If you frequent any frugal living blogs or websites you have likely come across the terms “no spend” or “spending freeze”. Lots of folks out there advocate for taking a set period of time, usually a month, and attempting to spend money only on what is needed to survive – food, gas, bills, etc. There are of course many variations on the “no spend month”, some of which even exclude groceries! I guess they are counting on a good stockpile!
I’ve thought about attempting a no spend month for a while, just to see how my spending would be affected. I already stick to a tight budget each month for groceries, toiletries, household items, etc. Still, I thought I could learn something about my spending habits from trying to freeze any unnecessary spending for a month. We got hit with over $1500 in car repairs in January 🙁 so February seemed like the perfect time to give this no spend approach a try!
First of all, let’s be real. I did buy more than just food, folks. Unless someone is an honest-to-goodness prepper, I don’t see how he/she could go an entire month without running out of something. Three days into “No Spend February”, the batteries in my headlamp died. I went to get more from my desk, and whoops, we were out of AAA batteries. So I ordered a 24 pack on Amazon for $8. Unless I wanted to stumble through the dark to close the chicken coop every night for a month, I needed to buy batteries. Plus, I would just end up buying them next month anyway. Right away I decided to allow myself purchases needed for the efficient running of our homestead for the entire month. Not doing that seemed counterproductive and crazy to me.
Next, I am a person with a lot of patience, and if I really want something that seems expensive to me, I am willing to wait a ridiculous amount of time for a deal to help me afford what I want. Case in point: that Costco membership that I’ve wanted for years but couldn’t justify buying. Last month a Living Social deal came up for a super deal on a Costco membership, making it practically free after coupons and a gift card. Since I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for a good deal on a Costco membership, I went ahead and bought the membership, even during the no spend month. To me, it would have been silly to not jump on the deal, since I know I will use the membership (I have) and have been waiting so long for a deal to come along!
That said, the no spend challenge definitely stayed my hand from buying many things during the month. So much so that the month of February seemed to drag on forever! Here is a more detailed breakdown of how the month went:
We didn’t eat out at all, though that isn’t much of a change. We tend to only eat out about once a month anyway, unless we are on vacation. Not much savings there.
One of my weaknesses is secondhand children’s books, and I resisted the urge to buy books for our little home library several times. Do we really need copies of every Miss Spider book by David Kirk? No. Did I want to buy them? Yes. But I didn’t, and still haven’t. I think I would have went right ahead and spent that $15 on more books had it not been for the no spend challenge.
I watch our little one while my husband works outside of the home, and I take her on outings for social interaction and learning about 3 days each week. I think the biggest challenge I faced during February was finding fun things to do with her that were free. I was tempted many times to take her someone that charges an admission fee. Then I would remind myself of these incredible resources for fun and free play:
- Our local library – we love our weekly story time, plus it is fun to go there just to check out new books and play in the new kid’s area.
- Our local parks – great to play, socialize, and we even attended a free activity for preschool age kids about animal sounds.
- Memberships to museums, zoos, etc. – we have a membership to our local science museum so we can go there for free. It is huge and there is never a lack of something fun to explore.
- Kids events at stores – Home Depot, Lowes, The Lego Store and others offer free kids’ events throughout the month. We have been to the Home Depot kids clinics three times now and we totally love them.
- Play dates at friend’s houses – Kids love playing with other kids’ toys and exploring their space.
Though we had to turn down a few invitations, we overall had a really fun time out and about in February. I think if you tell your friends that you are attempting a spending freeze, they will be willing to meet you somewhere that works for your budget. We have wonderful friends who even shared guest passes to the YMCA with us so we could all swim together and we wouldn’t have to pay!
Another challenge was resisting the urge to buy little toys for our daughter when were out and about. I love the Dollar Tree, but it is so easy to blow a few bucks on stickers, art supplies, coloring books, little toys, etc. each time we visit. That money adds up over the course of month, and especially a year! Trust me, our daughter does not lack for things to play with, and I think she has more fun when she can be creative with what we already have. I also resisted buying several cute and fun toys at a great price on Amazon. I actually noticed that most of my temptation for buying toys on Amazon comes from one particular blog I follow, so I had to stop scanning through those emails for the month. I haven’t started back yet, and I might not.
Lastly, I did buy a few more things that were not necessities. One was a gift for one of our dearest kid friends, whose birthday falls in February. I was not going to forgo a birthday present for a little one due to the spending freeze. However I did limit my spending to $10 total for everything and still gave a great present.
I also got a rare free shipping offer for Swap.com in February, and I used it to buy a pair of shoes for our girl in the next size up from what she currently wears. I try to have clothes ready for her one season ahead, now that she isn’t growing as fast and I can actually figure out what size she will be wearing next season! I buy mostly secondhand clothes, so that gives me plenty of time to look around for what she needs. I already have everything she’ll need for spring/summer clothes, but I didn’t have any shoes, so when I found a pair of super cute sandals in the next size, I snagged them for $4. Confession: I also bought two Barbie mermaid books for her for $1 each from Swap.com. I told you I have a secondhand book problem.
Another confession: I bought a bubble gun toy for $6 at Walmart during the last few days of the month. I’ve been wanting to get one since I saw them on our last trip to Disney World this past fall. I don’t know what came over me, but when I saw it I just grabbed it and bought it. I guess that’s what a no spend challenge will do to you.
When I added up our totals at the end of the month, we came in about $60 under budget. While it was great to save some money, I really thought we’d save much more! I guess when you already run a tight ship, there just isn’t that much wiggle room. However, if I came in $60 under budget every month, that would be an extra $720 at the end of the year to put towards meeting one of our financial goals, such as building the college fund or saving for retirement.
Here is a summary of the valuable lessons I learned this month that can help us stay under budget every month:
- There is SO much out there to do with kids that is fun, educational and free. I can make places that charge admission a special occasion treat instead of a weekly occurrence.
- I am often tempted to spend small amounts of money on little toys, in stores and on Amazon. That spending adds up and brings a limited amount of fun to our life. We can have just as much fun without new toys.
- Taking advantage of deals on next season’s clothes and things that can save me money (aka a Costco Membership) is smart all of the time, even during a spending freeze.
I know that my discoveries may seem obvious to some, but it wasn’t until I wrestled with spending decisions this month that I really understood them. We are a week into March already, and so far I am successfully applying what I learned to make changes in my spending habits.
I’d love to hear from any readers who have tried a spending freeze, or are considering one, or who think the idea is crap. Please leave a comment below!