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A No-Spend Month: What We Did and What I Learned

Last week, on a rare date night, I convinced my husband (over a yummy plate of bruschetta) that we should embark on a month of no spending. Why you might ask? Although I’m sure not spending for a month would bring financial gain, my reason was more philosophical. After a month (December) of excess, indulgence, and way too many Amazon deliveries, it was time to press pause and reevaluate our consumer habits. Like many millennials, the origin, collection, organization, and purpose of stuff has become a dizzying conversation in our household (especially with all our moves).

A no-spend oath is nothing new (some do it for a year!). You’ve probably seen this fad floating around. We’re pretty late in jumping on the bandwagon of experimenting with our finances. But like anything, it’s one thing to read about it, another to live it.

So this month we’ll ask these questions: Where is all our money going? Do we need all this stuff? Are we being responsible with our resources? Is this how we want to live?

Day 1

So day one.

At breakfast, I realized that we’re out of cinnamon. Everyday with my oatmeal, I have four slices of diced apple, a splash of milk, and a dash of cinnamon. What am I to do? A month of no cinnamon?

Suddenly, because we aren’t spending money on non-essentials, that’s all I can think about. I want to buy all.the.things. Like cinnamon. It truly is an essential, isn’t it? But it’s not on our list. So, today I go without.

Day 2

One of the biggest concerns my husband had was food. It’s a big part of our budget, and I can’t deny it, I love food! We love cooking food; we love ordering local, farm-fresh food; and most of all, we love eating, good tasty, unique food. (Read here for some of my favorite local desserts.)

“Is this even healthy?” my husband asked. I convinced him that we have so much in our freezer and pantry, that we could probably go two months, but we decided on a list of perishable items that we could buy throughout the month.

We realized there were also a list of responsibilities, including a trip, that we would have to make exceptions for during our no-spend month. But we agreed that anything else would have to wait until next month. That included online shopping.

To tell you the truth, I am not really the shopper. Stores overwhelm me. I don’t enjoy shopping. My husband works in retail, so he is the one constantly shopping for us. It’s really easy for me to text him to pick up this or that before he comes home from work (or for him to make his own small purchases when he finds good deals).

With that said, although I’m not physically in stores as often as my husband, my weakness is online shopping. I have over 30 items saved in my Amazon shopping cart. The ease of clicking and then having something show up at my doorstep is too alluring. I rationalize that I would be driving to a store to shop anyway, and this saves me time, but with the “inconvenience” of driving, would I really still think I needed that item?

Day 5

Snowapocalyse hit us a few days back, so we’re snowed in.

It’s really easy not to spend money, when you can’t leave your home. Since I’m taking this month to fast from spending and think about my role as a consumer, I started reading Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Home (thank you online library loan!). Although my family’s lifestyle is very different than the author’s, I’m really enjoying reading about the measures they take to reduce their family’s carbon footprint. They only have one quart jar of trash a year!

Her book has many tips on reducing waste, and although that’s her focus, she is also reducing unnecessary spending, limiting clutter in her home, and helping her family be healthier–all just by not buying packaged goods. What has stuck out to me was her comment on beauty products: Are we buying a product because someone told us we need it to be cool or beautiful? Where does our value lie? Good question. And more importantly, my thoughts included, what are we communicating to our children through our purchases?

On a different note, I resolved my no-cinnamon, breakfast dilemma. I am teaching my three-year-old how to make scrambled eggs.

A No-Spend Month: What we did and What I learned

After this month I’m proud to say he can crack, scramble, and serve his own egg breakfast. We tried several add ins. Our favorite was scrambled eggs with spinach and cheese!

Day 7

I have finally ventured out to shop. Beyond needing to refill our perishable list, I have another situation: my kids are sick. My husband leaves on business for a week tomorrow. So, although it will break our no-spending month contract, my husband and I both agreed it is important to buy some extra sick supplies, since it would be impossible for me to run out in the middle of the night, kids in tow, if I needed them. So here I am adding cough syrup to my shopping list.

There are so many grocery stores in Charleston, but we just happened to stop at my FAVORITE (Is it weird to have a favorite grocery store?). As I commenced my shopping, this is what I felt:

  1. An urge to buy a favorite splurge item that normally would find its way into my cart. I was sad at first, but then that merged into…
  2. A freedom of not having to decide on whether I should or should not buy a particular item. I was there to get the items on my list. No more, no less. While I’m usually weighed down with shopping decisions, it was so much easier to streamline the whole experience. And, less time, less mind energy, and it cost less because I was avoiding splurge spending.

Day 12

My hubby is back from his business trip.

He’s not always the best planner, so I was anxious to hear how he did with the no-spend (his travel, lodging, and meals were covered by his business). Last minute, before he left, I said that he should take a water bottle to the airport so he wouldn’t have to purchase a beverage. While he totally forgot my suggestion, he did only purchase one thing while away: a bottle of orange juice. The reason? After leaving me with sick kids, he felt some sympathy illness, which the OJ apparently cured.

But the big lesson? “This could change the way we live,” he told me, referencing the no-spend month. “I didn’t realize how much little purchases really add up.”

He admitted he was going on the spending fast just to appease me, but after looking at our finances, he was convinced. This was a good idea after all.

Day 19

My husband messaged me that he would be late getting home. It’s a Friday, and Fridays are suppose to be fun. It’s the gateway to the weekend, after all (although as a stay-at-home mom, my weekdays and weekends look pretty similar).

All I wanted to do was pile the kids into the car and drive to a nice restaurant where someone else would cook, someone else would serve, and someone else would clean up. Normally, that’s exactly what I would do. But instead, I sucked it up. I made cheese burgers, and they were a big hit.

That night, after the kids were in bed, hubby still wasn’t home. I felt sorry for myself and wished with everything in me that there was a pint of cookie dough ice cream in the freezer.

There wasn’t.

I ate a pickle instead.

(Who knew no-spend would save calories as well!)

Day 24

The day of our trip has come. We are accompanying my husband on his business trip to Sumter, SC.

Originally, when we embarked on this no-spend month, I thought this trip would be the outlet I needed after, let’s be honest, 24 days of not eating out! But guess what? I became the crazy, traveling lady who brings the instant pot to her hotel room!

I didn’t plan on it, but it just happened. There were several things in our fridge that would spoil if left during our trip, so in an attempt to use my resources well, I pulled out the cooler, packed the food and some kitchen essentials, and brought the instant pot.

A No-Spend Month: What we did and What I learned

This changes EVERYTHING on how I will stay in hotels!

Turns out, you don’t need much to have a delicious, homemade meal in a hotel.

Now, we will still spend money on this trip outside of our perishable list, but it will be significantly less than originally budgeted. I’m starting to realize how easy it is to be resourceful.

Day 31

Here we are. Last day of our no-spend month. A quick glance at our accounts shows that we weren’t perfect during the month (like purchasing sick supplies), but we learned some valuable lessons. This spending fast was by no means a way of life for us. We will go back to spending money outside of bills and our favorite perishables, but it has, hopefully, made us more conscientious consumers. Our family goal was to discover our purchase habits in an attempt to reduce our mindless spending and become more responsible with our resources. And through this month, we have discovered a lot about ourselves.

My husband and I both have triggers that make us spend carelessly. For me, it was exhaustion and disappointment. When I found out hubby was working longer than expected, my go-to was take out. But, because we weren’t spending money, I was able to push through disappointments and make the meal already planned.

Like my husband discovered earlier in the month, little splurges really add up. Even quick trips for forgotten groceries end up with additional items in the cart (that we didn’t originally budget for), and a loss of time!

Yes, time! What I didn’t realize was all the time I spent having to do the routine shopping, or even thinking about shopping decisions. Without shopping, there was more time to do things I enjoy! Going forward, I would like to streamline the whole shopping process by having essential household items delivered through a subscription service, and perhaps do a better job of meal planning so the shopping trips can be set to a minimal each month.

Turns out, after a month of waiting, many of the things I thought I needed to purchase lost their appeal. Running out of something proved to be an opportunity in creativity. After the no-cinnamon-for-breakfast meltdown, I taught my son how to make scrambled eggs, and I mastered the waffle (yes, funny, after many tries I finally got over my fear of making them).

So what?

We saved money and time by not shopping this month, but I think beyond gaining a new perspective on mindless shopping, I feel a lot more freedom, especially the freedom to be generous. My family is blessed to be in a financial situation where we can do a no-spend month for philosophical reasons. Not all families in the Lowcountry have that luxury. We want to live, and show our children, generously–and not just at the end of the year. As we adjust our spending habits, we can be more responsible with our resources, giving us the opportunity to help others. Now that’s something we can all strive for. 

A No-Spend Month: What We Did and What I Learned

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2 Responses to A No-Spend Month: What We Did and What I Learned

  1. Jessi Housel February 17, 2018 at 8:01 pm #

    Good for you, it can be hard at times. Our family does a ‘fiscal fast’ every year in the month of January, sometimes another month in the year too. We only buy the essentials, things that will save money like finding a deal on shoes that one of us needs at 60% and will have to pay more in February, nothing we don’t actually need or is going to save us money in the big picture. For us we do it to clean out the pantry/freezer, save because Jan. & Feb are small paycheck months because all the money for our health savings account comes out, and lastly for a mindset rest of values and goals.

  2. Ashley
    Ashley February 21, 2018 at 5:58 pm #

    Love this, Jessi! We might make it a yearly event, too. January is a great month to reset!