A few months back I logged into Mint and got a real shock. A $700 grocery spend for the month for my two-person, two-cat household. I needed a major money reset.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve moved from needing a strict budget to make ends meet, to being able to spend more freely. The extra income has been awesome, but the lifestyle inflation that goes with it is more of a mixed bag.
It’s lovely to be able to save more easily, go on vacations, and to have the freedom to live how I want (within reason). But buying what I wanted when I wanted it wasn’t making me happier. Not only that, it’s just not in line with my values. I’m gunning for that FIRE life, but I know I’ll never make it there if I let lifestyle creep take over.
For me, a No Spend Month was the answer. I hoped it would be like a financial reset button. It’s time to take a hard look at why I make my spending decisions and find ways to improve.
My No Spend Month rules were pretty simple.
- No spending on anything, except for necessities (gas, food, medical bills, household essentials).
- Evaluate what’s really a necessity.
- Find ways to optimize.
The goal? Use what I’ve saved to make an extra car payment, and carry forward some good habits into the future.
I spent the first couple of weeks focused on getting my grocery budget under control. I got my boyfriend on board with meal planning and shopping on a budget. I took the time to go through what’s in my fridge so that I could cook more efficiently. I shopped only for produce I knew I could consume, and our household food waste went way down.
The “no spending” rule also helped me realize how often I had been shopping online. $30 here, $10 there on little things I don’t really need. It was quickly adding up. I returned to Mr. Money Mustache’s wisdom on respecting $10.
Here was my trick—when I caught myself shopping, I’d shut my browser window before I could complete my purchase. The stuff in my shopping cart would (of course) still be there later, but I’d invariably forget about it. Surprise! I didn’t need it anyway.
Let’s be real. I made a couple of exceptions to “no spending”.
I didn’t cancel every subscription in anticipation of my project (I need my Netflix, after all). Instead, I took a good hard look at those small monthly expenses that add up. I canceled subscriptions that weren’t adding value to my life, saving me a couple hundred bucks over the course of a year.
Holiday travel meant a couple of (relatively inexpensive) airport meals. I could have done extra work to pack enough food, but time and luggage limitations got in my way.
I also spent a little money on gifts for the holidays. I try to work gifts into my budget slowly on a year-round basis, but I found myself pulling out my credit card for friends and family, despite my No Spend Month.
Ultimately, my No Spend Month was a successful reminder of the joys of living simply.
I got back in touch with creative, frugal home cooking.
I felt happier and more in control.
And I made more than an extra car payment… I made three.
I saw the power that a few changes can make on my savings levels, and I’m hooked. One No Spend Month has transitioned smoothly into the next. I’m making a few more exceptions from day-to-day, but I feel back in control of my finances, and so excited for the next year of saving.