Have you ever gone a month without spending any money other than what you’ve set aside to pay the bills? I recently participated in the 31 Days of Living Well Spending Zero challenge with Ruth Soukup at Living Well Spending Less. It wasn’t easy, but I survived and I’m here to tell you about it today. Can I share with you what I learned in my month of spending zero?
My husband and I have always considered ourselves good stewards when it comes to our finances and haven’t acquired a lot of debt. I decided to try the Living Well Spending Zero challenge mostly because we had spent over our monthly food budget for 3 months in a row and I thought this would bring us back up to speed. I didn’t expect to save a lot of money because we don’t do a lot of wasteful spending…we don’t have cable television, go to the movies or eat at fancy restaurants. I really wasn’t sure how beneficial this challenge would be for us in the long run, but if it helped me clean out my freezer and get us back on track with our food budget, I was in. My husband agreed and we prepared ourselves for an entire month without any spending.
Could we do it?
How hard would it be?
How can we live without Diet Mountain Dew?
These were questions we asked ourselves the week prior to the challenge, but despite any hesitation we moved full steam ahead. We mapped out our guidelines first by determining what we would spend money on that month, like our monthly bills, a vet visit for the doggies and new tires for my car. We also decided we would set aside $25 for groceries that month since we would need to purchase some items like bread and eggs throughout the month.
How did we do?
We survived and it was much easier than I thought it would be! We did make the decision to spend money on one item not included in our guidelines for the month – dinner out on our wedding anniversary evening. It was embarrassing to have to tell a friend I couldn’t meet for coffee because I couldn’t buy any, but I remained strong and we were good at sticking with our plan. Plus, Ruth sent us daily encouragement throughout the month to help us stay on track.
What did we learn?
The key to sticking to a budget is to plan, plan, plan.
The reason we had gone over our food budget for 3 months was due to my lack of planning. I’d have days where I was busy and didn’t have time to prepare dinner, so when my husband got home from work we’d run out to eat fast food for dinner…or we’d decide to grab fast food on our way home from church on Sunday afternoons…or I’d get an email from Pizza Hut with an amazingly cheap offer for dinner. I’d plan my meals, but give in to temptation when I found myself tired and worn out. With this challenge I was forced not only to plan my meals, but stick to them. I’ve rediscovered my love for meal planning so much that I’ve already planned out an entire month’s worth of meals, and I’m $100 under budget. Planning in advance is the key to resisting temptation and staying within your budget.
A lot of little purchases can equal to a large amount of money.
Like I stated before, we don’t do a lot of extravagant purchases. When we go out to eat we often use a coupon or order off the dollar menu at Taco Bell. I always buy craft products with a coupon and buy books on my Kindle or at the thrift store to save money. After a month of not being able to spend money on these things, I realized that these “little” purchases really did add up in the long run. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re being frugal with your weekly $15 trip to the thrift store, because over a month’s time it equals $60 you won’t feel very thrifty at all.
We can be content with what we have at the moment.
Yes, we hit a bump the first week of the challenge when the 3rd DVD of a TV series we were watching broke and we had to stop watching the series because we couldn’t purchase a replacement. It was a real bummer, but by the next week we had forgotten all about it. By not being able to purchase items on a whim like we normally would do, we learned to be content with what we already had. You see, we are so blessed and have so many resources already at our fingertips. I’m so glad that I took this challenge because it reminded me not to take these things for granted and to not look to material items for comfort. If I have my faith, family, friends, love and the basic necessities of life like food and water, I am very rich indeed.
Now that my month of zero spending is over, I promise you I’m not going on a shopping spree. In fact, I’m doing the opposite and trying my best to not spend money this month and save it instead. I’ve been busy making projects with items I already had on hand in my craft supply or attic, and I’m committed to following my monthly menu plan and building up a new pantry stockpile. If you haven’t tried a month of spending zero, I urge you to give it a try. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn about you and your spending habits.