Do you know your Survival Number?

Stumbled across this clip from an old guest post here, and thought it needed to be re-shared and contemplated again ;)

Have you ever ran your “survival number” before??

From: 4 Tricks to Save More, Spend Less, and Pay Off Debt

Your Survival Number

Try this: calculate how much money you need for a decent survival each day. Count all important expenses, but aim to come up with as low a figure as possible.

For me, this number is $26. That includes fancy things like an entire pot coffee every day, a nice apartment in frozen Alberta, and pretty damn good home cooked food. Your number may vary if you have kids, a spouse to support, soul crushing debt, etc.

Keep your survival number with you during your day. Write it on your hand if it helps. For most people, reducing expenses is about changing their day-to-day habits, not increasing their salary or saving a bunch of money on car insurance. Those small, easy-to-ignore expenses will seem much bigger when compared with your survival number.

For example, as I said my survival number is $26. That delicious ten dollar burger? That’s almost half of a day’s survival budget! Ouch!

You can get more granular with it too, play around a bit. My fairly overpriced internet costs $2/day – which provides for almost all my entertainment and education needs. For what I get out of it, I consider it money well spent. But would I spend an entire day’s internet on a single Starbucks coffee?

When this post was published back in 2013, I noted that MY survival number at the time was $183/day, followed by a “DAMN”, haha…

Though from looking at the number, I was probably being lazy and just calculating my *normal* monthly spending and dividing it by 30 instead of my “bare bones” one…. Doing that same thing again now – 3 kids later and living back in EXPENSIVE WORLD! (aka DC) – we’d actually be higher at $220/day.


If we truly stripped it down though and cut it to the bare essentials, we’d be sitting a little prettier… Getting rid of the Netflixes and Hulus and charity donations, and beers, 529 contributions, babysitters, etc etc, we’d actually halve it down to around $122/day. Which is still not the *best*, especially for a finance blogger, haha…, but at least it’s moving in a better direction!

And honestly, kinda makes you realize just how much of our daily spending actually IS going toward the “fluff/comfort” stuff. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing – you gotta enjoy the fruits of your labor! – but something to be aware of for sure…

Run the numbers this morning before the weekend hits, and see what you come up with… We all like to pretend there’s no room for cutting back, but exercises like this remind you we’re capable of a lot more if ever forced to… And some of us will be, unfortunately!

Would love to hear your thoughts and numbers in the comments below…

Just try not to whoop me too much, okay? ;)

To read the other 3 tips Trevor shared in that original article, click here. He’s a super interesting dude, and swears that 5 gallon buckets will change your life and your wallet! ;)

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  1. Dave @ Accidental FIRE May 24, 2019 at 5:18 AM

    I’m probably at around $50 a day. It would be a great experiment to actually go through with it for a month!

    1. J. Money May 24, 2019 at 6:03 AM

      You first!! :)

  2. Chris May 24, 2019 at 6:37 AM

    Hey, your prior $183 need a day, reminded me of my husband’s takehome pay. After all his expenses taken out of his paycheck and tithe, he brings home approximately $100 something a week! After hearing a financial man on the radio talk about how important it is to save for retirement (which we already did), he mentioned when you are doing that and saving on your income tax bill, you are using the government’s money to make money, I started doing some thinking. I will pass on this strategy and see if anyone does this. My husband is 55 so he can contribute extra to his 401k at work. We are relatively low income and live in a low income state. He contributes about half his money to his 401k. We are debt free. We live off our savings and my part-time income, which is also very low – less than $20k a year. We are only doing this temporarily, maybe two or three years, to see how much we can save and see how it goes. He and my son hunt and fish so we have a lot of free meat. But we eat shrimp, steak, go on nice vacations, etc. etc.

    1. J. Money May 24, 2019 at 2:34 PM

      Wow – you have figured out The Life over there! Haha.. Half to 401k is amazing! As well as being debt-free, congrats!

  3. Wes May 24, 2019 at 6:58 AM

    That’s an interesting way to look at expenses. Doing ours we’re at $57 a day, but if I take out all the debts we’ll have paid off by the end of the year it only drops to $48.00: a measly $9.00 drop…..

    But on the other hand bringing it back out into the month that’s really a $270 drop each month, $3,240 a year, and that’s a sexy number!

    1. J. Money May 24, 2019 at 2:45 PM

      Yeah it is ;)

  4. Adam May 24, 2019 at 8:20 AM

    For me and my wife and our dog, it works out to $136… or $99 once we get the mortgage paid off in eleven years. That’s an average from mid-2015 to mid-2016 (the last period I checked, back when we were particularly spendy on vacations to Wyoming and Europe and Florida, before I telecommuted full-time).

    We’ve since pared down to one two-week vacation a year and a restaurants/entertainment tally of about 6x/month rather than 12x/month. I’ll keep investing with a target of that higher spending; better too much than too little.

    Speaking of EXPENSIVE WORLD, I hope your house hunt is going well!

    1. J. Money May 24, 2019 at 2:55 PM

      Thank you sir! Will have some news to report on that front here shortly :)

      love that you included your dog in you # btw, haha.. what % goes straight to him/her?

      1. Adam May 28, 2019 at 7:58 AM

        About four bucks a day for the Gus The Dog, including vet visits and dry/canned foods and poop bags and the occasional plastic bacon chew toy. :)

        Congrats on the house! For the size and price and location, you really made it work!

        1. J. Money May 28, 2019 at 5:45 PM

          Thanks man! Time will tell! :)

  5. Financially Fit Mom May 24, 2019 at 8:59 AM

    I am super intrigued but of course geeking out on the little details (I will most likely find a month to put it to the test…why can’t I ignore a challenge?!)

    Help me understand though. $26 a day is only $780 a month. How does housing fit into that? My housing alone on a spring/fall day when AC and heat aren’t being used and the lawn isn’t being watered would be $45ish. Are you taking survival to the bare extremes of assuming you could live with family if you needed to? Or are you not counting housing and this is spending on “extras”?

    Thank you for something to waste time on a Friday when I SHOULD be getting caught up at work from wasting time Monday-Thursday :)

    1. J. Money May 24, 2019 at 2:57 PM

      You’re welcome ;)

      My guess is that our friend here lives in a studio or small apt somewhere super cheap. Either that or he’s paid off that house and now reaping the benefits!

      1. Charlotte Stemberger May 31, 2019 at 3:01 PM

        I assumed he was talking about cutting as many expenses as he could, including housing. So that would be him finding a cheap Alberta apartment and a roommate. Just assuming though.

  6. Mike S May 24, 2019 at 9:08 AM

    I worked mine out to $123/day, but that includes stock investing and extra mortgage payment.
    If I take those out it comes to $91/day.

    Don’t think that is a bad number as it includes mortgage, insurance, car maintenance, food, eating out 1-2 time week and vacations/travel.

    As you said, got to enjoy some of the money now.

    1. J. Money May 24, 2019 at 2:57 PM


  7. Helen May 24, 2019 at 9:18 AM

    $134. My husband and I and three teenagers. Large home with backyard pool. Two old cars. No debt, about 25% savings rate.
    We are planning to move to another town and downsize as soon as our oldest graduates high school.

    1. J. Money May 24, 2019 at 2:58 PM

      Oh wow – that’s a lot of bang for your buck there, well done!

  8. Joe May 24, 2019 at 10:03 AM

    It seems impossible to be $26/day. Is he including housing? Maybe he lives with his parent…
    For the 3 of us, last month was $93/month. This is minimum fluff. We’re battening down the hatches right now because our old condo is still for sale. Once that sold, we’ll spend a bit more again.

    1. J. Money May 24, 2019 at 2:59 PM

      I hope you guys are able to sell it soon!! One of the worst feelings having that stuff drag on!

  9. Moneybee May 24, 2019 at 11:14 AM

    I’ll just take our 3 month emergency fund figure (not *entirely* bare bones, the numbers for gas and food are purposely on the comfortable side) and divide by 3 and 30. That puts us at $120 a day including car and student loan debt. When I pay off one of my student loan groups (soon!) that will drop by $2.30 a day. I like the sound of that.

    1. J. Money May 24, 2019 at 3:01 PM

      Early congratulations on that!! Gonna be a good day!

  10. Daniel May 24, 2019 at 2:13 PM

    260 bucks a day in Arlington….. This does _not_ include 401k/TSP contrib (but since you mentioned 529 it does have that, as well as a “house” expense savings account). I look forward to next year when the last of the childcare bills are over (aftercare and camps just don’t compare to the sheer unrelenting cost of children before kindergarten, in particular in HCOL place like DC)

    1. J. Money May 24, 2019 at 3:03 PM

      I remember those days!! You pay more in child care than mortgages – not fun!! Free virtual beers on me when you cross that finish line ;)

  11. Aaron Shepherd May 24, 2019 at 3:38 PM

    This is a great idea and provides an excellent way to see what it takes to keep everything running. Also, it doesn’t feel as hard to share this with everyone (even though folks can do the math). We’re at about $230/day in Mpls. :(

    1. J. Money May 24, 2019 at 4:08 PM

      It is easier to say out loud, isn’t it? Haha…

      Maybe next we do a “how much do you MAKE a day?” ;)

  12. Stephanie May 24, 2019 at 4:15 PM

    Ours is $135/day which is bare bones…mortgage, insurance, utilities, gas for both cars, groceries; no eating out, no entertainment, no vacations. We’re in a HCOL area….I guess this is what I need should one of us lose our job.

    1. J. Money May 27, 2019 at 7:03 AM

      Good to know the #!

  13. Simplifibythebay May 24, 2019 at 4:34 PM

    ughhh housing kills living in the bay area. Even if we go down to 1 car (and we have no debt on these), take out all the restaurants, shopping (which we barely do) and travel (oh no, can’t live without this one!), we would still need $210/ day. Housing is 60% of our needs. We really need to think about geographical arbitrage but we love the area and our neighbors:). Any strategies on paying down mortgages sooner are welcome.

    1. J. Money May 27, 2019 at 7:06 AM

      That’s always something people tend to forget about when they say “just move to somewhere cheaper!” It’s not always so black and white when you have love ones around where you currently live! It might be fine for a couple years here and there, but if you love where you’re living or those around you it doesn’t always make sense. At least to me. Love ones > Money :)

  14. Liberty @ Love Liberty Shelter May 25, 2019 at 12:43 AM

    Our survival # is $43/day, with me, Big C, and our four little kids. We live in a paid-for tiny house, with farm chores taking care of our rent. But this # would allow us to continue eating really well, keep our life insurance, car insurance, gas, etc. so we could keep functioning well. We lived on this survival number, give or take, for many years.

    Add in eating out a bit, church offering, supplements, occasional chiropractic, and anything not vital for survival, it goes to $87/day.

    A great reminder just how blessed we are to be doing so much more than surviving . . . and also how low we can go when a big goal is on the horizon!

    1. J. Money May 27, 2019 at 7:07 AM

      I admire you so damn much :)

  15. Darlene May 25, 2019 at 3:44 AM

    The DC thing is a killer. Outrageous to live here which then means less available to save. This will definitely not be our retirement location.

  16. Cubert May 25, 2019 at 8:00 AM

    With a credit card or twelve, you can survive Armageddon.

    (I think that’s Citi’s new marketing campaign…)

    1. J. Money May 27, 2019 at 7:08 AM

      Haha.. at least leading UP to Armageddon! once that comes you’d never have to pay it off! :)

  17. Paul May 25, 2019 at 9:11 AM

    $236.71/ day and that’s being extremely frugal, real number is probably $30 higher if I really analyzed it. This damn area and this damn mortgage… Plus 4 boys and buying groceries for 4 boys (i.e. 2nd mortgage). Bleh, makes me sick, ideally though in retirement I’d like to be around $131/ day. Think that would give me a pretty good life.

    1. J. Money May 27, 2019 at 7:10 AM

      Just a few more years to go ;)

      (and not looking forward to those grocery trips in a few years ourselves! our 1 year old is now eating table food and gobbles every last morsel we put in front of him, so we’re going to be in trouble too as he catches up to his brothers!)

  18. Betsy May 25, 2019 at 3:32 PM

    Excellent thought question!!!

    $194/day is our number in a low cost of living area….family of 6. This includes our contribution toward health care.
    We spend $26/day…..pretax on healthcare (including healthcare savings plan) (plus my husband’s company pays > $39/day towards our insurance) So I am amazed at other people’s low numbers.
    I didn’t include our charity, extra towards mortgage or retirement savings. We are finished funding our 529 plans although we will cash flow some of the tuition once our mortgage is paid off in 2.5 years……our number drops to $161 at that point.

    1. J. Money May 27, 2019 at 7:11 AM

      NICE!!! Only a couple years left – that’s going to feel so good!!!! :)

  19. Myles May 27, 2019 at 11:51 AM

    Just be careful. A full life isn’t about survival. Survival is something that our evolutionary predecessors did. If you have to focus solely on survival as your way to live, you are doing it wrong. The movement of FIRE just to find a position of survival is not going to end well. You need to find your calling, pursue it and money should support that. Not just the ability to survive so you don’t get destroyed by the natural decay of the universe.

    1. J. Money May 28, 2019 at 6:24 AM

      Well, yes – true. This is more of just a fun little exercise to show that you can really live off a lot less if forced to. Something a lot of people don’t give themselves enough credit for ;)

  20. Erith May 27, 2019 at 4:59 PM

    I retired 8 years ago, aged 55, about 5 years early, as far as my company pension was concerned, 11 years early as far as UK Pension / Social Security was concerned. Looking over the last few years our average day rate (when I was working 2009) was £100 a day. Then when I first retired was £67 a day (2011), then 2015 it rose to £80 a day, now in 2019 back to £100 a day… Sadly my retirement income has not risen by 25% since 2015. (God bless spreadsheets). In another 3 years my state pension (aka social security) will kick in, but that won’t cover the increase. Fortunately we had planned for this, and have savings, alternative pension pots, etc,but it is amazing , that just a few years in, despite many forecasts, how things change. Fortunately our daily charge allows for several lovely trips each year and no restriction on our monthly spend. We could easily trim it. My sister-in-law lives well on £30 a day, but I really don’t want to go there.
    I am now 63, my Mum lived to 93, her cousin to 98, and my Dad’s aunt to 93, and his sister to 99, so realistically I hope my sums are right because I will probably have 35 years ahead of me!!
    So all I can say to you young people is plan for a long old age.

    1. J. Money May 28, 2019 at 6:27 AM

      Oh wow – that’s fascinating on many levels!!

      What’s been the main sources of change so far? All the traveling or other things you didn’t see coming? Or is it just the “unlimited budget” you’ve got going on? Haha… Can I be like you when I grow up??? :)

  21. Becky May 29, 2019 at 11:22 AM

    When I was reading the post, I figured out my number to be $55, which seemed discouraging compared to the person whose number was $26. But when you said your number is around $200, I felt a lot better!! I also love that if I multiply that number out for all 365 days of the year, it is only $20,075!! Wow! I didn’t include any ‘extras’ when I figured my number, so no cable, no eating out, and didn’t include student loan payments since this is ‘my’ number and the student loans are my husband’s. I think that the number I came up with allows me to live a ‘decent survival’ as mentioned by the original post.

    Considering I split our living costs down the middle for this example, it’s interesting to see that my family’s total number would be $110 a day, or $40,150 a year, which makes me wonder where the rest of our money goes all year??? (I’m assuming, taxes, benefits [which come out before I get paid, so I didn’t add those into my number], and random unnecessary purchases/eating out.

    1. J. Money May 29, 2019 at 2:03 PM

      Haha yup – sooooo many expenses with adulting!! It really is amazing!!! And yet we can’t wait to become them when growing up without any responsibilities whatsoever! )

  22. Crystal Stemberger May 31, 2019 at 3:25 PM

    Our current number is around $200-$225 a day.

    If we cut back on almost all extras but didn’t move, we could get that down to $162.

    If we sold this house and moved into our paid off smaller rental home, we could get it down to $105 if we cut all the extras. But then we’d be losing $61 a day in rental income.

    We’re paying $18 a day for Liberty Healthshare. The big chunk is property taxes, our mortgage, income taxes, home insurance, flood insurance, term life insurance, and HOA dues ($100 a month currently). The rest is food, a car payment, car insurances, utilities, cell phones on Ting, and fiberoptic internet.

    We would be cutting back on food expenses, the basic cable add on to our internet package, Netflix, and miscellaneous cash.

    1. J. Money June 3, 2019 at 1:37 PM

      You had me at $61 a day in rental income :)

  23. Eelis Vatanen July 15, 2019 at 11:55 AM

    It’s not exactly answering the question you ask ath the end, but, I have a way of tracking _every_single_transaction_in_a_year_, and I did. In 2018, I personally, used 26,477€ and I have records for every single payment.

    This is 72€ per day (just myself. My wife included it’s very close to double), but it includes about 16€ of traveling (which isn’t essential).

    I should look at the categorization from that perspective: necessity. I’m pretty sure I could live on about 45€ but not a lot less.

  24. J. Money July 15, 2019 at 12:03 PM

    Love that you track it all, haha..

    Fun to see – thanks :)