What Would “Bare Bones” Living Mean to You?

bare bones

A friend and I were discussing New Year’s plans the other day. She is resolving to get her debt under control and start saving more for retirement and her kids’ college funds.

“I’m cutting life down to the bare bones this year,” she said. “We’re not spending on anything extra until things are under control.”

So I said, “I guess that means you won’t be taking that trip to California you planned for the spring. That’s a shame.”

“Oh, no. We’re still going on that,” she said.

“But you could put that money toward your other goals. The trip’s still far enough off you could get your money back,” I said.

“Well, but we get so little time with the kids that we need that vacation.”

Hmmm, I thought. Keeping expensive vacations isn’t what I consider bare bones living. I was even less certain that this woman had a good plan when she proceeded to detail and justify all kinds of other expenses that they would be keeping. Pay TV (the kids need entertainment and hubby won’t give up sports), Netflix (kids need more entertainment), and pricey cell phone plans (because the kids have to text) were all on the “keep” list.

“But we’re giving up eating out and recreational shopping,” she said, virtuously. “We’re also giving up some of our favorite treat foods and buying as many new clothes.”

I didn’t say it out loud, but the sarcastic part of my brain was thinking, “Lady, this isn’t bare bones living. That’s hardly giving up anything at all.”

But then I thought that maybe “bare bones” is subjective. To me, bare bones living means giving up anything other than absolute necessities (food, shelter, utilities) and then finding ways to cut down spending on the necessities (using coupons at the grocery store, turning the heat up or down, driving less, selling a car if possible, or even trading down to an apartment or lower cost of living area for housing). It doesn’t mean keeping your sports channels and movie subscriptions.

However, people like my friend have a different view of money altogether. She’s been living a high lifestyle for so long that I’m sure her concessions seem like a big deal to her family. They’re probably appalled at giving up new clothes and meals out. These small sacrifices feel like huge losses to them. And, to be fair, for someone who’s been overspending for years those changes are likely to add up to a fair amount of savings. Probably not nearly as much as they need to reach the goals they want to achieve, but it will be something.

I think that defining what it means to live bare bones (for you) can be one of those things that is useful to do before you really reach that point. It’s like knowing what you would do in a financial emergency or severe weather. Knowing what you would drop and strip out of your budget if you had to (and how you would go about making those changes) is a useful, if not fun, thing to think about. If you lose your job or need to save up money, you’d know what you could do to achieve bare bones living.

There may come a point where you don’t get to choose what constitutes bare bones living. My friend can pick and choose right now because her family isn’t in an emergency situation. They have debt and little savings, but they can still meet their obligations. It’s okay for her right now to delude herself into “needing” to keep certain luxuries. If one of them were to lose a job, however, or get sick, they would quickly find out what bare bones really means. That or they would be crushed underneath their debt load.

Of course, you don’t have to lose a job or become disabled to experiment with bare bones living. You can try to go a month without purchasing any extras while saving on your necessities. It gives you a chance to see how you could survive and can be useful for saving up money quickly. At the end of your experiment you may find that there are things you don’t want to add back into your budget. If, for example, you’re fine without pay TV, the don’t add it back in and pocket the savings. Bare bones living isn’t the same for everyone, but it’s one of those concepts that bears some thought before you really need to know what it means to you.

(Photo courtesy of Jeff Kubina)

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9 Responses to What Would “Bare Bones” Living Mean to You?

  1. Liz says:

    My line of thinking re: “bare bones” spending is much more in line with yours. It’s only spending money on what you need to get by (food, shelter, utilities, etc).

  2. I like the idea of an experiment. I’m actually putting something together on my blog about that. I think EVERYONE is able to give up at least one budget item for a few months.

  3. LuckyRobin says:

    That is definitely not bare bones living. There is plenty of meat on those bones. She’s only trimming a bit of the fat away.

  4. Debbie M says:

    My idea of bare bones living is less than hers. But real bare bones living probably doesn’t involve housing, let alone utilities. Maybe you don’t even get the luxury of having all the nutrients you need, at least not short-term.

  5. Cindy says:

    You really still have “friends” like this? Just kidding.

  6. Katherine says:

    Bare bones spending to me would be cutting out everything that is absolutely not necessary. No cellphone, no cable, cut your own grass, make food from scratch. Act as if you didn’t have a job and no money coming in what all could you do without. On a positive note, your friend has realized that they have a problem and is willing to make small changes. Some people need to start with baby steps before they are willing to give up more luxuries that they have.

  7. Minny says:

    She has debt, this means the highlife she and her family has enjoyed has been lived on credit!

    You are right when you say that one persons idea of bare bones is very different from anothers. It seems that in this family there is no will to see reality. Interesting to know how much they have reduced their debt by this time next year.

  8. Gailete says:

    In a way she is living bare bones living since she sounds like she is starving her kids to death from lack of educational and quality experiences. She is providing a structure (bare bones) for her kids to grow up in, but no actual meat and fat to flesh it out. Sad to hear this. Who wants their kids plunked in front of a TV all day? Those kids should be playing outside or in, boards games if possible, reading books, playing pretend out of a dress up box if young enough, working on homework, learning how to clean and cook right along side of mom, having hobbies that allow them to organize and sort things and learn more about them. Since when can’t you spend time with your kids during a vacation week or two without going to California?

  9. Dee in RI says:

    My definition of bare bones is food, clothing, shelter, heat and electricity, a phone for necessary communication, life, medical, and car insurance if you need a car, and money for car maintenance and gas. I was raised in a household of 5 children, 3 adults, 1 television and 1 phone which we were not allowed to use for chit chat, some home sewn clothing, mom packed lunches for dad, and school lunches, and dining out was rare. My parents were eventually able to buy a house (3 family) and afford tuition for any of us kids who could qualify for catholic school. All on one income from a manufacturing job.

    Bare bones living is not a punishment. It can allow you to have the things that you feel are most important to you, and still spend time with your family.

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