On December 29th, I came across a post about taking a 31-day no-spend challenge on the Living Well Spending Less blog. I had seen references to this as I regularly follow the blog, but this time it really stuck. I casually mentioned it to my husband and he thought it sounded interesting.
The next day we talked about it further and decided that it may be helpful for us. We have only been married a few months and are still figuring out our spending patterns. Also, our income is a bit limited right now, so our budget can use all the help it can get. Thankfully we are debt free, but things are still tight.
The purpose of the challenge is to go an entire month without spending money on anything that is not a necessity. This is intended to help you reexamine how and why you spend on certain things and reassess what is actually necessary. This is meant to refocus our priorities. Society tells us it is more important to have things, but often those things take away time and resources that could be used to strengthen relationships.
The challenge is flexible and the rules must be tailored to the family implementing it. We decided to limit our outgo as much as possible. We decided that utilities, rent, other bills, and previous obligations are necessary. Gas is also necessary, but we limited how much we used it. This is the most debated point, but we decided not to buy any groceries. The use of gift cards is also debated. We decided that it was still using up an asset, so we chose not to allow it.
We decided to start the challenge on January 1st, which happened to be the next day, so we didn’t have much time to prepare. We spent some of the day grocery shopping to stock up a little. We tried to stick to the basics and ended spending just under $100, mostly on things like milk, eggs, bread, bagels, and salsa (and maybe a great deal on Pizza Rolls). We were worried about running out of food and unsure what we actually used in a month–more proof that we really needed the challenge.
Starting the challenge was a bit surreal. It was nice that we didn’t have to go out and do as much, but we weren’t entirely sure what to do with ourselves. I like researching deals, so a decent amount of my time goes towards that. I found immediately that it was easier to unsubscribe from many of the deal sites that had been wasting my time and energy.
Food preparation was interesting. We had to get used to being creative with what we had on hand. It made for some fun meals. We often worked together to come up with meal ideas, though often it was a little overwhelming. Those were usually the times my husband stepped up and took care of the cooking. He is truly a blessing and I am grateful for him.
Entertainment was a little bit of a challenge. We only have an antenna on the TV, so there was rarely anything interesting on. We couldn’t go out and spend money on going out, and window shopping seemed to defeat the purpose. The library was a great option, but between weather and busyness we never made it there.
What we did find is that we had plenty of movies we already had and that it was really nice to spend a quiet night relaxing together. Also, we borrowed my parent’s Wii and fit, which also made for some fun evenings.
What We Did Spend:
It was very important to us to continue our tithing and other giving, so we continued that as normal. Our normal bills of rent, gas, electric, phone, and health insurance were paid, along with 2 tanks of gas per car. I had to renew my driver’s license and plates, and we finally combined our car insurances. We also paid medical bills as they came up and got one prescription.
Our more discretionary purchases started with taking his dad out to lunch at our favorite Chinese restaurant. This was his Christmas present that we had already committed to and the only time we ate out all month. The dry cleaning we had been waiting for finally came up so we cleaned his suit and my wedding dress–both long overdue. He also got a haircut so he would look good (in his clean suit) for a job interview.
We also made one shopping trip–we were out of cat food and also needed Epsom salt to soak my still-healing ankle. We even paid for this with a gift card, so it didn’t affect our bank account. That is all we spent for the entire month
Old habits die hard and giving up the freedom to spend is difficult. Now we had to plan ahead so we wouldn’t starve since we couldn’t just stop somewhere for fast food and we couldn’t just buy something if we forgot to bring it with us.
Many of the things we do for entertainment are expensive or encourage spending. We never realized how consumer-driven entertainment had become. There isn’t much to do for free in Michigan in the winter if you can’t get outside easily due to physical limitations. Our usual default was window shopping at the mall. What we realized is that we already have several board games and movies and that we have many friends to invite over.
What We Learned:
Things you think of as necessities often aren’t. Yes, you need food, but most people here have more than enough and it isn’t that hard to cook it yourself. Clothing is similar; you need enough, but you do not need a full walk-in closet to live.
Pricey entertainment is often a distraction from those you are with. There are plenty of cheap or free ways to spend time with someone and grow closer together instead of just doing or seeing something in the same location as someone else. Also, TV is fun but there are several alternatives to having an expensive cable bill.
Dinners out are very nice, but my favorite dinner of the freeze was our celebration after it was over. We invited several friends over and had a potluck dinner from things we still had on hand after the month was over. There was plenty of food left and the ability to have so many friends in our home was a blessing far above an expensive dinner out.
We had an interesting and enjoyable month. We learned a lot about ourselves and each other. We feel stronger for the experience and will certainly do it again.