It’s over. We did it. We made it through No Spend Month, where we had only $400 to spend on gas, groceries, and entertainment, with money to spare. We spent $339.54.
The last week was both challenging and liberating.
We hosted Thanksgiving for the family, and we managed to buy the turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberries, and bake two apple pies without breaking the bank. We even made ice cream from scratch on Black Friday and had enough money left to go bowling.
Now that the challenge is winding down, we’ve had the chance to wax philosophical.
“I think it was really good to be reminded what it’s like to live without money,” the hubby said over coffee this morning. “The thing is, you live like you don’t have any money until you fall into a real job and have money to buy whatever you want, and then you do, and it becomes a shortcut. You don’t spend time on stuff.”
I agree. It’s been a valuable experiment. In some ways, our month without spending has eliminated many wants from my life. That became clear when my hubby asked me for my Christmas list yesterday, and I didn’t have anything to put on it. Sometimes it takes an extreme bout of not spending to remember that buying things doesn’t make you any happier, and doesn’t make your life any better or more interesting.
The spending crash-diet has had more tangible results. We saved 50 percent of our take-home pay in November. We usually save about 10 percent. And, we talked about money and came up with a sustainable monthly budget for the first time in our 7-year marriage. November has realigned us, gotten us on the same page, and hopefully the lessons we learned this month will become a foundation for a happier, and more prosperous financial life.
In the final week, we spent
- $35.54 on gas
- $42 on groceries
- $12 on bowling on Black Friday
If you want to replicate this experiment, here is how we made it through the month:
Groceries were by far our biggest expense. We cooked at home almost every night, and when we didn’t cook, we ate leftovers. Most of our meals were vegetarian. Our main source of meat protein was eggs and chicken.
We made a lot of soup, such as vegetarian chili and corn chowder.We ate a lot of Mexican-inspired food. Yellow rice and beans can make a variety of dishes that are healthy and inexpensive. If dinner one night was fajitas, the leftovers were made into huevos rancheros the next day.
We did eat out, just once, after a memorial service for my dad who passed away in July. We didn’t go out because we were too tired or didn’t feel like cooking. When we craved restaurant food, we tried to make an equivalent meal at home.
While shopping, we used Aldi’s for canned goods, pantry basics, and cereals. We used grocery sale flyers to figure out what to cook each week and determine what fresh fruits and veggies we could afford.
We didn’t eat enough fresh produce this month. It was expensive, in part because it’s winter, so fresh local varieties aren’t available. We did eat a lot of bananas because the grocery near us has “Banana Thursdays”, selling them for 29 cents a pound.
A stocked pantry is essential. As is having bags of onions and potatoes on hand. With that, you are unstoppable. It gives you the option to buy only when things are on sale, to cook at home even when you’re in a hurry, and to avoid driving to the store every few days to pick up something for a recipe.
We have two cars, a 1998 Chrysler Concorde (the gas guzzler) and a 1998 Honda Civic (the gas sipper). We filled up the Chrysler once and the Civic twice. Both have almost-full tanks still. We saved gas by using the Civic for any trip over 5 miles. Hubby and I also worked from home as much as possible. We always ran multiple errands on one trip.
We got a lot of free DVDs from the library and from friends. We hosted two parties, and we also hosted Thanksgiving for the family. All party and meal supplies were purchased on sale. I went to an opening at an art gallery, for free.
I took many books out of the library and caught up on some home improvement and craft projects. I am still amazed at how many projects I have not yet done even though I bought supplies months ago.
We also spent several nights drinking a glass of wine by the fireplace. I also began hosting free yoga classes at my house every Monday.
Even though we have been on a budget, we haven’t been alone. We’ve still managed to socialize and spend time with family and friends. Before this month, I wouldn’t have believed it was possible.
We have an 8-month old baby. To save money, we used the cloth diapers we received as gifts when he was born. This saved us about $30-$45 on disposable diapers. Baby food was included in our grocery budget, but at 49 cents a jar, wasn’t prohibitively expensive.
Handling the money
How you handle your money during No Spend Month is critical. It has to be cash only. It’s just too easy to overspend if you have a credit or debit card. We used cash for everything except gas, only because we weren’t good at estimating how much it cost to fill up. When we used the debit card, we immediately took cash out of the envelope to cover it.
First, we celebrate. Staying on budget has earned us a dinner at a fancy restaurant. Ironically,we have decided to forgo $40 steaks for a $10 Indian buffet instead. It looks like our new frugal habits are sticking.
No spend month is great, but if it doesn’t carry over into your regular life, it’s really all for nothing. December marks the beginning of a new challenge. We have designed a new, long-term budget that will allow us to live on significantly less than we were before we went on a crash diet. No spend month has shown us what is possible, and that we can do so much more with the resources we are blessed to have.