Tips for Surviving a No Spend Month All the Way to the End

Usually the saying is that it's the first thing of whatever you're attempting to do that is the hardest.  The first step is the hardest, or the first million dollars (tell me about it), or even your first love.  Well, I'm here to say that when you're doing a no spend month, the first week is NOT the hardest — it's the LAST week that can really kick your butt!

The Man and I were tempted and tried this past week, let me tell you.  And we did fail a time or two.  This tightfisted stuff is wearying over time, and we lost a little of our mojo.  Nothing too terrible, thank goodness.  Lessons learned, and all that.  But more on that further down.

Doing a no spend month is a great way to get control of your money in a hurry. Read these tips for how to survive all the way to the end!

On the whole, though, I think we can count this no spend month a success. Here's why:  we did NOT spend every penny that came in this month!  Which also means we did not spend MORE than came in this month — which to be honest, has been our usual M.O., as we have been known to “borrow” from future paychecks to overspend in the present.  WE ACTUALLY HAVE MONEY LEFT OVER, Y'ALL.

Here's a summary of the most pertinent transactions:

For groceries and gasoline, we tried to use the cash envelope method.  That way we would be less tempted to overspend, because when the cash is gone, you “can't” spend any more.  Guess what?  You can.  It's called a debit card.  In reality, it is SO HARD to take the time to run into the gas station with cash every time, especially when you are in a hurry or the weather is bad.  And as for groceries, there are times when the hubby has to pick up something at the store and he doesn't have any cash, since it is kept in MY purse.

Groceries:  Overspent by $26.38 using debit card; still have $25 in my purse.  Conclusion: EVEN (close enough :-) ).
Gasoline: Overspent by $114.39 using debit card; still have $40 in my purse.  Conclusion: BEHIND by $74.39.  Need to increase gasoline budget for next month. (The Man drives to work more than he used to these days; I am still in the process of figuring out how much gasoline that takes.  It depends on which car he drives, how many days he goes to the office vs. being away on a trip, etc.  It's a work in progress. :-) )

Unexpected IMMEDIATE NEEDS that had to be dealt with:

Books for school: $38.54
Hubby work stuff: $40
Fee to obtain official document: $34
New work pants for son (who discovered a hole in the knee ON THE WAY TO WORK): $15.54
Shipping cost for stuff a college girl left behind after break: $10.15
Automated subscription payment for online service that I completely forgot about: $30

Conclusion:  BEHIND by $168.23 — This is worse than I was hoping for but not TOO horrible for a first-time no spend month, I think.  We do have to figure out how to prepare for the inevitable unplanned expenditures.  I don't know about you, but they happen to us EVERY month.

We had set aside $300 to be used for auto maintenance, because each of the cars needs something done at some point.  We used $100 of this.  Conclusion:  AHEAD by $200.

We received an unexpected windfall from The Man's elderly aunt which we DID NOT SPEND.  Conclusion: AHEAD by $200.

This past week we gave into one of our biggest spending leaks — needing to eat while out of the house.  TWICE.  I am anxious to find a solution for this.  You can only plan ahead so much; sometimes the hunger just hits you and you can't move forward without sustenance.  Conclusion: BEHIND by $29.52.  But this is SO MUCH BETTER than every other month thus far that I'm actually fairly ecstatic, lol.

AND, some of that fast food was paid for with the compensation I was given this month for substitute teaching for three different days at Classical Conversations (one of those days happened before Christmas, and one isn't until next week, but hey, I'll take it :-) ).  But, since our commitment was for no unbudgeted spending at all, I'm going to leave the fast food total the way it is and record the subbing income as: AHEAD by $180.  (If you're really picky we can change the fast food to $12.44 and reduce the subbing pay to $167.56, but it will come out the same in the end.  I want to leave it the way it is, though, because I want to show how much we SPENT that we shouldn't have.  Which for fast food was $29.52.  Capiche?)

Another no-no I did this past week was that I gave into the impulse purchase of another book.  You might remember I did that at the beginning of the month.  That one was only 99 cents; this time it was $7.51. Um, yea. Conclusion: BEHIND by $8.50.

So the grand total for no spend month is: AHEAD by $297.98!!!!

(I included the -$1.38 from the groceries just for you picky exact types.  Don't want to be accused of cheating, lol.)

This may not seem like a lot of money to get excited about, but for me it is.  We have almost NEVER come out ahead before.  Like I said, we are usually using money out of reserves to cover current spending, which means that when the auto insurance bill comes due there's nothing left in there.  This month we did not touch ANY of the money that was set aside for long-range bills and Christmas.  We also made a hefty credit card payment.  Sometimes when we do that at the beginning of the month, we fall short at the end of the month — but NOT THIS TIME!!  In addition, we cash-flowed the trip to take the girls back to school (10 hours each way and a hotel night), and we now have an emergency fund.  I AM THRILLED.

One thing I am not unaware of, for you sharp ones out there, is that if the beloved Auntie had not sent money, we would only have been ahead by $97.98.  Which seems like pretty small potatoes.  All I can say about that is that it would still be an improvement for us, lol.  And the fact that we did not immediately spend the windfall is also a big change of behavior… just bein' transparent here… :-)

Tips for surviving a no spend month TO THE END!

These are in addition to all the information and pointers I've given in the previous posts this month.  If you have not read them, I would strongly advise doing so before starting your own no spend month.

January is No Spend Month — with printable (BTW the printable has been updated to include all months, so you can have your no spend month whenever you want it!)
How to Plan for a No Spend Month
How to Use a Wish List for Your No Spend Month
7 Good Habits to Keep after a No Spend Month

1) Both spouses have to buy into it.  Pun intended, haha.  This was the first time The Man really came on board, which is a HUGE reason why it hasn't worked in the past and did this time.

2) THE WISH LIST TRULY IS A MUST I neglected to use it towards the end of the month; hence my impulse book buy.

3) Set up a secondary emergency fund.  This one would be MUCH smaller than your regular emergency fund and would be for unforeseen expenses that are not TRUE emergencies but still can't wait until next month.  I'm thinking around $200 max.  I'm thinking this might be a good habit to add to the list of things we are going to do every month from now on.

4) Over-budget for groceries and gas.  Don't take the entire amount out in cash; that way when you use the debit card, you're not going into the red.  If you're really careful to record each purchase as it happens so that you always know how much is left, you can forego the cash thing altogether… but I don't recommend it.  Another option would be that when you use the debit card, you take that much cash back out of the envelope and deposit it back into the bank… but that's just too complicated for me.

5) Have a specific goal for what you will do with the leftover money at the end.  That keeps you motivated to save as much as you can.  The Man and I did not do this, and I think that's one reason why this last week was so hard.  We had nothing to shoot for except a vague “don't spend.”

6) Keep snacks and water bottles in the car(s).  ALWAYS.  ‘Nuff said. :-)

So, overall I am pleased with the results of our first no spend month.  I'm thinking that if we do these regularly, maybe once per quarter, that it would be a way to gradually get to the point of living off of last month's income, which remains a goal of mine.

But wait, there's more!

If you've enjoyed learning the results from our no spend month, I think you'll like these articles, too!

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It's Not That Hard to Homeschool

18 thoughts on “Tips for Surviving a No Spend Month All the Way to the End”

  1. Ann I impressed with your no spend Month. You are so right that both of you have to want to do this! We are also doing this and we saved a lot but I’m secretly glad it’s over on Sunday! ha ha. It’s a lot of work but isn’t everything? We didn’t quite save as much as I would like so we are doing a spend less Feb. ha ha Now in the spring we are going to redo our room! Goodby to popcorn ceilings!

    1. Oh, those popcorn ceilings are the pits! (pun intended, lol!) I can’t do another spending freeze (or even drastic limitation) right away… I’m thinking about April for the next one. Thanks for linking up, Vickie, and let me know how February goes! :-)

  2. Much better to over budget on groceries. This is a no extra spending month, not “we’re down to peanut butter and crackers for dinner” month. And if there is a really good buy on items you would get anyway, you have the money to get them. I’m thinking of a sale on chicken or beef, specifically.

    1. You know, I think for a no spend month I wouldn’t take advantage of a sale. The overbudgeting in the grocery category was to account for sometimes using the debit instead of the cash that we had already withdrawn and was sitting in the wrong wallet. But I wouldn’t want to actually use the full amount unless, as you say, we were down to basically nothing in the pantry. Just my take on it. Thanks for the comment, Karen! :-)

  3. My husband and I use the “Every Dollar Budget Tool,” which is available on Dave Ramsey’s website and in an app form. If you don’t have a tool like that yet, check it out. It is like having cash system for all of us debit card users. My husband and I subtract amounts spent from predetermined budget categories immediately after spending. I also can check how much money I have left in a particular category before I walk into a store. We have found room in our budget that we had no idea was ever possible!

    1. That sounds interesting, Jonna! I confess I’m still old-fashioned when it comes to having financial data online, so I’m not sure if that type of app is for me… but I can see that it would definitely solve the cash/debit problem! Thanks for sharing! :-)

  4. frugalirishmammy

    Brilliant article! I am lucky that my kids are 2 and 3 years old so not looking for money and they don’t even try it in shops. Getting the husband on board is harder. He is given spending money of his own each month and knows that this is only a result of us not overspending in the month so a good incentive :) though hardwares are his weakness!
    As for snacks in the car, from experience, put them in an airtight container or you will get mice in your car! Enough said!

    1. Haha, that’s a good tip about the airtight containers! And yes, my husband has a weakness for tools, as well! He’s gotten better, though. :-)

  5. I have to say this is a great idea and I have done this many time while raising my kids but now that we are raising our grandkids (trust me when I say we don’t give into there every whim) it never seems to work out this might be due to the fact one is about out of high school and the other is going in and now the money needed to get them an education is crazy out here in California plus we have the kids on food stamps so that part for them is taken care of but we are also caring for my elderly father and I do this with his money and then he put my sister on all his accounts and now the 5000+ I had saved for him is gone so it is hard if to many unwilling fingers are in the money pot……..great advice though I try to fallow these rules. Kim

    1. Yes, the fingers are very willing to use it, aren’t they, and unwilling to leave it be… sigh… Thanks for sharing, Kim! :-)

  6. Pamela Anderson

    Just a quick comment. You were looking for some advise to help avoid fast-food stops. Next time you are out and about and hungry, try stopping at a grocery store. Buy a few apples, maybe some cheese sticks, a single serve yogurt (you can usually get a single spoon near the salad bar) and maybe a small box of crackers or pretzels. Yes, it wasn’t free, but you are spending the same money you would have to feed yourselves the same foods at home and probably eating healthier. And you can pull the money from your GROCERY budget instead of considering it an overage. Better yet, plan ahead. NEVER leave the house without making sure that everyone in the car has a refillable water bottle and a snack (at the very least). I often have to grab something for my husband and son, but it has become a healthy habit to grab an apple, banana, or cheese stick for everyone. Best of luck with your ongoing quest to save! It can be hard, but addicting after a while!

    1. I do usually try to grab a snack on the way out of the house, but when I forget, it is SO HARD to want to park and go into the grocery store, lol. But I like the sneakiness of calling it groceries! That’s my kinda thinking, lol! Thanks for stopping by, Pamela! :-)

  7. These are all great tips! Thanks so much for sharing. The husband and I are using YNAB ~ it allows for the “envelope” system while not technically using envelopes. It keeps the cash in the bank and you use your expense accounts like you would cash. It’s been a great tool and allowing us to see what is being spent every month while also keeping us accountable in savings! It could help with the gas and grocery situation. Again, thanks so much! Appreciate these and look forward to many more tips!

    1. I’m a YNAB user, too! :-) But unfortunately it doesn’t make my spending decisions for me… Thanks for stopping by, Char!

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