We just tried our very first no-spend challenge to reset our spending habits and see just how much money we could save! After establishing some rules, deciding on a reasonable grocery budget for healthy food, and learning all the tips we could, we prepared ourselves for a 30-day spending freeze. Keep reading to see our no-spend month results!
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No-spend challenge. Spending freeze. Spending fast. Zero spend challenge. Fiscal fast. No-spend weekend/week/month/year.
No matter what you call it, it still sounds a little bit like torture, doesn’t it?
Even so, I’m always fascinated by stories of people who have been able to save hundreds or thousands just by doing one of these no-spend challenges.
And truth be told, I’ve been toying with the idea of trying my own no-spend challenge for about a year now. But for one reason or another, I kept putting it off.
I’m pretty sure I used every excuse in the book, but eventually my curiosity finally won against my apparent procrastination. I decided that enough was enough. If other people can successfully complete their no-spend challenges, then so can I!
Thus, at the end of November, I called Josh (my ever so patient husband) to see if he wanted to try a no-spend month with me. I could tell that he thought I was crazy, but he agreed to it.
So with Josh on board, we embarked on our very first no-spend month!
I know. It sounds impossible, not to mention impractical!
But before I give you all the nitty gritty details of our first ever no-spend month, let’s back it up a bit and talk a little more about no-spend challenges in general. Sound good?
What is a no-spend challenge?
A no-spend challenge (or any of the other names you might hear it called) is basically where you stop spending money for a certain period of time, anywhere from a weekend to a month to even a whole year!
Of course, there are a few caveats. You still have to pay your bills, and you still have to feed your family. And if you already have activities, vacations, or events planned, you should still do them.
But the idea is to stop all unnecessary spending so you can reach a specific financial goal.
A no-spend challenge can help you
- Save money to fund your emergency fund
- Pay down debt
- Save for a family vacation
- Reset your spending habits
- Break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle
And so much more!
Really, a no-spend challenge can help you reach whatever financial goal you happen to be working toward at the time.
Why I wanted to try a no-spend month
My motivation for starting a no-spend month was actually two-fold. You see, we did some pretty excessive spending in October and November. We grossly exceeded our budgeted amounts for groceries and eating out, so we really needed to reset our spending habits.
Also, since we’re in the process of paying off the last $30,000 of Josh’s student loan debt (it was originally $80,000!), I wanted to end the year with a sizeable student loan payment.
Those were my primary motivators for wanting to try a no-spend month, but I also just wanted to see if we could do it.
But what about Christmas?
Choosing December for our no-spend month might seem a little crazy, especially when everyone else is spending money left and right on gifts. But really, I think the timing was absolutely perfect!
- There are all sorts of free holiday activities you can do for entertainment.
- You get to eat good food at holiday parties, so that satisfies the need to eat out.
- You can spend any Christmas money you receive without affecting your bottom line.
See? It doesn’t get much better than that!
But you do have to be a little creative when it comes to gifts.
How I handled our Christmas shopping
I finished the last of our Christmas shopping at the end of November. I’m always proactive when it comes to Christmas shopping because I like to have the entire month of December to simply wrap gifts and watch Christmas movies. No last-minute shopping for me!
But even if I wasn’t finished shopping by the end of November, I still think I would be free to do my Christmas shopping in December.
I know, I know. This sounds completely contrary to the whole concept of a no-spend month. But hear me out.
You see, we save for Christmas all year long. Because of that, our Christmas fund is fully funded and sitting in our savings account by the time I’m ready to shop for gifts.
In my mind, this money doesn’t count in our no-spend month since spending it doesn’t affect our bottom line. It was already earmarked for this very occasion, and our checking account balance would look the exact same whether we spend it or not.
As long as you plan appropriately for gifts by saving all year long and/or doing your shopping in November, there’s no reason why you can’t successfully complete a no-spend month in December.
Our no-spend month rules
If you read any given article on no-spend challenges, the basic rule is to pay the bills and nothing more. Many people eat out of their fridge, freezer, and pantry to avoid grocery shopping, and some people even stop driving and choose public transportation instead!
While this is a bit extreme, I have also read articles from other people who tweak the rules a bit to fit their specific situation. Since we roll a little differently than most people, I really liked the idea of tailoring the rules to our lifestyle.
So here’s how we set our rules when we planned our no-spend month.
Speaking of planning a no-spend month, you can get a limited-time discount on my No-Spend Month planner so you can plan your own successful no-spend month!
Since we follow a mostly whole food, plant-based diet, eating out of the fridge, freezer, and pantry just isn’t realistic for us. We require fresh produce on a weekly basis, so I allowed room in our no-spend month for fresh, healthy food.
However, I challenged myself to stick to a strict and basic meal plan so I could save as much money on groceries as possible. I included plenty of cheap meals in our meal plan, and I did most of my grocery shopping at Aldi just like I always do.
Total: $300 for groceries
We live in the country about 25 minutes away from Josh’s work. Public transportation, walking, and biking just aren’t possible (or safe), so we allowed room for gas in our budget.
Total: $140 for gas
We have three kitties. They require fresh kitty litter and Aldi’s grain-free cat food (Oliver has a grain intolerance), so we allowed room in our budget to care for their basic needs.
Total: $60 for litter and food
Extra money we receive
We decided that any Christmas and birthday money that we receive is okay to spend since it doesn’t affect our bottom line. And because c’mon; it’s Christmas and Josh’s birthday! 🙂
(Oh yeah, Josh did NOT let me forget that I chose his birthday month to do our no-spend challenge. Oops! 😉 )
In all, my goal was to stick to a strict $500 budget outside of our regular bills.
Our No-Spend Month Experience
How we used our creativity to survive the challenge
We did have to exercise our creativity more than we usually do.
Wouldn’t you know that I ran out of eyebrow pencil on December 1st?! I didn’t realize I was getting low, and I didn’t have a spare in my makeup stash.
So instead of buying a new pencil like I normally would, I mixed some taupe and brown eyeshadow to achieve my natural brow color. And do you know what? I actually like it better than regular eyebrow pencil! I never would have known if I hadn’t been forced to get creative.
Also, I have a girl’s day with one of my best childhood friends every month. We usually meet for lunch to chat, but I knew that wasn’t an option this time.
Lucky for me, December is full of free holiday activities! Instead of eating out, we rode through a nearby town’s Christmas light display. It was beautiful, festive, and free!
Josh didn’t seem to have as many instances that required creativity, but it was kind of funny watching him rummage around in his car’s change compartment to find some coins so he could get a Dr. Pepper! Bless him.
Our biggest struggle
Surprisingly enough, we really didn’t mind our no-spend month. Even Josh said that after the first week, it really wasn’t a big deal not spending money.
The only thing we really struggled with was wanting to eat out. That’s especially Josh’s weakness! And since we usually have a lunch date at our favorite local sub shop every Wednesday, we were both craving some delicious subs.
Luckily, Josh got an early Christmas present from a coworker that satisfied our craving: a scratch-off lottery ticket worth $20! He used that money to take us out for subs, and we enjoyed that outing more than we ever have before.
Our No-Spend Month Results
How much we actually spent on groceries, gas, and pets
In the end, we didn’t even spend the whole $500 I originally budgeted!
I did spend the whole $60 on the kitties because that’s the exact amount I spend every month on two boxes of litter and four bags of food.
But I was pleasantly surprised that we came in waaaayyyy under budget for groceries and gas! I only spent $155 on groceries and $80 on gas.
That’s only $295 total! Heck yeah!
How much we actually saved
In all, we saved a nice chunk of change during this no-spend challenge! Let me try to explain our savings as best as I can.
In a perfect world, I normally budget the following amounts for the two of us and three kitties:
- $300 groceries
- $100 restaurants
- $60 pets
- $20 hygiene/beauty products
- $20 household items
- $20 fun money for Josh
- $20 fun money for me
- $20 clothing (we let it build until we need to buy something)
- $25 gifts (we let it build until it’s time to buy a gift)
- $175 gas
- $15 video game subscription for Josh
That’s $775 total, and these expenses are outside of our usual bills (mortgage, utilities, cell phone, Netflix, etc.), tithes, and sinking funds (Christmas, home repairs, car repairs and insurance, medical expenses, etc.)
According to our IDEAL budgeted amounts, we saved $480!
However, we are not perfect spenders.
If you look at the last few months of our ACTUAL spending, we saved quite a bit more. Since we’ve been overspending in nearly all of these categories (my gosh, that is SO embarrassing to admit since I’m over here divvying out money management tips!), we actually saved closer to $650!
It feels so good to have control over our spending again!
By doing this no-spend month, we were able to pay a total of $1,000 toward Josh’s student loan. We typically pay in the $700 range, so that extra $300 was a nice boost!
Of course, if you’re good at math, you probably realized that we didn’t put all of the money we saved during our no-spend month toward the loan.
Instead, we used part of it to fund a mini “emergency” fund that we’ll keep at home at all times. It has $100 in it for those unexpected expenses that crop up but aren’t necessarily true emergencies.
We set aside the rest of the money for some technology investments I need to make for this blog.
What we learned
Even though we were both a little unsure whether we’d really be able to pull off a no-spend month, we found the experience enlightening and kind of fun!
Here are some of the things we learned:
- We wasted a lot of money the last few months by exceeding our budget.
- Our happiness doesn’t depend on spending money; we were just as happy as we always are.
- We don’t need to spend money to have fun.
- We can be pretty creative when we have to be.
- I can spend a lot less on groceries and still have a kitchen full of good food.
- Eating out feels like a special treat when we don’t do it very often.
- When I delay my purchases, I usually find that I don’t really need or want them after all.
- We have no excuse to overspend. It doesn’t make us happier, and we really don’t need or want those extra purchases.
How this challenge reset our spending habits
Even though it was nice saving all that money, I’m even happier that we were able to reset our spending habits.
I felt like our spending was getting out of control between the two of us eating out together, Josh eating out with coworkers, and me succumbing to impulse purchases at the grocery store.
Now our eyes are open, and we see that we really don’t need to spend a ton of money to enjoy life.
I know some people knock no-spend months because the people attempting the challenge will likely go back to their old spending habits the next month. But while I do think we’ll go back to some of our normal spending (Josh would go crazy if he could never eat out again!), I think we’ll be more conscientious when making our monthly budget.
Do we really need to budget $100 for restaurants when $60 will give us a few dates at our favorite sub shop and a lunch or two out with coworkers for Josh? Probably not.
Do I need to budget $300 for groceries when we eat well on less than $200? Nope.
So even though we will spend money on some “extras,” we won’t be spending as much as we used to. It just isn’t necessary, and we have other big goals that are more important to us right now. Like getting out of debt!
Looking Ahead to Our Next No-Spend Month
What we’d do differently next time
I don’t think there are any radical changes we’d make next time, but I will adjust the amounts we allow for food and gas. Since we didn’t use the full $300 for groceries or $140 for gas, I would lower those allowances to what we actually spent this time.
When we’ll do it again
That’s right, we plan on doing this again! Josh thinks we should have quarterly no-spend months to save money and reset our spending. And you know what? I think that’s a fabulous idea!
So for 2019, we plan to do four no-spend months: one in February, June, September, and December.
How You Can Plan a Successful No-Spend Month too
If you’d like to plan a successful no-spend month but don’t know where to start, then you might be interested in my no-spend month planner!
I created The No-Spend Month Planner to make the planning process easier and to equip you with the necessary tools and resources to make your no-spend challenge as easy as possible. It’s 45 pages of in-depth instructions, worksheets, and bonus resources to help you make the most out of your no-spend month.
Wrapping It Up
So that was our experience with our very first no-spend month! True, we still allowed room for healthy food, transportation, and pet supplies, but tweaking the rules to fit our needs still resulted in us saving quite a bit of money! I don’t know about you, but I call that a win.
Other Posts You May Enjoy
- How to Prepare for a Successful No-Spend Month
- 9 Personal Finance Resources You Need in Your Life
- 7 Budgeting Mistakes You’re Probably Making and How to Fix Them
- How to Create a Budget When You Have No Idea Where to Start
- 30 Ways to Save Money So You Can Reach Your Financial Goals
What about you? Have you ever tried a no-spend month or any other kind of no-spend challenge? If so, what was your experience like?
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