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My Very Cheap Day


On Wednesday, I was sitting at the library trying to come up with an idea to blog about. Actually, I had a “to blog” list, but none of them struck a chord with me, so I started reading some magazines instead. Luckily, I found an article in Money Magazine that I can comment on – “My very cheap day” by Kristen Bellstrom. (Thanks to Brian for finding the link for us.)

It’s not easy for frugal folks to cut expense

Her mission was to spend one day trying to cut every expense she encountered. Aha! I already found something to disagree with.

“While this would be (heavily discounted) cake for more frugal folks, when I am asked to choose between convenience and savings, I confess to have an unfortunate tendency to go with the former.”

Let me tell you, it is not a piece of cake for frugal folks. We are already frugal so there isn’t much more to cut! She chronicled her discretionary spending throughout the day and showed us how she saved $87.93.

Anyway, it seems like Kristen choose a good day to be a cheapskate because she had to run to the drugstore, grocery store, coffee shop, dry cleaner, and eat lunch and dinner out. She was able to save $87.93 and that’s pretty good, but I’m surprised at her burn rate. I guess being a single New Yorker can be quite expensive. It seems that on a normal day she spends about $110? That’s a lot of money and we’re not even counting housing, car, and other fixed expenses.

Her story inspires me to share my Wednesday.

RB40’s very cheap day

8:00am Breakfast home ($1)

Split with Baby RB40: 1 Thomas’ everything bagel, Neufchatel cheese, and fresh chives from the community garden. I had coffee from our French press and Baby RB40 drank whole milk.

10:00am Runabout at the park ($0)

We went for a quick walk around the neighborhood. We usually go to the playground, library, or walk to the river, but it was raining today so we just took a short walk.

Noon Lunch at home ($4)

I stir fried some Yakisoba noodles with broccoli, carrots, onion, and a little beef. Grandma RB40 made gyoza from last night’s leftover wonton soup filling. Everything probably cost less than $4 to feed 2 adults + toddler.

2:00pm Blogging at the library ($0.50)

I took the streetcar to the library to catch up on blogging. Baby RB40 stayed home with Grandma and took a nap. I paid $100 for the streetcar annual pass and it works very well for me. It probably cost about 25 cents per ride considering how many times I ride it. At the library, I caught up on my emails, did some blog maintenance, and wrote most of this post. I also got 2 books and 7 DVDs.

5:00pm Happy Hour ($0)

This is a bit unusual. One of my old coworkers found Retire By 40 on the internet and wanted to chat. Usually, I’d be home getting dinner ready at 5pm. I had an IPA and a snack, but my old pal generously paid the bill. Thanks man! 😉

6:30pm Dinner at home ($5)

I went home after happy hour and everyone already finished dinner. They had beef broccoli stir fry, some fried eggs, and rice. I ate a bit too.

my very cheap day

Baby RB40 practicing his choke hold.

7:30pm Really small snack ($1.25)

Mmm… This will sound very extreme cheapskate…. We had half a piece of chocolate left. It was the last piece of some really nice truffles Mrs. RB40 got for herself for Mother’s Day. I was going to split the last piece with her the previous evening, but she was conked out so I saved her half. Anyway, she said we could have it, since she had eaten another one earlier, so I split the half with Baby RB40. So we each had a quarter piece of the tarragon grapefruit truffle and it was quite yummy. Baby RB40 also munched on some dried apricots.

We took Mrs. RB40 out to Tasty n Alder for a nice brunch on Mother’s day so I’m not that cheap. It was also National Train Day on Saturday so she got to see some trains as a bonus. What a lucky mom! Sorry to get sidetracked. Let’s get back to Wednesday.

8:00pm More snack because the ¼ truffle wasn’t enough ($2)

Baby RB40 wanted more food so I found some cheese and crackers for him. He scarfed down 6-7 Ritz crackers and some nice soft goat cheese spread from the farmer market. I had a bit too.

Total estimated expense: $13.75

80/20 Rule

Our expense is a whole magnitude smaller than Kristen’s, but I do have some serious advantages. I’m not working in an office anymore and don’t have commuting or dry cleaning expenses. We also eat out only about once per week or so.

This whole exercise reinforced how the 80/20 rule works. You can get 80% of the result by applying 20% of the effort. Cheapskates like me already cut our expenses and it’s much harder to trim any more fat. I guess we can eat less expensively, but why do that when we don’t have to?

On the other hand, Kristen was able to cut 80% of her expenses quite easily. She sounded frazzled by the end of the day, though and I wonder if she can keep this up. Hopefully, she can come to a happy median and spend less money while staying content.

For me, I think we have achieved our 80% effectiveness already. I’d say on the cheapskate scale of 1 to 10, we are at 7 or 8. Kristen was probably at 2 before her cheapskate day. 🙂 How about you? Can you trim any fat from your expenses? Would you want to?

Related article – No one ever get rich by being frugal.

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. He spent 16 years working in computer design and enjoyed the technical work immensely. However, he hated the corporate BS. He left his engineering career behind to become a stay-at-home dad/blogger at 38. At Retire by 40, Joe focuses on financial independence, early retirement, investing, saving, and passive income.

For 2018, Joe plans to diversify his passive income by investing in US heartland real estate through RealtyShares. He has 3 rental units in Portland and he believes the local market is getting overpriced.

Joe highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. He logs on to Personal Capital almost daily to check his cash flow and net worth. They have many useful tools that will help every investor analyze their portfolio and plan for retirement.
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{ 38 comments… add one }
  • Indian Thoughts May 17, 2013, 1:22 am

    there is no way to subscribe to your daily feed via email. 🙁

    • retirebyforty May 17, 2013, 9:55 am

      Thanks for the reminder. I changed all the newletter subscription to article subscription.

  • [email protected] May 17, 2013, 5:16 am

    I would say that I am as lean as I want to be. I do try to review expenses at least monthly and I do find it hard to find any more significant savings. Excellent work on the very cheap day.

  • John S @ Frugal Rules May 17, 2013, 7:40 am

    Like Greg, we’re pretty lean ourselves. There is one or two things that we have that others might consider fat, but we run a very tight ship otherwise and are ok with that. We do tend to review on a quarterly basis to see if there is anything we need/should cut.

  • Kurt @ Money Counselor May 17, 2013, 7:45 am

    $110 a day! I’d say Kristen better focus some energy on saving!

    I’m so envious of your access to transit. You’re smart to have chosen a location where you can take advantage, that saves a big bundle for sure (and cuts your carbon footprint!).

    The only fat I’d like to trim from our expenses is telecom: Our grossly overpriced bundle of cable/Internet/landline. I’d like to ditch all of this and put together substitutes. A summer project.

  • Michelle May 17, 2013, 8:26 am

    Good job on having such a cheap day! I could have a pretty cheap day as well, as long as I didn’t have to drive to work (gas and car costs add up!).

  • Jonathan May 17, 2013, 9:29 am

    If I had been more frugal in the last 20 years, I would have a bigger bank account. I think it is good to be frugal but too many people focus on it. What people should also focus with equal energy, time and devotion is how to generate more income.

    A big company like Microsoft is not only interested in cutting expenses but they also want to generate more revenues every year. Individuals should operate in the same fashion.

    • retirebyforty May 18, 2013, 12:30 am

      Generating more income is essential too. But I think you have to be frugal first. A lot of high income earner don’t have any saving.

  • Amanda L Grossman May 17, 2013, 9:32 am

    You gave me an idea for an article post:). Thanks! And I will be sure to link to you.

    We are pretty lean as well, which is why it is SO exciting when we figure out yet another way to save more money!

    Last year it was making our own laundry detergent. The supplies cost $8. The product smelled wonderfully, and lasted an amazing 8 months. Hurrah!

    • retirebyforty May 18, 2013, 12:30 am

      You’re welcome! 🙂
      Does it work with HE machines? I’ll be sure to check it out when you finish.

  • Brian May 17, 2013, 9:38 am
    • Gen Y Finance Journey May 17, 2013, 9:42 am

      Blast! I was about to be the helpful one to share the link, but you beat me to it!

      • retirebyforty May 17, 2013, 9:48 am

        Thanks anyway! 🙂 Have a great weekend.

    • retirebyforty May 17, 2013, 9:47 am

      Yes! Thank you! They just went live a couple of hours ago. I beat them to the punch. 🙂

  • krantcents May 17, 2013, 10:41 am

    I think you can always cut back, but not past the bone. If you cut everything out, you also cut enjoyment. Long term, what are saving for, if you sacrifice everything along the way.

  • My Multiple Incomes May 17, 2013, 11:32 am

    I know I can still cut down on our expenses even though we are living as frugally as we could, but I would prefer to do it every now and then, not everyday since I might end up enjoying life less, but then again it’s really a matter of being flexible. It might not be fun at first, but once I get use to it, I’ll probably come up with frugal ways to make it fun.

  • [email protected] May 17, 2013, 1:45 pm

    What seems like an expense cutting day to some is just a typical day to others. I do those same kind of cost cutting measures you did almost every day. I especially like the Yakisoba noodles you had with veggies for lunch. I have always found them to be a fulfilling meal when I am running low on cash but still want to feel like I had just eaten a meal.

  • Mike May 17, 2013, 2:56 pm

    I think it is a matter of teaching oneself to save up for stuff. It’s too easy any more to get into debt. I do admire that you are trying to focus on the good things that don’t cost you that much-that’s got to count for something!

  • Scott @ Youthfulinvestor May 17, 2013, 3:20 pm

    The best part: National Train Day! The kid inside of me still loves this kind of event. Did they have model trains too? Our local NTD was a couple of weeks ago. They had conductors from CSX and Norfolk Southern out allowing people to operate parts of the engine, honk the horn and get photos.

    • retirebyforty May 18, 2013, 12:33 am

      It’s great to have kids. That way you have an excuse to do all the fun stuff again. There were some nice model trains. I don’t know if I’d want to get into this hobby though. Seems expensive and obsessive. 🙂

  • Jonathan May 17, 2013, 3:40 pm

    I know a family that is a real penny pincher in a bad way to the point of being extremely cheap. When you are this cheap, the enjoyment of life and money is gone. No one wants to associate with you because you are always thinking of how to save money or how to gain financially from someone else. I think moderation is the best approach. Not a spendthrift and not a cheapskate.

    • retirebyforty May 18, 2013, 12:34 am

      I think moderation is the best approach too. Lately, I’ve been leaning toward the cheapskate side though because I’m not making much money anymore.

  • thepotatohead May 17, 2013, 5:13 pm

    I recently cut down on my lunch expenses as a way to trim the fat from my budget and my waist. I was spending $6-7 per day at our work cafeteria on burgers and fries. I’ve since switched to soup and apples at about $3 per day. SO big decline in my lunch expenditures. Like you said, once your already being pretty frugal its hard to go lower. I could definitely still lower my lunch expenses even more, but it might mean more processed and unhealthy items. I’m happy for now at $3 bucks but might try to trim it even more in the future.

    • retirebyforty May 18, 2013, 12:34 am

      I think $3 is great for lunch. Maybe more healthy snacks at 3pm?

  • nicoleandmaggie May 17, 2013, 7:19 pm

    I literally just read that article before checking your blog. And was also thinking, “how ridiculous” or perhaps “man, those writers sure must make a lot of money.” (And cynically, well gee, it wouldn’t be very interesting to track a normal day without spending. That would make for a very short article.)

    I really like how you’ve brought the post back to the 80/20 rule instead of just leaving it at how ridiculous! That’s a very good point.

    • retirebyforty May 18, 2013, 12:36 am

      Right! She went all over town that day, but it does illustrate a point. For regular people, it’s should be pretty easy to cut out some expenses with a little effort.

  • Paul @ The Frugal Toad May 17, 2013, 8:27 pm

    I think this is a great idea, challenge yourself to come up with ways that you can cut expenses or find inexpensive fun things to do.. I don’t think I would do this everyday though!

  • [email protected] May 18, 2013, 10:02 am

    I agree with Paul – works well as a reminder to stay on track. Great work!

  • Anton Ivanov | Dreams Cash True May 18, 2013, 6:32 pm

    I do try to minimize the expenses I think are useless, but I also allow myself to buy something I want once in a while. Otherwise, as I have found out, life just gets rougher and rougher…

  • Squirrelers May 19, 2013, 8:23 am

    Sounds like a really nice day, quite relaxing while you got out for a while. That, plus food expense, didn’t add up to much cost. Goes to show that incremental spending doesn’t always result in incremental enjoyment.

  • SavvyFinancialLatina May 19, 2013, 12:16 pm

    I try to make frugal decisions every day. Sometimes it’s a little hard because my husband is not very frugal. I make him try though.
    We are only two people, and expenses add up quickly! Sometimes they just add up so quickly…. 🙁

    • retirebyforty May 20, 2013, 2:52 pm

      It can be difficult if one of you is not frugal by nature. I applaud you for trying. 🙂

  • [email protected] May 20, 2013, 9:28 am

    Like Kristen, I live in NYC, but my expenses are more like Mr RB40. My wife and I cook lunch a day before and bring it to work and we cook dinner as well. (Often times we will have cooked over the weekend and have left overs). I don’t buy anything on a normal day unless I need groceries/toiletries. My only expense is gas to commute. The main problem for me living in NYC is the rent!

    • retirebyforty May 20, 2013, 2:56 pm

      Great job! I bet rent is crazy though.

  • David W May 21, 2013, 8:04 am

    I read the Money magazine article this morning while eating breakfast and was annoyed by it. Despite her trying to be cheap, she still spent quite a bit of money and seemed to imply that being frugal was ok, but not a realistic way to live. Saving money by going to happy hour just doesn’t cut it in my opinion, how about cooking the produce she saved on earlier?

    • retirebyforty May 21, 2013, 3:38 pm

      She sounded resentful by the end of the article of having to be frugal that day. 🙂

  • Romanian May 28, 2013, 3:03 am

    Great job with your very cheap day! You actually had some great food there and looking back at everything, it does look like something that can be turned into a regular day. And cooking at home is the secret 🙂

    Regarding the question at the end of the post, I just started getting into this whole budgeting thing (just finished my first month of planning and keeping track of expenses) and there’s a lot of that that we can trim and we’ll hopefully be able to do it soon!

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