The “Beat Last Year” Budgeting Challenge!

This is one of the best challenges I’ve heard in a while :)

From fellow reader, Anne:

Hi J,

I wanted to share a new challenge I am doing for myself. I eat out at fast food/pizza/restaurants wayyyyy too much, and my personal capital export from 2018 made me feel so bad about it!

I am challenging myself to “beat last year!”. Example. Spent $100 on take out last year in Jan (I told you it’s bad) and so I’m aiming to not go over $65 this Jan. Did 65% since it seemed less scary than “cut your spending in half!!”

I am a competitive person, so hoping having a mindset like this will help since I freeze when I see the awesome budgeters out there and give up since I won’t be that good instantly.

I’m trying to think of it as “beating my personal best” like running a 5k and getting better each time? Hoping it works.

Anyways. Wanted to share the idea. I’m only tracking fast food and restaurants, don’t wanna make this too hard and give up, but I’m sure this might help anyone who feels bad about a consistent splurge from 2018!

– Anne

I love this challenge so SO much because IT’S SPECIFIC TO YOU and not based on any arbitrary numbers/goals! It’s about beating the 2018 version of *yourself* which is so refreshing over constantly comparing your wins/failures to everyone else out there and then feeling miserable afterwards. If you have to lose to someone, at least lose to yourself! ;)

(This reminds me of another note I also received recently after sharing our last net worth report – “You inspire me and make me sad at the same time!” I hate hearing that last part as I only want to bring people UP here on this blog, but I also know it’s human nature and I catch myself comparing all the time too. But again – with this challenge here it’s not only OKAY to compare, but it’s encouraged! Because it’s all around YOUR personal best and no one else’s!)

I’ve stopped budgeting every last penny like I used to so I don’t have exact figures to go on here (*gasp*), but a quick poke around last year’s c/c statement at this time shows I spent around $70.00 on books :) And while I typically don’t put rules around those because I love (and consume!) them, I also enjoy me a good challenge, so in an act of solidarity I will play along with Anne here and aim to spend *less* than $70.00 for the next month :)

In theory if you keep spending less and less over the years there’s no way for your wealth not to grow! Especially if you switch categories whenever you think you’re at the lowest end of what you’re comfortable spending.

So I approve of this challenge 100%, and I hope some of you will jump in and encourage each other to stick with it as well. If you want to connect up with Anne, just shoot me a note and I’ll pass along her email and maybe you guys can form an accountability group of some sort?

Or you can just play at home too and not tell a soul – whatever totes your goat ;)

Here are the rules again for anyone who wants to try it:

  1. Pick a category of your spending you desperately want to improve
  2. Search your records for how much you spent on it *last year* around this time
  3. Commit to spending *less* in that category for the next month!

I know Jan is almost over, so maybe cut it in half if you’re excited, or just wait and start next month. What matters most is just starting and then trying to one-up yourself!!

And if anyone can do it it’s you, because you hold all the secrets to your inner workings :) Use it to demolish yourself! Haha…

I’ll keep you updated with how my non-book buying adventures go in the meantime…  I considered for a hot minute cutting back on coffee, but…

I own you - coffee gif

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  1. Kate January 24, 2019 at 6:02 AM

    Oh! I do love a good Sexy Budget challenge! I could do Take-out Coffee but that’s a bit too easy for me… The Starbucks below my office shut down so they essentially did the work for me!
    I think I’ll go with Monthly Subscriptions. Do I REALLY need Spotify, Amazon Prime, Netflix, etc, etc… There are only so many hours in the day to consume entertainment after all!

    1. J. Money January 24, 2019 at 6:05 AM

      Excellent starting point!! Let me know how it goes over the month! :)

  2. Debbie January 24, 2019 at 7:53 AM

    Sorry we’re not even trying to beat last year’s budget in which we maxed out our IRA’s & paid an extra $6000 towards our mortgage principal. We anticipate at least $22,000 out of pocket medical expenses this year ($13,000 premiums alone plus $8500 deductible) due to hubby having double knee replacement surgery next month. Add in no paycheck for 2 months! Besides we seldom eat out except for birthdays & anniversaries & then it’s only at a Chinese buffet (where I get my sushi fix!!!). We already cut the cable cord & land line years ago so we’ve already cut our budget down to the bone (put antenna on roof, get 30 free stations) but will be curious to hear how everyone else does with this challenge. Good luck everyone!!!

    1. J. Money January 24, 2019 at 2:05 PM

      Yeah – you get a free pass this round, haha…

      Those new knees better be made of gold! :)

  3. Eileen January 24, 2019 at 9:00 AM

    This was an interesting idea. So I looked at last January’s spending (I use YNAB). I haven’t even gotten to my more discretionary spending and realized how much has changed since last January. We had a kid in college (his last semester thankfully) to that impacted categories of spending that don’t even exist now (he had a gas/visa card for gas and groceries). Our car insurance has gone down as well as our Verizon bill.

    I might not be able to do much about Jan spending, but I think I’ll go over Feb 2018 spending and make a general savings goal for Feb 2019 by identifying the very obvious differences in required spending at minimum.

    1. J. Money January 24, 2019 at 2:10 PM

      That works!

      Double fun for going back into the time machine to see how things once were too :)

  4. Mr. SoS January 24, 2019 at 9:12 AM

    This is such a great challenge. As I read it, I thought that many people make a little more each year. Add that to spending less each year and they should be able to save even more.

    Just like Debbie, we already cut our budget down to the bone to demolish our massive debt. We cut cable years ago and use Netflix. We only eat out a few times per year. After cooking at home for so long, we found that the meals we fix are better than almost anything we could eat when dining out. Not to mention how much money we save in the process.

    Last year we began using the library weekly to get our book fix rather than purchase books. We were amazed to find that they offer digital download audio and print books, so sometimes we do not even need to visit the library. The rest of the books we reserve online and it just takes a quick visit to pick them up and return others.

    The only place we could cut back would be our groceries. This was a daunting task, but I believe we found two places to cut back. The first is not spending money on alcohol for the year. We will see how that goes as the year progresses. The second is that Dr. SoS cut out coffee and began drinking green tea and I cut my daily coffee intake in half. We brew our coffee at home, but this makes each pound of our local roasted coffee go even farther. The trick will be to keep both these up for the year. The great thing is that now we have a reason to continue. Challenge accepted!

    1. J. Money January 24, 2019 at 2:15 PM

      Less beer AND coffee????

      You trying to kill yourselves? :)

      I shall be rooting for y’all on the sidelines though! Way to up the game like that!

  5. Zach January 24, 2019 at 9:38 AM

    Yes! It makes goals much more manageable when you break them down into “easy to digest” pieces like Anne – I love it!

    We’ve been spending less on Amazon (our main outlet for impulse spending) since we peaked in 2015/2016 with ~$10,700 spent those 2 years combined. In 2017 we dropped 40%.. and last year it looks like had another solid decrease.
    The goal this year is to decrease our spending again and get it closer to where we were before I received my last big promotion and raise in 2012. (~$1,300/yr on Amazon in 2012)

    But going month to month with our Amazon spending breaks the goal down even further (which I love).
    January 2018 we spent $449.22 on Amazon… so far this January we have spent $35.80
    February 2018 we spent $264.36. The goal for February will be to spend less than $75.
    If we control the impulse spend temptation for the next 36 days we’ll be in good shape for 2019.

  6. Diana E Sung January 24, 2019 at 9:52 AM

    Great post! It’s way more realistic and uplifting to do better than you did last year. I love it! I’m working this month–and next until the habit really takes–on fast food (and crushing it).

    1. J. Money January 24, 2019 at 2:20 PM


  7. Lizzy January 24, 2019 at 10:28 AM

    This is a good idea for a challenge. I will try to cut my eating out ( this includes meals at restaurants, take out, coffee, etc.) every month.

    1. J. Money January 24, 2019 at 2:21 PM

      Let us know how it goes over the months! :)

  8. Frederik January 24, 2019 at 10:31 AM

    Really nice tips.

    Personally my biggest problem is also take-away. I’m young, so the day after a night in town it’s the easy and delicious way at that point of time.

    I’ll take your tips and try to improve from last year.. It’s going to be difficult..

    1. J. Money January 24, 2019 at 2:22 PM

      I have faith on you :)

      And even if you fail, at least you’re nice and young!!! Most of us would give up half our fortunes to go back to our youth, haha… soak it up!

  9. Laura January 24, 2019 at 6:04 PM

    What a great idea! I am in! I’m going to add a twist. I am going to try to reduce all discretionary spend rather than a specific catagory. I have started to move towards a combined budget for all fun money (coffee, eating out, clothes, etc.) so will try to keep each month lower than last year. Thanks for sharing!

    1. J. Money January 25, 2019 at 6:17 AM

      Juicy one to tackle!

      I like it!

    2. paula January 25, 2019 at 1:37 PM

      I like this better… Amazon as a category makes it really easy to just put the spending somewhere else. I buy necessities like paper towels and such from amazon. If I’m just trying to beat spending there, I could wind up just buying them at the grocery. There are so many categories of spending on Amazon…

      1. J. Money January 25, 2019 at 2:30 PM

        Also a very good point, yup… but you could prob still do better generally spending less there too if you wanted to, since you certainly purchase more than just the essentials, yeah? (or are you Superwoman?? ;))

  10. Tonya January 24, 2019 at 6:18 PM

    I have an idea to help you with your book challenge. I always try to read MORE books but spend LESS money. I started challenging myself to only buy books I will read more than once. All other books come from the library. The public library is a great way to hit both goals.

    1. J. Money January 25, 2019 at 6:27 AM

      That needs to be a bumper sticker, haha…

      “Read More, Spend Less” :)

      (and yup! I only buy/keep books that I’ll re-read and/or use for research projects… most of the ones I pick up are rarer ones on local history that are hard to find or I never even knew existed until I stumbled across it!)

  11. The Frug January 24, 2019 at 9:39 PM

    I can tell you from experience “beat last year” is the best budgeting strategy I’ve ever used. We’ve been doing it since 2008 and have been beating last year on a regular basis across lots of categories. It helps that we were bat shit crazy spenders before then but at least the trend has been going in the right direction. We spend less now than in 2008. Sometimes line items get out of wack but we just beat them down and put those dollars back to work.

    1. J. Money January 25, 2019 at 6:30 AM

      WOWWWW you are killing it!

      This is hard to do for one or two years over, but over a decade??

      I am impressed, sir. And also that you termed it the same as our Anne friend here too! It’s officially a “thing” haha..

  12. carlotta January 25, 2019 at 4:17 AM

    I have two categories in my budget I want , in time , bring to zero:
    “unknown” (aargh, cash is my worst enemy) : avg of 19£ in 2018 and “extra food” (not grocery, not eating out, not a specific meal..just crisp and candy and 1£ junk): avg of 30£ a month in 2018!
    need to go to zero soon!

    1. J. Money January 25, 2019 at 6:34 AM

      The trickier areas for sure ;)

      If you find zeroing them out becomes too hard, you can always try to cancel them out by picking up a side hustle too! I bet you could find a way to earn an extra 50£/mo?

  13. Susan January 26, 2019 at 9:07 PM

    I did “beat last year” with my step count in 2018. I beat every month. It’s a great tool because you can average over a month to give yourself grace for bad days.

    1. J. Money January 28, 2019 at 5:51 AM

      I just got one of those watches for my birthday – super fun to track!

  14. Chris @ Mindful Explorer January 28, 2019 at 2:04 PM

    For the last few years in MINT for my budgeting I put all food related expenses just under the food and dining category to monitor the entire amount for food. I just now before reading this decided to break it apart as Restaurants and Groceries each with their own budget. This will help me dial things in better and also watch eating outside the home closely as that is a budget luxury.

    1. J. Money January 28, 2019 at 2:48 PM

      Interesting! I wonder if what you spend on each in reality will match what you *think* you’re spending on each :) Let me know if you see some big behavioral changes over the months due to splitting it up!

  15. Cathy January 28, 2019 at 10:44 PM

    I’m down. I am so down. I’m not on any social media but if anyone wants to email me for an accountability buddy message me @

    Eating out is my downfall every single month. Hundreds of dollars that could have gone towards paying down debt went towards diners and fast food. This will definitely help me cut back because I’m putting it out on blast.

    1. J. Money January 29, 2019 at 5:51 AM

      I’ve set up a calendar item to ping you in a month and check in ;)

      You can do it!!

  16. Leslie January 30, 2019 at 2:22 PM

    I don’t really have good numbers for January or February last year. I think I’m going to look month to month and lower my eating out costs by that comparison. In January 2019 we spent $756.07 eating out (which is crazy for 3 people). I’m aiming for at least 50% to 70% less for February. This will be a super difficult challenge because my girls don’t really like the food I cook, but I’m trying to get better. So two challenges! :-)