Annually for the last three years, our family has embarked on a “No Spend Month” challenge.
It’s been good for us. So much so that this year when I asked Doug if we wanted to do it again, neither of us were sure.
“Well, if we do No Spend Month again, what would be the point? What do we want to be different about our spending?” I asked.
“I like our spending the way it is.”
“I do too.”
So with that, we decided not to do a No Spend Month this year. We’ve reached that happy balance of needs versus wants, of being mindful with our money, and knowing that if we had to, we could make do without an income for a long time.
But what if people hoped I would write about it again this year?
Truthfully, No Spend Month was never supposed to be a blogging stunt. It began long before this blog was created, one night late in June 2007 when I noticed I was spending my free time looking at Craigslist for vintage furniture that never would have fit into my small apartment in the first place. I found myself using shopping as entertainment, and I didn’t want to be like that. To break the habit, I decided to completely cut off spending for the next month. And just like that, July became our No Spend Month.
If I had known at the time that hundreds of thousands of people would read about No Spend Month here at Small Notebook, that I would talk about it on television and the radio… well, I probably would have given it a name that was more literally and grammatically correct. One guy was disappointed we were spending a little, and not living in a van and foraging for food.
How We Do It
When we have a No Spend Month, we limit ourselves to the basics of all discretionary spending. Even the groceries are limited because of how easy it is to satisfy our wants with food. (Potatoes? Fine. Chips? No.)
I took our grocery budget at the time (which was about $300 a month), reduced it by $100 because of the food I had in the pantry, and decided that for the entire month of July, $200 would cover all our discretionary spending: groceries, gas, clothing, household, eating out, entertainment, and coffee. (The next year we increased the budget to $250.)
Of course what was not included was our rent and bills, business expenses, health care, tithes and gifts. We weren’t willing to suffer a health problem for a challenge, and we didn’t face any big catastrophes like a major car repair.
But for the rest of it, we just stopped buying it. Everything that was a choice, that we had conscious control over, we made it fit into the budget or else we didn’t buy it.
And then an amazing thing happened. We suddenly had lots of free time. Shopping takes an extraordinary amount of time. I used that extra time to look at other bills. I changed my cell phone plan. I changed our car insurance. I found more ways to save money, and we still reap those savings benefits every month.
I thought once the month was over we would be desperate to go out for coffee or to go out to eat, but it wasn’t the way you would think. An entire month is long enough to change your perspective about spending money and what you get from it. You can change your habits. You suddenly realize the value of a dollar when you have to stretch every single one and make it count.
I think some people make this challenge too complicated. I hear questions like, “What if you run out of printer ink?” Um, don’t buy any. “What if your coworkers invite you to lunch?” Go next month. (Yes, someone else buying your lunch is kind of cheating.)
You might have to find something new to do for fun. Invite friends over. Go to the library. Have a picnic.
No Spend Month has changed the way we use our money. Since we do it together as a family, it’s made us different.
The first year we finished with a nickel and three pennies remaining. During the final days we talked about if we should spend three of our last few dollars on a gallon of gas or more food. The second year we made it with twenty cents left over. The third year we did even better.
If you want to try it yourself, if you want to see if you can do it, here are some past articles to get your started:
Your family is different than mine, your needs are different, so adapt this plan to suit you. Spend as little as possible during the first week so you have more if you need it later. The third week is always the hardest. Try to keep grocery treats at home on the weekends so you don’t feel deprived. Use cash. You can do this.
“When we take a break from spending, we learn to appreciate what we have. The convenient restaurant dinners become a special treat, our favorite foods are savored, and every time I put gas in my car I am thankful to have the money to do so. We stop taking things for granted.” — July 2009
Even though my family is not having a No Spend Month this year, I still find myself thinking about saving money in July. It’s become a natural habit. I’ll be writing more about money this month.