So...when Brad and I lived in Japan the first time, 10 years ago, he read an article about a family who went an entire month without spending a penny of their paychecks.
He was like, "We should try this."
In that season of my life I might have been immature, materialistic, and definitely lacking the motivation to have my priorities in any kind of order...so I was like, "Haha. No." We didn't have any debt, what was the point?
Fast forward two kids, some life lessons, new priorities, and the newer more mature version of me decided we could give it a go. We were still debt free, but we were a couple months out from PCSing, Hawaii to San Diego (aka losing our COLA), and wanted to pay cash for a car for Brad when we got there, as well as stay out of debt through the moving process. #motivation #goals #allthatjazz
If you know me at all, I never just "give things a go". I commit. Once I decide to do anything that involves the word "challenge", it's getting done, or I am dying trying. *I might have some pride issues*
Our first no spend challenge was for the month of February 2012. We prepared throughout December and January by buying extra bread and meat within our normal grocery budgets for those months. This meant cutting back on Doritos and Oreo's, ice cream and ribeyes, etc, in Dec and Jan while filling our freezer and cabinets with non-luxe grocery items. Also, shopping stragecially for January AND February on January's budget.
There is some prep that needs to be done to to do a 100% no spend month. Though, if you wanted to start tomorrow, you could always do a modified version. I'm an ALL OR NOTHING type of girl, though, so there was no way I was touching that bank account in February...therefore: PREP.
That first one was an outstanding success. We ate a ton of hamburger helper and Rice a Roni. You definitely can't do any kind of Whole30 nonsense during a no spend month (Februaries are for no-spend, and Augusts are for Whole30 in this house). ;) I blogged everything we ate and wrote little notes about how each week went, things I did with the kids, temptations, etc. Those posts can be found in the February 2012 archives on this blog.
We recycled a bunch of cans. And then would use that money to buy milk. Fresh fruits and veg were bought with money I made sewing patches on uniforms for Brad's coworkers. You definitely need to have a plan to avoid getting scurvy!
We didn't have to buy gas for either vehicle the entire month because we lived in Hawaii. I wasn't spending money, so I wasn't going anywhere, and Brad worked 3 miles away and his island beater got 40mpg.
We lived in base housing so we had no rent/utilities/etc. Our only monthly bills were cell phones, water delivery and Netflix (if you're trying to be frugal and you still have cable...it's 2018, you gotta stop that nonsense).
Now, the conditions in Hawaii were pretty great for making that first attempt at overwhelming success. I sewed a quilt for someone and did a couple other odd jobs, so that at the end of the month, even the phones/water/netflix were covered without having to touch either paycheck. That first one will always be the most successful due to the conditions at the time.
Just like that, an entire month's pay went into savings. We choose February every year because it's a great time to recover from holiday spending, we don't have any family celebrations that month, we are forced to get creative for Valentine's Day instead of wasting money on what we consider to be a consumer holiday, it only has 28 days (usually), and we also get our tax return in February. So, not only are we not touching our paychecks, but we aren't touching our tax return (which is usually a nice chunk of change #4kids). The whole challenge is about reassessing our relationship with our money, considering what we truly value, and getting back on track to be good stewards of our financial blessings. It's like going on a missions trip and returning home with an altered world view, but then as the weeks and months go by...you get sucked back into first world things because it's hard not to. The altered view fades, and things go back to normal. This no spend challenge is like going on a mission trip once a year, to keep your focus and awareness on what is really of value to you. We do it once a year to reset, reevaluate, and set some kind of example for our kids that sometimes "NO" can be a very powerful word in a very good way.
Anyway, moving to San Diego made the whole thing MUCH harder. We bought a house, and had lots of bills, and we definitely couldn't go a month without putting gas in our cars... so we kind of had to modify our challenge to one that meant after XYZ were paid, we were not spending beyond that. We did okay the first year in S.D., maybe saving 80% of one month's pay. But we got better the next year. Because PREPARATION! 6 months ahead of time, I started buying $10 or $20 commissary gift cards everytime I went to the commissary. I'd buy gas cards here and there, too. Keeping these purchases in our normal monthly budget. And hoarding them in my glove box until February, so I could get gas and bananas wihtout touching February pay. Again., freezing bread and meat...stocking up on canned fruit and veg, box dinners, etc. In January, you have to basically buy 2 months of food on one month's budget, so you have to get creative with meal planning.
Also, in San Diego, we kept adding to our family. We had 4 kids now, and the older ones were getting to the age of activities (swim lessons, soccer, school supplies, birthday parties, etc). Paying for everything with January's budget can be really difficult. Something I always do that comes in handy during the month of February is BUY IN ADVANCE. I am not talking just groceries...I am talking clothes, toys, etc. I always bargain hunt for my kids clothes and buy for their next two sizes, because when the deal is there, you need to take advantage of it. If you wait for the need to arise, you will always pay more when shopping out of necessity. So, when I'd see bathing suits and Christmas jammies on super clearance out of season, that's when I'd buy them for $3...vs $15 in season when the need arises (see my Gymboree blog for tips on that). Also, I always check out clearance toys...especially when the exchange (lakenheath) has the "extra 50% off already clearanced items" deal. I buy toys for $5 that were originally $32. Then they go in my gift locker, with all the gift wrap/bags that I got for $0.50 each. Also, buy the $20 box of 40 generic all occasions cards to have on hand. Now, when your child gets invited to a birthday party in February (or ANY month), you don't have to go shop for a gift. You go to the locker and grab a $5 ($30) toy, $0.50 worth of wrapping or tissue/bag, and a $0.50 card out of the box...and you're all set for 6 bucks (that you actually spent in October or November). Have you ever gone out and bought the gift on the way to the party? $15 gift, $3 gift bag, $3 tissue paper, $3 card? I have done that too many times to count. It's ridiculous...stop doing that. *though Tesco does make it less of a blow with their £1 greeting cards and stuff...but, have you seen the prices on the greeting cards at the exchange? Never, ever buy those. You can buy a book for less, and write happy birthday on the inside...and the recipient won't throw it away! :)
Anyway...tangents. digressions, yada yada yada. The hardest things to overcome during no spend month won't be to not spend $30 for a random kid's birthday present. It will be the little things you do all the time that you don't think are adding up. Starbucks, movies at the theater with snacks, date nights, babysitting, pedicures, getting your hair done, fries and a soda from the drive through, a Krispy Kreme donut on the way home from the gym, online shopping, drinks/tea/punting/concerts/theater/etc with your girlfriends. So many things are NOT neccesities, but we become good at convincing ourselves we need them. I have not dyed my hair since before our first no spend challenge because I learned that month that I totally didn't value the aesthetics of my hair, like. At. All. Each time we do this, I realize that I have been putting value in something only because society or friends also value it...but I actually don't. Peer pressure is real for adults. When you say no to everything for a month, you will realize that some things were easier to give up than others. In that, you can learn what you really value, and what is important enough for you to spend money on in a regular basis. Then, you can learn to give up those other things for good!
This whole challenge isn't just about getting through the month to say you were successful at the end (though I do like that part), it's about really getting to know yourself, what you value, and how comfortable or uncomfortable you are in your relationship with your money.
If money is a consistent worry, this is something that can help that...not just by putting a huge chunk into savings (or paying off a huge chunk of debt) once a year, but by influencing your spending habits in a way that will effect all the other months of the year.
Then, when the end of the year rolls around. And those new, good habits start to slip, and the holidays make you go crazy? Take a deep breath, reset and meditate in January...then in February, DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN. :)
Don't forget to start your prep in Aug/Sep. Now would be a great time to start thinking about February being your first novel spend month.
Not planning properly is a really great way to fail. Also. Telling yourself that you can't do it, and not even starting is a 100% guaranteed failure. ;)
Whether you have zero debt, or thousands in consumer or student loan debt, you can do this. It will be hard, but guess what?
YOU CAN DO HARD THINGS.