My First (and Maybe Last) “No-Spend” Month: Victories and Lessons Learned

My friend Stephanie M. recently challenged herself to a no-spend month. I’ve thought about doing a no-spend month, but live so frugally my husband would balk at the thought of cutting back even more. So I am living and learning vicariously through Stephanie. I am excited to share her hilarious and inspiring guest post.

I set out to make February 2019 my first no-spend month; it’s the shortest month of the year, so – easy right? Several authors have written about no-spend months, but the one I read and found inspiring was Ruth Soukup’s 31 Days of Living Well and Spending Zero.

The Rules

My goals were relatively simple, or so I thought. I would only spend money on essentials for the month, including the mortgage, monthly bills, childcare, gas, and perishable staple food/household items like toilet paper, milk, bread, eggs (you get the picture).

I would otherwise “freeze” my spending on things like eating out, impulse buys on Amazon, clothing/hair/make-up, and other “non-essentials.” I have already cut way back on a lot of this non-essential spending over the last couple years as I’ve firmed up financial goals and become wiser with money, so it wasn’t that hard not to eat out, or not to go to the clearance end-cap at Target for a lotion and chap stick I really didn’t need.

Side note: I have long since banned myself from Target, except for online Christmas shopping or big diaper/baby gear deals, as I truly have zero self-control there.

 

My Strategy

I was excited to see how much I would save this month, and in turn, how much extra I could throw at my last remaining debt – the car payment.

Where I really focused and wanted to see the most change was in the grocery category. The book I referenced above talks about “shopping” in your pantry and freezer and coming up with as many meals as you can and only going to the grocery store for produce and other perishables. I always have a decent stock of canned goods, dry beans, pastas, and random freezer items, so this almost sounded like a fun challenge.

Photo by Fancy Crave

My mission:

Spend HALF of what we normally spend on groceries. For my family of 4, I normally spend ~$5-600/month; remember, this is after already scaling back, as a few years ago this number was higher.

The number I had in mind was $250. With 4 weeks in the month, that meant roughly $60 per week.

 

Here’s what happened…

Week 1:

I decided to go to Aldi with only $60 cash and the calculator on my phone to keep a running total. This was a lot more challenging because I also had my two small children and did not have enough hands to juggle the calculator, my list, the cart, and the children. At one point, I was so preoccupied with the calculator and my running total, I failed to notice my 4-year-old son committing a class C felony and exposing himself. *Sigh* Luckily, one noticed or said anything, so, crisis averted.

I was super excited and gave myself a mental high-five at the check-out. It worked! My total was $58 and some change! I felt pretty confident, and that the month wasn’t going to be too tough after all.

 

Week 2:

Not wanting to do another juggling act, I decided to try this Walmart.com grocery pick up all the moms online rave about… After I consulted the ad and made my list, I went into the app and could see my running total in the corner – no calculator needed and no impulse buys!

Bonus: because it was my first time using the service, I got $10 off, so my total ended up being around $50 instead of $60. The verdict? I really enjoyed the experience! So my strawberries looked a bit less red/juicy than I might have picked and my frozen broccoli “cuts” were basically just frozen stems. Does anyone actually eat frozen stems!? (Luckily, my husband was able to use them in his daily smoothies).

I called this week another success; and because I had saved $10, I was able to pick up a couple of items later in the week we ran out of rather than waiting until my normal shopping day (Saturday/Sunday).

 

Week 3:

I went back to Aldi (I just love it there), this time with a scrap of paper to write my totals on instead of having to unlock my passcode protected phone for a calculator each time I picked something out. I also left the 1-year-old home with dad, which made the trip much easier.

There were some unforeseen challenges, as the items on my list reached my cash limit quicker than anticipated. I actually had to put some items back and buy less of a few things. For example, the frozen berries I normally get my husband for his smoothies come in a $6 huge bag, or in $2 smaller bags (same price per unit). I normally would get the big bag, as I like to “stock up” when I can, but had to go for the smaller to stay within the weekly budget.

When I got to the register, I was surprised to learn I had somehow miscalculated! I was a couple of dollars over.  Not a huge deal, because I did have my debit card on me, but the perfectionist in me couldn’t help but be a bit disappointed.  

Photo by Fancy Crave

 

Week 4:

I decided to do Walmart.com again so I could have more control over my cart and total; however, I was actually in Walmart without the kids right after work to pick up goggles for my son’s swim lessons and decided (rather impulsively) to go ahead and do my shopping.

Well, this wasn’t the greatest idea for several reasons. I was hungry, a bit tired, in a hurry, and only had a partial list. Worse, I didn’t have cash on me and I had to make other purchases, so I worried about my ability to stay under budget.

Photo by Bianca Lucas

I ended up doing ok and staying under budget, but I did not get everything I needed for the meals I planned the next week, which made for another trip to the store later that weekend. I also learned that a few items I got at Wal-Mart were cheaper elsewhere; lesson learned – always check ads first and go with a complete list.

When I went for the second trip later that weekend (Winn Dixie this time because there were some great BOGO deals), I ended going over budget, even after using the rewards points I had on my card.

 

The Verdict

So, in the end I was $13 over my goal of $250. I am very pleased with this number and call it a victory. I made a lot of really delicious and healthy meals with things already in my cabinets/freezer (I looked up recipes on Pinterest for meals including Taco Baked Potato, Enchilada Bake, Yellow Dahl, and Cheesy Lentil Casserole). I definitely now know some factors that make me more or less likely to stay within my budget. 

How did I do otherwise? Well, it most certainly was not a “no-spend” month. Despite my grocery victories, there were so many life things that came up that quickly derailed my goal. My husband’s truck tire blew, I realized we were out of cat litter and diapers on the same day, our fridge water filter was a month past the date it should have been changed, and my son finally reached a very important behavioral goal we set months previously for which I had promised a new toy and a cake.

Final Thoughts

I definitely thought more about purchases and did spend more wisely but could not freeze all non-essential spending. Life happens, and I think focusing on a drastic reduction in one category (groceries) every so often, is a more realistic goal than across the board no-spending. 

Truth be told February 2019 was actually one of my highest spending months on recent record. BUT, that is because I finally *did* pay off my car, thanks to those grocery savings (and my tax check)!

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