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:

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
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
Preschool expenses 1,265
School supplies 100
Sports 482
Piano lessons 750
Ballet 490
Total CHILDREN 3,087
Vehicle payments 8,263 Will be paid off this fall
Fuel 2,246
Maintenance 421
Registration/License 169
Parking 49
Auto 1,328 Two vehicles
Home 1,400
Total INSURANCE 2,728
Gifts 2,050 Birthdays, Christmas, etc.
Charitable donations 755
Netflix 110
Google Play Music 96
Photography 53
Movies/Theater 50
Books 30
Amazon Prime 83
Credit card annual fees 219
Costco membership 116
Library 15
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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