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My husband and I went from a married couple that could barely achieve their monthly budgeting goals to budgeting masters and completing a full-blown “no spend month.” Do you want to know how we did it? First, let me tell you that it wasn’t easy. We had to be intentional in our spending habits and learn how to make our budget and spending habits a priority. Budgeting and making changes in this area of your life can be quite a challenge, but you’re not alone. We’re here to help and just for good measure, we’re going to be completely honest with how our first “no spend month” challenge went!
Before we dive in, let me introduce you to what a “no spend month” is exactly. A “no spend month” is just as the title would elude. You limit your spending to what you NEED and nix what you WANT. You’re allowed to pay for your bills and groceries, but that’s about it. No additional spending. Some people inch into this idea by starting with a “no spend weekend” and then slowly working their way up to a “no spend week” and ending with the big finale of a “no spend month.” The starting place is totally dependent upon what you and your family would be comfortable with. My husband and I knew that we could handle the first two with no problem, but we really wanted to challenge ourselves and that’s why we decided to jump right in with a “no spend month.”
We were tired of having budgeting conversations that ended with “we need to get better” or “we really need to do better this month.” Instead of having that discussion AGAIN, we were eager to get to a place where we could say “we did GOOD!” Does this sound familiar? Is this a repetitive conversation you share with your significant other? If so, we encourage you to make some changes in your budgeting and finances this year.
We decided in December of 2020 that January of 2021 would be our first official “no spend month” and we spent weeks prepping for it. In order to set ourselves up for success, we made sure that we were stocked up on toiletries, etc. so that we wouldn’t be tempted to go to the store for these items in January. My husband and I sat down a few times before the month began so that we could look at our budget together and come to an agreement about how much we were allowed to spend on groceries and where our extra money would go.
This is so important! If you’re going to do a “no spend month,” make sure that you have a purpose in your savings. Where will this extra money go?
Once you have that figured out, make sure that you sit down and have weekly or biweekly meetings with your spouse to ensure that the money is, in fact, being moved.
Read More: 5 Helpful Tips for Budgeting This Year
Family Meetings Are Key
This brings me to address the very first thing that we learned. These meetings are KEY. We were aiming to have one meeting a week, but we did not meet that goal. We met biweekly and even then- that was hard to do. Meeting biweekly isn’t exactly a bad thing, but for the functionality of our own home, we found that we prefer the weekly meetings. In fact, we almost require it in order to hold ourselves accountable. It just felt better to be on the same page and to make sure that we were staying on track. Obviously, you need to do what works for you and your family- just make sure that you come to an agreement and then STICK to it.
Read More: Budget Basics For Busy Moms
Ground Rules Matter
Now, let’s talk about some ground rules. If you are interested in trying out a “no spend month,” one of the very first things you MUST do is decide on some ground rules. Ground rules apply here just as they apply to every other area of life. What are the rules you want to put in place for your “no spend month?”
If you’re having a hard time figuring out what ground rules to have, here are some ideas to help you get started:
- What counts as an essential and nonessential item? (Don’t forget to take toiletries into consideration)
- Are we allowed to eat out? What is our budget for this?
- Are we strictly buying groceries? What is our budget for this?
- What do we do if an unexpected necessary expense pops up? (for example, a doctor visit, etc.)
For us, our ground rules were simple. We wanted to start from the basic level of limiting our spending. That means our “essential items” were mainly groceries and our bills. Everything else was marked as “non-essential.” Obviously, if we had an unexpected expense such as a doctor visit, medication, etc. then we would absolutely pay for it.
I’ll be very honest in saying that we didn’t account for that from the very beginning and it turns out that during this month, our son needed to go to the doctor’s office a few different times and we had to pay for a few small medications.
Make A 911 Nest Egg
One of the biggest lessons from our first “no spend month” is to give yourself wiggle room. Set aside a small monthly nest egg to give yourself wiggle room during your “no spend month.” This isn’t the type of nest egg that allows you to hit the drive-thru on the way home because you don’t feel like making dinner (if you’ve nixed eating out). This is the type of nest egg that will have your back when you need to pay for those unexpected, yet very necessary expenses.
Obviously, your nest egg amount will be dependent upon where you live, how many people are in your household, and what types of extra expenses you may anticipate.
Read More: Real Ways to Save Money
But, Really, How Did It Go?
If you’re wondering, overall, how we did, then I’m here to say- WE DID IT. We went the whole month without spending on unnecessary expenditures and it felt so good!
But I’m nothing if not honest, and I definitely want you to know that we didn’t come out squeaky clean. We nixed eating out and made our budget for it to be $0. That being said, we ended our month with a $10 eating-out charge. I think it’s super important to point out that $4.00 of that charge was an intentional purchase. We have a tradition that we always get doughnuts after our son’s pediatric appointments and we forgot that he had a check-up that month so we hadn’t originally taken that into consideration. After some serious chats about what we felt comfortable doing, we decided that the $4.00 charge was worth it for us. This leads me to another lesson we learned- sometimes an experience is worth the expense. It was important to us to keep up a tradition, but more importantly to continue to celebrate our son. But we know now, for future “no-spend months,” to check the appointment schedule.
The other $6.00 was not an intentional charge and this actually leads me to another lesson we learned. Stockpile and save up your gift cards! Whether it be for restaurants, coffee shops, shopping, facials, etc. Save your gift cards and use them sparingly throughout your “no spend month” when the itch to spend hits. We had a nice stockpile of restaurant gift cards from Christmas and it was a nice segway into our “no spend month.” But if you choose this method, be attentive to the money that’s available on your gift card. We over-ordered on one of our meals which led to that pesky $6.00 charge.
At the end of the month, we sat down for the final time to go over our finances and to chat about how this “no spend month” actually went for us. Overall, we both felt super accomplished because we took the challenge head-on and we did it. On paper, you’d probably think that wasn’t the case because of all of the unexpected expenses that popped up that month. We still view it as a win because had we stuck to our normal spending habits, we would’ve been WAY over budget for the month. But because we had already slowed our roll on spending, it gave us more wiggle room for those unexpected expenses.
I think the biggest thing to remember when starting a drastic financial change is: change doesn’t happen overnight. Heck, mega financial changes can’t really happen in a month. Yes, you can set a good foundation in a month, but in order to see a significant change in your finances, you must make it a lifestyle.
If you find yourself frustrated at the end of a “no spend month” because it didn’t go the way you expected it to, just remember to grant yourself some grace. You’re on the track to change, you took the first step, and sometimes, that’s the hardest part of all. You’ve got this. Take baby steps and just make it a personal goal to keep getting better with every new day and eventually, over time, you will start to see the fruit of your labor.
WANT TO READ MORE?
Check out this article on Using A Simple Household Budget Template.
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