Every year, we try to have at least one “no spend month.” This is exactly what it sounds like–for one month we try not to spend money. I know, this sounds impossible, especially in this economy, but shockingly, we survive. Each time, before we start, we set up “rules” of what will be “allowed” and if there are any exceptions. Here’s how we went about it this time:
1) Throughout the year, we saved up any gift cards that we received. Now I do have an advantage as I am a blogger and I sometimes get gift cards from sponsors for writing posts. But you’d be surprised how many you can get to through things such as: birthdays, promotions from stores, earned gift cards through programs such as Swagbucks – Disney Movie Rewards – Recycle Bank – Pampers Gifts to Grow – etc. You have to be careful with gift cards from stores as some are promotional gift cards and can expire. While we use cash for most of our purchases, we do use a credit card for large purchases, that we pay off right after, to earn reward points. At the end of the year, these points get redeemed for gift cards as they often give you more for your money such as a $100 American Express Gift Card for $90 in Points.
2) While we sometimes may get a gas gift card, fuel for vehicles is always on the list of things we must pay for during the no-spend month. BUT we do our best to limit trips and cut-back on how many times we fill up that month.
3) I usually plan ahead for family birthdays and special events (buying gifts earlier, etc.) but sometimes one pops up that we haven’t planned for so we try to budget a little money for the “just-in-case.”
4) Throughout the year, we save up reward points that don’t expire and use them during this month. Things such as our dairy shop points, movie theater bucks, punch cards that get us free items on next visit, etc. We have bought almost all our dairy products through saving our points and a few milk jugs that they give you your deposit back on. I often pick up movie tickets during Groupon deals that I buy with credits and then use our movie theater bucks we’ve earned through the year to have a completely free theater outing during the month.
5) During this time, we live off our sensible stockpile of food and personal care items. Since we buy shares of beef, pork and chicken, we always have those on hand. I also freeze food throughout the year when in season and we use those, as well. One of the reasons we usually pick a summer month is so we can live off the veggies from my Organic Garden and take advantage of free outside activities such as parades, parks, hiking, bicycle rides, etc. I also save several free product coupons for food and personal care items and use them during this time. It’s amazing how many I can acquire in a year’s time that won’t expire before then.
6) While we have a “no-spend” month in place, each of still receives our normal monthly “allowance.” But we often contribute quite a bit of it not to material things but things we didn’t plan for. It’s a nice family team effort during this time. I often end up spending mine on glorious farmer’s market food finds! I really can’t survive a month without fresh fruit so this is often what I choose to spend my money on and share with everyone else.
7) Unplanned emergencies and normal fixed bills such as utilities/mortgage are always the exception–they always continue to be paid!
So those are most of our “rules.” I always encourage anyone that does one to set rules that fit their own family. Yours may be no spending on material things but still budgeting for food, etc. And here’s why I love having a no spend month:
A) It’s a great way to see how much you really spend on things you don’t need. When you have just a small amount to survive on for an entire month (through gift cards, points, allowance, etc), you really analyze every purchase. When we have ours, I keep a “Wish List” on Amazon of things that I would have wanted to buy and I’m always surprised at how many of those things I don’t really need at the end of the month. Impulse purchases are greatly cut and it also makes you aware of how many impulse purchases you might have come into habit of making. It’s also a great time to teach the kids about waiting for things they want and “adding it to their list” for later.
B) It’s a great way to balance your checking accounts and to see if there are any things that are being charged that you didn’t notice. We once found a recurring monthly fee for something we had canceled months earlier. (You betcha that we called and got a refund on that!) Sometimes those small little things can sneak in there without noticing. It’s also a great time to catch up on balancing the checkbook if we’ve gotten behind!
C) You learn to live on less. By not running to the store all the time, you learn to find new meals with the items you have on hand. This is when food creativity spikes and you may find some new favorite meals! You also learn to cut back on things because you don’t want to run out when the month is over.
D) You find so many new ways of having fun family time together. We often pick a summer month so it pushes us to enjoy the “great outdoors” more. Our kids are young and they are easily amused by board games, sidewalk chalk, walks to the park, etc. They’d rather cook hot dogs over the fire pit outside than sit in a restaurant any day. And if we need a getaway? You can always escape to your own backyard for a fun backyard camping retreat or visit family. Consider pairing up with friends/family to alternate “no-spend” months and visit them during yours and vice versa.
E) At the end of the month, you have learned to live on less and you can take your extra savings and apply it to bills or something that you needed to save up for. I love to apply our savings to what we need to spend on our Organic Meat and CSA shares that we buy.
I find myself taking on that “undefeated season” mentality during this time and I often find myself coming up with creative ways not to have to break down and take money out of the bank for something. While it might help me save a bit if I used my gift cards or free product coupons when I first get them, I find that I save far more in the long-run by saving them to help me learn more self-discipline and change my normal spending mentality during this time. Each year, it helps me slow down my spending and then I use this knowledge gained in future months to continue our savings.
I know this might be hard for some of you as budgets are already tight but if you can find ways to save up your rewards you might be surprised how much it can change you by not spending for one month.
I’d love to hear if you have ever done a no-spend month or are planning on trying one soon?