Just the other day, I was thinking that it’s high time we have another “no-spend” month. It’s been about ten months since we’ve had one. Our first one, which we didn’t plan or prepare for, went really well and was a great way to begin getting serious about paying off all this law school debt. We hadn’t set our official big, fat debt-free goal yet, but we had decided to stop saving for a house and pay off over $130,000 of law school loans as quickly as possible.
Our First “No-Spend” Month– June 2013
Last year, at the end of May, I mentioned to my husband that when the garden was in full swing, it would be fun to see if we could go for an entire month without buying any food. We both like a good challenge, so I wasn’t surprised when he said “I bet we could go for a whole month without buying anything.”
So we did!
For the month of June, on a whim, we decided to have a no-spend month. We didn’t make any special preparations or any additional trips to the store between our decision and the beginning of our no-spend adventure.
A wise nanny once said “In every job that must be done there is an element of fun. You find the fun and… snap! The job’s a game!”
We are both easy-going, yet competitive. We love adventure and challenges. It was easy for us to make a no-spend month into a game.
One of the highlights of the month was a camping trip we had planned with friends long before deciding on a no-spend month. Since we were just shopping the pantry and garden– neither of which had any hot dogs or traditional camping foods– we had to get creative. Our menu included apple cobbler made from dehydrated apples, zucchini and sausage stir fry over rice, zucchini brownies, zucchini bread, chocolate chip pancakes and scrambled eggs. Since we used our dutch oven to do a lot of cooking, we lined it with heavy duty foil each time, which made clean-up a breeze. We had never eaten so well on a camping trip!
Here are a few other take-aways from our experience:
- Habits: Before June, I had been baking homemade bread off an on, but still buying bread from the store too. Making all of our bread for an entire month forced me to fit it into my regular routine. Now it is a habit! Nearly ten months later, I am still making all of our bread!
- Patience: When we thought of things we “needed” during the month, instead of starting to research them online, we wrote them down on a list. While nothing was urgent, it still required patience to to wait until the next month.
- Temptation: I avoided temptation by not going to the store, which is actually pretty easy for me (one of the benefits of living in the boonies). I ignored or deleted all emails from online merchants, even if they were having a fabulous sale on something that we may have “needed” and even if they were having free shipping with no minimum (love those).
- Food storage: We have a pretty decent food storage, some which we had been storing since as early as 2008 (wheat, rice, beans, powdered milk, etc) and some which we got from friends, an older couple from church, who were moving out of state. Thankfully we cook mostly from scratch using these ingredients anyway, so it didn’t feel weird at all.
- Involving everyone: We told our kids the “game” we were playing. Since we were excited about a “fun challenge,” the kids (5 and under) were too. They know that we are earning and saving money to “pay for Daddy’s law school.” Instead of getting upset when we ran out of tortillas, for example, they said, “I guess we’ll have to wait until next month.”
Planning a No-Spend Month– April 2014
If you’ve kept up on our monthly debt repayment progress reports, you know that we don’t really spend all that much besides what is absolutely necessary. We normally don’t spend anything on entertainment, eating out, or (non-grocery) shopping.
This month we won’t be spending on:
- Food– we normally budget $300
- Household– we normally budget $40
- Clothes/Dry cleaning– we normally budget $25
That means we will have an additional $365 to go toward debt next month!
Because we didn’t plan at all for our first no-spend month, it was like a test of our emergency preparedness in addition to being a way to save money. This time, it kind of feels like cheating to prepare. While I know we would be fine if we didn’t go to the store until April, there are a couple of things that would be nice to get before we start our no-spend challenge.
Since this isn’t a contest for “roughing it” I decided that I will plan to go to the store this week before April begins. However, I will use only what is remaining in this month’s budget categories for food ($67) and household ($13) to buy a few things before April begins. Here’s what I’m planning to get:
- Milk– we’re already down to powdered milk this month
- Tortillas– bean burritos and quesadillas are a staple around here
- Cottage cheese– for a wonderful recipe I plan to share with you soon
- Potatoes– creamy potato soup is an inexpensive and easy favorite
- Carrots– we have dehydrated carrots, but it would be nice to have fresh ones for lunches and soups
- Bananas– (maybe) they don’t last long around here
We have plenty of toilet paper, toiletries, and other household supplies. We have some apples in the fridge from when we bought a couple hundred pounds a few months back. We have greens (chard, kale, spinach, and lettuce) and asparagus in the garden. We have turkey in the freezer in case we get hungry for meat. Plus, I have some frozen stretched ground beef left, I think.
It should be a fun month and will make a nice contribution to April’s debt payoff.
Other Articles in the No-Spend Month Series
- No-Spend Month Update
- No-Spend Month Menu
- No-Spend Month Update- Easter Edition
- Does a No-Spend Month Really Save Money?
Have you done a no-spend month before? How did it go?
I am planning an “almost” no spend month. I am allowing $100 for groceries, mainly milk and fresh produce. Otherwise, we are eating from the pantry, freezers and canning larder.
Hi Stephanie! I know this post is a few months old so I’m hoping you’ll still see this, but I wanted to share and ask something. I’m a 19 year old college student working two jobs (60-70 hours per week) and living on my own. My finace is in the marines so he’s not home, but we’re saving for our wedding. More importantly though- I’m trying to pay off my student loans. I don’t have much debt (right now its at about 8,000, not including my car loan which I’m not interested in paying off, because I’m trying to build credit and my insert rate is really good) but I would LOVE to be able to pay it off before it’s even due. I’m starting with the loans that are collecting interest and then moving to the ones that won’t collect interest until 2018. I would really love to try a no spend month since it’s just me. But my question is this- How do you figure gas into that? I’m hoping to get an etsy shop started soon making quilts, should I just put it on hold so I’m truly spending nothing, or should I figure that spending money on materials is jus t a business expense? Thank you so much for your time, I’ve been having such a great time reading through your articles and tips.
Hi Ashley! You can make your no-spend month whatever you want it to be. Just decide on your own rules and stick to them. My husband commutes, so we had buy gas. Some people just don’t buy any food for the month. We do it with food, clothes, household goods, etc. We just buy gas and pay the bills. Just do something that’s challenging but not so challenging that you give up. Good luck!
I have wanted to try a no-spend month several times. I always talk myself out of it because I am worried I will spend more the next month trying to replenish my pantry and fridge. Do you find that this is an issue? Or do you usually have enough extra in the pantry that you are still okay to wait 3-6 months to restock any items used that month?
I am so excited to see your story! We have almost the same amount of debt and are working hard to pay it off. I am excited to read more and stay motivated! Thank you for sharing!
Hi Lara! As far as pantry items go, we are fine even after a month of not spending. It’s the perishables that are harder to go without buying. When you shop again after a no-spend month, you’ll just have to be careful to prioritize your purchases. I think it’s actually kind of fun to force myself to stay on budget after a no-spend month (but I might be weird). 🙂
My husband and I have been doing “No spend January” for the past few years now, and I LOVE IT! Especially after Christmas, when sometimes the budget isn’t kept quite like it should. It feels great to not have to run to the store for anything I supposedly ‘need’.
That’s a great tradition Patty! Thanks for sharing and have a great no-spend January!
Great post! I will definitely try the “no eating out” challenge since my husband and I eat out a lot. Therefore, we don’t have a lot of food in our pantry. How can I stock up my freezer and pantry for a “no grocery/no eating out” month?
Hi Nayla! You’ll save a lot of money by not eating out. Start by stocking up on the foods you eat regularly and the foods that are on sale. There are some tips here that will help you ghttps://www.sixfiguresunder.com/wp-admin/edit-comments.php#comments-formet started.
I just found this on Pinterest. I am with you on making your own bread. We’ve been doing it for almost 2 years now. I recently posted 2 bread recipes that are staples in our house. I have to be honest though and say we wouldn’t do powdered milk…too processed. A no spend month is intriguing for sure though! Definitely pinning this!
That’s awesome that you make your own bread too! Thanks for pinning Lauren!
What a great plan! This month I am trying to only use food that I already have in the house, but your plan is much more ambitious! Love it!
Thanks for sharing,
Thanks Kelly! Good for you for challenging yourself too!
It may seem ambitious, but we are already living extremely frugal so we can pay off some serious law school debt asap, so not buying anything (besides gas, insurance, etc) isn’t that hard for us. It is good to force ourselves (in a good way) to use what we have and stay our of the sotre 🙂
Sounds like you are all set for your No-Spend Month! Great that you can use your leftover budget from March, to purchase any of the staple items that you still need. Goodluck with it all! I’ll enjoy reading about your progress!
We had a No-Spend Month last October. We had already being living a pretty frugal lifestyle, but it was good to put further restrictions on ourselves, to get our debt repayments really rolling.
We are super excited at the moment….we finished paying off our credit card debt several days ago! Now we need to pay down the family loan that we have, and then it’s on to reducing our mortgage. We can’t really do a No-Spend Month this April, but I think that we are due to do a No-Spend Month very soon, to keep the debt repayment momentum going!
Congratulations Belinda! That is really exciting!! Keep the momentum going! I’m so happy for you!
We made a shopping trip this week and used most of our remaining March food budget, so we’re all set for our no-spend month!
jane savers @ solving the money puzzle says
I have been trying to spend nothing and eat what I have for the last 3 months to reach a big debt repayment goal. I have extended it in to April because I am behind on the goal.
I do buy milk and some fresh fruit but everything else is what I had in my pantry. Oats and rice have been a big part of 2014 for me. Good thing I love them.
I did have a serious fall off the no spend wagon because Dairy Queen had a buy one get one free Blizzard sale for 3 weeks and my car kept ending up there.
jane savers @ solving the money puzzle says
I found you on the Frugal Farmer.
Wow! You’ve been going strong for a while. Way to stick to your goal though. It’s a good thing you like oats a rice! We eat a lot of oats, rice, and beans too. My kids have been complaining if we have oatmeal more than a couple times a week, so we have a lot of pancakes too.
I can’t believe your car is trying to thwart your debt payoff! You’ll have to give him a good talking to for April 🙂
Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says
Stephanie, your timing is ironic!! April is slated to be a super tight month for us, for many reasons. You’ve inspired me to really work to seriously cut our spending for April – thank you!
A tight month is a great excuse to make some special spending rules 🙂 When we go at it with a “challenge” attitude it’s so much more fun than just limiting our spending.
Suburban Finance says
This is so interesting! Never thought of actually doing it before because I thought it might be impossible… But now that you’ve done it, I’m definitely considering doing it.
You can set whatever “rules” work best for your situation. It’s totally doable though 🙂
I’ve never done a no-spend month but it does sound interesting and effective if you can stick to it. Definitely would be a challenge for us. Good luck!
PS-Now you have me craving apple cobbler! yumm
I have done three successful no spend months (no spending at all), and two successful pantry challenges (no spending on groceries). I think that the most important thing is to set yourself up for success. By that I do NOT mean to pre-buy everything. Instead, I mean make rules that are do-able for you and your family. One no spend month we budgeted in $50 for a birthday. We didn’t cancel the entire challenge just because of a bump in the road. For pantry challenges I normally still budget $80 for the month for milk, eggs, and produce. Even though technically I am still buying things I am cutting my budget to 1/3-1/4 of what it normally is. I would be very excited to do a no-spend challenge in April, even though we have already cut our spending tremendously. There is always room for improvement, and we could definitely make rules that work for us!
Hooray CeCee! I’m right there with you. We’ve pretty much cut all the fluff in our budget, so a no-spend month and a pantry challenge look pretty much the same!
Setting yourself up for success is so important. Make sure your rules are something that you can accomplish. The sense of accomplishment and empowerment from being successful will give you the confidence you need to continue on to your financial journey and reach your goals.
I am interested in following your journey and very tempted to try it myself. My family of 6 goes through a lot of bread. You said that you make a lot of bread. Do you have a recipe that you could share? Also wondering if you make your own hamburger and hot dog buns? If so, which recipe do you use.
Hi Tracy! Join in! If a month sounds too overwhelming, you could try just two weeks. Make it a fun challenge and get your family on board too!
We go through a lot of bread too. I make my husband 3 PBJ sandwiches everyday for lunch and my kids each eat a whole sandwich. I have my bread recipe here. I haven’t made my own hamburger and hot dog buns. It’s pretty rare that we have hot dogs and hamburgers, but when we do, we just buy the cheap buns that cost a dollar or so. Homemade ones would be yummy though 🙂
Liz S says
It’s funny how everyone is so different…I love it: My 7.5 year old son will only eat 1/2 a PBJ sandwich for lunch, my daughter will only eat 1 or 2 bites, and every day my husband takes to work: 1 Luna bar, 2 Oikos Traditional banana-flavored yogurts, and 1 V-Fusion Energy drink that is peach-mango flavored. That’s all he eats for the entire day at work for breakfast and lunch, and I’m sure he also has some coffee here and there. I wonder how in the world he doesn’t get sick of eating the same stuff and same flavors every day. But if your hubby doesn’t get tired of 3 of the same sandwich every day, then I guess my husband isn’t the only one, LOL.
My husband is a trooper. I’m sure he is tired of PBJ (I am), but he never complains. When I don’t make him a lunch (because he leaves really early some days) he just grabs a loaf of bread to eat plain or some leftovers from the fridge. In law school when he would forget his lunch I would tell him to go grab something to eat at school. I would rather him spend a little money than be hungry all day, but he never did. He would just say that he was too busy to feel hungry. Even when he stays late at work (like until midnight), he never grabs any food. When he does eat, he eats a lot though 🙂
Liz S says
I have to say, as soon as I saw the title to your post, I got myself a Fresca and some Doritos (treat for me). It’s like I was settling down to read a book that I knew was really good and excited to read…ha ha! Anyway, this week is the first week in FOREVER that not only did I stay on budget, but am actually WAY under. There were so many things I wanted for the kids and for other people, and also some things we “needed” but your last post must have rubbed off because I practiced self-restraint for the first time. And it feels soooooooooooo good! So, because of this small (but huge) victory, I actually feel like I might have a shot at succeeding in a No Spend month for April. However, mine will look very different from yours because we need to buy food every week and need to buy medicine (now my son is sick) and we need to buy gas and such. However, if I focus on not spending money on anything that isn’t vital to survive, then I will still save myself a chunk of money and I will call that a win in my book. I’m so excited to join you!
You make me smile Liz! Way to go– staying under budget all week!? Awesome! That’s especially awesome because you did have things that you wanted to get, but you resisted. That’s a great victory! Sometimes I have it easy because I live in the boonies, so besides shopping online, I’m not tempted to buy things often.
I’m sorry that your son is sick now!
Everyone’s no-spend month will look different. Just set your own rules and stick to them 🙂 We can all win at our own game. I’m glad you’re joining in!
We were just talking about this. We had planned to do it in February but life happened and got in the way of those plans. We thought about doing it in April with the exceptions being a ham we purchase for Easter and the gas to drive to the relatives out of state, and the gas to drive to an academic competition for our oldest.
Everything is already purchased for the April birthday and the Easter baskets.
The pantry is pretty well stocked.
Way to get a head start on Easter! I need to start thinking about Easter baskets and get it with this month’s budget 🙂 Thanks for the reminder! I’m glad you’ll be joining us!
We aren’t taking any trips, but we will still be spending money on gas since my husband drives an hour to work.
Mary Ann says
We did a no spend month last September. I was inbetween jobs so it was a good time to not spend on anything that we could do without. We live pretty frugally anyways but it was nice to just not spend!
We did allow for groceries but no eating out, thrift store shopping or other mindless spending.
It actually was very nice and almost relaxing. We ignored all the daily deal emails and sites, watched movies that we had at home and I even learned to cut my own hair!
We didn’t actually save any extra money but it kept us from taking out of savings just to keep up our regular budget while I was inbetween jobs for a month. We hope to do another no-spend month this year, including a pantry challenge and be able to put some extra in savings.
I’m interested in following along during your no-spend month and hope it goes well!
What a perfect time to cut down on spending! Good for you! I’m glad you only had to go one month between jobs and that your no-spend month kept you from dipping into savings!