Friday, 15 June 2007

The answer to the LBYM Challenge

So what is the answer to the LBYM Challenge? How would I live on £275 a month?

It's a really difficult question to answer. I've been round and round in my head trying to work out the numbers. As Stephanie said in the comments, the numbers are too tight. The problem is that the article doesn't actually explain what was in the budget set for the family involved. Also, I realised that you can only do it with the $275 remainder IF you don't have commuting costs or if there is an emergency fund already built into the figures.

Here is my best shot. The things I would do on this LBYM Challenge, mainly in order of attack:-

1) Here's how I'd splilt the money:

£100 general grocery budget
£ 20 Christmas (food and presents)
£ 20 Monthly allowance for both preteen girls (£10 each)
£ 30 Monthly provision for girls' expenses and the baby's (again £10 each): clothes, school supplies, etc
£ 50 Parents allowance (£25 each)
£ 25 Petrol/gasoline (yes, I know, that isn't even one tank in my car)
£ 5 Garden supplies/bulk food fund
£ 25 Emergency fund

It is extremely tight. I have to make the assumption that the father's commuting costs were accounted for in the budget. Ditto something for car repairs and road tax (annual car registration fee).

2) The baby is due in August, so the mother still has the best part of 6 weeks work left. I am assuming she finishes work at the end of July, which means she'll receive her June and July pay packets and that these haven't been accounted for as income in the budget. In the UK on a salary £35,000, her take-home pay would be about £2,000 per month. Of that £4,000, I'd set asside £300 for her commuting/work related costs, £600 for after school/holiday clubs for the girls (a quick search found a website quoting £9 per pupil per day), and £200 for baby related costs (see below). £100 would be set aside for bulk food items and the remaining £2,800 would go straight to the emergency fund.

3) From part of the £300 set aside for mum above, I'd spend about £30 on the following essential books:

The Complete Tightwad Gazette aka the "LBYM Bible". It is inspirational, even if you don't agree with all her ideas.
How to Feed Your Family for £4 a Day, by Bernadine Lawrence (or the updated £5 version. ) You'd have to track this down second-hand. BTW, the first Amazon review is mine. The book originally cost me £3.50. I use this book about once a week.
Cheap and Easy: Vegetarian Cooking on a Budget by Rose Elliot. This contains basic vegetarian recipes and is a good place to start. My flapjack recipe is from this book.
Not just Beans by Tawra Kellam. A collection of American frugal classics. Tawra has produced an updated version called Dining on a Dime . Both are available on her website, I'd go for the older book simply because it's cheaper.

Other cookbooks/advice books, I'd borrow from the library. I'd particularly check out books on Indian and south-east Asian cooking.

4) Go on a
spending fast, an idea I've shamelessly borrowed from Tama. For the first month, I'd get them to eat as much as possible out of the pantry/store cupboards whilst I'd research ways to buy food/household supplies more cheaply. In my case, that would mean checking out local markets (we have a wholesale vegetable market about 3 miles away), the asian supermarkets in Southall, Wing Yip , any farm shops and all the supermarkets in the area. Also hairdressing suppliers. With the exception of the farm shop at Osterley Park (where I go to get veggies), I'd try not to buy anything in the first month. These are research trips.

5) I'd ask myself what can I do differently to save money? Could I put up a clothes-line? Wash in cold water? Washup by hand instead of using the dishwasher? Use
microfibre cloths instead of expensive cleaning products (I paid about £15 for two different sets of cloths at Lakeland)? Cut my electricity and gas bills? (OK, under the rules of the Challenge, I woudn't see the effects for quite a while, but it'd still be worth it.)

I'd also search through websites such as the Motley Fool (in this case, the
UK version since it's free) and The Dollar Stretcher for money-saving ideas.

6) Baby stuff. I'd go for the absolute minimum and second-hand if possible. As-new baby stuff is frequently sold at car boot sales for pennies compared to the original price. Also, several of the councils around here have a scheme promoting discounted cloth nappies (diapers). I think you can get a baby's-worth for £50.

7) Plant a vegetable garden. It's a bit late in the year for most things, however there are still some quick growing veggies that could be put in (pak choi for instance) and others that could be over-wintered for spring next year (purple sprouting broccoli needs to over-winter, whilst broad beans can do so). As a starting point, I'd study this
Dig For Victory planting scheme from World War 2.

I'd rope the husband and girls in for a trip to some local stables to collect horse-manure to compost (also, possibly, pick up some free pallets to use to build the compost bin).

8) The Girls. They're in for the biggest cultural shock, so I'd sit them down and explain the constraints of our new frugal lifestyle and try to get their buy-in and help. We'd have a family brain-storming session about how to find cheap clothes, cut down on cleaning costs, cooking, how to manage their allowances and what they'd be expected to buy from their allowances, etc. They would also need to buy or make Christmas/birthday presents for all their friends and family from now on.

The girls will have to take their lunches to school and either walk or cycle or use their free bus-passes (in London, they'd get free travel from the GLC). So we'd also have to brainstorm lunch ideas. I've assumed they are at local state schools, but if not then it's time they were moved.

And I'd expect them to figure out ways to earn extra money. However, I think it is illegal here to employ a child under 14 for most tasks (including paper-rounds).

As well as their allowances, I've set asside £10 month each (plus £10 month for the baby) for the parents to spend on them. This money should be saved as far as possible and used for the bigger expenses - mainly school related. Unless there is a really cheap vocational course nearby (hairdressing at the local college), the girls are going to have to grow their hair and mum will have to learn to trim the ends.

9) Dad. He's going to have to figure out ways to make his optician's business make a bigger profit (it doesn't say in the article, but I'm assuming he owns his business). If the business is within 5 miles of home, I'd expect him to stop driving and start cycling to work (if he doesn't own a bike, then he's going to have to buy one second hand). And he has to take his lunch to work every day.

His monthly allowance is only £25, which must cover clothing, haircuts, beers with his mates, etc. No more toys unless he saves up for them.

10) Mum. Most of the LBYM activities are going to fall on her shoulders simply because she'll be the stay at home parent, so I'd expect her to read the suggested books until she knows them word-perfect.

She needs to find a way to earn additional money without compromising her real job (she may or may not be able to work part-time for another employer). In the first instance, I'd get her to talk to her employer about doing part-time work at the weekends once the baby is 3-6 months old. Maybe she could man the check-in desks on the early shift for a while before going back to flight-crew.

Again, she only gets £25 a month to spend on herself. Haircuts will need to be DIY or from the local college. No new beauty treatments or cosmetics. Clothes worn until they fall apart. Ditto shoes.

11) Walk through the house/garage and catalogue:

a) What can be sold to raise cash via a car boot sale.
b) Available storage space for bulk purchases.
c) What is already there that can be used for the baby.

12) Food and groceries. I could go on and on for hours about food and cheap grocery shopping, but I'll leave it to a few main points. DH and I live very well on a really tight grocery budget, but we're consumate shoppers (and have been known to buy two cases of toilet paper when it's half price). I think the average family in the UK spends about £250/month on groceries; we spend £150: split £100 supermarket/farm shop, £30 meat (at a Kosher butcher), £10 bulk fund and £10 Christmas food. To us, that doesn't seem tight, but I cook from scratch most of the time.

If I was restricted to £100 a month, I'd split it £65 groceries at the supermarket, £15 vegetables and £20 meat. And I'd try to shop only once a month. With these sums, it means shopping with the calculator in your hand. When you get to £65, you must stop buying, so careful shopping is vital. That means own-brand products, long-life skimmed milk or dried milk if it's cheaper than fresh (long-life tastes almost the same as fresh), porridge oats for breakfast, lots of "something and rice" for dinner.

On the vegetables front, I found out years ago that buying from a market stall or from the farm shop is cheaper. The vegetables are fresher and last longer.

The first month or two have to be mainly vegetarian food, since that is cheapest. I'd borrow a couple of Asian cookbooks from the library and try out the recipes. Then, in month 3, with £60 I'd go to a proper butcher's shop and purchase as many things as I could from the meat shopping list shown here . Since items on that list are half the price at a normal butchers, they'd be able to get most things.

Spices have to be bulk-purchased and the asian supermarkets are the best place to shop for these. Ditto rice and bags of pulses.

I'm assuming they have a reasonable freezer, so buying say a case of mushrooms and one of onions and then cooking up a load of Base to store in the freezer isn't a problem. Ditto buying big bags of pulses, cooking them up and freezing them for later.

- Pam (this has taken hours to think about and write)


John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John said...

(reposting to fix the links at the end - jjd)

Pam writes:
The first month or two have to be mainly vegetarian food, since that is cheapest.

Most of my experience with vegetarian cooking came from the detox phases of the Fat Smash Diet - and we thought the opposite of that while we did it. We spent much more on groceries those weeks, mainly because of produce prices.

Perhaps the lack of farmers markets/stands near the house has something to do with it. (I have since found a farm-run stand a couple of towns over, but we haven't tried doing our grocery shopping there yet; it's been a pit stop on a bike ride so far.)

Beans and rice are cheap (especially in bulk), but you pay dearly for fresh food.

This is an interesting read. A congressman decided to try living on three dollars a day for one week - the average amount of assistance the average Food Stamp (a US welfare program) receives. For best results, right-click and open these links in a new tab or window.


Day One of his experiment.

Day Two

Day Three Part 1 -- Day 3 part 2

Day 4

Day Five


Note that he couldn't pull it off. He could probably have made some smarter food choices. I think his biggest problem was picking food out by shelf price instead of setting nutritional goals first and finding foods that would fit.