"Debt is the slavery of the free." - Publilius Syrus

The One-Month Spending Crash Diet

By , November 3rd, 2008 | 10 Comments »

Be careful what you read in blogs. You just may end up with a hair-brained idea like this one.

My husband and I have declared November a no-spend month. Okay, so it’s not really a no spend month. It’s more like a month-long crash diet.

We have budgeted $400 for the month of November. That’s all we have to spend. This $400 has to cover everything that isn’t a monthly recurring bill.

What doesn’t count: utilities, student loan payment, monthly transfers into our emergency fund, 401k, and 529 plan. Baby formula is also exempt. The $400 must pay for everything else: food, gasoline, entertainment, clothes, parking, and anything else we would normally buy.

Considering we easily go through $2,000 a month, it’s a steep decrease from what we are used to.
Why are we doing this? Well, we read a story about a family of three that tried it, and it inspired us to give it a whirl.

With all of the craziness lately on Wall Street, and watching the balances of our retirement accounts fall by more than $75,000 since last October, we feel like it’s high time we fattened up our emergency fund and learned to live leaner.

We also feel making a diligent, conscientious effort to stop spending might help us slow down, hop off of the consumption train and take a look at where the heck all of our money goes each month. We are generally good savers, but we could be doing so much better. And it seems like we’ve been spending more and more these past few months.

How will this work exactly? We’ve laid some ground rules that we hope will help us get the most out of our experience.

First, the $400 will be placed in cash in an envelope on the side of the fridge on Nov.1. We aren’t allowed to use credit cards, no ATM withdrawals, and no cheating. This is easy to monitor online. This is the only realistic way we can stay on budget.

Second, we need a carrot and a stick to help us stay focused. Otherwise, it would be too easy to say “Oh well” and give up.

The stick: For every dollar we spend over the $400 budget, an equal amount goes to a charity that we deplore, one that stands for everything we don’t. The idea is to add an extra layer of “I don’t want to get any of my money, so I better stay on track.” The carrot is dinner for two sans the baby at a fancy steakhouse near our house.

Third, we aren’t allowed to front-load expenses in October. What is the point of not spending in November if you spend twice as much in October because you know you can’t spend anything in November?

The only exception to the stock-up rule is groceries. I re-stocked the pantry with basics only– nothing fancy– such as beans, rice, cheese, etc. so that we would have the foundation for what I hope to be many home-cooked meals.

We will have to cook at home most of the month to make this work. We will also have to be incredibly fuel efficient in our vehicle use. We won’t be able to drive as much and will certainly have to plan shopping trips so that all stops can be made on one trip. No more running to the store for one item.

We haven’t forgotten Thanksgiving either, although it will pose less of a challenge this year. Our annual 1,000 mile drive to the in-laws house has been canceled. We just had a nice long visit with them, so we all agreed that we can pass on Thanksgiving. Of course, we will have to make alternate plans.

Spending less is a big part of this plan, but we’re also going to attack the expense side of the balance sheet. In a further effort to beef up our savings, I will also be examining all of our monthly bills and looking for ways to save. I already suspect our telephone and Internet service will be changing post haste.

With the challenge about to begin, I thought I would be nervous about limiting our spending, but actually we are quite excited. I think we relish the challenge. And we suspect it might get us closer to the kind of life we’d like to be living. Of course, there’s the risk that this could end in a spectacular disaster.

I plan to outline our progress, our failings, our triumphs and all the gory details once a week on this blog. Maybe I can inspire you to set out on your own month of crash dieting. Or, I might just scare you into being a spendthrift. Who can say. You’ll just have to check back here each week to find out how it turns out.

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  • Alain Theriault says:

    That’s good idea. This way if you succeed, you’ll wonder where did you spend the extra money. It’s probably not easy at first but it’s feasible.

    You’re also looking at it as a challenge which is a great motivator.

    Let us know how it went!

  • Rachel says:

    Good luck Denise! I know this will be an eye-opener, because no matter how well you did before, you can always learn something new. You’ve got a great plan in place, and I hope it goes well!

  • Jo says:

    Good Luck with your challenge. This is an excellent idea and the experience will be a real eye opener.

  • Alex says:

    Denise, I always enjoy your articles. Good luck to you with this challenge. I too have trimmed down my spending a LOT to the point that I hardly buy anything but necessities (and that definition has changed in the past year), eat out a LOT less, cook at home, take all my lunches to work, no more recreational window shopping. I LOVE my simpler, frugal life. I’ve never felt better. Am looking forward to hearing from you. Keep up the good work.

  • No Black Friday shopping bonanza for you then! Though Cyber Monday is conveniently December 1st 🙂

    I’m curious where you came up with the $400 figure. It seems pretty drastic compared to your usual habits – I’d have been impressed to see you shoot for half! Should be interesting to see what grows out of your experiment.

  • ray chaapel says:

    I wish you the best of luck. We have done that and now feel bad when we buy a Pizza once a month. Good luck to you. If you have fun like we did you will become obsessed.

  • Carol says:

    I’m looking forward to hearing about your progress. My husband is taking a buyout at the end of November and neither one of us has any jobs lined up yet. I’m looking for any and all ideas to live on less.

  • Gail says:

    Wishing you every success and remember that many people don’t even have that $400 for ‘spending money’ each month. I would think your circumstances for food needs and driving/parking for work would be your big variables. Even though I’m aware of the price of gas, which thankfully has gone down, since hubby is self employed here at home I tend to forget how much it costs just to drive to work and back. We are down to driving less than 4500 miles a year at this point. But regular driving into work and back could eat up a big chunk of that $400.


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