My husband and I decided to halt almost all our variable spending throughout the month of September. (If you haven’t read Spending Freeze Challenge–Part 1, go there first. I explain the rationale behind this challenge.) September really is the perfect month for our family to do this, and not just because it’s only 30 days! There are no holidays or family birthdays. School supplies are usually all bought in August. We get fresh produce from our garden and the weekly farm basket that we paid for months ago. The weather is nice enough that we can do fun things outside rather than paying for entertainment and recreation. And with the new school year, it just seems like a good time for a fresh start, for a habit reset.
So here are some specifics on our version of this challenge:
- The only grocery items we buy during the month are milk, basic bread, and eggs. (If you take on this challenge, choose up to 5 staple items that your family can’t go without, and confine yourself to this list at the grocery store.) It feels amazing to have only spent a total of $25 on food this whole month! It’s also nice to use up freezer and pantry food that’s been sitting there way too long.
- We still pay all our utility and phone bills and make payments on our loans.
- We have chosen not to limit our auto fuel expenses (but if you’d like more rigor during your challenge, I’d encourage you to only drive when necessary).
- We only eat out when we can pay with a gift card or voucher that was purchased previously.
- Instead of hiring our regular babysitters, we ask family to help or arrange to swap with friends who have young kids.
- I pull gifts for friends’ birthday parties and baby showers from a collection I’ve previously bought and stashed.
- We always have a large stash of household necessities, like toilet paper and diapers, but if we didn’t, we would justify buying the bare minimum during the challenge.
- We are still paying for our daughter’s music lessons this month. It seems unwise to halt her progress and partly waste what we’ve been investing in for the past year.
- If our cars needed repairs in order to run, we would go ahead with it, but are putting off routine maintenance until next month.
- We don’t pay for any entertainment subscriptions. The only movies we watch are DVDs from the library. We stream Amazon Prime music, which we already paid for earlier in the year.
So basically, we’re not buying any clothing, toys, event tickets, food (beyond the staples), furnishings, or anything else that’s not necessary. (I’m really excited to see the credit card bill come back after this month, and for the bank statements to confirm the financial value of this challenge.) If you try this, come up with your own rules. Even if you only alter one category of spending, it can still be a valuable experience. Any progress, no matter how small, can move you in the right direction.
I’m not going to say that this hasn’t been hard. I bought a lot of school clothes last month, so I racked up Children’s Place cash and Old Navy super cash. It was hard to let that go to waste, but I had to, since you have to spend a certain amount first before those discounts can be applied. And it was disappointing to see some amazing Kohl’s coupons come in the mail and not be able to use them. Also, planning meals and making dinner has taken more time and energy because I’ve had to improvise, but I’ve learned a lot, too. One more thing: after our vacation last month, I was gung-ho about decorating our bathroom in a beach theme, but I’ve had to put that enthusiasm on hold–for now.
Overall, this experience has been liberating. The time savings alone, that I would have spent shopping and looking for good deals, has added value. I’ve used that time to read, learn important things, reflect, exercise, and be with my family. One of the biggest advantages of this challenge has been knowing that I am in control of my spending. It doesn’t control me. Money is simply a tool, and we don’t need to fear it or be anxious about it. I’m just so grateful for the experiences and security that money provides. Sometimes it takes going without to bring greater appreciation and gratitude for what we already have!
A challenge does no good if it doesn’t ultimately result in altered behavior. Here are the goals I’m shooting for, following this challenge:
- Be more vigilant about monitoring my spending. What you track, you are consciously aware of, and thus able to control. I commit to go over our budget and look at our spending every week and talk about it with my husband biweekly.
- Decide if something is a need or a want before I buy it. Wants are okay every now and then; I just need to acknowledge it as such.
- Check the freezer and pantry when meal planning and before going grocery shopping so I can use what we already have before buying more.
Check out these other tips that may help you curb your spending habits: (from credit.com)