The No Spend Month

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:

No Spend Month July 2008 with weekly updates

No Spend Month July 2009 with weekly updates

The Takeaway: What I Learned From No Spend Month

Resisting the Desire to Acquire

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.

What do you think about the way your family spends money? Is there a part of it you would change? If you’re married, do you and your spouse view it the same way?
About Rachel

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

Comments

  1. TigerLily says:

    I’ve never had much luck with budgeting or money, so when I saw the article about your first No Spend Month I was a little afraid. My boyfriend’s set in his habits and change is difficult to start, but I want to give it a try. Even if I never make the challenge work your articles have inspired me to go out there and try. That’s worth more than money to me. I just want to say thanks!

  2. Bummer that you aren’t doing it this year, though it couldn’t be for a better reason.
    We just finished ours – have to write up the final post. We blew it a bit, but some things are a lot more expensive here and we know how to adjust it now.
    Thanks for the inspiration – and looking forward to more posts this month!

    Kelli´s last post…Has anyone seen my wagon

  3. We’re also at a point where we need to be more mindful about money–not because we don’t have enough, but just because I’ve got that little “niggle” that I’ve been spending without being fully conscious of it. And that’s not good, no matter how much money you have.

    So thanks for this post, Rachel–it is perfectly timed to suit my thoughts!

    Jamie ~ Simple Homeschool´s last post…Block Party Giveaway- La Clase Divertida Spanish Curriculum Steady Days

  4. Rachel,

    I certainly understand that you don’t “need” a no spend month, but I must confess I’m disappointed. You have been designated as the No Spend “leader”, (at least by me!) and I so enjoyed following this part of your fabulous blog! I was so curious if you could do it on $250.00 again, or if a family of four would have bumped up the figure. I need a no spend month, and following you was my added incentive. Thank you for starting this, it will help my bottom line this month for sure. Any encouragement is appreciated! :)

    Sharon´s last post…My baby turns 24 today-

  5. I track how long I have “known” you by how many no spend months you have done : ) I will have to think of a new way now! Really though, your no spend has been an inspiration to so many. thank you for sharing it.

  6. I have really been thinking about this…and here is your post! I made the excuse that it could probably never be done in a summer month, not realizing that July was the month that you and your family did this. It is super! Go you!

    • You know, I actually think July is an easy month to do it. There are lots of free outdoor activities and the fruits and vegetables are all on sale. We usually do family trips in the spring instead of the summer.

      Another good month would be February with only 28 days, to skip those last three days of July!

  7. I think it is exciting that you have evolved to the point where your spending is “good enough.” That should be incentive and encouragement to the rest of us. It is like when you decide to start putting 10% in your 401K. Sure, you may feel it at first, then it is just the way it is. The following year you don’t have to double it. Congrats!

    Lauri V.´s last post…How early is too early

  8. Sandra Gonzales says:

    Good for you and your family that you’ve learned to tweak your spending all year long so a No Spend Month is not necessary.

    I think it’s a daily exercise to be mindful of your spending.

    Although I’m not always as mindful as I’d like to be, I definitely know I’m not the spender I used to be. And you’ve played a big part of that. You and Dave Ramsey have made me grow up substantially.

    Thank you!

  9. I’m just thankful that you introduced the concept in the first place. We did it last year and were so happy with the results that we had already planned on doing it again this month. Maybe someday we’ll get to the point of it not being necessary but until then, we’ll always have the month of July.

  10. Jessicah says:

    We did a no-spend-month last year, and are trying it again this year, with a slightly higher budget since we have a new person this year! Also, my incentive is that our anniversary is July 29, and I wanted to go out for an expensive dinner, so if we stick to our no-spend guns all month, the reward is a nice anniversary dinner at the end of the month!

  11. My husband was laid off (permanently) late spring last year and I just “shut down”– like your no-spend months. We did continue our part-time umpiring (him) and transcription (me), but without doing the no-spend, we wouldn’t have made it. It almost got to be exhilarating. He was rehired by the same company this year and at first we never knew if it would last and that helped us keep our attitude. Now the “extras” are very carefully planned and budgeted!
    Congrats to you both on having “arrived” to not need the no-spend month this year!

  12. Denise C. says:

    Rachel,
    Your blog itself has been so inspirational! My husband & I are not doing a ‘no spend month’, for the month of July, I have decided to keep track of EVERY SINGLE PENNY that leaves our checking account. I’ll admit, I have a bit of a spending issue sometimes, & my husband gets a little upset. By tracking everything, we can see where our money is going. Just last night I had to make a trip to Target, I had a list, & bought NOTHING that was not listed. Next up grocery shopping, that bill needs to get under control. :)

  13. My husband and I are so ready for this. We both have not been watching how we spend and now I think it’s the perfect time to start fresh. Use what we have and look at how we are spending and what we are spending it on. I think this will be good for our kids too.

    Rana´s last post…Knowing Your Inner You

  14. You were right. As a new reader, I’ve read your past no spend month blogs more recently and was looking forward to this years. However, I think the fact that you and your husband deciding not to do it this year proves that you have not simply met a challenge one month of the year. You have truely changed your lifestyle to become a concientious spender. Even without a no spend month I have started looking at bills more carefully and planning for our financial future. Thank you!!!

  15. Hi Rachel,

    I am sorry that you are not doing it again, as you are great at motivating others. I am going to be brave and do no-spend month on my blog this time for public to see. I am nervous as I am not sure how I will do without your blog’s motivation.

    I encourage anyone to join me in follow Rachel’s tradition of no-spend month. I for one like to keep it alive as I have yet to achieve better spending habits.

    I am not sure if I can leave a link here, so I will not but see my latest post on no-spend month tradition (it is not showing on comment luv) that I am nervously planning to follow. Wish me luck you all.

    Preeti @ Heart and Mind´s last post…No Spend Month Challenge: July

  16. I’m impressed that your grocery budget is normally only $300. I struggle to keep ours below $500, but that does include all the extras like cleaning supplies and paper products. But still, it’s hard to keep the grocery bill low, that is definitely one area I need to work on!

    • Michelle, my grocery budget was about $300 back in 2007. It’s higher now that our family is bigger and we’ve all switched to a special diet. Plus food is noticeably more expensive now than it was then.

  17. This is perfect. We’ve just bought our home and even though it wouldn’t be until next year that we move in, we want to start cutting back on expenses and budgeting more than ever. I don’t know about No Spend, but am defintely spending way less than we normally do:-)

    Prerna´s last post…How to Declutter Your Home in 10 Minutes – Part IV

  18. Kate D. says:

    Just last night, my husband and I realized that we’re about to embark on our first “No Spend Month”. We booked a vacation with friends a few weeks ago, and the next day I found out the temporary contract I was working on was ending. So we’re down to just one income – which is fine with just our regular bills (including part-time summer camp for our daughter, but figuring out how to save up our portion of our vacation home ($1200) in just over 6 weeks – there won’t be any extra spending this month. We sat down and wrote out our plan – how to save our usual amount, plus the extra for vacation, and stay on top of everything else, and still have something left over. It works perfectly on paper, but since we’ve never done this before, it’s going to a work in progress to see if we can really make it happen. I’ll be reviewing your past few years of NSM to stay motivated!

  19. Hi Rachel – I think its awesome that the no spend month ventures had a lasting impact…I aim for that. ;) I am trying to overall (every month) have less mindless consumption and impulse buying and more mindful consumption (organic, fair trade, made in the usa, needed items, etc.) I did do a 6 month spending hiatus last year which was SO HARD and I wasn’t perfect but that really nipped a lot of the wasteful spending in the bud. Have a great summer! jenny :)

    LobotoME {goods to keep ME sane}´s last post… on my mind menu

  20. We did the No Spend Month last year (and blogged about it) and it really helped prepare us for a 6 mo+ stint of unemployment which thankfully just ended!

  21. My household is getting pinched by the current economy because my main income comes from commission from a sales position. I was just getting ready to review my budget and figure out where I can pinch a little. I can’t wait to read over your No Spend Month experiences and think about doing one for myself.

    Tina @ Ride On Toys´s last post…A Toddler Motorbike Will Increase Balance And Coordination While Still Being Fun-

  22. I have to tell you, I have followed along with you for all of your July No Spend Months. Even did one of my own 2 years ago. And since that time I am very aware of where my dollars and cents go. I track every penny I spend and it feels great to see 3-4 days go by without an entry. You inspired me to rethink purchases and to make do, move to Plan B that doesn’t require new purchases. Thanks!!

    don_mae´s last post…New Watchface Bangle- Challenge Entry and a Giveaway

  23. This post is so timely for me. This weekend, my husband and I have put in some time really combing through our budget and looking at our spending.

    We both realize that we’ve gotten a little too free with our money, buying out of want, rather than need, much too often. We want to save even more than normal right now and this hard look at what we are really spending was necessary.

    So, we’re not paring down to “No Spend”, but we’re paring way down from where we were and really getting back to living on a strict, smart budget.

    So glad to know that others are dealing with the same things. The comments here have been really helpful.

    Meredith from Penelope Loves Lists´s last post…Penelope’s Favorite Websites- BNeato

  24. Thanks for sharing this… I have always admired your no spend month but never done it as I feel I live quite a balanced life in all… but I have felt a little guilty in the past for not participating… I now feel relieved, it is totally OK to know that you are doing OK with your finances!
    I am thrilled that you have the archives as I have directed a number of friends to check out your no spend :) Well done you!

    angelvalerie´s last post…the glass ceiling…

  25. The idea of doing a No Spend Month terrifies me. I’m the type of person, where I have a hard time telling myself no. I know it would be beneficial for everyone in our family though, especially now that my husband has just started a new job that ups our income up quite a bit. I don’t want to fall prey to the idea that having more money means that we have more to spend. Having the mindset that I have, you can imagine that my credit is nowhere near what it should be, and I should be using this as the time to work on that and set things right. Here’s hoping I make wise choices!

  26. I love this idea. We are not big spenders and always keep simplicity as a goal. But I think this would give us a real reality check and shed light on small areas where money trickles away. A little financial shake-up could also bring some new creative solutions, recipes, activities… FUN stuff, not belt-tightening hardships. Thanks for the push.

    notsospanish.wordpress.com

  27. Yay, we’re in.

  28. I actually found your blog because if you “no spend month.”. I don’t remember what I was even searching for but we have since completed two or three months of no spend month over the last couple of years. It has been a great experience and plan on continuing when I think we need a wake up call.

  29. We started this last year as our jumpstart to getting $1,000 in the bank for emergencies (a la Dave Ramsey).

    This year we’re doing it again and the goal is to finally kick the rest of our credit card debt! Thanks for the inspiration!

    Kait Palmer´s last post…Locks and Cops and Grumps- Oh My-

  30. I love this site! I want to try this “No Spend Month” challenge. I already failed for July so my goal is August! ‘Small Notebook’ is one of my favorite sites as it is jam packed with useful and quality ideas! Keep up the good work! :)

    Shawna Pesina´s last post…And the winner is

  31. I had my first no spend month back in 1995, and have done it almost every February since. Back then it was because I was flat broke, newly divorced, and had to pay my property taxes. I realized that if I could just not spend anything for one month I could get myself on track. Since then I have done it almost every year, with some kind of goal in mind. One year it paid off my car, one year it got me out of credit card debt. I love my no-spend months – it’s always an eye-opener to see what I can do without.

    ang.´s last post…Other People’s Stuff

  32. I have toyed with the idea of a no spend month, but I can never get the rest of my family on board. How did you get everyone to agree, and work with you? My hubby is a serious spender :)

    Jackie Lee´s last post…Bron Original Stainless Steel Mandolin Slicer updated Sun Jul 11 2010 8-44 pm CDT

    • I told my husband about the positive side of it: how much money we would save, and he went along with me.

  33. After filing bankruptcy this year due to two years without a job and graduating from college hoping to get a better job–still no job, how was I to know about the unemployment rates?
    We have gone on a no spending spree. I save in any way conceivable; I take the most expensive month for utiliites and use that a savings plan. If my lights are 150 for August then for the rest of the year I deduct the fll 150 from the actual bill and put it in a utility account. Same way with anything I can possibly save for us; car insurance, house insurance, cut off the satelite, rent $1 movies once a week for entertainment and don’t even suggest eating out not even for a burger. There’s some things I learned from bankruptcy–every penny counts. Having no credit cards are hard but liveable and I really enjoy pot lucks. Our money doesn’t own us now, we own it. We even grew a garden!

  34. This sounds like us last year. We moved to Las Vegas into a rental that we really couldn’t afford but we ignored that fact because it was in a nice area for our kids. We paid for it in many ways! My husband was doing a residency program for dental school and was on a $25,000 a year salary. We buckled down before the year started and set up a budget,..thanks to Dave Ramsey! But the budget only allowed me to spend $20/month for me/kids/entertainment/crafting etc. We had a seperate budget for gas and groceries and utilities. But I hardly left the house on account that we knew no one and that I was heavily pregnant and then had teh baby. So that helped on costs of gas.
    So after the whole year with that budget, I too felt the same way as you towards money. When you have a limited amount, you cherish what you have and make sure every cent counts! And we are now on to bigger and better things but I am still stuck in the habit of $20 a month! It is kind of gratifying really. It feels good to not be overwhelmed with added junk. Plus it has made me more frugal, hitting all the thrift stores and craigslist for things. It really pushed me creatively!
    Thanks for being an inspiration to everyone! I think this is a great thing!

  35. One way I found that really helps me save on groceries is to utilize leftovers. We’re not quite doing a no spend month, but this is my secret weapon. My family was snobby about eating them because their mama always threw them away, lol. No more, I am learning how to cook more creatively to get more out of each meal I do make from scratch.
    Can’t believe all the food we wasted before doing this.

    Lisa @ Tag Heuer Men’s Aquaracer Watch´s last post…Tag Heuer Mens Aquaracer Watch updated Sat Aug 14 2010 7-35 am CDT

  36. Rather funny that I just discovered your blog and the No Spend Month posts; our daughter was born in July, and our insurance just caught up with us (our premium more than doubled, but she’s worth it!)…so the ol’ paycheck is quite small this time around.

    And so our impromptu No Spend Month begins–after reading about your past experiences, I’m looking forward to the adventure!

    Mrs. J´s last post…No Spend Month

  37. Have just come across this by accident on the third day of my spend nothing* month! Great post – inspiring and some great ideas both in the article and the comments.

    *So it will be next month before I buy your e-book. Promise!
    Natalia´s last post…Tour Eiffel

  38. You know what I do, is make chicken soup, best thing for a cold winter’s night, then you can freeze it and have left overs

    Recipe is out of this world and then you use the leftovers to make baked chicken, fried chicken, chicken stew, possibilities are endless

    use your chicken, it goes a long way!

  39. We are making January 2011 No Spend Month at our house. It’s a great way to detox after the holidays. I’ll be blogging about it at http://growingslower.blogspot.com/
    Thanks for the great idea!
    Shannon´s last post…3 Tips for a Positive Breastfeeding Experience