Does a No-Spend Month Really Save Money?

My brother asked me "Wouldn't a no-spend month just cause you to spend more money next month because you've exhausted all your resources?"  Here's how a No-Spend Month REALLY saves us money!

When we had our first no-spend month last year, my brother asked me “Wouldn’t a no-spend month just cause you to spend more money next month because you’ve exhausted all your resources?”

With some self-control, a decent food storage, and a regular habit of stocking up on essentials, a no-spend month really will save you money.  Let me show you how!

Here are several ways a no-spend month really saves money:

Impulse Purchases

In my experience, there always seem to be those items that jump into your cart even though they’re not on your list and you weren’t looking for them.  They could be things on sale, a snack you’re hungry for, or a random thing that you decide you need.  With a no-spend month, you don’t go into the store, so you aren’t tempted to buy anything. 

As far as online shopping goes, I avoid doing any browsing during a no-spend month.  I don’t open any promotional emails I get during the month either.  For me, this is the online equivalent of staying out of the store.

Food on the Run

If you are in the habit of grabbing a soda at the gas station, going out for lunch, or regularly ordering take-out, a no-spend month has potential to save you lots of money.  If you spend just $10 per day going out to lunch each workday, that adds up to $200 a month.  Instead of spending money on food while you’re out, think ahead and bring food from home or just practice patience until you get home.

We are already in the habit of bringing our own food and rarely eating out, so this one is pretty easy for us.  For some, eating out is a pretty strong habit.  Going “cold turkey” in breaking an eat-out habit might be hard.  Make sure to set yourself up for success (while still posing a challenge) when setting your no-spend rules.

Fresh Fruits and Veggies

One of the biggest concerns with a no-spend month is fresh fruits and vegetables.  Sure, we like fresh better, but the alternatives pull us through for a month.  There are lots of ways to get fruits and veggies besides fresh. Staying out of the store is one of the keys to a successful no-spend month, so we get by with other fruits and veggies until we get back in the store the next month.

We have applesauce, pear sauce, and plum sauce that I canned.  We also have pear and peach halves bottled.  In our freezer we have frozen strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, nectarines, lemons, bananas, pumpkin, zucchini, and lots of veggies from our garden.  We have dehydrated apples and pears, as well as raisins and craisins.  Plus, if you buy in bulk and store them in the fridge, lots of fresh fruits will last a month or longer.

Creativity

Not spending money forces you to be creative with what you’ve got.  Whether it’s using your pantry staples for a new recipe, mending clothes, making thoughtful gifts, or using alternatives to disposables, a no-spend month can foster creativity.  Your new-found creative skills will continue to payoff long after your no-spend month.  Lowering your expenses is part of the formula for financial freedom.

Resume your Regular Budget

One of our “rules” is that we have to stay on budget the month before and after our no-spend month.  For us, that means a grocery budget of $300 per month and $40 on household items (like toilet paper, toothpaste and dish soap).  All of our stocking up has to be within our normal budget.  If you have a good food storage, then even after a no-spend month your cupboards won’t be bare.  There will be staples, especially perishables, on your shopping list, but you shouldn’t be starting from square one.

Having a month’s worth of food is a good idea for everyone.  You may not store a month’s worth of your favorite perishables, but you should store enough food at your house to sustain your family for at least a month (though I would recommend three months or longer).  I’m talking about staples like rice, beans, powdered milk, oats, flour, sugar, canned fruits and veggies, etc.

Sleep on it x 30

You’ve probably heard (or practice) the principle of “sleeping on it” when it comes to purchases.  A no-spend is an expansion of the “sleep on it” principle.   Instead of taking a night to decide if a major purchase is a good one, you have a month to decide if you really need whatever it is that you’re eyeing.  It helps to keep a list of things you want to buy.  After your no-spend month you can evaluate the list.

 

You can do this!

Anyone can have a no-spend month that works for them.  The rules are flexible and personal.  If a whole month sounds overwhelming, start with a week or two.  It’s a good way to differentiate between wants and needs.   You will learn to make sacrifices and make-do with what you have.

  • What have you learned from having a no-spend month?
  • How has a no-spend month saved you money?

 

Other Articles in the No-Spend Month Series

 

Linked to Thrifty ThursdayOne Project at a Time

Included in Yakezie Carnival, Carnival of Financial Independence

 

Comments

  1. Liz S says

    Loved this post…great “food for thought” :-) I do have a question. I know every family is different, but $40/month for household items seems insanely low (although maybe you and others on a similar budget have a stockpile of these items also?) I ended up going to Walmart once a week or once every two weeks and always need to buy things that are expensive like: Allergy pills for the kids, allergy pills for myself, sudafed for my husband, another medicine for my daughter and I, toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, sandwich bags, laundry detergent, laundry stain remover, dishwasher detergent, dish soap, trash bags, contact solution, etc… Obviously we don’t need all of these items every time, but there are lots more I can’t think of right now and they sure do add up! It’s Walmart that gets me every time and I really have to have tunnel vision when I walk in there and stick to my list.

    • says

      Good question Liz. When we started on our pay-off-these-law-school-loans-asap journey, we became pretty minimalistic. We reuse ziploc bags as well as fold-top sandwich bags. We use one trash bag a week in our kitchen trash, all the other trashcans have plastic shopping bags. When our youngest was in diapers, we used cloth diapers and wipes.

      Several years ago, when my husband was in law school I did some couponing and played the “drugstore game” (getting the deals at Walgreens and CVS). I stocked up on toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, shampoo, soap, body wash, medicine (over-the-counter stuff), feminine products, shaving cream, hair brushes and rubber bands, dish soap, and other random things. Most were free or really cheap after the in-store rebate or cashback programs. After doing that pretty faithfully for a year or so, I had a serious stockpile of toiletries.

      I don’t really do any couponing anymore now that we are in the boonies and it’s not worth a trip into town to hit up the deals (and on days in town, I have a thousand other errands). We are running low on some of these things. My husband is particular about his toothpaste (he hates mint), so I get him this. None of us have any regular medicines we take, except when I take prenatal vitamins.

      We do buy toilet paper, but instead of paper towels we use dishcloths 90% of the time. We make our own laundry detergent and stain remover and dishwasher detergent (post on that coming soon).

      Looking back over the past year or so, the times we went over our $40 budget were when we got new toner our printer and when we got a dishwasher (got it on freecycle, but our sink/plumbing needed some updating so we could install it). When we need to go over budget, the money comes out of what we would be paying toward our loans (which is a good motivation for us not to go over). We prefer to keep the budget low and make adjustments when we need to go over, than to keep the budget higher all the time.

      Every person and family has different needs and circumstances, so everyone’s numbers will be different.

  2. says

    I can definitely see how a no spend month would help – especially with things like eating out and impulse purchases. Our family is just now working toward getting on a real budget, but I think a no-spend week might be in order just as an interesting challenge! Thanks for sharing your experience!

  3. says

    I liked the article. I started with “no money” days when I became a teacher and found myself shopping for entertainment during summer break. I took a nice vacation in February and knew I had some big home improvement projects on the docket later this year, so I did a Low-spend March and April. For March I gave myself $100 a week for all non-bills (that includes food, gas, entertainment etc…but NO new clothes or shoes) I did great in March, but April has been harder. I did up the budget to $120 a week–but an emergency trip to Idaho, a car registration and an illness bumped me up to over $500 this month. I took the spring cleaning time to really go through all the “stuff” that clutters my house and sold some, donated some and reminded myself that I don’t NEED much of anything. I also ate out of my pantry and freezer…I have LOTS of possibilities if I will plan! I’m going to keep it up for May. American Express is probably wondering what on earth happened.

    • says

      Great job Steph! Your freezer and pantry do have lots of possibilities when you take time to plan. It will start to become a habit, so you can cook with what you have on hand without as much planning.

      “American Express is probably wondering what on earth happened.” Love it! Make them wonder if their loyal customer went into a coma!

  4. says

    You definitely make a good case for having a no-spend month! I like that you are making it a rule that you have to stay in budget the month before and after. It would be really easy to just spend more the month before and after, at least I know I would. You raise a good point about being forced to eat food that you already have at home instead of picking up food. We’ve definitely gotten lazy a few nights here and there and grabbed food instead of prepping it.

    • says

      Yeah, the strict budget before and after prevents us from going crazy we we start spending again. My husband and I both love a good challenge, which is guess is why I like budgeting– it’s a monthly challenge!

  5. says

    Love your answer to the fresh fruits and veggies concern, that is usually one of my biggest when it comes to no spend months, but we are working this year to be better about canning and freezing, so that will definitely help. I think no-spend months are hugely helpful. They really do serve to make a person extra purposeful about what they buy.

    • says

      Yes! “Purposeful” is a good way to put it. We don’t just throw stuff into the cart, we plan and are careful how we spend each dollar.

      Canning and freezing our own produce really helps the budget, not to mention it’s rewarding and good for you!

  6. christie says

    We just moved, and had a virtually no spend month as we saved every penny for our downpayment and moving expenses. I also wanted to use up as much food as possible so there was less to move.
    I did allow myself a few quick trips to the store for perishables. I spent less than $30 for the month instead of my usual $350 by only purchasing a few fresh fruits for my toddler, whole milk, and bread. (I have yet to be successful in making homemade bread, and time was at a premium as well!) So while it wasn’t quite a NO spend month, it wa a great compromise for our family.

    • says

      That’s great Christie! Less than $30 for the whole month is awesome, especially with all the stress that can come with moving. Thanks for sharing your success! It’s amazing what having a good motivator will do for you!

  7. says

    This was a really interesting article for me. We actually have a few farmer’s markets in my area. Sometimes I try to just go there instead of the regular grocery store so I just get the produce I need, and for cheap. Then I eat staples from my cupboard. This isn’t not spending at all, but it’s better than impulse buys.
    I was lucky to have been raised to take a sack lunch rather than eating out because I need lunch, so I don’t feel deprived.
    Looking at your explanation, I wondered, do you meal plan by the month? Or do you just plan as you go and try to reserve some meat for later in the month?
    I found you on We Are That Family.

    • says

      Hi Julie! Thanks for stopping by! Going to a farmer’s market is a great way to stick to fresh produce, but not be tempted by impulse buys!

      Because we live so far out of town, we usually only shop once a month anyway, though sometimes if I’m in town for something else, I will have a second smaller shopping trip (to get more bananas, milk, etc) during the month. I don’t do an official written meal plan (which is probably terrible to admit). I have a mental meal plan and a written list inside of my cupboard of our normal main dishes, so I can get ideas. We just spread the meat out by only eating meat once or twice a week or so.

    • says

      If you have a garden, that makes a no-spend month easier in the summertime too. Last year our no-spend month was in the summer and we had lots of fresh veggies from the garden which was really nice!

  8. says

    I definitely think that creativity goes on hyperdrive when you’re avoiding spending money! My husband and I are strongly limiting what we spend and acquire right now–and I’m also hosting a graduation open house for, oh, about 150 guests for my little cousin’s graduation in two weeks. I love parties, and normally this would be a great excuse for me to stock up on lots of party supplies, but instead I’m thinking creatively and digging into cupboards to figure out how we can supply this party out of what we already have as much as possible!

  9. says

    I’ve been so inspired by your commitment to NOT spend! Thanks for sharing. I might attempt this someday, since I know it’s possible!!

  10. says

    Thank you for this post! This is a life style I live on daily basis now. We are living on half what we earned 8 yrs ago. I changed my habits, my ‘hobbies’ became challenging myself to learn new ways to save instead of shopping. My motto now is ‘use what you already have’.

    • says

      That’s great Connie. I love that you call it a “hobby.” When you enjoy something or make it a challenge it can really transform an otherwise difficult situation. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Mandy says

    This looks like a great idea though maybe we’ll try it for a week to start off with and ease ourselves in! The YNAB program looks good, do you know if we can use it in the uk, I couldn’t find anything on their website? I’ve just found your blog through a link party and will definitely be back.
    Thanks

  12. Casey says

    I just discovered your blog and am so glad! My husband and I are in the midst of a no spend month and I have really been wondering how much it will really save us since we’re going to have to majorly stock back up on food in August. It has been a fun, albeit, challenging month so far. We both had birthdays this week and it was sad to not go out to dinner or anything, but we still had nice days. I’ve been reading through your posts for over an hour and I am so inspired! I love viewing a lower amount of debt as a reward for living frugally. Thanks so much!!

    • says

      Thanks Casey! Great job on the no-spend month, even with birthdays! That’s awesome! It is nice to see debt decrease. It makes the challenge and sacrifice worth it. Keep it up!

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