My husband and I decided to do a no spend month because we had been too lax with our spending and were dipping into our savings each month. Not good. I’m a stay at home mom raising 3 kids, and my husband is a resident doctor so there’s not a lot left over after bills. It didn’t seem like we bought much but the money was slipping away. The secret? Little purchases add up.
If you want to save some money and start new habits, try a no spend month! It will decrease the financial stress you feel from living higher than your means. Or maybe you just need some extra money saved up for Christmas or birthdays coming up. Here’s how we did it, everything we did and didn’t buy, and why you owe it to yourself to try this at least once!
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How to do a no spend month
We saved money this month for the first time in months by simply only spending money on gas, groceries, and set bills like rent and others. And yes, we did cheat a few times too, if you want the real story! We also had no trips planned.
Basically we eliminated that “what did we even buy” feeling we were spending more than we earned. Plus, we saved money, decreased stress, started new habits and analyzed old habits!
You could also just try cutting a few categories if you feel your spending has gotten out of hand, like coffee, clothes, fast food, make up, or whatever it is you need to curb. This will give you a shadow of what it could be like longterm, while saving money!
Before starting a no spend month
- This goes without saying but if there’s something you have to buy, like a trip or wedding coming up, don’t do a no spend month then.
- A helpful tip from my husband is to get a small wallet, and carry just your license and cash.
- I left our grocery budget open ended to see how much we would spend on groceries. It’s the last area I want to cut, and to be honest…I just love good food.
- See if you have any gift cards to use. Ya this is technically cheating, but it also doesn’t cost you money.
- Check out your pantry to see what kinds of things need used up. Sometimes I’ll have a can of something but need a couple of fresh items to turn it into a meal.
- Tell your friends if you need to! They will be surprised but hopefully supportive and maybe even inspired! No one’s going to feel sorry for you if you are doing this as a challenge.
Identify WHY you are doing a no spend month.
We wanted to see how little we could live on by cutting non essentials like clothes, fast food, and spontaneous purchases. How much would we miss not eating out, buying stuff for our kids, and other things compared to the money that would stay in our bank account?
Doing a no spend month every month isn’t really possible, because eventually you will need to pay for something. Maybe you want to take a trip again, replace a car part, or buy a few Christmas presents.
The point is, by doing a no spend month (or a few) you can save for those things you want to buy later, or at the very least it will help you to stop spending frivolously.
Why you need to do a spending freeze at least once
- Boost your savings or start an emergency fund
- Shows you where you are tempted to spend the most
- See the minimum you are capable of living off of without moving/giving up too much
- Buy less crap that eventually gets thrown or given away
- Eat healthier by not eating out
- Teaches you self restraint
- Decrease financial stress that comes from living beyond your means
Step 1. List what you HAVE to buy
Those were going to be the only things we would spend money on unless there was an emergency like a tire blows out or something. For instance, my husband had to replace an alternator in our van this month…$250. Buuut, I feel like he saved us hundreds by doing it himself. You get the idea, only buy what you absolutely have to.
I started a spreadsheet that is super basic by naming every monthly bill we have. Groceries, gas, water, and heat/ac bills vary each month so we filled those in as we got billed.
Step 2. Get an app to track your spending
This is easiest if you primarily use debit or credit cards. Our favorite app now is called Pocket Guard.
My husband loves this because it connects our banks, credit cards, and tells us exactly how much we’ve spent so far on categories like gas and groceries.
The reason we use this over Mint is that it tells us what we have spent this month. See, Mint counts each credit card payment as money spent this month. In reality that was money spent last month, and being paid this month. Pocket Guard shows us what we actually spend from the beginning to end of THIS month.
Step 3. Get the Ibotta App for cash back on groceries
This is so easy to use and free. Just save and scan receipts from the grocery store. You get anywhere from 0.25 cents to $5 per item back that they offer, and there are lots of items that don’t need to be brand specific. (Although brand specific items often pay way more).
Get $10 as a thank you when you sign up and scan your first receipt. I was so excited when I reached $20 and transferred it to my Paypal, because it was on stuff I already had to buy.
Step 4. Buy more groceries to compensate for not eating out
Going into our no spend month we stocked up on sandwich materials for the kids for when I take them places, as well as more packable snacks like grapes, apples, peanut butter, granola bars, goldfish, and more.
We had gotten in a bad habit of stopping for fast food with the kids when we were out 1-2 times a week). We were easily spending $100/month stopping off getting cheap, quick, very unhealthy food because we hadn’t prepared well on outings or weekends.
This is a life habit I want to cut, so I was happy to test it out for a month.
Step 5. Cancel any monthly plans or bills that you can
Monthly subscriptions usually go on auto pay and so they are easy to miss or just count off as a “bill”. We wanted to go one step further to save more (since that’s our current goal), so we cancelled a few monthly things like:
- PBS Kids
- Blue Apron intro offer we tried out through Groupon
Other subscriptions you may have:
- Make up subscriptions
- Gym (if you only pay monthly)
Free things to do during a no spend month
With 3 kids under 5 with me all day, we try to get out a few times a week. But when I’m determined not to spend money, that means it has to be free and I have to pack a lot of food. We love:
- More parks
- Splash pads
- Preschool at home (it would cost $600/month for 3 kids going 3 half days/week)
- Zoo (because we already bought a yearly membership)
- Fish store/Petsmart
- Friend’s houses
- Free shows on Amazon Prime like Tumbleleaf, Mr.Roger’s Neighborhood, and tons more.
- Letting the kids bike while I walk
- Trading toys with friends
- Invite someone over
Analyze how your no spend month turned out
- What was hard to not buy?
- Do you like having that money in the bank more than the things you wanted to buy and didn’t?
- Did you stick to it or do you want to try again?
- What were you tempted to cheap on?
- Did you bring home less clutter this month?
- Congratulate yourself on doing a good job and go get a little reward!
How our no spend month actually turned out
This month, for the first time in a long time, we were under budget by a few hundred dollars! Which is why we are going to do it again, with a few exceptions we will be allowed to buy. But those will be planned, not spontaneous purchases.
This was a very insightful month showing us how little we are capable of spending! I realized what I missed buying and what I didn’t miss.
Groceries were less than I thought they would be! And we got more food and healthier food since we figured we were not eating out and would rather put that $100 extra on healthy groceries. Next month I’ll see if I can go down to $550 instead of $600. The difference will be a date night for us plus babysitting, almost!
How a no spend month hurts your social life
One of the hardest parts of not spending money was turning down invitations to go out and do stuff. It was saying no to quite a few invites out to dinner, meeting up with moms who bring their kids to the fast food play places, etc.
Yes, we could invite friends to do free things like hang out at our house or meet up at a park with kids. But it’s easy to feel sorry for yourself when you feel like you can’t go out and your friends can.
How to adjust your budget to allow for one social outing
One thing our bible study does is go out together once every 5 weeks or so. Sometimes to a restaurant, other times just dinner at someones house, or like next month it will be family bowling. I really wouldn’t want to be the only family not to go.
It’s so important to me that I’d rather scrimp other places (like buying less meat at the store for the month) so we can do a social outing. It’s just finding what’s important to you, spending $50 less in some other category, while staying in your budget.
Things I wanted to buy but didn’t to save money
- Kid’s clothes…fall has the cutest stuff, and I missed buying anything cute, even used off of Ebay.
- Dollar store trips. I love going once a month to find kid activities that they can do and throw away. I really missed that actually.
- Random stuff off of Amazon. I guess I learned I’m in the habit or browsing for cool or useful things, even on deal websites like Vipon and Snagshout. That’s super lame all of the sudden when you buy anything.
- Coffee. Ok, I NEVER buy coffee, although my husband does at work so he stopped this month. However, I will say that not being able to somehow made me want to! Is that weird? Maybe it’s those pumpkin spice lattes I’m seeing posted all over Instagram…
- Sending care packages. I plan to bring this back. I love having the kids send surprise packages to their cousins since we live across the country from all our family. It’s worth the money to me to keep those fun things going. Each package with shipping is probably around $20-$25 so if we send one a month that is doable.
- Date with the hubby. We are terrible at going out because it costs us $40-$50 for a babysitter for 3 kids PLUS our date. But I like knowing we are able to every few months if we want. Not being able to (aka a continued spending freeze) would be really frustrating to me.
Things I didn’t miss buying at all during this spending freeze
- Fast food! To my surprise, I loved the way my body felt after eating healthier. Plus, I don’t feel like our grocery budget went up as much as we would have spend on fast food, so we definitely saved money here. Ok, I lied, we almost caved and bought two pizzas ($15). Lucky us, the wait was 1 hour on game day so we passed.
- Clothes. I’m not much of a clothes girl anyways, because buying clothes sucks when you don’t have much extra money. So, I didn’t miss this a ton. We had just bought my husband a ton of new work clothes too so hopefully we won’t be spending much on clothes in the near future.
- Costco. So, I’m thinking we will not renew our membership this year. We have enjoyed it for two years now, but it does stress me out! 1: Because our bill is never less than $200 there, sigh. And 2: I’m trying to eliminate yearly fees that we don’t actually need.
- Clutter. So as bad as it sounds, when we are not paying attention to spending it’s easy to buy “useful” things that end up not having a home and become clutter. Trying to save as much as possible makes you wonder if something is necessary or not.
- My husband’s purchases. This goes without saying but I loved knowing he wasn’t buying things, and I’m sure he felt the same! We used to have a rule that we didn’t really have to consult each other about purchases under $100, but man you can overspend fast with a few $30 purchases each.
How much we spent on groceries for a family of 5
Without trying to scrimp, we spent just under $600. (Btw, I’ve asked a ton of moms what their monthly grocery budget is for a family of 4-5 with all young kids and most have said about $150/week, not including things like toilet paper and household stuff.) Here are some specifics:
- I shop almost entirely at Aldis, which is about as cheap of a store as I’ve ever seen. If I shopped someplace else I think it would definitely be higher or I’d have to get more creative and spend less.
- For reference, we eat meat every dinner (and seafood about 1-2 times/week), buy lots of snacks, do peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch a lot, tons of fresh fruit and veggies, and buy occasional beer or wine.
- This number also includes buying about $10 worth of snacks/week to bring to our bible study.
- I had already ordered the “half off for new customers” Blue Apron to test out so that was charged to us this month, and we included this in our food budget which was an extra $70. Next month I anticipate spending about half that on the same number of home cooked meals.
How much we spent on gas this month with two cars:
$78. This filled both our cars for the month and is a pretty usual expense, though it can vary if we take a trip. Also, I live in the south where gas was $2.59/gallon this week. So this would be way higher for us in another part of the country!
Extras we bought when we were cheating on our no spend month:
- My husband had a $50 buy in he had already committed to for a football thing (fantasy football maybe? You can tell I’m not a football fan).
- I had an Amazon gift card which I spent $45 on random cleaning supplies like bleach, vinegar, toilet paper, conditioner, deodorant, and a 30 count snack pack of goldfish 😉 I used a free trial of Amazon Pantry so it shipped free, and then cancelled it so we would not be charged $5 monthly.
How a spending freeze affected our kids
Pretty much not at all.
They are young and don’t need much. They ate a few more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and less fast food though, which is a good thing haha!
At one point we ran out of paints, and I wanted to order more online but didn’t. So technically, without some extra spending money they would eventually be robbed of some hands on activities like Play Doh and paint.
Which is why I like to make extra money for things like that that don’t count against the budget 😉
How to make more money during a no spend month for “fun money”
I didn’t spend extra from my side incomes this month just to see how hard it would be, and we don’t ever plan on my income for our budget. It’s just extra that can be saved or used, and I plan to use $100 of it as my fun money during our next no spend month and save the rest. That way we can go out with our bible study, on a date, get a coffee, or buy the kids some clothes.
Ways I make extra money:
- Sell on Ebay
- Craigslist. See how I’ve flipped baby items to make money.
- Website Usability Testing. This post explains how I used to make $10 for 20 minutes of time giving feedback to companies like Nordstrom, Target, Best Buy, and many others.
- Blogging. Not a get rich quick plan but by far the most lucrative long term!
- Social media influence. See how I started working with brands on Instagram for free products.
Our goal is to completely live off of my husbands income and save any extra that I make on the side from home. Since I really desire to have some spending freedom for small purchases (and I am motivated to work hard for it), I like to find ways to make money from home.
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What’s holding you back from trying a no spend month?
I’m so curious to know what you think about not spending extra money for 30 days?! Leave me a comment with what the hardest part would be for you . If you have a family, what would you miss buying for them?