What is your survival budget?


What is your survival budget?

We are all living a different lifestyle, some spending more than others, with a monthly budget that is made of several categories:

Absolute necessities, needs, wants, savings and long term financial plans, debt reduction and credit cards payments.


My question today is: if disaster struck tomorrow, what would be your absolute survival budget?

You are probably wondering about the difference between an absolute necessity and a need. Glad you asked.

An absolute necessity is a roof over your head. A need is paying your mortgage. In case of financial hardship, you may have to sell your house, and get a smaller one. For one or two people, let’s say a studio flat is an absolute necessity. For a family of four, it would be a two bedrooms, with the kids sharing a room.

What if you are underwater with your mortgage? In this case it may be cheaper to keep the expensive house you bought instead of taking your loss. I think you get the picture. Absolute necessities is a bare bones budget. Food is an absolute necessity. But we are talking rice, noodles, eggs and enough calories to keep you going. No name brand, meat or processed foods.

And so on. We all know we are supposed to live on a budget. But on a survivor’s budget, things are different. There is no more cellphone plan, no more car, no more buying clothes and no more savings. Just the minimum payments on your debt, and the basics for housing and food. You don’t need a car to go to work, even if work is far away and you live in a remote area. You can walk, cycle, take the bus or carpool. That is how low the survival mode budget is.

Do the math, add it all up. Remember to include only things you can’t live without. Cable subscriptions and tech gadgets aren’t allowed in there. Apart from the minimum payment on your credit cards, chances are you won’t be able to save or contribute to retirement. Or set aside anything.

We are talking tremendous financial disaster. How long could you survive on your bare bones budget?

My grocery bill for two is more than a month’s salary here. Yet local people are able to eat, and are generally feeding more than two people on that money. Actually, it is about all they do with their money. They build a house from a little bit of this and another bit of that on a land they don’t own, pay $2 a month for water and another $10 for electricity, then all the rest goes to food, soap bars and cleaning supplies, there isn’t much room for anything else.

I could reduce my grocery bill to that level if I really needed to. It would probably lead to a quite unhealthy diet with not enough proteins but you have to do what you have to do if you can’t make ends meet.

I am not advising that you go into survival mode today, far from it. Actually I hope you will NEVER have to get that far. But it is good to know what your absolute minimum budget is. Why?

Your emergency fund may cover 3 months of normal living expenses, and 8 months of bare bones budget. Which is comforting while you beef it up a bit more.

Say you make $2,000 each, and your normal spending is $3,500. If bare bones is $1,000, you may realize that on one salary, or $2,000, you could live quite well, and have one spouse stay at home.

You may accept a lower paying position to improve your quality of life, work closer to home or shorter hours, and yet still know that there is a bit of fat on your budget.

The perspective of life’s disasters will be less daunting. If you lose your job, you don’t need to replace 100% of your income, if you are able to live on 30% for a while.

Like I said before, this survival mode budget has a lot of drawbacks.

  • You will stop contributing to retirement
  • You will only make minimum payments on your debt and it will take forever times a million to pay it.
  • You will have difficult housing conditions and an unbalanced food diet.
  • Replacing things like clothes and household items that you will have to do at some point will be a struggle.

It is just a small mental exercise to see how well you can weather a financial storm, and put into perspective all the things you do have today and take for granted. My survival budget is mostly food and gas to cook since my house is paid for, so I would need about $150 per month. $10 for gas, $100 for food, $10 for electricity just to keep the fridge up and pump water up to the house, $10 to take the bus to the supermarket and $20 to replace something broken. Over the past few months, I have spent about six years of that budget on house improvements and living costs. You definitely get some perspective.

This post was featured on Eyes on the Dollar, thanks!


What do you think your survival budget is? How far is your regular budget from that number?

A 30 something French girl embarking on a journey towards Financial Independence. I blog about money, travel, simple and deliberate living, freedom and choices. You can find me on Twitter, Google+, or Reach Financial Independence's Facebook Page

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  1. This is exactly why emergency funds are so important. Having the money to live for 8 months is key to not only making sure that you don’t fall apart financially, but also so that you can have enough to cover the basic expenses.
    Justin@TheFrugalPath recently posted..Money Lessons That I’ve Learned from my GrandfatherMy Profile

  2. Our survival budget is definitely more than $150/month =) Heck, that’s our electric bill sometimes!
    But barebones survival is definitely significantly lower than what we spend right now. My guess is that it’s about half of what we currently spend.
    Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted..He Said She Said – Buy the CD, or Stream Music for Free?My Profile

  3. London is not the easiest place to have a reasonable survival budget. We would need £1500 a month minimum – our commuting costs are so high, that even with public transport (3 hours each way) we would need a lot of cash. Rent is South London is probably slightly cheaper than our mortgage, but a bedsit would still cost £800+ excluding council tax, bills, etc. That 1500 would leave us very little for food, if anything! Take out the cost of shelter and commuting and we would be RICH!
    Savvy Scot recently posted..The Evolution of CommunicationMy Profile

    • I imagine people’s jaws drop when you go back to Scotland and tell them how much things are in the South. £800 for a bedsit! I may have to raise my rents haha!

  4. Oooh, this was an interesting aspect! With rent, electricity, food, transportation and medicine, MY survival budget would be about $950-$1000 a month. Considering I`m currently living on $1260 a month, and money is already tight, I think about $1000 is as low as I could go.
    The Norwegian Girl recently posted..The Great Norwegian AdventureMy Profile

  5. We went over this before starting our business and I think it’s vital to have this in mind when looking at your E-Fund and fully funding it. Our survival budget is quite a bit lower than hat we currently spend. Not that we spend like crazy, but there are things that would be cut. Last I checked we were somewhere between 30-50% over it.
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted..What’s Your Definition of Insanity?My Profile

  6. LOVE this! Our survival budget would probably be somewhere around $2,000 since we would still have a mortgage.
    Michelle recently posted..Buying a House TipsMy Profile

  7. We have heaps of extra things in our budget that could be cut if we really needed to cut back. So i’m not concerned, but it would be interesting to work out.
    Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank recently posted..Game of Thrones Season 3 – Piracy is Coming to AustraliaMy Profile

  8. This one is a hard one to calculate because I would rid myself of many of the things that I own. I could probably live on $500 a month between us living on completely bare bones.
    Grayson @ Debt Roundup recently posted..Went In The Grocery Store For One Item, But….My Profile

  9. If we are talking “bare bones” survival I suppose my budget would be only a couple hundred dollars, assuming I had land that I could grow food and hunt on, wood to build fires, and herbs to replace medicine. I have started to look into the whole survivalist thing…not to the extreme, but there have been short-term disasters in the US such as winter storms that have knocked out gas and utilities for up to two weeks for people, as well as gasoline shortages such as on the east coast. I would like to spend more time preparing for these sorts of disasters so that I can personally provide for my family as well as for others that I know who might get hit in the same disaster.
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted..Bora York “Dreaming Free” Album Giveaway (5 Winners)My Profile

    • sounds like a good idea to be able to weather a winter storm. We stock gas because we have a boat now and could use some for the cars if we run low, I want to get something to purify the lake water in case we need to drink it as well.

  10. I am probably looking at less than $450/month since we don’t have a housing payment (well we have to pay stupid property taxes and insurance). I might even be able to wiggle this down even more depending on what I could cut from my insurance (I still feel this is a need not a want). The big food budget buster for us would be formula for the baby to make sure he stays nice and healthy. I can live on ramen and honey… he can’t… yet

    • Depending on what your emergency and need for survival is, if it is just affecting your family you should be able to clip coupon and get nearly free formula, if it is a zombie apocalypse and you haven’t stockpiled on formula, he better grow a tooth fast and get used to ramen haha. $450 is impressively low for a family, it must feel great to know that worst case scenario you can make it on one minimum wage income.

  11. Our house is way too big to be a survival only place, so we’d have to sell it. We should make enough to buy a small house outright. After that, we could live on probably $500-$1000 month for food, utilities, and household expenses if we’d have to cut out things like life insurance and retirement savings. Not fun, but it could be done.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Are Graduate Degrees Worth the Money?My Profile

  12. Timely post Pauline! I’m putting together my survival budget as we speak (see my last post). It’s not as austere as you’ve described, but it’s halfway there. Hopefully I’ll find something soon.
    Jose recently posted..The Axeman Cometh – Dealing with the Loss of a JobMy Profile

  13. Now that we are debt free aside from our mortgage, I think we could last a few years. That fact definitely helps me sleep at night.
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..So, You’ve Received a Windfall…Now What?My Profile

  14. Hmmm, interesting topic you brought up Pauline. I will have to give that some thought. It is good to know what our survival budget would be should anything happen. You have given me food for thought, as they say!
    Mackenzie recently posted..Dear College Newbie…My Profile

  15. Its hard to define a survival budget. Because survival means different things to different folks.

  16. Pauline, I found this to a very interesting post. The underlying point of recognizing the difference between a want, need, and necessity is great. I figured my bare bones budget once. With five children it was very scary.
    Jerry recently posted..Finding The Best Prepaid CardMy Profile

  17. Actually, my phone needs to be included in the survival budget. No phone means no call from the scheduling manger, means no work, means no income!
    Edward Antrobus recently posted..How Much Would You Pay to Save Time & Effort?My Profile

    • Do you get calls for just a day or on a weekly basis?
      My contractor walks around the village every morning to hire the builders that will come work for us that day, I would have a hard time dealing with the uncertainty.

      • It is daily scheduling. The long-term schedule for road-construction is really more of a road-map. How bad traffic is that day, the weather, how motivated the workers are that day, mistakes, scheduling conflicts all mean that it’s hard to know what is really going to happen more than a day in advance.

        There is a lot of uncertainty in being a day laborer, but during the busy times of the year, it’s not really a question of if, but where and how much.
        Edward Antrobus recently posted..How Much Would You Pay to Save Time & Effort?My Profile

  18. Great post about remembering the essentials. Thanks for this!

  19. This exercise is useful to figure out what you actually need. The biggest one for me is certainly housing. I pay $750/mo and that’s about 40% of all my spending. Including my rent, my survival budget would probably be about $1100/mo.
    CashRebel recently posted..Investing With Mosaic: Crowdfunding Solar EnergyMy Profile

    • Life is obviously meant to be lived above the survival line, but discerning what is essential and what is not can help cut down right now on things that don’t bring you value.

  20. Wow interesting post, especially seeing I was just reading about preparing for emergencies on another blog. I find it very responsible that you still advocate debt repayments. I can imagine many people would defer those, cause greater fees and the like.

    I do struggle making an ’emergency’ fund target, cause if things were really bad, I’d sell or rent out my place, and move home with my parents. Which would effectively make my money needs minimal – as they’d (if it was desperate) feed me for nothing. That would mean, train tickets? $30 monthly phone credit (the assumption is I’d be looking for a new job, and need it to get calls, but I could do without it)? All my insurances are annualised (health & house and contents), so I would be OK there.
    Sarah recently posted..Ways I ‘save’ moneyMy Profile

    • thanks Sarah, yes you should rather eat ramen and pay debt than eat well and snowball your debt in the wrong direction because digging yourself out of the hole will be even worse. Unless it is a zombie apocalypse, I’d recommend people pay debt.

  21. There’s lots of things we can do without really but in the UK housing is always an expensive item. If we downsized so had no mortgage and other costs were lower, we could survive on about 1/3rd of what we earn at the moment, although of course that would be quite a mserable existence. But our aim is not so much to cut our costs as to increase our income!
    John@MoneyPrinciple recently posted..Four principal income strategiesMy Profile

  22. Absolute survival mode of living in a studio apartment and eating like a college student again, I think I could get by on around $750 per month. Its certainly a scenario I hope I never find myself in, though!
    The First Million is the Hardest recently posted..Five Dumb Ways To Spend Your Tax RefundMy Profile

  23. If we had to cut back on everything our survival budget would include only our mortgage, food and lights. Thankfully we have a 6 month emergency fun to keep us afloat if we had an emergency. In a real emergency we’d rent out our condo and probably move in with my parents. Then our budget would be food only (assuming my parents would keep us for a while;-))
    KK @ Student Debt Survivor recently posted..Mean Spirited Friends: House HatersMy Profile

  24. When we bought our house we talked about what we could afford and we did a paper budget (number running really) of current expenses and what would happen if one of us lost our job etc. We removed all of our investments, entertainment, clothing reduced, no cell, tv,internet… you get the picture. It’s another reason why we never took the mortgage the bank offered us. We did keep in a vehicle as it was a necessity for me to get to work and since I work odd hours car pooling is not something I can do. I think it would really boil down to the situation at hand. What we did know is that we would have been fine living on one income. This is just another reason why we want to pay our mortgage off as soon as we can. I’m sure it’s easier said then done though. Great post.
    Canadianbudgetbinder recently posted..How I Paid Off My OSAP Loan FastMy Profile

  25. My survival budget is pretty close to my current budget, only because I don’t have permanent work. If I was truly unemployed, I could go back on food stamps, defer my student loans and my rent would cost about $400/mo. I walk or bike everywhere, don’t have health insurance or a credit card. I think about this a lot, as my EF is based on survival not luxuries.
    Do or Debt recently posted..Got Student Loans?My Profile

  26. Shannon @ The Heavy Purse says:

    Hmmm…I’d have to calculate what our survival budget would be. And I pray that I would never have to put it in action, but it’s a good exercise to do. We have a good-sized emergency fund, which has saved us before and gives me peace of my mind.

  27. I think survival budget is your emergency funds for rainy days or if you lost your jobs. I will follow the recommendation of financial guru like Suze Oman and Dave Ramsey to set aside at least 6 months of our living expenses. I believe within 6 months I can find a new source of income or business.
    My Wealth Desire recently posted..How to Save money on Car Fuel ConsumptionMy Profile

  28. I’m gonna jump into my monitor and get that bread!!!! That looks spectacular! Tammy and I meet once every month or two and run the numbers to be absolutely sure our spending is well below the survival line. It’s good to be trimming the fat wile we are doing well however. Gotta make hay while the sun shines.
    cj recently posted..Dart Lessons With Louie The LipMy Profile

  29. Nick @ ayoungpro.com says:

    This is a very interesting concept! Sadly, our survival budget has crept up over the last couple of years. Before we had a kid and we were paying off debt we were pretty much living on nothing. I ate skipped breakfast and ate cup-o-noodles for lunch every day. We were able to use less than 25% of our take home pay even with our mortgage!
    Nick @ ayoungpro.com recently posted..Apply for Every Job You SeeMy Profile

  30. Isa@creditcardshoppe says:

    Our survival budget is for a full year. However, we’ve also taken into consideration that if we really really needed to, we would move outside of the country where our money will stretch further and we could still enjoy a nice lifestyle.

  31. Thanks for the link, I am in good company.
    krantcents recently posted..Budgets and Diets Are a Waste of Time – Redux!My Profile


  1. […] it, namely, increase her income. But first, since she is a freelancer, she needs to know what her survival budget is, and how to stick to that for the time being, until things loosen up a […]

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