7 Practical Tips for Creating a Personal Survival Budget

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What would you do if you lost your job tomorrow?

You’d be shocked, sure – but would it be the end of the world?

For some people, the answer is a resounding YES!

You’re thinking ‘how the heck am I going to pay the bills without my regular paycheque?’

Look, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll lose your job tomorrow, unexpectedly.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared for a change in your financial circumstances.

How to Make a Personal Survival Budget And Why You Need One Featured Image

Having a personal survival budget all prepared and ready to implement if the worst happens will eliminate major stress at a tough time.

It’s one of the three tactics I recommend for dealing with financial changes (the others are saving an emergency fund and slashing your everyday expenses)

In my last post, I mentioned that I am expecting a period of financial stress over the next few months.

It happens to everyone. You might lose your job, have your hours cut at work, or be facing rent hikes.

In my case, my husband and I are resettling after a prolonged period of overseas travel with an emaciated savings account and no employment lined up.

For that reason this month I am focusing on dealing with tough financial situations and making sure you come out the other side OK.

Make Hay

You’ve heard that saying ‘make hay while the sun shines’. It’s a cliché, sure, but it can be applied to so many financial situations that it’s almost become my mantra.

Making hay can mean many things – saving for your house deposit while you are earning a strong income, putting bonuses towards long-term goals rather than short-term wants.

Paying more off your mortgage than necessary or just building a healthy savings fund.

It can also mean preparing for the time when the ‘sun’ has well and truly set.

By this, I mean creating a safety fund and looking at your budget with the critical eye of someone who has just lost their job.

Yep, that’s right – you should write a survival budget even if everything is going great and you have zero money worries. 

It’s one of my top money hacks – have two budgets – your regular budget and a survival budget.

What is a personal survival budget?

survival budget
An example of my regular budget (left), compared with my survival budget (right).

Here is my personal survival budget example (please note these are my personal numbers; I do not expect you to use them for your own budget. This is purely to illustrate the cuts I’ve made).

To the left is my regular budget. There are very few luxuries because I choose to spend money on travel, not stuff.

But there is always room for money savings to be had.

For example, as I sit here and write this I am sipping on a cafe con leche (I’m in Spain) that cost €2.70.

I bought the coffee because I like working in cafes and being amongst people while I write, but I don’t need to buy coffee.

I could make my own and carry it in a thermos cup to the library, where I could work for free.

If I were living on my survival budget, there would be no fun money (which I tend to spend on coffee).

Implementing a survival budget

When pulling together your survival budget, you need to be ruthless.

Remember, this is only short-term. It might hurt a little, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Keep your survival budget visible at all times. Stick a copy on the fridge door.

That way, you always know where savings can be made, and you may be motivated to make extra cuts to reduce the pressure when you need it.

Here’s what I’m doing to create my survival budget:

1. Cut any non-essential spending

I couldn’t live without the internet, running an online business.

But I could cut cable TV, fun money and clothing for a few months without feeling too much pain.

Our petrol  spend could be reduced by walking or cycling on short journeys.

Tip: If you have an essential purchase to make, check cashback sites to see if you are entitled to cash back for the purchase. 

2. Reduce your food spend

You could slash your food budget by eating less meat and cooking at home for all meals.

Meal plan and make a grocery list.

Planning your meals for the week helps avoid impulse purchases and wasting food. Having a list prevents buying things you don’t need.

Buy home brands.

Opt for the generic or home brand of items rather than name brands. Store brands are often just as good but at a lower cost.

Take inventory before shopping.

Check what you already have at home before making your grocery list. This prevents buying duplicate items you don’t need.

You’d be surprised how much money is wasted on unneeded purchases.

Here are some more excellent tips to save money on your groceries.

3. Switch to cash envelope budgeting

Cash envelope budgeting is the best way to manage your money in tough times.

Having specific cash allocations for each category will help you stay on budget.

Save the credit card for real emergencies, and see how you go with using cash.

You can use envelopes, plastic bags, or a cash envelope wallet fit for purpose.

4. Negotiate with your mortgage provider

Your mortgage provider may allow you to switch to an interest-only payment for the short term.

We have always made extra payments towards our already affordable mortgage so switching to interest-only payments for a short period wouldn’t send us too far backwards in paying the mortgage down.

Be aware that catching up on your interest payments after you come off an interest-only repayment period means your repayments will likely go up.

5. Shop around for insurance

Insurance is a necessary evil, but you can reduce insurance premiums by calling other providers or reducing the level of cover you require or increasing your deductible (excess).

6. Think creatively to reduce your housing cost

If things were really bad, could you rent out your house and move to a cheaper and smaller unit or in with family? (not a strategy I’d recommend, but a possibility for some).

7. Earn extra money from home

If you’re looking to make extra income, there are numerous ways to do so from home.

You can also take part in online paid surveys from your home. I recommend Opinion World and Octopus.

If you’re interested in starting a side hustle, check out these other ways of making money online and this comprehensive guide to making money as a stay-at-home parent.

Other ways to make extra money from home:

How my survival budget will work

With $1820 per month in essential expenses and income of $398 per month in child tax credits, we have to fund a shortfall of $1422 per month.

The balance of our savings account will be just over $10,000, so $10,000/$1422 = 7.034 months.

We have just over 7 months to find employment. I’m 100% confident we can pull it off and revert to our frugal yet comfortable existence within a couple of months of returning home.

But having a survival budget in place, just in case life doesn’t go as planned, helps me sleep better at night.

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About Emma Healey

Emma is a recognised family finance and budgeting expert and founder of Mum's Money. Her advice has been featured in Stuff, NZHerald, Readers Digest, Yahoo Finance, Lifehacker, The Simple Dollar, MSN Money and more.