The Takeaway: What I Learned from Our No Spend Month

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Photo by Adam Scheuermann

I’ve been spending a few days reflecting on last month’s No Spending Challenge and thinking about how to carry some of those new habits forward. (Because why would I save money all month and then toss it at the end?)

This was our third year to try this family challenge, and each year was definitely easier than the one before. The first year we learned the hard way that even something as small as $15 on dinner out made it difficult to meet a $40 weekly food budget. This year we were committed to making the most of every dollar.

Here is what helped me the most, and what I plan to carry forward:

Skip the weekly grocery shopping once every few weeks, and take the chance to use up the food accumulating in the pantry and freezer. It can be hard to skip the weekly sales, but stores will always have more sales.

Create a wish list instead of buying instantly, and wait a couple of weeks before making purchases. After waiting a while, I ended up crossing a few things off my list instead of buying them.

Finish up current projects before buying supplies to start new ones. This one is tricky for me, because I love the inspiration of new ideas, and new projects always seem more appealing than the ones I haven’t finished. This month I was able to accomplish a lot of projects that had been sitting around and taking up space.

Always have a few quick meals in the freezer so you don’t rely on takeout for the hectic days.

I didn’t send my husband to the grocery store alone. There are a lot of things that he can do better than me. For one, he’s a better cook. He can fix things. But between the two of us, I’m the more price-sensitive shopper. He doesn’t go to the grocery store often enough to know when something is really on sale or when it’s just a promotional sign.

Establish a routine errand day. By grouping my errands and shopping into one day a week, I saved gas and time by consolidating trips. I made a well-planned list ahead of time of what to buy, and I didn’t make extra quick trips to the grocery store that would have enticed me to bring home more than we needed.

Find your favorite cheap meal. When we’re on a beans and rice budget, we get tired of beans and rice. Neither of us want the leftovers. I found out we both enjoy scrambled eggs with salsa and baked potatoes. We could eat it every week without getting tired of it.

Keep good food at home, especially having favorite snacks on the weekends, to avoid the temptation of going out and spending more.

Think about why you’re shopping. I learned early in the first week how often I was tempted to do the shopping as a way to procrastinate other work. Shopping is time consuming, and even though it’s good to buy things for your household, it can often wait.

What Others Said

It’s been fun to read the comments and insights of others who have taken on similar challenges. Here are just a few:

“We did our own version of the no-spend month… It was so awesome to be forced to really evaluate each and every dollar we spent, and it also helped us to reach our goal of paying off our car in full by the end of that month, which was the absolute last of our debts. Since then, we’ve been able to save, save, save, which is just such a good feeling!” — Stephanie from Keeper of the Home

“We did a no spend month last October and though it was hard to go through, it really did open our eyes to how much we spent on the “little things.” It also gave us more strength to say no to spending in other situations once the month was over.” — Jenni from Life from the Roof

“Coupons and gift cards don’t save you any money if they cause you to spend money you weren’t planning to.” — Holly from STL Chases

“The biggest benefit we’ve experienced this month is we’re getting much better at sticking to our grocery budget… If that’s the only skill we’ve learned through cash budgeting, I’d say it’s absolutely worth it.” — Karen from Living Well on Less

What Do You Think?

What helps you to be consistent with saving money? Goals? Habits? Planning? What would you recommend to others?
About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.

Comments

  1. I like the idea of the WISHLIST because it makes you really observe what it is that you TRULY want. Not just a whim.

    Cherry Tree Lane´s last post…monday light

  2. I think re-evaluating why we are trying to save money is what helps us. Our conversation just last night about why we want to buy land mortgage free has us both thinking about how we can cut back.

    Shannon´s last post…Adrenal Fatigue: Introduction and Definitions

  3. I loved reading about your no spend month. For this month, we didn’t exactly “no spend”, but we did do exactly what you suggested: we skipped a few grocery buying trips and just ate what we had in our freezer/pantry. It was amazing how much money we saved in just doing that! So, thank you!

  4. Lots of great lessons! Congrats on your success and thanks for the inspiration. :)

    Karen´s last post…Mistakes were made: A belated weekend recap

  5. These are some great tips. I use the wishlist idea and it definitely helps! One that I need to work on is finishing up old projects before new. As far as quick freezer foods, what do you suggest? Making a meal and freezing it or buying frozen meals?

    • Most of our frozen meals are soups that I make ahead of time and then portion out and freeze. They’re great complete meals that don’t take up a lot of space in the freezer. I’m sure there will be a blog post about some of our freezer meals in the next couple of weeks.

  6. I really like your idea about finishing projects instead of starting new ones. I have a bunch of crown moulding sitting in my basement waiting to be hung. We even have nails, caulk, and the saw. Just need a sunny day to put this up. And it would feel so much better to finish this project than to look at a bunch of new supplies waiting to be used.

    And I can totally relate to not sending your husband to do the groceries…mine…sugary-impulse-purchase central right here! Great post, congratulations for getting through the entire month. What a wonderful challenge! Abbie

    Abbie´s last post…No-TV-Week at My House

  7. I tend to impulse buy books (my passion) – so I find if I force myself to check out a title at the library first, it helps me know if I REALLY need to add that title to my permanent library.

    Jamie

    steadymom´s last post…Sponsor Giveaway :: Tiny Sprouts

  8. I agree about the wish list. We walk over pretty much all non-food purchases, and pretty often decide we don’t need the item or can make do. Time will usually tell you whether you really want something or if it’s an impulse buy. For gift giving we use wishpot. I love it– my wishpot is full of practical things, and for my birthday and Christmas I get things I want and need.

    I’ve been freezing tons of stuff lately in antcipation of going back to work full time next week. I just worked out the costs, and for 5 frozen meals and some extra sides I spent about $15. I did spend almost a whole day cooking, but I still think it’s worth it. :)

    Congrats again! I’ve loved reading your updates this month– awesome job.

    liz´s last post…Alaskan farmers market

  9. Sandra Gonzales says:

    My inspiration for cutting back this summer was a $2300 balance on a loan. I took advantage of hand me downs for my 10 yr old’s play clothes and church dresses. I’ve paid attention to every dollar and it paid off. I paid off the loan as of 7/31/09.

    Sometimes it was really hard denying myself things but now I realize they were fleeting pleasures. I enjoy reading everyone else’s thoughts. I don’t feel alone in this endeavor anymore.

  10. This was actually easier than we expected it to be! Although with us both commuting every day gas took up most of our budget and we had to fudge and fill up my car two days before the end. Our pantry is lighter now, and I think we may try this again in the wintertime. The hardest part was when it was 90+ degrees and the only options for dinner involved standing over a hot stove…we scrounged our change and went to Taco Bell the last day! It definitely taught us to plan our meals ahead and think twice about what we’re buying. And we managed to save our entire emergency fund in one month! We’ll be doing this again for sure!

    Kait Palmer´s last post…Swagbucks

  11. Thanks so much for posting your thoughts about the month. We are just starting our, no spend month for August. It has been 3 days and I am already feeling the pain of it but learning a lot about myself and my spending habits. I can already tell there will be many valuable lessons to take from this. Thank you for your encouragement.

    Vicky @ thecitycradle´s last post…Sunday Snaps…

  12. I’ve recently started only running errands on my way home from work, so that we rarely use our car on weekends. I’m always tired after work, which means that I only stop for necessities on my way home once or maybe twice a week, which also means I do a lot less impulse shopping!

    I think I’m going to try your wishlist strategy too–I think it might help me out!

    And we’re trying a modified no spend month this month, I hope it goes as well as yours!

  13. I do my “no spend month” in October. I did it last year and got the idea off your blog. I did learn many lessons as well back when I participated and many of them stayed with me (for example, it finally broke my daily (and expensive) starbucks habit).

    Lauren´s last post…What Exactly is a "New-Fashioned Housewife"?

  14. Writing down my short and long term financial goals really helps -even if they seem impossible in the beginning. Also, conversations with my husbnad about “our reality” (versus what it seems that others are able to do) helps. For instance, our reality is that my husband started working in Canada later in life than most and so we have less time before retirement. Because we want to mortgage free at retirement, we are putting extra $ toward our principal. We also choose to live on one (used) vehicle even though everyone else in our neighborhood has multiple vehicles/Rv’s etc. This can feel hard sometimes but frequently discussing our goals helps. Finally, planned spending is exciting. We’re planning a trip next summer, debt-free of course, but because we’re making careful choices about how to spend/save, this is a possiblity for us and it is exciting to see (and allow our children to see) the fruit of our healthy financial choices. We can learn and grow tons more but we’re making progress and this is exciting to share with others!

  15. I liked the comment about not sending your husband to the store :). I sent my husband to Costco a few weeks ago, and even gave him a list, but he came back with the things on the list plus a big box of grapes and a pair of jeans. It’s not that we don’t eat grapes, but it was one of those things where I knew how cheap I could get them on sale, and this wasn’t the price I normally pay.

    Life from the Roof´s last post…Warning: This toddler will self-destruct in _____ minutes

  16. Wishlist strategy = brilliant! This sounds funny, but all the money I spent this month felt like such a BIG DEAL, so I would say that I learned that $5 is still a lot of money! At least it is in July :)

  17. This month we are attempting the No Spend Challenge. We are a family of 6 (2 adults, 6 yo,4 yo, 20 months old, and 1 month old). We gave ourselves a budget of $500. I know it sounds like a lot, but our food, dining out, household, entertainment, ect. budget has been about double that so I guess $500 is a good start.

    I agree with you on all points especially the one about not sending your husband out to shop. It’s the same with my husband and when he goes the kiddos wants to go because they know he can’t say no and they come home with a bunch of candy and junk food.

    I love your blog.

  18. I have really enjoyed following you on your journey this month. These are all such good tips! I skip the grocery shopping every once in a while, too. Mostly because I hate to grocery shop!! But, it does help the budget!

    Marci@OvercomingBusy´s last post…The Unbusy Summer – Part Four

  19. I plan to make use of what you learned at my house. I like the idea of putting off the shopping and using what you have. Combining trips is important–and I get really lax about doing that. (We are 7 miles from the grocery store. Our small town doesn’t have one.) Thanks for summing up what you learned!

    mrs. e´s last post…First Grade For A Day

  20. I was unable (unwilling?) to join in on no-spend month in July, but am giving it a serious try for August–with a twist. Instead of a total for the month, I am setting a daily limit, which carries over every day. So, if I have $2.11 left after today, that gets added to tomorrow’s amount. With a $20/day limit, and a $50 payment on Monday, I’m lucky to have $2 and change left right now! If I find this works out, I may lower the amount next month!

  21. Those are great lessons! I loved reading about your month and I think what you’ve done is amazing!

    Kasey at Thrifty Little Blog´s last post…It’s a Miracle!

  22. I’ll be doing a no-spend month in November. I had planned to kick it off in October but I am going to be going on holiday and visiting my parents so that wouldn’t work for me. I am really looking forward to trying out this no-spend thing – it’s something I haven’t done before so will be reading up on how others have coped and to get ideas.

    Kiwi Chick´s last post…Attitude wins!