31 Days of No Spending

Yes you read that right.  An entire month of no spending.  I know you already have about a million questions racing through your mind, the first most likely being, "WHY!?!"  Don't worry, I'll explain everything.  

The madness began when I stumbled upon Ruth Soukup's Book Living Well Spending Less, which I absolutely loved.  It was inspirational and motivating, and a super easy read.  I highly recommend it.  I also have her Living Well Planner which has been a game changer for the to-do list addict in me.  {While I was at it, I grabbed her Living Well Spending Zero book, which basically guides you day by day through a month of no spending.  Because you know I always keep it real, I thought it was a complete waste of money.  Oh, the irony.}  

So what the heck is 31 Days of No Spending?  It can be a little bit different for everyone, but essentially it's one entire month where you don't spend ANY extra money.  No Target, no Starbucks, and definitely no Amazon.  Of course there are things that need to be paid each month - rent/mortgage, gas, power and garbage bills, etc.  Aside from the absolute necessary, each person/family can make their own specific guidelines depending on how strict or lax they want to be.  For our family, we decided that we would only purchase produce and dairy/eggs.  In the book, she said her family only purchased BANANAS and lived off their pantry for everything else.  Bananas ya'll.  For 31 one DAYS.  I'm super big on clean eating, so not having fresh fruits and veggies for an entire month just wasn't an option for us.  But that's what's so cool about it - 31 days of no spending will look somewhat different for everyone.

So WHY did we decide to do it?  My husband is a physical therapist, I stay home and homeschool/adventure with our four kiddos and (obviously) am a photographer part-time (or even less as of lately).  We just paid off the balance on our student loans (whoo hoo!), so our current financial goals consist of building our savings back up to ultimately buy or build a home.  To do so, we've been consciously working at spending less over the last several months - without much success.  After each month went by, we'd add up what we spent and then sit there baffled, wondering what we spent it all on...  Please tell me we aren't alone in this?!?!  So when I read about the extreme no spending concept in Living Well Spending Less, I knew immediately I wanted to do it.  We needed to do it.  It made complete sense to me.  I thought of it like a cleanse for our spending - a way to reset our habits and begin anew with a clearer perspective.  I mean, how hard could it be? 

So I convinced my husband and kids to commit to this crazy challenge and off we went!  First we set our guidelines: absolutely no spending aside from groceries - specifically only produce and dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs).  We decided on a $500 food budget for the month (which honestly I have no idea how this compares to the average family, but it was pretty minimal for us) - we're a family of six and my 9 year old consistency puts down 2-3 apples a day.  You do the math.  My husband said he didn't think I could do it, which by the way - I DID. (insert punch emoji here)  Then we stated our goals:  Obviously we wanted to save money throughout the month, but we also really wanted to find a deeper appreciation and gratitude for the many blessings we already have.  To find joy and contentment without the need to purchase new things.  We wanted to pay attention to our spending habits (both good and bad) and to better differentiate between "wants" and "needs".  Instead of walking you through our month, I decided to answer all of the questions that were asked via Facebook and Instagram (make sure you're following along yo!):   

Did you stock up a ton before hand?  Actually no.  However, this totally depends on how stocked you keep your pantry and cupboards.  I'm kind of a "prepper" when it comes to how much we have on hand - for example, when our favorite pizza sauce is on sale, I'll buy 10 instead of 1 so that I have it on hand when I make pizza, which happens to be every Thursday.  I also buy lots of things in bulk with Amazon's Subscribe & Save like conditioner, lotion, baby wipes, etc.), but I did make sure we had plenty of toilet paper, paper towels, shampoo etc. which we already did.  The only things I bought ahead of time were a bunch of bread from Costco (and then froze it) and some ground turkey and chicken breasts, which went in the freezer as well.  So I really wouldn't say we spent extra before we started, mainly because of the way I already shop.  If you keep a minimalist pantry and cupboards, this challenge might be a little more difficult for you.  

Did you cheat?  Technically... yes.  As in, I broke our own guidelines.  Some of the meat I had counted on using from my freezer had gone bad (due to our garage freezer being turned off without us knowing), so I did purchase a few meat items throughout the month, but extremely sparingly and I kept within our $500 budget.  I also bought a couple of "snack" type items (popcorn, crackers, etc.) for our kids lunches because we ran out after week one.  I had saved up two Starbucks drink rewards on my app and used those on the days when I reeeeeaaalllly needed it, which technically I wouldn't call cheating because I didn't spend any money.  Josh and I also went on a date to Cheesecake Factory and used a gift card we had been gifted... again, didn't spend a penny!  Oh!  But I just remembered I bought 2 bottles of Diet Coke and a pack of Mentos for a science experiment... Cheater status up in hurrr.

Did you meal plan for the entire month?  No.  If I was amazing and totally on top of it (which is never) then I would have...  I just don't have the time (or at least I tell myself I don't!) so I *try* to meal plan each Sunday for the upcoming week.  Throughout the month I would buy whatever produce was on sale - broccoli, asparagus, kale, oranges - and base our meals off of that and what I already had in my pantry.  I definitely had to improvise and get creative, but the challenge was surprisingly fun.  On the flip side, there were definitely a few nights when I would have done ANYTHING to just grab a pizza.

What lifestyle and/or routine changes did you have to make?  Where do I begin, ha!  My love affair with Target was put on hold and remarkably, I survived... ha!  In lots of ways it's easier for me to take all my kiddos out.  I'm more present, they argue less and everyone has more fun.  But leaving the house usually = spending money.  Especially when it's raining - which it did - a lot.  So making our home a more peaceful and organized place to be was something I worked on quite a bit throughout the month.  That and not going completely insane.  On that same note, another challenging aspect was packing food before we left to go anywhere.  I swear my kids never stop eating therefore I am never without snacks because let's just say, I've learned the hard way (HANGRY 4 year olds are scarier than any horror film, trust me).  So having food on hand wasn't a new thing for me.  What was a new thing was making sure I had MORE than enough food to last us our entire adventure before we left the house.  Making sandwiches, cutting fruit... and when we had to be out the door by 8:30, it got kinda rough.  We were late more than often (which is often).  This month also contributed to a self-realization about my unhealthy relationship with food.  I realized that one of the main ways I've learned to "treat myself" when I'm having a rough day with the kiddos is to buy something - usually involving Starbucks and/or chocolate - so I was forced to first of all, really notice this about myself, and then to seek healthier (and free) ways to give myself a break.  One of those was going to the gym and listening to uplifting podcasts.  I've also been inspired to take on my next adventure - which is no sugar or gluten for 2 weeks.  Maybe I'll blog about that next ;-)

Did it affect the kids?  If so, how?  It absolutely did, but in amazing ways!  My older two (ages 12 and 9) were completely on board and would say things like, "Mom, do you think it's okay we're using gas?" or "Oh shoot, we'll have to wait to buy that until next month."  Now that the month is over by son just said out of the blue "I'm so proud of you and dad for doing no spending for a whole month!"  They're old enough to really understand the difference between a "want" and a "need" and I think it was a great lesson for all of us, especially them.  I think it also helped them to realize that everything costs money and you can have tons of fun without spending any!  Besides the occasional comment about wishing we had certain food items or not liking some of the food we were having, they really didn't complain at all.  But then again, my kids are pretty awesome.

What about essentials or unexpected items?  What about birthday parties and gifts?  This is such a good question.  We got totally lucky and didn't have any crazy unexpected expenses like a flat tire or health emergency this month, so I guess I'm not exactly sure how that would have gone.  My husband's car suddenly needed new brakes, but we decided to wait until the month was over.  (And still haven't done that... whoops.)  As far as essentials, I already mentioned how my "prepping" mentality took care of that.  Birthday parties!!  Such a great question.  So maybe this is totally unoriginal of me or maybe it's genius, I'll let you decide... but whenever I find an awesome toy or game at a great price, I'll buy one (or two or three) and stick them in our gift cupboard.  I've even bought gift cards when they're on sale to have on hand.  You never know when you'll want to surprise a friend with a little pick-me-up or get invited super last minute to a party.  The gift cupboard has saved my life at least nine times.  My baby girl actually turned 3 this month, but (before even knowing we'd do this no spending challenge) I had already bought her gifts after Christmas.  We had a little potluck dessert party with family and she thought it was amazing.  Once again, gift cupboard to the rescue!!        

What did you miss the most?  Oh gosh... probably Target.  I just finally went for the first time in OVER a month and it kind of felt like walking through the gates of heaven.  But then as we were walking around, this part of me kept thinking - look at all this stuff that I don't need.  I'm proud to say I waltzed outta there spending less than $12.  Twelve dollars ya'll.  Pretty sure that's a lifetime record for me.  I'm a changed woman (for now)!! 

How much did you save?  This is the pretty crazy part.  So I mentioned earlier that we've been actively trying to spend less and save more.  Well, compared to our average spending over the last six months, we spent $2800 LESS this month.  {To clarify, I took what we spent each month for the past 6 months and divided by 6 to get that "average" number.}  Also - wow factor here: that's including a credit card payment of $1200 we made from last month's spending!!  (We have a couple credit cards like Southwest airlines that we intentionally use each month and then pay off to get the points for flights, etc.)  When we did the math, my husband and I were BLOWN AWAY.  I still don't even know what we've been spending all our money on.  I don't even get it.  I do know though, that most of it was completely unnecessary.    

Would you do it again?  What would you do differently?  We're planning to do it again for sure.  I think we'll do it at least once a year around Spring time (maybe February next year - less days, ha!).  As far as what we'd do differently - I'd make sure we had a little more meat and bread stocked up (and maybe some treats).  I'd also talk more with the kids about why we're doing it so they can be more involved.  Sidenote: all my kids have their own money and they each chose to do the no spending month along with us!!

How has this challenge changed you?  Now that the month is over, do you want to spend a ton?  Considering I walked out of Target spending less than $15 should speak volumes.  I'm not a big spender, really - but I think it's all the little things that add up.  $5 here, $20 here... it can add up quick!  This month has helped me to be much more aware of my spending habits and what things we actually need.  I'm motivated to keep the momentum we're on.  It feels so good to be in control and to see the fruits of our labors!  So if anything, it's been the opposite of wanting to go out and spend a ton!  I've been very reserved and aware.  Fingers crossed it'll stick!  That being said, we aren't being quite as strict now that the month is over.  It's definitely not something we could maintain long-term, nor do I think we should.  I mean, isn't the reason we make money is to enjoy it and have it work for us?  

Tips for those who want to give it a try?  First and foremost, you have to really be committed.  You have to WANT to do it, knowing it will be hard - but also knowing you can TOTALLY do it.  It's truly empowering to practice self-control - in any form.  I'm realizing it's not something I'm naturally good at (hence my crazy emotional food attachment issues...).  Second, have a plan.  What exactly will be your guidelines?  Make sure it's something you can stick with, but that will be a challenge.  And WHY are you doing it?  What are your goals?  Depending on how you already shop, I'd slowly start adding a few extra cans of tomatoes here and a few extra boxes of cereal there - and when you find a great deal on meat - buy three and freeze them!  Like Dave Ramsey always says, "If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else!"  The sacrifice is well worth the reward - which is getting that much closer to your financial goals and hopefully making some lasting changes to the way you view spending.  If you don't care about all that saving mumbo jumbo and competition is more your thing, then -

I dare you.


Feel free to reach out to me with any questions.  I'm no expert of course, but I'm always down to lend a helping hand or give a little moral support.  You can totally do this!!! 

* All images in this post are iphone images and not a reflection of my professional work.  Just had to throw that in there. ;-)