This year I splurged on a planner, I’ve seen a lot of advertisements for life planners but I always sort of brushed off the idea. But between making sure my two boy’s appointments and events aren’t overlooked, working full-time, blogging, meal planning, and (trying) to follow a family budget, I decided to take the leap and purchase the Living Well Planner. And so far I think it’s pretty darn awesome. I can jot down everything from monthly goals, monthly happenings, daily tasks and meals, and every month there is a family budget to fill out. My husband and I aren’t necessarily frivolous spenders, but we aren’t the greatest at following a planned budget either; so sitting down to figure out exactly where our money was going each month was a great exercise, and something that we need to be doing more consistently.
When I purchased my planner there was a promotion deal to get a free copy of Ruth Soukup’s book, Living Well Spending Zero. I thought it was a cool bonus to get a free book, but didn’t think I’d take the time to read it. But sure enough the free book came in the mail, I started paging through it and instantly was intrigued. “Could we really go 31 days with spending NO money?”. The book talked about setting ground rules for the 31 days, and then every day had an exercise such as meal planning, cleaning out closets, pampering yourself, enjoying a free date night, etc. Now to be completely honest I only completed a handful of the exercises from the book, but what my family did accomplish is 31 days of spending very little money.
Here were the ground rules we set for our 31 days (I’m assuming everyone would do it a little different). The only money we were allowed to spend was on:
- Church and charitable donations
- Cheerios – I realize Cheerios sound random, but my two boys eat Cheerios EVERY morning, it’s their thing and they sit peacefully together at the table while they do it so we OK’d it for our challenge
I will tell you the six most positive outcomes from our experience.
Clean Out The Freezer
For me this was the best part of the challenge. Maybe nobody else does this, but I always open our fridge, freezer, and cupboards and say “we have no food”, when in fact there is plenty of food. Another thing I’m guilty of is going to the grocery store without knowing what meat and food we already have, so we end up with a lot of extra meat in our freezer. I bet you’d be surprised how far you can stretch the food you already have in your house for a month. We didn’t “stock up” on any extra food before we started the challenge, and we made it the full 31 days! And it feels pretty amazing to finally be able to see the bottom of our freezer and to use up the meat before it sits in there too long and gets freezer burn.
Forces You To Get Creative
When you know you can’t run to the grocery store you really need to start getting creative and resourceful. I was always thinking and learning how to put meals together with very few ingredients. And I was constantly googling “Substitute for ____”, and most of the time I had an alternative ingredient on hand; for example, using mayo instead of sour cream in a hotdish, or applesauce instead of butter while baking. I even made homemade enchilada sauce for the first time ever with some cans of tomatoes I never thought I’d have a good use for, and it turned out better than store bought enchilada sauce!
Use What You’ve Got
Have you ever purchased something, forgot to use it and it eventually ends up in the back of a closet or medicine cabinet? Apparently I do this more than I realize. I ran out of makeup foundation during the 31 days and thought I might have to sneak out and buy more, but I dug through some older makeup and found foundation that had never been used. Was it as good as the current brand I use? Nope. Was it good enough to do the job? Absolutely. This same thing happened when we ran out of kitchen garbage bags and bath soap for the boys. We discovered a box of garbage bags under the kitchen sink, and a bottle of Johnson & Johnson shampoo in our bathroom closet. You might be surprised of the extra stuff you have laying around the house because you got it as a gift and forgot about it, or over-bought the last time you were at the store. It feels good to use up all these extra things taking up space in your house.
It wasn’t until money was off-limits that I realized how many decisions I no longer had to make. Not to sound too dramatic, but it was kind of freeing. I didn’t have to decide if or where I was going out to lunch, because it wasn’t an option. I didn’t have to open my Target email telling me home decor was 40% off, because I couldn’t buy anything anyways. I actually unsubscribed to the majority of retailers that were emailing me daily. It wasn’t until I couldn’t spend money that I realized how distracting those emails could be. The subject lines always seem so enticing, but then you just end up wasting your time browsing around not looking for anything in particular. By unsubscribing I don’t have to spend my time deleting emails or getting sucked into impulse online shopping.
Learn To Plan Ahead
When going out for dinner isn’t an option it forces you to plan ahead. Whether that is taking meat out of the freezer to thaw or packing a lunch. A perfect example of this for us was when we drove 20 minutes to another town to watch a cousin play an evening hockey game. If we weren’t doing this challenge I guarantee we would have swung through the nearest drive-thru before the game or loaded up on hot dogs and popcorn at the game. But we planned ahead, ate supper at home and packed snacks for the game. This is something I’m hoping to continue even now that we are spending money again. Just a little bit of planning ahead can save a lot of money.
Use Will Power
I’m not going to say the 31 days were easy peasy, it’s called a “challenge” for a reason. But most of the time I found a way to indulge in the things I wanted without spending money. There was a Saturday morning where ALL I wanted was a donut. So my son and I decided to make homemade cinnamon rolls instead. Not only did I get the pastry I was craving, but I learned how to make homemade cinnamon rolls for the first time and got to do it alongside my kid.
Something else I did during the 31 days was get rid of old clothes in my closet. I was able to donate two huge bags of clothes. So many times I would walk into my closet and think “I hate my clothes, I have nothing to wear”, so by getting rid of the clothes that I haven’t wore in a year, don’t fit quite right, or I just don’t like made it feel like a new closet. Now when I go to pick out clothes I know that I like everything hanging there and I don’t find myself thinking “I have nothing to wear” nearly as often. This helped me avoid the temptation of buying clothes during the 31 days.
So now that I’ve told you all about our experience I’ve answered the most frequent asked questions we got from friends when we told them about this crazy thing we were doing.
Did you eat fresh produce?
We didn’t have a lot of fresh produce during the month, and relied mostly on frozen and canned veggies. But you have to do what works for your family. If you can’t imagine going 31 days without hitting up the produce aisle, maybe you could allow yourself only half of the money you normally spend. That way it still feels like a challenge, and it will force you to always have an eye out for sale items and good deals.
What about birthdays or special events?
I’d recommend first brainstorming ways to make a homemade gift or your own cake. But that isn’t always an option. We attended a Super Bowl party during our challenge and I tried hard to think of an appetizer to bring with food from our house. When my husband [sarcastically] asked “should we bring this can of corn?”, I knew we had to go to the store. So I made it a mini-challenge and told myself I couldn’t spend more than $10 to make a dip, and I accomplished it!
So you went 31 days with spending no money, what happens next month?
During the first week of this no spending challenge I would see something on Amazon or Target and tell myself “I’m going to buy that as soon as we are spending money again”, and I honestly can’t even remember what those items were, so I must not have wanted them as much as I initially thought. And now after seeing how low our credit card bill was I don’t want to just blow through all the money we worked so hard not to spend. I’m currently reminding myself that money could be used for a weekend hotel stay or just some extra savings. My husband and I have even said it would be fun to try do this challenge once or twice every year, that extra money would definitely add up over time.
So you basically will be anti-social for a month?
Even though we couldn’t go out to eat, to the bar, or to the movies doesn’t mean we couldn’t have any fun. My husband had plenty of beer stocked in our wet bar, so he just made sure to invite friends over to our house instead of meeting up at the bar. And I was still able to have lunch with a friend because I had a gift card to a restaurant; if you don’t have a gift certificate maybe you and a friend could meet up at your house or a park and pack a lunch, because I’m guessing lunch with a friend is more about the conversation than the restaurant food.
Instead of a date night at the movies or renting the newest release, my husband and I made a point of watching a few movies that we’ve had saved on our DVR list and hadn’t gotten around to watching. It was a nice reminder that homemade popcorn and sprawling out on the couch with a blanket is just as good (if not better) than a night at the movies.
Any additional tips?
Try to avoid situations that tempt you to spend money. We had one slip-up when we filled up on gas and went into the store to pay while we were hungry and grabbed some convenience food. So we learned our lesson and next time paid outside at the pump. This slip-up happened on day 2 of our 31 days, when we were still adjusting to spending habits. So don’t give up if you make a mistake a time or two, just evaluate why it happened and try to avoid it next time.
For additional resources visit Living Well Spending Zero.