Have you ever attempted to set a monthly budget and really, truly stick to it?
Husband and I never did before January in 2013. We “talked” about budgeting in the past but it was mostly “let’s grocery shop more and not eat all the sushi.”
That really doesn’t count as budgeting.
We were so nervous to enter January with our incredibly strict budget goals, but we made it out the other side unscathed, and as improved money managers to boot. As another perk, we accomplished a goal that required tons of communication, trust, and calibrated expectations.
Our January “no spend” accomplishment is probably our biggest marriage win to date!
January wasn’t without its struggles and you most certainly could have called us “hermits.” But it was mostly by choice :)
All in all, January was an excellent month to tackle this effort given the COLD weather and hibernation mentality in Chicago.
So, I promised I’d share a little about how we made it through the month. If these tips seem realistic to your lifestyle and make you feel inspired to try a “no spend” month of your own, join in right here and grab your own No Spend Challenge Starter Kit!
First, Preparation is key to the success of a “no spend” month. In December, we analyzed each category on our budget form (updated 2020: Home Finance Binder System) line by line. We imagined every expense that could possibly fall into each category during the month of January and made plans for when to purchase.
While we went through the budget, we made a list of things we could pre-purchase. We bought items such as toothpaste and vitamins so we wouldn’t need to run unnecessary errands that might tempt us to overspend (I’m talking to you, Target!).
Since food is our biggest expense category (outside of taxes…ugh!), we meal planned and made one trip to the store each week of the month for non-perishables. This helped us two-fold: we had a strict grocery list and saved on gas by running more efficient errands. We set the same breakfast for each day and rotated a small number of snacks and lunch/dinner throughout the month.
Okay, I’ll admit, there was macaroni & cheese involved.
Whatever did we do for entertainment, you ask?! That’s easy…we created a list of all accessible forms of “free” entertainment. Let’s just say, we like our hobbies. This list was HUGE.
Everything from go to the gym (where we have a membership) to work on my cross-stitch (that I purchased in December). We watched Netflix, read books, spent time outside, etc. We found new appreciation for the things we already have at our fingertips, which is a huge revelation in itself. Isn’t that what simplifying is all about?
We asked ourselves questions. The one question we had to constantly revisit when the shopping bug bit was “do I really need this now?” The answer was mostly, “no,” so we wrote it on a list of things we wanted to buy later. We still keep this list and have only crossed off two things since February hit (both were our Valentine’s gifts). Not bad!
Finally, a visual progress reference is so helpful. There are so many ways to keep track of progress, but we found it best to use a monthly calendar marked with a gold star for each day we kept expenses within budgeted amounts and a red star for each day we exceeded. Simply put, we wanted GOLD stars, yo! Those chore charts we give to children? They work for adults too, mmmkay?!
We ended the month with a very large deposit into our savings account to someday be applied towards the brick & mortar we’ll call home.
It’s hard to save money and make sacrifices to do so, but I challenge you to try. I didn’t love saving money in the past. I literally wanted all the things! Now, time matters more to me, and you can’t buy that.
Since this worked so great for us in 2013, you can download a free No Spend Challenge Starter Kit right here! All of these tips are wrapped up into a handful of worksheets in this guide. Good luck, mama!