Setting a budget when no longer employed and living off capital
February 28, 2015 3:00 AM   Subscribe

I have the equivalent of 18 months' salary in hand and am planning to live on it as long as I can whilst pursuing my writing plans. How can I best manage my spending?

A couple of events recently have meant I have in hand the equivalent of about 18 months' salary. I had some credit card debt, which I have paid off, and now don't have any debts except for my mortgage. My current full-time job ends next week.

I have always done bits and pieces of writing and think this is my opportunity not to go back to full-time work but to try to write a book - and I don't underestimate the effort that goes into that. I am also hoping to do occasional part-time consultant work which will hopefully mean I can go on longer without looking for full-time work. I do realise that even if I succeed with writing I will probably need a proper job again eventually, but would like to put that off as long as possible.

I am bad at managing money. I have put a lot of effort in the past into keeping records of what I spend, but I have never done anything with these accounts. I spend too much, eg on food and on books, especially when I feel low. I'm not good at self-control re money. I now really want to spend less in order to have more time not working. How can I work out what I "should" be spending? I don't want to be too thrifty as it's important to me to, for instance, spend money on family, visit museums and libraries in other towns and so on but I do want to spend less than I was spending as someone with a secure job and a decent income.

I'm not looking for tips on saving money so much as more over-arching stuff on how I can draw the line between thrifty and extravagant. How do I set a budget for myself and is there a way of monitoring what I spend without tracking each purchase?

Any tips on the practicalities of managing outgoings when living off capital would be helpful too. Most of my money is currently in a savings account so am I best to move a set amount of money from that to my current account each month, or to keep a specific balance in my current account and top it up from my savings account periodically? Friends and family have told me I should invest the money in order to get some interest, but I'm not sure whether this is worth it given I would need to access the money over time to live on.

I'd also appreciate any advice on managing the effect of depression and anxiety on spending and money management.

I'm in the UK, if that makes a difference to answers. Thanks for your help.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (18 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
First congratulations on having a savings and time to write! That's exciting and I wish you luck in your book-writing endeavors.

I first heard about YNAB on Metafilter. It uses the envelop method which I feel like would be the best approach for you. In the day before the internets you'd label a bunch of envelopes and put aside money in each one for your key needs: food, utilities, mortgage, etc. YNAB takes this to a whole new level and folks here seem to love it. I plan to sign up myself.

One thing that helped me when I was in a similar situation as you is that I pared down my expenses to just the necessities and gave myself a treat on occasion. That reduced my anxiety about living off of my savings. So maybe you could use the envelope method to allocate, say, 30 a month for books (or whatever makes sense for you), and pare down your spending across the board so that at the end of each month if you have any surplus you can put it in a special envelope labeled something like "I need a lift" for those times when you're feeling down and you want to buy yourself a treat.

Good luck!
posted by lillian.elmtree at 3:45 AM on February 28, 2015 [5 favorites]

What I do is to have a couple of different bank accounts, one for household bills, and one for coffees and museums and handbags or whatever. I have an auto-transfer that puts the right amount of money in each account every month. Then controlling spending is just a matter of looking in the coffee/handbag account and seeing how much is left for the month.

I worked out how much I "should" be spending by going for the smallest amount that I thought was realistic. So, if it was too small I'd probably end up blowing through it and just giving up and borrowing from the savings.
posted by emilyw at 4:01 AM on February 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Regarding your question about thrifty versus extravagant, it depends entirely on you, your preferences, your environment, and how much money you have.

Since your goal is to try to stretch what you have, I'd suggest that you try seeing how it feels to pick thrifty over extravagant for a few weeks. You mention that you tend to overspend and have some emotional spending, so put a time limit around it and give it a try. What picking thrifty means for you could mean an extreme no-spending plan (except for fresh produce, paying a bill) where you do things like walking or biking instead of buying gas for your car, or it might just mean scaling down from a latte to a drip coffee.

Good luck!
posted by chocotaco at 4:08 AM on February 28, 2015

You don't mention much about your living arrangements - for instance, where in the UK you are; whether you own or rent; whether you live with family, a partner, alone, etc.

If you're in London or the south-east, you're going to find your capital running out a lot faster than if you're in Sunderland, Rotherham or wherever. People live in expensive places, and pay the high cost of living, because those places are where the highly paid jobs are - you're now in the enviable situation of not having to care much about where the jobs are and being able to live in the place that's right for you and not your employer.

I'm not saying do an Orwell and move to the Isle of Jura, but consider your current living arrangements and location and think about whether you couldn't extend your 'runway' by relocating somewhere less affluent. Hell, if you can, go and rent a place in a cheap little seaside town for six months and really knuckle down and write! Moving somewhere smaller would also reduce your outgoings because you'd have less opportunity to go and buy expensive coffees, gig tickets, whatever. You have to work out for yourself what trade-offs you want to make in those terms.

I am currently doing the same because I'm career-changing - I'm living in a cheap area off savings, doing bits and bobs of part-time work here and there to extend the savings and gain experience in my chosen field. I do the same as emilyw, two bank accounts, one for the actual savings and one for the income from my work and freelancing. Treats come out of the working income account, regular bills from the savings account. (When there's excess in the working account, I transfer some into the savings.) That way, I know exactly how long I have left.

Aside from that, I haven't had to make too many cutbacks because my lifestyle wasn't that expensive to start with. One of the big pluses from no longer working-full time for me is transport costs. Where I was sloshing £20-30 a week of petrol into the car to drive to the office and back daily, I'm now spending next to nothing. You'll find that having a job was a lot more expensive than you thought!

Good luck! :)
posted by winterhill at 4:15 AM on February 28, 2015 [6 favorites]

You might find Mr. Money Mustache interesting. He's all about being frugal so that you can retire early. The forums are full of people who will be dubious about your plan, but might have useful advice nonetheless.

If you can change your fixed/non-negotiable expenses, like by moving to a cheaper apartment or giving up/trading in your car for something less expensive, now is the time to do it. Could you even do this in a cheaper city? A cheaper country?

Also, it might help with the emotional spending if you start thinking about every purchase you don't make as an opportunity to spend more time writing? If you get your expenses down to $1000 a month, every $30 is another day you can write. Just $30 for a full day to live your life the way you want to!

Finally, would you consider doing some casual or part-time work during this period? Mostly people can't write 16 hours a day. If you can get some work that doesn't tire you out for the writing it will make your money go much further.
posted by mskyle at 4:15 AM on February 28, 2015 [6 favorites]

I'd also appreciate any advice on managing the effect of depression and anxiety on spending and money management.
Seriously, in my personal experience as an introspective person, being on your own in your head is a difficult thing to manage once you've actually wangled yourself a stretch of free time. The outside perspective you get from just brushing up against other people doing day-to-day things is important to maintain mental health, I think. Have you ever found yourself unable to get out of bed because of depression/anxiety? If so I suggest you're going to need some kind of tether to the outside world during your stint of writing. Nothing overwhelming or critical, maybe volunteer in a charity shop twice a week or something, or volunteer as a walker in a dogs' home. Or, if you can find one that's easy to just do and leave behind at the end of the day, a part-time job even. (Because while you wouldn't need the money yet, it would stop your savings dwindling too rapidly.) I believe temping for an agency is one way of not being too invested in a workplace, if you can do it part-time.

Sorry if this suggestion isn't helpful. But I do know people working as creators with part-time jobs and as well as bringing in the readies it keeps them sane. For people who have trouble starting - or finishing - or who have problems with their mood - or guilt about working - having a regular obligation can function like a prompt to their creativity and a reminder to use what time they have well.

All the best.
posted by glasseyes at 4:16 AM on February 28, 2015 [8 favorites]

Check out's forums. Lots of thrifty people there who can help you cut back and increase your frugality. I'm sure you could get a reality check from the folk there.

All of this comment is assuming you won't be going into debt during this time. Right now, your credit card is your enemy. This is also assuming that you didn't save anything during the time you had a salary coming in and started and ended your month with nothing in your bank account. Obviously, this is a simplified view of events. The amount of money you have saved up is amount A.

What I would do is first work out what the necessary monthly expenses are. These are things like shelter, food, clothing, water, the gas bill, etc. Pulling some numbers out of thin air, you might need £500 for your mortgage, £100 for food essentials (more on this in a bit), but you already have enough clothes and don't need to buy more so you need £0 for that. Total up the cost of everything that you need to pay out monthly. Multiply that by the amount of months you're wanting to do this thing for. A good starting point is 18 months, because if you make no changes to your spending at all, that's how long you can afford to live for on the amount of money you have. This is amount B.

Next, work out how much you generally spend on fun things, like going to museums and visiting libraries. Be honest, and include the taxi fare to the museum, the entrance fee, the coffee and muffin in the coffee shop, the taxi fare back, etc. Work out how much it costs you to visit family also. Perhaps you get a taxi there too, and take your mom a bunch of flowers, or something. Roll together all of the fun things that you spend money on, which includes going through your Amazon orders list for the past year and adding up all of the total figures for each order. This is amount C.

Lets use £18k as a figure for the amount you have saved (amount A). Subtract amounts B and C from A. If B is £10K and C is £3k, then you have £5k left to play with. If B is £10k and C is £8k, then you're getting extremely close to the line. When you have these figures, you can move on to the next step.

Stop and think about your last visit to the museum. Maybe it cost you £40 all in for the experience. Ask yourself if you got £40 worth of value from it. Did you really enjoy it? If you did, then it's money well spent (the distilled essence of frugality). If you didn't, then it was a waste of money. Could you have spent that money on something else that you would have gotten £40 worth of value from? Perhaps you could have applied it towards something a little more nebulous, like your mortgage. It would have been less exciting, but paying your mortgage is an Essential, not a Fun. You're not in a position where you can spend all of your money on Funs any more. If you can apply that spare £5k to your Essentials, then you can live of your savings much longer. Pare your Essentials (B) down to a reasonable degree, but pare your Funs (C) down as much as possible.

This is where your budget comes in, along with the value factor. If you get 100% value from that £40 trip to the museum, keep it. If you get 75% value from the trip, try to chop 25% of the cost from it. Instead of getting the taxi (I'm assuming that you enjoy the museum part of the trip more than the taxi ride), could you get the bus? Could you save even more money by walking (and then apply the money you saved to another trip to the museum)? Sometimes I treat myself to a box of Jaffa cakes. In my local shop, the McVities brand of Jaffa cakes are £1.65. The value brand is just 50p, less than a third of the cost, and they're still pretty tasty. I still get to have Jaffa cakes (the Fun), but at a lower cost which enables me to either have more Jaffa cakes or put the money towards worrying about my Essentials less. If I do the latter, I make sure to apply the £1.15 I save to the Essentials pot, rather than metaphorically releasing it into the aether. If I'm not getting any value from a Fun I've spent money, something that has happened an embarrassingly large amount of times, I make sure to try to recoup some of the cost by selling the book on Amazon and remember to think about that book next time I want to go shopping. Stop and examine all of your Funs, even (especially!) the tiny ones, to see whether they're giving you 100% value. it's easy to think "Oh, it's just £4 for a coffee and another £2 for a muffin", but do you ever even think about that coffee and muffin after you've eaten it? If I asked you what sort of muffin you had last time you went out, would you be able to tell me? Did you really really enjoy it? If you're not getting the value, the worth, from a Fun, stop doing it or find a cheaper way to do it. If you stop doing a Fun, look for another cheaper one to replace it with. For less than a quid, you can buy a loaf of value bread and go to your local park to feed the ducks. you get exercise, fresh air, to see people who are walking their dogs, etc. If you still want muffins, go into your local Sainsburys and get a pack of $for £1.70.

Paring your essentials down is also a worthwhile activity that can yield some benefits. Can you turn your central heating down a degree? Can you put a pair of socks or a jumper on? Can you buy value brand food, which is often just as nice, instead of name brands? On a more extreme level, can you significantly alter your diet to view more expensive foods as Funs, rather than Essentials? Perhaps eat more vegetables and less lobster, saving the lobster for a weekend treat or a special occasion.

A thing I have found useful is keeping the Essentials money and the Fun money in separate accounts. The money in the Essentials account doesn't exist to me. I have it in a difficult to access account and I try to forget about it. As much as possible, anything that leaves that account does so without me having to do anything, such as electronically. Out of sight, out of mind. In my Fun account, though, I keep a very close eye on what is going on. When I buy something on Amazon, I use my credit card, then log in to my internet banking and send the money over to my credit card right away. This means that I a] don't carry a balance on my card and b] get to see in real time how much Fun money I have left to spend. I find it very easy to spend on plastic because I don't see the money vanishing. Doing this forces me to face the reality that I only have £x left in the account. If you don't want to track each purchase, knowing that you have £x per month to spend, and then after that there's nothing until next month, might help.

Frugality and thriftiness are often lumped together under the banner of "not spending money". The difference is that frugality is about spending money well and getting a good return. Thriftiness is about just not spending money at all. Frugal and thrifty types will both buy a 25kg bag of rice from the local Asian supermarket, because it's a good deal. Frugal types will buy a carton of sauce to go on the rice with the money they saved, whereas thrifty types will not. Thrifties are ALL about the Essentials, like rice. You don't need sauce on the rice, so why have it, the Thriftie thinks. Frugalites know that the sauce on the rice, a Fun, is part of what makes like worth living. Who wants to eat just boiled rice? Having Fun is an Essential, otherwise what's the point? How much Fun you have is the thing to keep an eye on, especially as you want to keep your Essentials as long as possible. It is completely OK to have Funs, but make sure you view them as Funs, not Essentials-by-default. Having lobster for dinner every night becomes humdrum and mundane after a while and can start to be viewed as an Essential, when it actually isn't.

Regarding depression and anxiety, it might be helpful to examine what it is about spending money that distracts you. The Ask staple Feeling Good gets recommended here a lot, but that's because it's a really good book that teaches you better ways of thinking. Through reading the book, I realised that for me, it's all about the "having a new thing" experience. I don't necessarily want the new trinket, I just want something that is new and unfamiliar to give my brain something other to do than whirl in circles. Learning to crochet has really helped with that. Having to focus on the stitches and the pattern uses up some of that anxious energy and provides a distraction, and I get something new at the end of it. My latest project was a ribbed crocheted hat, and I get a little thrill every time I see it. Not only did I experience less anxiety, I have something to be proud of - a new hat to keep my head warm. For me anyway, anxiety and depression are sometimes caused by boredom and repetitiveness. It might be this way for you too.
posted by Solomon at 4:37 AM on February 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also, the book The Richest Man in Babylon really helped me. The important info from the book is on Wikipedia.
posted by Solomon at 4:38 AM on February 28, 2015

> guilt about working

Sorry to double-post, but this is something I've had to contend with on my current journey, too. I also suffer from anxiety and felt guilty - almost overwhelmingly so - about not working 'enough,' not spending 'enough' time on activities I felt were productive like job-hunting, chasing work, etc.

It's something I think we get instilled in us at a very early age, depending on our upbringing - the negative idea that only working 40 hours a week for an employer is a 'valid' lifestyle choice and that anything else is at best lazy, and at worst a road to ruin. I certainly have to contend with that attitude from family at present, and it's really difficult. I feel guilty when I spend more than I 'have to' on anything, whether it's a trip out walking in the countryside or a chocolate bar.

I have to repeatedly tell myself that I'm harming absolutely no-one with my current choice of lifestyle, that I'm supporting myself, that nothing I'm doing is wrong, and that by mixing up a bunch of freelance and part-time work while training for a new career I'm actually increasing my resilience in a world where the nature of employment is changing. Clinging onto the freakishly Puritan notion that you have to give your entire waking life away to an employer, or be pursuing that by 'job seeking,' is really internally damaging. Starting to let go of that and rationalise my current life to myself has been something that's really helped me.

Again, sorry to ramble on, but I just wanted to share a little of how my own anxiety is shaping my current non-standard career path and financial life.
posted by winterhill at 4:41 AM on February 28, 2015 [5 favorites]

Oh! Also, cook! When you're working full-time, the easiest - often the only - option for eating is to roll into your house exhausted from the commute at 6:45pm, throw some sort of pre-prepared frozen item from the supermarket into the oven and veg out in front of the One Show for 20 minutes while it heats up.

When you're not working full-time, cooking properly is not only a big money-saver but also really rewarding - I love to spend time making proper meals from fresh food, I love to get out and about to local farm shops and markets to get the freshest and nicest (and often cheapest) veg and because I'm on my own I also freeze them for days where I'm a bit busy to cook. Getting away from the computer and into the kitchen for a while each evening breaks up the day.

We sort of lose these little things from our lives when we give them over to long hours with an employer - everything's got to be instant, fast, easy, done for us as much as possible and we lose a lot of pleasure and skill from these little day-to-day tasks. Freelancing and having some time off is fantastic for regaining them.

Okay, going now... !
posted by winterhill at 4:51 AM on February 28, 2015 [5 favorites]

Make a mental checklist over the next three days of what you actually enjoy doing and using. If you love movies but hate television, then get rid of your television service and use a less expensive movie service. If you buy groceries and then eat every meal out, then stop buying groceries. If you wear the same pair of jeans every day, stop buying clothes. We all have social expenses- things that we purchase because we've always purchased them, because everyone purchases them. I stopped buying bread for a month and no one reported me for anything. Get rid of your social purchases.

Clean out your house. Get rid of everything you haven't used in the last year and store the things that you didn't use in those three days, to get rid of next month. You need a clean space for your writing anyway. Having fewer things around you puts you in a more minimalistic state of mind. The less you have, the better you feel about having less.
posted by myselfasme at 7:05 AM on February 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

One thing I would look into is pre-paying any static bills you have. You might have to call each billing entity to rig this up, but pre-paying netflix if you've got it, your broadband bill, cell contracts, even your mortgage might be possible. That way, you just don't need to worry about it at all, and sometimes theres even discounts applied to pre-paying stuff like that.

I've known freelancers who do this when a big contract of theirs is about to end and they're effectively unemployed for an undefined amount of time.

Also, 2nding cooking at home; that'll just save you a bunch of money over the long haul, since you'll have the time to put into it. If you don't already, nail down a couple of your favorite dishes. Even go overboard and put time and effort into making your favorite restaurant dishes.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:33 AM on February 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hi, fellow emotional spender/lover of extravagance here.

It's a daily struggle for me. I have used spending as a band-aid for depression and anxiety; and even when I go a few weeks or months living thrifty and staying the course, I have then found myself "rebounding" and going on a spending binge where I'd rack up credit card debt once again. My therapist once pointed out to me, "That means your financial goals [to save, to pay down a debt, to put an end to specific bad spending habits] were not realistic." This is the key thing to remember whenever you are planning, reviewing or reevaluting your financial goals and your budget. Is your plan to keep your spending in check realistic?

Becoming realistic about my spending goals meant two things:

1. Get rid of ANY and ALL possibility that I will spend money irresponsibly. If a credit card is with me, I am tempted to use it, and I will use it. This means that by keeping a credit card on my person, I am putting myself at risk because I am now a (spending) addict with unmitigated access to my drug of choice (credit cards). This means freezing my credit cards in a block of ice. It also means taking out my allotted spending money for that week in cash. Once it's gone, it's gone. Say buh-bye to the debit card. Debit cards are almost worse than credit cards, because they alienate you from your money by making it easy to forget how much you've spent and how much you have left. I also love the idea noted in an earlier comment to have a few different checking accounts - one for bills, one for groceries/gas, one for incidentals like coffee and movie tickets. This is a good solution for those who don't feel comfortable carrying cash, or find it a hassle. And you can still use a debit card this way (although cash is still more "in your face" when it comes to seeing how much you've spent/how much you have left every time you go to grab it).

2. Find new, no-cost ways to express my love of luxury and indulgence. Sometimes I confuse spending and possessions with my identity. When I realized that I was trying to construct and justify my identity through spending, I also realized that what I was doing was not in line with some of the people I most admire. The people I most admire are do-ers and make-ers and live-ers, not spenders They, in my opinion, live the most luxurious lives of anyone I know.

Things that are luxurious that don't cost any money/much money:

- Learning the art of cooking from scratch. Which also means learning the art of proper kitchen knife handling. Proper kitchen knife skills and cooking skills are very luxurious. Who doesn't love that classy friend that knows how to wield a chef's knife and whip up a gorgeous meal from scratch ingredients? Pre-prepped vegetables and take-out are not luxurious. Every time I'm tempted to order Thai or buy a bag of pre-cut stir fry vegetables, I remind myself of this fact. Now that you're not working a full time job, you have more time (and fewer excuses) to rely on take-out and other pre-prepped food stuffs that are far costlier than what you can pick up at the farmer's market. (Likewise: farmer's markets are also luxurious, and pleasurable to shop at, and affordable.)

- You may need to enjoy the outdoors for this to be relevant, but I finally discovered hiking. In addition to hiking my local trails and parks, I developed an interest in mycology and food foraging. So on nice days, I take my camera with me to the trails, and put in five or six miles of hiking while I take time to also photograph all of the mushrooms I see. Then, when I get home, I pull out my field guides and spend time identifying the mushrooms. Without spending any money at all, I get to enjoy nature, exercise, and improve my knowledge of a topic that excites me. Nature is luxurious; learning is luxurious.

- Meditation and yoga (or just stretching in general). Stretching is one of the most underrated luxuries, and it costs nothing! You do not need to go to a bunch of yoga classes. Rent videos and books from your local library. There are very few bottles of red wine that can compete with the intoxicating feeling I get from just ten minutes of quiet, deep stretching and using a foam roller. I am not kidding.

- Speaking of the library, the library is luxurious. Use it. I used to blow SO MUCH MONEY on books. Oh my goodness. And not only did I spend tons on the cost of books, but then I was forever damned to lug these books with me whenever I moved. At one point, it took 30+ boxes to move all of the books I owned. I later realized that there were only a few books that were important enough to me to keep on a shelf (by a few, I still mean about two book shelves worth, but this is better than the previous six book shelves worth). The rest I could accept picking up at the library when needed. If your local library doesn't have the book, DVD or other media you're looking for, I'm pretty certain the UK also has an inter library loan system involving WorldCat? At most, you pay a small fee for shipping.

- "Shop your closet." Whenever you're tempted to buy new clothes, or a pantry item, or a new book or gadget, look at what you already own. Are you using what you already own? Are there things you forgot that you own, that would be just as good if not better for your current needs than having to buy something new? Don't you remember why you bought the stuff you already own, in the first place? Was it to shove it in your closet and forget it, or to use it? This takes some serious examination and effort, because buying something "new" is always easier and far more stimulating. But it's often the things that require effort that lead us to the greatest happiness.

- To build on the last point: what books do you own, but haven't read yet? Do you have hobbies that you bought supplies for, but they're now sitting around and collecting dust? Pick one thing that you already have supplies for, and schedule a day to spend time tinkering with it. I find that when I do this, I am not only happier, but I got what I wanted out of my day without spending more money.

- If you DO spend money on something other than the necessities, let it be on an experience: travel (within reason, and at a reasonable cost, of course), or taking or auditing a class on a subject you've always been curious about. You'll always remember your experiences, and experiences are valuable whether they turn out great or bad. I can't remember 90% of the junk I've bought in my lifetime.

Also, putting money into savings and conservative investments is luxurious. I'd personally advise you to take six of your eighteen months worth of income and put it into a high interest savings account; or look into low-fee investment plans. Most people don't even have one month's worth of income in their savings. If I had eighteen, I'd definitely jump at the chance to put six months into a safe and reliable investment. You are paying and caring for your future self.
posted by nightrecordings at 7:34 AM on February 28, 2015 [13 favorites]

Something else on the maintaining mental health front, and this is hindsight from when I had a chance to do something similar. Write out your goals, hopes and wishes before you begin your project. Update regularly: note what steps you've taken and how they are working out. Note any amendments to your original ideas. Note and comment successes and analyse why they happened. This is for you to look through after you've come to the end (of your money?) to better assess what you've achieved.

Because goals have a habit of shifting as we're in the process of reaching them, and it's helpful for self-critical people to have some way of measuring progress that's not completely subjective. The measuring method, I mean. Also it's a way of thinking through the likelihood of what is achievable, or practical, or ideal, or would need a great stroke of luck, or would need a particular amount of hard graft, right at the beginning of your project.
posted by glasseyes at 8:02 AM on February 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Random thoughts, here (hopefully not too many duplicates):

1-a) I've been living without a paycheck for a couple of years, now. This has been possible due to a combination of savings and some education/living expenses disbursements from a family trust set up for that specific purpose.

Most everyone here is suggesting some form of hard limit on access to your funds, and I'm in agreement.

I get x money at the outset of each month from the trust, budgeted annually in advance. That's all I can get from that spigot. Then I have savings, which I try to ignore -- but can pry open if I really need to -- for things like emergency airfare or what have you.

(To clarify, I'm not jetsetting. I was honest with the trust when this was set up, and only pull out the rough equivalent of what I used to earn, which was a relatively modest sum by US standards. As a vague reference point, more or less the "living wage" [poverty wage x 110%] for my metro, plus 25%.)

1-b) Hey, they have municipalities with living wage ordinances in the UK, right? I know I recently researched London's for a school project and that -- adjusted for exchange rates/cost of living -- it's not too far off from my US municipality's defined rate. You could use your local number to help set your budget.

2) To borrow the model that Solomon describes, I'm a Frugal type. I enjoy quality living (excellent food, well-made things, the occasional "experience"), but I don't like the feeling of losing control over my outlay. I don't "worry" about spending a little extra for something that feels good, but I'm fairly good at knowing when that something ultimately won't feel good. In other words, I'll not blink at an unplanned prix fixe dinner because life is better with a good dinner, but I've always got my running tally going. That's where the portion-controlled monthly servings of money come in. I've previously budgeted for y surprise good meals in a given period.

3) Yeah, since you aren't waiting on a staggered series of paychecks, try to knock out as many expenses as possible as early in the month. This way, there's less stuff hanging out there to foul up your daily internal budgeting. If you subscribe to things, look in to paying for them a year in advance, which will often mean a small discount.

4) Mental state can monkey with this sort of system. I set up my thing in service of ultimately pursuing a personal goal. Around this time last year, it was becoming clear that I wasn't in the right place to achieve that goal, and I got depressed. My "quality of life" spending definitely increased. But you know what? I was able to reign that back in, because the whole process had made me more mindful of these sorts of dynamics.

5) For me, one really helpful thing to do was to shift my concept of what sorts of purchases made me "feel good." There's a difference between "wasting" money on a movie night, and "wasting" it on a really nice piece of clothing that will bring pleasure for years. Another shift was to move from enjoying the newness of a thing (brand new really-nice piece of clothing) to enjoying that thing itself (slightly used really-nice piece of clothing, from eBay, for 75% off). This is a refocusing of psychological energy from spending to investing. In my personal experience, it's harder for me to get compulsive about the latter.

6) Credit cards for credit-building/maintenance only. My credit union starts new cardholders off at a low limit, which works well as an added control. $40-odd per month, paid off fully when due.
posted by credible hulk at 10:02 AM on February 28, 2015

I once read something -- maybe a magazine article -- that talked about someone they once knew who was the child of a single mom. When things were especially tight or when there was a savings goal happening, the child would tell their friend (or cousin?) -- using some specific phrase that I can't recall -- that basically it was fine to spend time together, but they needed to try to keep themselves entertained for free, basically.

I will suggest that if it costs money and it is something you view as "entertainment" or a "time filler" or a "nice to have," you need to try to give it up entirely, if at all possible. Try to find a way to meet that need without spending money. Your example of books is a good one to start with: I have always been a big reader and have, at times, owned lots of books. But I have also gone through periods where I just spent lots of time at the library and checked out books regularly because I simply did not have money to spend on books but I was not going to stop reading. Happily, these days, you can also get lots of books for free online (e-readers, etc).

However, in order to make this really work, do realize that you may need to think deeply about some things. You may find that some things that you think of as "entertainment" are actually more vital than that. You may find, for example, that trips to museums cannot be replaced with something else because you need that to support your writing process -- that it is a form of research or education and you simply stop functioning without in the way that you need to function if a book is going to happen. So while it helps to consider just about anything as being on the chopping block, you may need to be flexible and not too quick to be judge-y about specific expenses. It may take a bit to really wrap your head around which expenses can go and which are going to stubbornly persist and simply need to be accepted.

For example: I have a long history of eating out or buying foods that others consider pricey luxury items. But I also have serious health problems and my diet significantly impacts my health. At some point, I had to make my peace with the fact that cutting my food budget past a certain point is just not realistic and that sometimes going to whatever happens to be my current go-to diner is the cheapest thing I can do right at that moment because it's the quickest, cheapest, most effective means to take care of myself and not have my health deteriorate (because of my genetic disorder, my health can very rapidly deteriorate if I am not on top of things at all times). This has long frustrated me, but I did eventually make my peace with the fact that trying to get the food budget down too low was simply not realistic for me and that, whatever I spend on food, it is cheap compared to the medical bills I could wind up with instead if I don't eat right.
posted by Michele in California at 10:13 AM on February 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

A good way to find out how much spending you can realistically cut down is to take a hard look at how you've spent in the past. I suggest setting up a account and go through several months of spending to look at what your trends have been. If you've previously spent $500/month on groceries, it's not going to be reasonable to expect yourself to cut down to $100/month instantly.
posted by mchorn at 10:04 AM on March 1, 2015

Unfortunately, Mint doesn't exist in the UK. I do it the hard way, by going through all my online bank statements for the last few months, dropping them all in excel and categorising all my spending. I've done it about one every 18 months or so, because it's a bit of work, but it's really useful.

This is really timely question for me because, and I'm loving all the answers your getting. All being well, I'm going to change careers soon and drop up to half my salary, at least for a few years. I've been prepping for it for a while, cutting down all my expenses and living off my future budget now. There's two benefits, one, I know that I can live off less, and two, all the money I'm not spending is going on my mortgage and savings.

I don't always like the tone, but seconding money saving expert for tips and ideas. There are current accounts with better rates than ISA's right now, I'd no idea. There not a lot there that will make you rich, but it will help you make the money you've got go a little further.

All my friends know the situation, that I might not be able to afford to keep up with them. It helps that one friend has just finished her degree, so she knows the score. Also, it's the one advantage of being in London, public transport is cheaper and easily available, and there is a ton of free and low cost things to do.

The other thing I've done with my budget is look at my savings and worked out how much is my emergency fund which I must not touch, and also ring fenced some on top of that to cover potential big vet bills or flat bills. And there's a bit for a nice holiday sometime :-) Basically, I've got a safety net, it's not perfect, if there's a couple of big crises I could be screwed or at least I'd wipe out all my savings. But I'd be less screwed than I would be without them there. I will still be earning a salary though, which will cover my day to day stuff.

Other things I've done, take advantage of having a good salary right now, it's not as much about ekeing out the money, but about putting me in a good position to survive off less. So I've fixed my mortgage. It might end up costing more in the long run, but it takes away the uncertainty, and it means I can plan around it. And I've fixed a lot of things in the flat that needed doing, to avoid more costly bills down the road. And I'm going to get my eyes tested, and go to the dentist as well.

Also, I've grown my hair out and stopped dyeing it. That is saving me a mint each month...

Also seconding all the suggestions for walking, libraries and cooking. Love Food, Hate Waste has lots of recipes for using leftovers.
posted by Helga-woo at 4:29 PM on March 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

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