How To Create a Bare Bones Budget

bare bones budget

When things aren’t going that great and money is really tight, it may be time to go to a bare bones budget.

A bare bones budget is when you cut your budget down to the essentials that you need to live on and cut out everything else.

I know this doesn’t sound like the most fun thing ever, but if you’ve got to do it, then you’ve got to do it!

Even if you don’t need to do this right now, it’s still a good idea to have awareness over the bare bones budget amounts just in case for the future.

I have personally lived on a tiny income and although it was a massive struggle, budgeting my money helped me stay focused and made sure that everything was paid for.

Luckily I fought myself out of that tight spot (it took a while, but I got there!) and am in a much better place now. With that in mind, I wanted to share with you how to create a bare bones budget.

Ready? Let’s get started:

What Is a Bare Bones Budget?

A bare bones budget is a plan that you create for the money that you have in order for you to survive.

Sounds a bit dramatic I know! But sometimes that’s the way that it is.

It is a way of laying out the things that you need to spend your money on that you have to pay for. It’s the budget that you will typically use when you are going through a rough financial patch – it’s not for living on in general.

How Do I Create a Budget For Bare Bones?

Now we will look at how you create a bare bones budget! We will at first go over how to put together a normal budget, and then look at how we will adjust that to make your bare bones budget.

Step 1: List Your Income

An easy step to take when it comes to creating your bare bones budget is to list out your income.

Make sure that you include all of the income that you will be getting. So this could be your salary, interest, child maintenance, benefits and so on.

If you are paid different amounts each pay (e.g. if you are commission based), then I would suggest using the minimum amount that you would expect to get. You could always go back through previous months and look at what you received and calculate it from there.

bare bones budget
Example using UK averages

Step 2: Write Out Your Fixed Expenses

Your fixed expenses are the things that you have to pay each month that don’t change. Examples of these could be:

  • Mortgage or rent
  • Water
  • Gas/electricity
  • Insurance
  • Medication
  • Phone
  • Internet/TV
  • Debt payments

The best place to find these is generally under your internet banking in the direct debit section.

Bare bones budget

Step 3: Write Out Your Variable Expenses

This is a really important step because it’s the one that’s most likely to trip you up. We tend to underestimate how much we spend on our variable expenses.

Variable expenses are expenses that can change from month to month. Examples of things include things like groceries and fuel for your car.

I always suggest tracking your expenses (writing them out each day) but if you are just starting now then you can look back through your bank statements and receipts.

Bare bones budget

Step 4: Figure Out What Your Essential Expenses Are

This is where we start to look at the bare bones budget. This is where we are looking at the things that you need to pay for in order to survive.

I’ve got to warn you – this isn’t going to be the most fun thing that you’ll ever do! But it’s got to be done.

So, your essential expenses are the ones that you need to survive. What are the basic things that you need to survive? Generally:

  • Food
  • Shelter
  • Water (and gas/electric)
  • Transportation (for work)

As long as you have these things, you can survive. These days though, there’s a little bit more that goes into it than if you were living a super simple life.

For example, what if you have debt? You need to pay back money that you owe – but there are some that you can prioritise over others – we will come to this in a minute.

The next part of this step is therefore figuring out the expenses that you can cut out that don’t fit into the essential categories for survival.

The reason that I say this isn’t going to be the most fun thing you ever do, is because you are going to have to cut out the things that you truly enjoy.

It’s important to remember though: this is only temporary.

I know it may feel as though this is never going to end and you can’t see a way out of it, but I promise you that we can get you out of this place and into a good place. For now though, it’s all about survival.

Go through the expenses that you wrote out and highlight the ones which are essential. This is what your bare bones budget is made up of.

Bare bones budget

Step 5: Identify Your Priority Debts

Now I’m not at all advocating not paying back your debt – as I feel very strongly about paying off debt – but when you simply don’t have a penny to your name, you need to look at your debts in this way.

There are some debts that you may think are more important to pay than others, but it’s really important to know which are the most important to pay.

When I say the most important, I mean the ones which would land you some jail time if you don’t pay them or where you could be booted out of your home – and you may be surprised to know which ones these are.

Priority debts are usually the ones that you’d need in order to survive anyway e.g. they are for your home. Examples of priority debts include:

  • Mortgage repayments
  • Rent
  • Council tax
  • Gas and electricity bills
  • TV licence payments
  • Child support/maintenance
  • Any tax payments
  • Penalty fines/court ordered payments
  • Hire purchase payments
  • Guarantor and logbook loans

It’s important to be aware of this because it can be easy to think that the debts that are the most important to pay back are the ones where they are constantly harassing you by phoning you and so on, such as credit card debt.

I need to mention again though, that this is not an excuse to ignore your other debts – you need to pay them – this is as a last resort. You will still get into a lot of bother if you don’t pay your debts.

A good step to take here is to contact a free debt advisor to get help with your debts. They can speak to your lenders for you and even get the interest frozen or on a payment plan.

Step 6: Look To Reduce Your Expenses

Now that we know which expenses you need in your bare bones budget, it’s time to look at how we can reduce them as low as possible.

It may feel a bit overwhelming to look at your bills right now and think about changing them. Just know that this is completely normal but needs to be done.

I’d suggest picking one to start with and then working your way through the list after you’ve done all that you can for that one.

We can look at some expense examples, how you can reduce them and what to do if you are worried about paying:


Give your mortgage lender a call and explain your situation. They don’t want you to default on the mortgage and lose the house, so they will work with you as best as they can.

You need to speak to them so that they know what’s going on so that they don’t start the repossession process. If you just miss your mortgage payment then they will start the repossession steps – so it’s very important that you don’t just ignore it.

If you are due to renew your mortgage then do your best to shop around for a lower mortgage interest rate as this will save you a lot of money.


You need to tell your landlord immediately if you are going to be having problems paying your rent.

You can request to pay the rent that you owe spread over a longer period. If your landlord doesn’t want to do that then head to Citizen’s Advice for their help and more information.

Are you able to move? If you are able to move somewhere with lower rent then that would be a good option.

Council Tax

Firstly, make sure that you are on the correct council tax band to check that you aren’t overpaying for your home.

Paying your council tax is very important because they will take you to court if you don’t pay up – so make sure that you reach out to them if you are going to struggle to pay.


Your first step needs to be looking at if you are on the best deal for your energy and with the cheapest provider.

I am with Bulb* who I highly recommend because they are really cheap and keep their costs low. If you use my referral link then you can also get a free £50 for switching.

Another great thing about them is that they will pay any exit fees when you leave your current provider.

There are ways that you can save money on your bills by doing things like turning lights off when you’re not in the room, sweeping instead of hoovering, eating meals that don’t require heating up and so on.

If you are going to struggle to pay your energy bills then you need to speak to your provider to let them know. There are options for you such as creating a payment plan.

There is a government scheme that arranges for your energy bills to be paid directly out of benefit payments, called Fuel Direct.


When I was struggling for money, I worked really hard to get my water bills down, and it worked!

It did mean that I had to do some different things to what I would do normally, such as standing in a bowl in the shower and then using the water in the bowl to flush the toilet with.

It’s also worth checking with your local water company whether they have any schemes that you are entitled to e.g. if someone in your household has a medical condition and uses more water because of it.

Some water companies have payment support schemes e.g. social tariffs for people on benefits or with low income.


When it comes to your insurance you need to look at what it’s for and how important it is before you go ahead and do something like cancelling it.

The last thing that you want to happen is for you to cancel or downgrade your insurance and then something happens which you needed the insurance for!

But you can see if you are over-insured for anything or have any insurance that you don’t need and can get rid of. It’s also always worth shopping around on comparison sites and seeing if you can get cheaper elsewhere.


This is normally one of the largest expenses within a household, so it’s always a good idea to tackle this budget category and see if you can reduce it.

There are a few steps that you can take to get your food budget down:

  1. Add up how much you are currently spending by looking at previous receipts and bank statements
  2. Write out a list of all of the meals you eat in your household
  3. Choose which meals you are going to eat that week
  4. Write out the ingredients that you will need to make those meals
  5. Look in your fridge, freezer, cupboards etc to see which ingredients you already have
  6. Write out a list (take a photo of the list on your phone also) and take to the store. Only buy what you need. Look at cheaper supermarkets such as Lidl or Aldi

Ideally you are going to want to look at cheap meal ideas. Some good staples to include in your food shop include pasta, potatoes, rice and porridge.

When I was struggling financially, all I ate was vegetable soup for lunch and plain pasta in the evening. Not the best meals ever (and I can’t face vegetable soup now!) but it kept me fed and alive.

If you have some ingredients but aren’t sure what to make with them, I highly recommend using the app Supercook. You can put in the ingredients that you have and it will come up with recipes for you.

Try and do some meatless meals as well as meat can be one of the more expensive parts of a food shop.

If it comes to the point where you won’t be able to buy food for your family then you will need to go to a food bank – that’s what they are there for. Ask in local Facebook groups if there doesn’t appear to be one in your area.

It’s time to suck up your pride and reach out to family and friends for help. This is something that I am personally terrible at doing because I am the person who likes to be the helper – I’m just used to asking for help. But this is important and you’ve got to do it. You can always offer to repay once you are in a better position.


Now is the time to look into some cheaper transport alternatives. Remember that this only needs to be temporary, so it may feel really inconvenient and annoying, but needs must!

If you need to travel to get to work, you need to figure out what the cheapest option would be. Are you able to lift share with anyone? Even if it’s only one way, you can then look at the cheaper option for the other way.

If you drive your kids to school, is there a way that you can lift share with other parents? It may feel a bit awkward to do this, but there’s no need to mention it being a money thing – lots of parents are happy to lift share because of the time saving.

Next Steps

I know it may feel as though everything is awful right now and as though nothing will ever change, but I want to reassure you that it will.

I felt the same, and I felt incredibly lost and alone. I wasn’t sure what I could do to get out of that situation. It took me years but I got there.

The most important thing for you will be to get more money coming in. Even if you are super busy and have kids, there are ways that you can make extra money. Yes, it will make you more tired to add to your load but it will change your life. It did for me!

Have a read through these articles of mine:

It’s amazing how much work is out there even if it feels as though it’s not. When things are hard it’s time to do whatever it takes. And no, I don’t mean doing anything dodgy! I mean putting yourself out there and trying to find whatever work you can.

If you are able to work outside of the house I’d recommend doing these things:

  • Sign up to as many job agencies as you can. The reason that I love agencies for finding work is because it’s their job to find and place you in a job – so they have a lot of motivation to find you something!
  • Go round your local shops and ask if they have any work
  • Write on a local Facebook page/group and ask if there are any jobs going
  • Looking on sites such as
  • Sell as much of your stuff as possible. If you don’t have anything, look at what people are giving away for free and flip for some money (I’ve done this with furniture)

A bare bones budget is not something that I would recommend for everyday life, but when it comes down to the wire and you don’t have any money, this is something that you need to do to get yourself through it.

You aren’t a bad person for being in this position – this happens to millions of people, but just know that it is possible to get yourself out of it.

I never thought it would be possible for me to get myself out of the position that I was in, but years later everything is good and I’m so happy. It took a lot of mental toughness on my part and trying out lots of ways to make money around my daughter. It does work!

Have you ever made a bare bones budget? Is there anything that I can add to this to help people more?

Bare bones budget