing workarounds just to save a few bucks at the cost of comfort or convenience is not for me.

      • Stephen Weyman on June 13, 2016 at 11:54 am

        Absolutely, I feel the same way. MMM insists he loves every minute of it though.

  5. Kathy from CT on June 13, 2016 at 6:16 am

    Good point about preaching frugality when it’s from a position of strength and how they got to that position wasn’t just from being frugal.

    I do, however, believe it isn’t an either/or scenario. Instead, I believe being both frugal (look to cut expenses) and increasing income is the best approach. Why? Because if you’re not already conscious of wasteful spending, then no matter how much more you bring in you will find more wasteful ways to spend that additional money.

    Cutting a little here & there is a continuous journey, which over time reaps substantial rewards. It’s a mindset that shifts your attitude to “I am managing the money” from “the money is managing me”. BIG difference. Every little bit helps.

    • Echo on June 13, 2016 at 8:04 am

      Great comment, Kathy! Yes, there are plenty of examples of high earners who don’t have much wealth to their names because of reckless spending (big hat, no cattle types). I love your point about taking control and managing your money rather than letting it manage you.

  6. Jordan on June 13, 2016 at 8:06 am

    $50 at the theatre? you go once a year? 😉

    • Echo on June 13, 2016 at 8:11 am

      Ha! I think we’ve been to the movies twice this year (and used SCENE points for a couple of tickets). It’s not something I specifically budget for so that’s just showing actual spending so far this year.

  7. Justin on June 13, 2016 at 9:34 am

    I pay that much for insurance just for ONE car. Darn government has a monopoly over here!

    • Echo on June 13, 2016 at 3:09 pm

      And funny enough, my insurance company is based out of Manitoba. Too bad they can’t sell in their own province…

  8. SAM on June 13, 2016 at 9:58 am

    Costs in Canada are so much higher (for virtually every single budget line) that even with a paid-off house I think a 3-4 person family would be darn hard pressed to spend only $25000 annually. My daycare costs alone are $10k for one child.

    • Echo on June 19, 2016 at 11:19 am

      Hi SAM, I agree – big difference in spending up north. That said, we don’t face the same threat of huge medical expenses, plus we can take a full-year of parental leave – so that would be tough to trade-in.

      • Sarah on July 3, 2017 at 3:12 pm

        Correct me if I’m wrong but the $25,000 is in USD funds. Wouldn’t you convert it to CDN to talk apples versus apples?

        If yes, that would make it ~$32,000 which is closer to being doable for me (we own our home and two cars).

        If not, I’d have to give up one of my 12+ year old cars (we live in rural Ontario, with no car rental for 60kms, we can’t live without a car), 100% of our alcohol/entertainment budget and travel. I guess we wouldn’t need a car at all if we gave up the other two categories. Regardless, we’re not willing to sacrifice our quality of life to that extent.

        Fortunately, we are able to make that choice, unlike so many other Canadians living in poverty.

        Just found your blog (new subscriber). Looking forward to reading more.

        Sarah.

  9. John on June 13, 2016 at 11:48 am

    In order to live the Mustachian life style your passion needs to be saving money. If you get joy out of DIY stuff and saving a dollar or two you don’t need to budget for other interests. The value that MMM provides is not that he can live on $25K per year but that he challenges the reader to consider what is necessary in their lives.

    • Echo on June 19, 2016 at 11:24 am

      Hi John, yes it’s more about the mind-set than trying to replicate everything MMM does. I’m not much of a DIY guy so I don’t mind trading money for time in some cases.

      I hope this post didn’t portray me as some kind of reckless spender. I do plan on becoming financially free at 45 and maybe retire in my early 50s. That to me strikes a balance between living like a pauper and spending like a drunken sailor.

  10. TJ on June 13, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    The utilities seem unusually high. Is that just the normal cost in your neck of the woods?

    • Echo on June 13, 2016 at 2:46 pm

      Hi TJ, yeah it’s about $200/month with Enmax for gas and electricity and then about $85/month with the city for water, waste, and recycling. Is that high compared to where you live?

      • KC on June 13, 2016 at 2:56 pm

        It’s $125 a month for hydro here, $30 a month for gas on average, and $50 a month for water . We don’t pay for waste and recycling in Southwestern Ontario.

        That’s a pretty interesting comparison for regional expenses!

      • TJ on June 13, 2016 at 9:55 pm

        I live in a 2BR apartment in Southern California. We pay about $15/mo for gas, $50/mo for electric and probably $80/mo for water/sewer.

        The electric is definitely into the low $100’s in summer when the A/C is running though.

  11. rj on June 14, 2016 at 8:22 am

    Great post! Nice to see your numbers are very similar to my budget. A financial advisor was surprised at how much my family of 4 was spending on groceries, toiletries, diapers, etc. every year, so I’ve been trying to justify our numbers ever since. Our number is spot on with yours. Our auto and home insurance is spot on as well. The one number that is interesting is utilities. We live in Nova Scotia and the total cost of utilities is $5100 ($1500 for electricity, thanks NS Power, and $3600 for oil), I’ve heard Ontario is cheaper but man I didn’t realize how much cheaper!

    • Stephen Weyman on June 15, 2016 at 6:56 am

      I’m currently living in a decently large older detached house because I got a rental deal on it I couldn’t refuse from my father. I’m in New Brunswick.

      Let me tell you my oil and electricity costs would scare you. I actually don’t know what they are exactly because I try not to think about it – it’s that bad. They could be reduced with renovations and keeping the heat super low all the time. We aren’t staying here long term though so don’t want to go through all of that hassle and expense. However, with young kids and working at home I want to be comfortable so the heat stays up.

      Getting more efficient heating will be top priority for my next house.

  12. Jaymee on June 14, 2016 at 12:59 pm

    Living in Calgary, my budget would probably resemble yours more than MMM >.< (I figured I wouldn't be able to get it down to $25k as a 20-something just "starting out" financially!)

  13. Funny about Money on June 14, 2016 at 10:15 pm

    I earned almost that much when I was working, if you add in the occasional side gig. Sure didn’t spend that much, though. 😀 As it developed, that was a lucky thing.

    If I had to pay $4300/year for property tax today, I wouldn’t be able to stay in my paid-off home.

    Kids are mighty expensive…but 13 grand a year for groceries and household items, NOT INCLUDING dog food? Wow! That’s over a thousand dollars a month! I can’t imagine how I’d spend that much, even in Costco. If there were two adults and a couple of kids here, I imagine we’d spend about $600 to $800/month, assuming some of the food was overpriced packaged junk. But that figure would include dog food, which I normally would buy at grocery stores or Costco.

    In principle, I agree that you need to earn enough to cover a decent lifestyle, pay for a roof over your head and transportation, and put your kids in decent schools. And in principle I agree that “you can’t frugal your way to early retirement.”

    However, in practice: accustoming yourself a frugal lifestyle will save your tail come the day when you have a “surprise” early retirement. All it will take is a layoff in your 50s or early 60s, and you’ll find yourself “retired” against your will…very probably once and for all. And don’t kid yourself: there WILL be another recession, sooner or later.

    Fortunately, because of a bent for frugality I had paid off my house and car by the time I was laid off, at the unemployable age of 64. I had about $20,000 in cash savings in the bank, and what was well over half a million bucks in investments that had deflated by about 40 percent. My investment advisor urged me to do everything I could to delay withdrawing from investments for as long as possible. We also had enough in cash holdings in the brokerage account to cover the mortgage on the house my son and I were copurchasing, without having to sell shares. Though my son and I considered walking away from the loan, he insisted on sticking with it and we were able to save the house.

    To survive, I was forced to take early Social Security and take up adjunct teaching at less than minimum wage. That $20,000 in casual savings — stashed because of the frugal habits while I did have a job — kept me afloat for about three years. By then, the market had recovered and my business had also recovered to some degree. At this point I was able to live in modest comfort with careful withdrawals from investments.

    So…yeah. You bet you can frugal your way to early “retirement.” And if you’re not planning on that retirement, you’ll be glad you did.

  14. Le Barbu on June 17, 2016 at 7:03 am

    Our household expenses sum up to 50k$ (family of 4) and we “stash” about 40k$/year. You must include your mortgage principal in the “save” column and the interests on the “expense” one.

    My best tips to save without sacrifices: 1-Drive a used, reliable & cheap car, 2-Plan and manage taxes and subsidies, 3-Buy & sell on Kijiji most of the “stuff”, 4-Dont fall in the “I deserve a Disney Cruise!” pitfall, 5-Dont buy a 350hp jetboat & Ram3500 crew cab for hauling, on finance…

    Enjoying life has very little to do with the kind of expenses our society request. Marketing teams are way smarter than most of us.

    • Lex on June 17, 2016 at 11:56 am

      Le Barbu. I’m not sure I understand how you consider your mortgage principal payment a “save”. If you have a mortgage payment then you must have an associated debt that you are paying off. You’re not saving that money, you’re paying back money you have borrowed and already spent. By that logic a paying back a car loan principal is also a “save” and only the interest is an expense. I suppose this might makes some sense if you don’t track your debt or loans.

      • Michael James on June 17, 2016 at 2:04 pm

        @Lex: There are two different ways to view taking on debt such as buying a car or house. Le Barbu’s way of looking at it is that the initial purchase counts as spending (the opposite of saving) and payments against the principal of the debt as saving. Other people ignore the initial acquisition and treat all payments as spending. Personally, I prefer Le Barbu’s approach.

        • Le BArbu on June 17, 2016 at 2:36 pm

          @Lex, as Michael said, the initial purchase counts as spending. Then, when you repay the principal, your debt decrease. Normaly, your house should worth something at the end of the amortization, not the case for a car especially with the 84 months scheduals!

          Anyway, the prices are way to high to be considered safe now and I would think twice before taking a big mortgage.

  15. Richard on June 17, 2016 at 10:50 pm

    Rent(2bdrm)-800
    Fortis-50
    Phone-50
    Internet-40
    Food-300
    Gas-150
    Insurance-100
    Miscellaneous-200
    By renting it gives me the ability to bank $2000mth in investments,can’t see the point of ownership at this point in time

  16. Smart Money MD on June 18, 2016 at 8:44 pm

    Nice. Makes me feel not as bad (I am 4x MMM budget). Need to become Mustachian, even though I feel frugal in other ways!

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