Try a No Spend Month: Your Wallet Will Thank You

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Do you find your expenses creeping up month after month? Do you use cash but don’t know where all of the money goes at the end of the week?  Do you feel you have gotten a bit lax with personal finance?  If so, you may want to try to have a no spend month.

During a no spend month, you limit yourself to only a certain amount you can spend on variable expenses.  My family has had two no spend months, and each time we allowed ourselves to spend no more than $500 on variable expenses including groceries, dining out, gas, entertainment, and miscellaneous.  Both no spend months made us more aware of our spending weaknesses and taught us some valuable lessons.

Lesson One:  Can you get what you want for less?

If you have not had to watch your budget carefully, your first instinct may be to buy something new when you need it.  A no spend month forces you to look more closely at this practice.

Our first no spend month was in June, my son’s birthday month.  We really wanted to get him a little bicycle, but we priced them out at Target for $75, which would not work in a no spend month.  Instead, I perused Craigslist and found one for $15!  My son was delighted with the gift; it didn’t matter to him that it was used and cost $60 less than the brand new Target bicycle.

Lesson Two:  Is Dining Out 5 to 10x Tastier than Eating In?

Apple a day keeps the doctor awayMany people fall into the habit of grabbing a quick bite to eat when their lives get too busy or they just don’t feel like cooking, which can add up to hundreds of dollars a month

We too had fallen into a rut of going out to eat too frequently, but the spending challenge really brought this into focus.  We usually spend about five to seven dollars to make dinner at home for our family of 5 (and sometimes we make meals that are considerably less).  Yet, even when trying to be conservative at a restaurant, we spend $25 to $50 for the 5 of us.  During a no spend month, if we spend $50 on one meal out, we have spent 10% of our available spending money for the month!

Lesson Three:  Have You Cleaned Out the Pantry?

Look around in your cupboards and your freezer.  If you are like most Americans, you have an abundance of food.  Take the time to use some of it up, and you will save a significant sum of money.  Can you skip going to the grocery store entirely one week?

If we normally spend $100 for groceries per week for our family, simple math shows that won’t be possible during a no spend month.  We spent one to two weeks using up items from our pantry, and saved ourselves more than $100 in the process.

Lesson Four:  What Is the Cheapest Entertainment You Can Find?

Entertainment can sometimes be quite costly.  During a no spend month, take the time to find cheaper methods of entertainment.  Have a family game night, rent a movie from the library or for $1 from Redbox (or take advantage of the instant watch movies in your Netflix account), go to a free concert or event in your town, have a picnic in the park, etc.  Entertainment doesn’t have to be expensive; sometimes a no spend month is exactly what is needed to remind yourself of this.

Lesson Five:  Do You Combine Errands When Driving?

If you are not conscious of your driving habits, you will find gas takes up quite a bit of your allowable spending money, especially now when it is over $4.00 a gallon in most locations.

I was amazed how often we were taking short little trips throughout the day.  We began to combine errands to get all of the driving done at once.  We also started walking to destinations that weren’t that far away.  In addition, my husband routinely takes public transportation.

A no spend month is more challenging than it sounds. If you aren’t careful, you may find yourself at the middle of the month with only $50 to last the next 10 days.  However, a no spend month is a great way to take a closer look at your finances and rein in runaway spending habits.

Have you ever tried a no-spend month?

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Published or updated December 6, 2012.

Comments

  1. I’ve tried No Spend months several times. I’ve never quite made the amount I hoped for, but I know I’ve saved much more money than what I would have if I didn’t try it. These “No Spends”, or more realisticly “Less Spends” are a great way to get back on track with your spending.

    • A great way to get back on track and to realize where you have spending leaks.

    • Sharon–With each of our no spend months, we end up going a little over, usually about $50. Still, we spent much less than we normally did in a month, and we became more aware of our expenses, so it was well worth it.

  2. No Debt MBA says:

    I’ve been doing most of these tactics to do a little last minute beefing up of my savings before I have to pay my first tuition bill this summer. It’s been pretty successful so I imagine I’ll carry some of it through the next academic year, after all, I’ll have even less money then.

    • That is a great way to pay the tuition and not have to go in debt! It would also be good to do a no spend month before a vacation to raise some extra money.

  3. I’ve been playing around with trying to do this myself. Nice job!

    I’m very big on your: Lesson Five: Do You Combine Errands When Driving?. Gas prices (while the have come down a lot) are still on the high side…

    • Cutting down on your driving could potentially help you save on wear and tear on the car over time as well. Errands tend to be close by so you’re doing a lot of start and stop driving. That’s work on the brakes, alternator, etc…

      • Glen – good point about cutting down on maintenance cost for cars. I drive so much during my busy season (when we work at client offices) that I need an oil change and other maintenance every 2 months! I’ve realized that if I don’t drive out of the city to my parents house as much (and I have to battle the guilt trips for not going to see them) I can save on gas AND oil changes, since work and the grocery store are both less than 5 miles away, but the trip to the parents house is about 60 miles round trip.

  4. I always make sure to combine my errands whenever I go out. I also carpool to work–gas is expensive. Not spending any money for a month—or only a small amount—would be a great challenge! I know for me anyway.

  5. Kurt OKeefe says:

    Great ideas.
    I have been writing down all cash purchases, and this helps me slow down, just out of laziness at not wanting to write it down.
    And I tend to make the driving errands all in one trip, but, I should slow down and save gas on those.
    Have not been able to get my wife to track her spending, so that kind of puts a crimp in family spending plans.

    • Haha, that’s one way to make it work. With all of the apps and options with phones these days, it’s easier to track what your spending is on the go.

  6. Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager says:

    Nope, but it sounds like a fun summer experiment!

  7. I have Netflix and Hulu Plus instead of cable. It saves me alot of money. I have not heard of Redbox. Are they the exact same thing as Netflix?

  8. You can always get what you want for less :)

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