Thursday, October 23, 2008



This past week has been a swirl of list-making, planning, scheming and dealing with all sorts of practical minutiae that come with my new status as a “soon-to-be unemployed attorney.” With every errand done and call made, a whole new life is taking shape, one that I have been seeking, in one way or another, all of my adult life.

One of the first things I did this week is come up with a draft budget that I am hoping to put in place once the Plan is finalized. For the Excel nuts out there, you can view it here.

As you review this budget keep this in mind: apart from generally trying to not buy big-ticket items, I have little to no sense of how to truly economize. I feel a little like Bush senior when he didn’t know the price of milk in the 1992 election. The fact is that when you work the hours I do you hardly have the time to really notice the price of things you buy. Your instinct is to go into a store and get what you need as quickly as possible, put it on a credit card, and not worry about it. Ahh, the insanity of yuppiedom...


The truth is that I have been living in la la land for years and only now am I getting a taste of real life. I’m going to need some time to adjust and figure out how to get my bearings. So, please be kind. It’s not easy being a recovering yuppie:

[Cue the basement of the local community center]

Jack: “Hi. I’m Jack. I’m a Yuppie.”

Group: “HELLO JACK!”



As for the budget itself, here are some observations:

*Two areas that I think I can work on right off the bat are Personal Spending and Groceries. The former, I am certain I can get down to the $300 and even the $200 range. I definitely hit a couple of bars every week with some of my buddies, but that’s not all that expensive. The amount of the latter is just a placeholder. I just don’t have any idea what I will need to spend until I start to take stock of what I buy every month.

*Miscellaneous is a catch-all category. I’ll probably expand this as I work on this budget going forward.


I am SO excited about some of things that I have planned for the next couple of weeks. One thing in particular makes me smile whenever I think about it. Stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

You're on the right track, Jack! You will get things planned and worked out. I'm so excited for you as you begin this amazing journey!


Jae Jagger said...

Back when I was younger and skinnier, I had a grocery budget of $50 a month. I have no idea how I did it, but I somehow I would survive on one meal per day, frozen dinners, whatever was on sale. Once a week, I would eat out (on Sunday), and cram as much food into my system as I could. Awww, 'em were the days.

Lynne said...

Mmm, I'd be surprised if you could cut your groceries and miscellaneous. But you'll figure out. Having been off work for nearly 8 months so far, I have realised I am a person who struggles to economise. There's always a present to buy, a flight home...I'm going back to work. But only on a short term basis - think I can deal with that.


Anonymous said...

Netfix, dry cleaning, and the gym should all go.
Dry cleaning? Really? Clothing, well, you must have thrift stores in DC. To get your groceries down learn how to cook and buy in bulk.
Personal spending, wow, $400? You are a yuppie. :)

I think you are still trying to live your old life but without the job. It is not going to work that way.

It is scary but it can be done. I live on $1000 per month, and any of my friends will tell you I have a vibrant life. This is not a physical problem, it is a mental problem. Just think to yourself every time you are looking at buying something if the thing is going to make you truly happy.

Jack said...


Thanks for the support. Always appreciated.


I would hate to think how a person could survive on $50 dollar a month for food. On the other hand, you don't have to look far; right here in the US there is enough need to make that statement ridiculous.


Ummm...I think on the groceries stuff, I need to keep an up-to-date book listing the prices of things so that I can compare prices. Hopefully, that will be enough. And Misc, yeah, I just don't know at this point.

Kerry said...


I'm glad that you are attempting to ditch your yuppie roots. Now, if I ever see you on the street I won't give you the stink-eye.

Budgeting has been the hardest thing for me. I am finally in a position where I can save up to, and possibly over, $1000 a month. Unfortunately, life happens. The car needs work. My driver's licence expired. The dog needed to go to the vet. Etc. Etc.

Fortunately, with your career, you are surely in a position where saving from nothing is not going to be a big deal for you. This is a good thing, and with that I am a little jealous of you.

Nicole said...

A girl has to appreciate a man with a plan. I look forward to hearing of the one thing that makes you smile.

Carrot said...
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Jerry Critter said...

I'm curious, Jack. Is it the life style (yuppie) or the job (lawyer) that is driving you to make all these changes? You are changing both, but they are somewhat independent.

I am not a lawyer, but I would think that there are other types of lawyering that you could do which would be more satisfying and still pay well.

Or, you could simply change your life style but keep your job. Stop doing so many yuppieisms.

I am greatly oversimplifying things. There is an interaction between your work and your life style, but is it as strong as you seem to think?

Just curious. I don't expect a detailed answer. This is more of a rhetorical comment. It is just something that popped into my mind.

Elizabeth Halt said...

The best way to figure out a budget is to track your spending for a few months and work from there. So you have time to figure it out. :) How come there were no housing costs for current, though, and spending was higher post-job? That seemed a bit odd.

I must confess that my food budget is higher than almost any other budget item I have. I do love food, though, and I figure that if I eat well and high quality, I will spend less on health (and stuff) and plus it's fun to cook and feed others. But that's just me ..

Have fun!

Nicola said...

good for you, jack!
hey, you know from the posts on my blog, frugality is my thing. here is my post awhile back about a good budget:

if you don't read it, my main suggestion is that you try and track every penny you spend for at least 1 month, preferably 3+. that will clue you in to your true spending.
and i would say, if it just you, you could get by with groceries for $200 or less.

keep at it! you are impressive to cheer on!

Jennoit said...

I agree with others who have said to track your spending for a few months and work from there. When I have really needed to, I entered *every single thing* that I purchased during a month into a spreadsheet and then I could figure out what was necessary and what wasn't. To be honest, I hate doing this, but it's really eye-opening. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

i'm sure prices are higher in dc, but surely you can get by on $200 a month for groceries. Our family of four is budgeted for $600 a month on groceries. Eat out less.

also, you are in dc, right? my hubby says they have a great subway system; do you really need the taxis? walking is healthier anyway. ditto what wantless said re: dry cleaning. i make a point to buy clothes that do not require dry cleaning. you are "retiring" early right? that's the goal? you won't have a fancy "dress up" job? so what will you need dry cleaning for each month?

$58 a month for clothing? Will you really need that much new clothing each month?

of course, as you said i think your biggest inroad for savings would have to be the "personal spending" category. $400 is a lot. Surely you can find ways to simplify your personal spending. I again agree with wantless, it sounds like you're trying to live the same lifestyle, just minus the job. and that's fine if you can swing it. it will be interesting to see if you can.

just a few ideas--you said you have no sense of how to truly economize.

they call it voluntary simplicity, which always amuses me, because actually, not paying attention to your habits and just consuming without much thought is waaay simpler. Stupider, possibly, less responsible, definitely, but simpler nonetheless. the vs lifestyle, as you have discovered, takes planning and forethought and intention. and i admire anyone who attempts it.

you'll get it figured out. but deep down you know that already.

Kat said...

I just had to redo my own budget (admittedly, not after a massive life change...) so I can feel your pain, in a tiny, tiny way. Good luck.

Also, you already knew this, but your blog is fascinating. :)

Jack said...


I am going to have to disagree with you re the gym and netflix. The former is essential for my sanity; working out is incredibly healthy an compliments my bike riding. And yoga, pilates and everything else is also a plus. As for netflix, i found it as cost-effective way to watch movies online and via mail without having a $200 plus cable package. Groceries and personal spending, as mentioned in the post, will need to be trimmed quite a bit. BTW, would LOVE to be where you are. Let's hope I can get there soon enough.


Well, now I feel better walking down the street :) Thanks for the kudos.

Miss scorpio,

Thanks for the comment. Yeah, that one thing is a biggie for me. And I predict it will be fairly controversial. My mom is going to kill me...

Jack said...


Sweet! I am soooo riding with you within the next year.


As always, you are super insightful. It's the lifestyle that I have a problem with. But it is the job that allows you, seduces you into the lifestyle. I am in the process of looking for another law job that focuses on sustainable development. Nothing wrong with law or being a lawyer. It's the insanity of law firm culture that is the problem.


Definitely taking the next couple of months to track my spending so that I can figure out budgeting. By Jan 1st or so I should have groove going. As for the discrepancy, the Current column does not include my current mortgage payments whereas the post-job column has a accumulated housing cost into one amount. BTW, food rocks!

Jack said...


Believe me, I remember that post and actually kept a small book with purchase amounts for a while to try and economize. Just didn't have the time so didn't keep up. But now I will!


See comments above. Definitely doing the same exact thing for a couple of months to track my spending. BTW, given your cycling, you must give me some pointers on getting the right kind of food etc...

A square peg,

I absolutely suspect that, which is why it's one area I am targeting for cost-cutting. As for taxis, that's a good point, though they stop running sometimes when I am out with friends. Dry cleaning is a GREAT point; problem is that I still have clothing that will need to be dry cleaned if I wear it at all. Question comes up: why even wear it then?

Clothing: probably not, but it is a good place to start.

Keep this stuff coming. I need all the input you can provide. :)

Unknown said...

I had no idea... though somewhere in between our sparse e-mails (& even though I know u very little) I felt it was inevitable for you too, so it's funny u used that same language. I thought it yrs ago when I came across an old "Spark" journal from HS, where u had written a poem ... "Sensuality." So I was surprised to find you were a corporate lawyer. But still, I understand the dilemma... what do you do if you're intelligent & want great things out of life... but at the same time u are restless & realize there is so much u have forsaken. Yup, it was inevitalbe. Funny how the universe has a way of making us trip over the things we need to listen to... I bet there were a few shovels that hit u in the head b4 u finally listened. I've had a few experiences like that, including a few mos ago when I quit financial planning b/c I realized what I really wanted to do (always, this was nothing new) was medicine. After college I also went to Serbia to work for a humanitarian org, and what started as a 6 mo stint became 2 yrs. Plus many adventures in I know you will have great adventures that you can't even fanthom right now, esp sensing ur personality. I think we share the trait of preferring the un-explored to the over-done in traveling. Only one thing: too bad you're starting when the weather is turning cold ... though if you are considering other [less developed] countries, it will be both cheaper & warmer (I flew to Guatemala a few mos ago for $300 RT, and cost of living wont run you more than $200/mo). Regardless, this is your trip, go where the wind beckons. And if you want a bit of inspiration, check out Daniel Holdt on Couch Surfing & Hospitality Club (he was my 1st host yrs ago, and his attitude & way of life is enchanting). If you're in Denamrk, he'd be a great host. And when you're in NY, I really want to show you a book "American Pictues" that his dad published yrs ago when he was traveling all over the US by hitch hiking. OK, enjoy the adventures ... I think u will find living on a budget ... surprisingly refreshing. It will make u appreciate the little things ... & believe it or not u will enjoy it.

Unknown said...

Also, I think some of these post-ers are exaggerating when they mention such budgets as $400 month in any urban setting in America. Certainly it can be done... but somehwere between ur current (or ex-) over-spending and a life of destitude there is plenty of middle ground. U have to find what works for you. I think $1000-$1500/mo for all (incl rent) is sufficient from my current experience in NY ...I'm a student again, so I too had to re-adjust my life-style... but I swear, I'm loving it ... though I'm referring more to the academic life than anything else... but everything else rocks too. U feel very free when u realize u don't need something (whatever it was) as much as u thought u did... including money. Last thought, w/ the current economy, it may not be a bad idea to keep your town house if you can ... it may well be the safety net that keeps u relaxed while u puruse adventures. Too mucy money can be entrapping... but the fear of coming back to nothing can also be a mental prison.

Nicole said...

I often find anything you hold close to your heart and think is worth having usually leads to a little controversy. That will only make it all the more meaningful.

PleaseRecycle said...

The budget is good- as others have mentioned, the best way to start is tracking/writing things down.

My 2 cents in regards to groceries- plan dinners a week at a time and shop accordingly. It could be microwave burritos 6 nights a week and out to dinner one night- whatever- just the plan helps. Then make a grocery list, shop once per week, and stick to the list.

Just that, without coupons or anything else, has cut my grocery spending by 15-20%.

donna said...

Is food expensive in the U.S Jack? $200 works out to about £126 and I'm feeding 4 of us- 2 kids and 2 adults ( son eats pretty much as much as me even though he's only 8!), for just under £200 a month.I cook most stuff from scratch so that keeps the cost down( and tastes better), and also buy supermarket own brand stuff rather than the big labels.
good luck with the budgetting though. i think as I've cut our spending I've realised that I was wasteful in the past and that I could spend less quite easily.

Jack said...


Thanks for the support. Always nice to hear good things.


Wow, it's awesome you decided to comment. We should totally get together next time I am in NY. Need to hear more about the career change and all that traveling. As for the budgeting, I think the focus was on whether it was ok to allocate $400 a month on personal expenses. That's aside from other housing and misc. costs.

Miss Scorpio,

Well, just posted my 'controversial ' idea. I just hope my mom doesn't kill me. :)

Jack said...


I have to level with you, that is probably the most useful tip I have had. That totally makes sense! I'm implementing this thing in Nov so I will let you know how it turns out.


Yeah, it has gotten pretty expensive, though it's not as if I have a good sense of how much more expensive it is now. I think based on an UK budget, I think I could cut down at least 60 pounds or so right off the bat. Will let you know how it turns out.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I think your blog would be more honestly titled if it were "Adventures in Slightly Less Extravagant Affluence." Kudos on choosing to pursue a more fulfilling life for yourself, but your budget seems to indicate that you'll still be leading a life which is very much upper middle class, and I think referring to that as "voluntary simplicity" is rather insulting to, y'know, actual poor people.

Jack said...


Thanks for the comment. Would love to know, specifically, what line items lead you to conclude that. All constructive input always appreciated. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Items like Netflix, cable internet, tailoring, and $50 haircuts. I'm not saying that I think you should give those things up - you should absolutely live your life however you see fit. I know there's no way in hell I'd give up my home internet connection. I'm just saying that things like that are luxuries. It's a luxury to have a choice of whether or not to spend money on such things.

So I guess my advice would simply be: keep in mind that although you're jumping down a tax bracket, you are still privileged. Because it might irritate people (i.e. me when I first stumbled on this blog yesterday) if you come off as fancying yourself to be some sort of Siddhartha figure.

Jack said...


I take your point. They are luxuries for a lot of people, but I think you are missing the focus of voluntary simplicity. I suggest you check out wikepedia to get a better sense of the movement. Vol Simpl is not about embracing abject poverty. It's about focusing on those things that make you happy. I LOVE netflix; i don't much love cable, that's why I am actually GIVING IT UP (did you actually review my draft budget carefully?). I would LOVE to only spend $800 a month on housing (again, did you actually review my budget carefully?) and don't much care for most of my furniture and even the townhouse I live in, which is why I am giving them up.

As for being a Siddhartha figure, I have NO idea where you would get that idea. Did you take the time to read my through my blog? Did you even read this post carefully, at least the part where I emphasize that I have a lot to learn about budgeting and the real world?

diane said...

Hi Jack, when budgeting, I consider all toiletries miscellaneous, and buy those items in bulk. Living a scaled down life style,takes practice. But it's well worth it. It's a whole new way of looking at the materials needed to live a happy and uncomplicated life, as well as being conscious of your daily spending habits.

SF Kid said...

I didn't see any housing costs or transportation costs. There is always something, even if you need cabs, buses, or zip car.
Just thought you might want to put something in.

Jack said...


Great point. Yeah, thinking of moving in that direction, although given that I will be leaving my place sometime soon I can't quite stock up the way I should.


There is a housing line item (approximately $800) which would include utilities. Good point on transportation. Will need to revise.

Anonymous said...

Hey Jack-

Just wanted to make a comment on the gym thing. I agree on that being an possible area to cut, but that doesn't mean that you have to cut working out and what you get out of it. Man has been around for a long time, and certainly was able to develop muscles before treadmills and Bowflexes.

The thing I love about the Voluntary Simplicity movement is it gives you the opportunity to be creative! In going through stuff that I think I need, I'll say to myself, what would I do if I didn't have it?

What would you do to work out if you didn't have the gym? I think there are a lot of exercises out there that use your own body weight. Or what about actual activities that will build muscle, that also help you get engaged with the world around you (like your cycling). Perhaps you could volunteer someplace that requires a lot of heavy lifting/moving things.

Of course, cutting things out happens in stages. So, as this is one dear to your heart, it may be awhile before you are ready to transform the activity.

Also, on the Netflix, why not cut down to their cheapest plan? I believe you can still download unlimited movies off the web, and you could supplement it with checking out movies from the library or borrowing them from friends.

Just thought I'd throw in my 2 cents!