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How to Find Your Spaghetti Number and Why You Should Care

No matter what you do for a living, there’s going to be a time when you’re feeling a bit uneasy about your money situation.

Most of my clients have money worries whether they have their own businesses or if they work for someone else. How much income will I make this month? Will I be able to afford that awesome thing I’ve been wanting? Should I raise my prices?

But sometimes money worries begin spiraling downward into a deep, dark pit of despair and lack. Will I lose my job? Will I be able to pay my bills? Will I end up homeless?

When I’m working with someone who is driving herself bonkers with money stress, I tell her to hit the brakes and figure out her spaghetti number.

Uh, what now? This isn’t a foodie blog, is it?

Nope, but we are going to talk pasta! Allow me to enlighten you…

I was first introduced to the term spaghetti number by the lovely Jess Lively at one of her live workshops 2 years ago. As Jess explains it, this number is the minimum amount of cash you need to survive.

Let’s be clear here—I mean survive, NOT thrive.

How to Find Your Spaghetti Number

Drag out all your receipts and pull up all your bank statements from the previous month. Get a calculator too, your favorite notebook, an Excel spreadsheet, an online budget program such as Mint.com, or anything else you might need.

First, figure out your total income from the month. How much did you make from your job(s) and how much did your partner make if you combine your money?

Next, tally up all your expenses. Be sure to include fixed expenses (car payment) and variable expenses (entertainment and food). Remember to mark down debts and savings too.

Once you’ve got those numbers, subtract your expenses from your income. Don’t freak out if you’re in the negative! These numbers are not a sign of your worth as a person.

To find your spaghetti number, figure out how much money you need to survive. That means the lights are on, the water is on, you have a roof over your head, you’re paying the minimum amount on your bills, and you have food to eat.

BUT you are eating very simple food…ie, spaghetti.

Delete entertainment, movies, TV, Netflix, Starbucks, clothes, Internet, online shopping, etc. from your list. The spaghetti number is about survival, not living like a princess.

So how much money do you really need to survive?

The point of this exercise is to show you that you can survive on much less than what you think. Many of my clients discover that their spaghetti numbers are half of what they thought they needed. They’re nowhere near becoming homeless!

Why Your Spaghetti Number Matters

It’s important to know your spaghetti number so you don’t go off the deep end worrying about losing your home or feeding your children. You’re probably much better off than your stressed-out mind wants you to believe.

However, if things take a turn for the worse and you have to scale back, you now have the knowledge needed to decide what gets cut first.

Maybe you keep the Internet, but you stop buying new clothes. Maybe you keep purchasing organic produce, but you cancel your gym membership.

The choice is yours!

How to Live Below Your Means

Another great way to avoid money stress is to always live below your means. Choose to consciously spend less than what you earn.

Just because you have $100 left in your checking account doesn’t mean you need to spend it. And you don’t need to max out your credit cards just because there’s room on them.

Here are my favorite tips for living below your means:

  • Choose only 1 or 2 meals per week to eat at restaurants or take out. Write them in your planner and make these meals special. It’s something fun to anticipate!
  • Set up an automatic transfer with your bank to move 10% of your income to your savings every payday. You’ll be building a nest egg, and you won’t even miss it.
  • Make a list of free or inexpensive dates for you and your partner. Chris and I like hanging out at the library, baking sweet treats at home, and hiking with Skyla.
  • Use a wardrobe planning app (I love StyleBook) to get the most out of the clothes you already own. How many outfit combinations can you come up with?
  • Invite your friends over to your place for movie night and a potluck dinner. Keep each other accountable instead of pressuring each other to spend more money.

Do you know your spaghetti number?

In the comments below, share your best tips for living below your means.

This post focuses on Step 1 of the Life Editing Process, Create a Foundation. For more about life editing and what it can do for you, click here.

2 Comments

  1. Erika Swafford on October 26, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    I already live on spaghetti. I’m a pasta-freak! 😉

    Back on topic, this is a good thing to do if money problems arise. I read a book once (can’t remember which one) that it is a good idea to create a procedure to follow when a financial crisis arises. Things like stop your automatic savings transfers, cancel Netflix/cable, etc. Having a procedure in place creates peace of mind that you know what to do in a crisis, according to the author. Make sense to me!



    • Sage Grayson on October 27, 2015 at 9:38 am

      Yep, it’s always good to come up with a plan before you actually need it. I also recommend IttyBiz’s “Emergency Turnaround Clinic.”