Shoestring Jane blogs about living a fun and frugal life at http://www.shoestringcottage.com. She writes about healthy eating on a budget, frugal gardening and growing your own food, making extra money and finding the best bargains.
Back in the dark winter days of January, when my budget still hadn’t quite recovered from Christmas, I decided to do a no spend month. ‘What, a whole month without spending any money?’ I hear you cry. ‘Not possible!’
However, my reserves had taken a bashing from Christmas. I don’t go overboard during the festive period, but I refuse to be a Scrooge. Frugal living to me doesn’t mean no fun and no joy, and sometimes I want to spend! Although I can’t bear unabated commercialism, I enjoy giving and receiving presents, seeing friends and family and attending the odd Christmas party.
I also had a couple of unexpected expenses to take care of during January. The contingency fund was running low. I had to do something and a no spend month seemed like a good plan.
What about the bills?
It wasn’t entirely a no spend month, of course. Bills had to be paid, I had to buy petrol, the cats still needed feeding. I knew we had quite a lot of non-perishable food in the house, but we would need some fresh stuff to get us through the month.
I wasn’t sure we could do a no spend month. Not really knowing how it would go, I didn’t plan it very well. I looked in the cupboards, saw there was a lot of basics such as tinned tomatoes, pasta, rice, tinned fruit, flour, etc. so we weren’t likely to starve. We also had some bread and vegetables in the freezer. However, I didn’t think Mr Shoestring and my daughter would be too impressed with vegetarian pasta EVERY night!
You can set your own rules, of course. Only you know what you need to continue to buy during a no spend period. This doesn’t have to be a month; it could be a no spend week or even a no spend day.
For us, it was simple. No spending on anything except essentials. Essentials to us were petrol to get to work, cat food, toiletries such as soap, toilet roll and shampoo (provided we had used up every last drop of our supplies) and certain items of non-perishable food. This included milk, fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese, eggs, meat and fish. However, again if there were tinned or frozen versions of these they had to be used up first.
I knocked my habit of eBay impulse buying on the head. There are some great bargains to be had, but not during a no spend month. I don’t tend to browse much in real shops anyway but, if you do, try avoiding that particular temptation during a no spend period. If you are desperate for new ‘stuff’ look online to find your local Freegle or Freecycle group or check out the free sections on Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace.
Searching out free activities to do during a no spend month is time well invested – not only for the no spend month. You will find you can use all of these ideas throughout the year. Check your local council site for free entry galleries, museums, country parks and play parks and go visiting. Look at the free kids’ activities in the library. Watch some of those old DVDs you have hanging around. Drag out the craft activities and board games. Meet friends for a picnic in the park.
For more adult entertainment, host a pot luck supper or Google free events. Universities, colleges, conservation groups, etc. sometimes do free talks in the evenings. Join a reading group. Kath Kelly’s brilliant book ‘How I lived a Year on Just a Pound a Day’ is jammed with ideas for free entertainment.
Does it really work?
Yes, it does! My January went so well I decided to extend it into February.
If you are usually a bit of a spend freak you will notice a big impact and may find you actually enjoy the control a no spend mentality gives you. It makes life so simple!
Whether you are trying to pay off debts, build a rainy day fund or saving up for a particular reason, you will find that the benefits of a no spend month extend far beyond that.