Prepping for a No-Spend Month

We do No-Spend Months at least once a year. After the dismal year that was 2018, we really needed to step back and reorganize.

Some of that spending was inevitable: surgeries for the dogs, a new kitten, fixing our old work truck, replacing our dead washing machine. None of those expenses could be put off. That's why it's important to have a cushion of emergency savings.

Even if you have a healthy cushion, that doesn't mean you can rest on your laurels. That cushion has to be restuffed for the next time things go wrong. And things always go wrong somewhere down that road.

In a strange twist of fate, losing our poor Iko gave us a head start on restuffing that cushion. We didn't want to go out and we withdrew from family and friends. It was just too hard. I felt bad that I didn't send gifts to the neighbors, but it would mean having to talk to people and we weren't ready.

Ready or not, I'm back to blogging, and I want to start by sharing how we get ready for a No-Spend Month. I even have a couple of tips you won't see elsewhere.
  • Decide when you want to do a No-Spend Month. This is important because it'll help you plan around it so there will be less temptations and less day-to-day expenses.
  • Buy treats. Groceries are one of the expenses that are allowed on No-Spend Months. But we sometimes fudge a little and include treats I wouldn't normally buy, like cookies or rotisserie chicken. They're ready-made food items that make you think you're splurging. In the case of chicken, I sometimes wonder if it's not cheaper to get a rotisserie chicken than cook one from scratch. They're usually loss leaders at grocery stores.
  • No window shopping (that includes online). If you must window shop, put it on your wish list, but not your shopping cart.
  • Make up some freezer meals that are ready to pop in the oven for hectic days. It's been my experience that the biggest reason we eat out is because we've worked so hard that day that I'm too tired to cook. Having ready made meals--even frozen pizza will help out immensely.
  • Make yourself some treats. It's the illusion of deprivation that makes people think they can't do a No-Spend Month. Hogwash! Bake a cake, make an extra special dinner, or add dinner rolls or a side dish to a plain meal.
  • Stop being a sheep. We've been brainwashed by the media to think what we see is what we should have. Advertisers are heinous creatures. And they are very, very good at what they do. They feed on your fears and your dreams. But let's face it. We'll never look like super models, reduce stress, or lose weight just because we bought swanky jeans, a convertible, or Starbuck's coffee. They're hoping we're schmucks who'll fall for their gimmicks.
  • Rack up credit. I use a very specific credit card when I shop on Amazon. It does two things. I can easily track my charges against my invoices, and it's an instant cash-back credit card. Amazon was touting these credit cards a while back and we took advantage of it.
    During 2018, we actually needed some necessary high dollar purchases (mostly things for the homestead) that gave us more than $80 in cash back credit. Add to that, a dear friend sent me a gift card. I saved that too so I could use it during our No-Spend Month if necessary.
    The other credit I get from Amazon Prime is that I always choose No-Rush Shipping for every purchase. For every item I chose not to rush, I earned a dollar that I could use on e-books, music, or movies. This gives us entertainment money to stave off that deprivation mindset.
  • Have a plan in place for entertainment, projects, and family time. No-Spend Months are hard unless everyone is on board. For this reason it helps to have projects, entertainment, and family time plans to distract the more wayward souls.
Start by making a list of free activities. Picnics, beaches, walking (or walking the dog), painting, writing, reading, puzzles, going to the library, free online games, or cleaning (I never said they had to be fun activities! :) ). You get the idea. Teach the kids to cook or bake. Tackle a project together like painting a room, or shoveling snow. Go online and find out which day(s) the local museums and zoos have their free entrance day. Be sure to eat before you go or bring snacks from home.

The important thing is to keep everyone occupied so they're too busy to think what they're missing at the mall.
  • Save those gift cards. Did you get a gift card for Christmas or your birthday? Save them for No-Spend Months. It's like having a forbidden dessert while on a diet.
    Note: Credit, whether it's a gift card, cash-back, or rebates should not be used so much to cheat on your No-Spend Month, but to help in case you find yourself in a bind.
    For example, I know we'll be out of town one day in January to meet with our financial planner. It's a very long drive and it always involves lunch out. To make up for it, we'll add another week to our No-Spend Month. Cheating the system only cheats yourself, so amends have to be made.
  • Get a shoe box and save EVERY receipt. And I mean every receipt. If they don't give you a receipt, ask for one. You want a paper trail.
You can track your expenses manually, pencil to paper, but Greg created a nifty little Excel worksheet to do the work for me. All I have to do is tally my receipts and put in the numbers. It then gives me a running total as I go along. It's fine for tracking a month's expenses, but I've actually tracked entire years a few times. Nothing brings you back to reality like seeing how frivolous I was with dining out or impulse buys.

I recommend that everyone try this at least once. You'll never look at your expenses the same way again.


Morning, I will be being a bit lean in some area's but not a full no spend month, your post was excellent at covering all the different areas.. loved it..
B.E. Sanderson said…
I'm out for this month. I just ordered an exercise bike. We needed a low-impact way to exercise and a way to get active when the weather is bad. Considering how stingy we are any typical month, though, we can weather this load. We never eat out and the eating healthier thing has stopped my quicky-runs into KFC and McDonalds. I was really bad about buying books over the holidays (for varying definitions of bad - I spent like $20), but I promised myself no more books until i read these ones. That should stave off book buying for a couple weeks at least. ;o)

Good luck with your No-Spent Month. And good luck to anyone else giving it a go.
Ronda Tutt said…
I love the no spend month and some times we do it two or three times a year because of the expense of our RV. Sometimes I do cook a meal that is really two meals. I freeze it for another nite or sometimes we just have it again the next nite. I try to keep myself busy so I won’t get online to see cool things I’d love to have. Yes, I even put them on my wish list. I think this is something I didn’t go out to teach myself. It all started with if I cut back on this then I can do that. But now I’ve learned I can have and do both with managed habits. I’ll be following along with you. It’s the best idea to stay above water, keep a cushion because there is always uncontrollable circumstances and that life preserver will definitely bail you out. Hugs
Carole West, said…
No spend month sounds like a great idea for all. We have so much and this need to think we need more is getting ridiculous.

I told my hubby just the other day the more time I spend at home the better. I think if more people learned to enjoy their environment and enjoy what they've already been blessed this need for more could decrease.

Great post and hugs - there is nothing wrong with retreating...
I'm sure everyone understood the need to retreat....

I'm pretty much a homebody anyway, so a lot of those no-spend activities are already on my list. There's nothing like curling up with a good book or two. Or five. :)

Yes on the paper trail! I don't like clutter, but I do like the idea of keeping track of those things in a more tangible way. With everything online, it's so easy to let things slip past.
Maria Zannini said…
Thanks, Farmgal. We've done this for so many years it becomes second nature. This is the first time we've ever been able to "bank" credit though. Probably because I thought ahead.
Maria Zannini said…
BE: We have an elliptical walker. We don't use it near enough, but it's a great workout when we don't want to be outside.

re: books
$20 isn't bad though. I think you did pretty good.
Maria Zannini said…
Ronda: I think it's even trickier for you because you have very limited space.

Your example reminds me of an exercise some parents teach their kids when it comes to money. When they realize the actual cost of things they're much more prudent when it comes to choosing. Even little kids think ahead and try to figure out what will give them more bang for their buck.

It's a great exercise and I'll bet those kids grow up with good money habits.
Maria Zannini said…
Carole: I was very close to taking another week off, but I felt I had to get back to the real world. Pain subsides eventually. It's the first few weeks that hurt the most.

As much as I love to travel, there's no place like home.
Maria Zannini said…
re: With everything online, it’s so easy to let things slip past.
That's more true than you know. That's why experts say you shouldn't do autopay or pay your purchases directly from your bank. It's too easy to miss something.
Jenny Schwartz said…
Buying a cooked chook (chicken, for non-Aussies) is just so much easier - I hadn't even thought of the whole loss leader thing - true though! Good luck with your no-spend month :)
Lisa Lynn said…
Hi Maria! I'm glad to see you are writing is hard to get back into it and I commend you for perservering! Thanks so much for sharing the self reliance challenge bloggers with everyone...much appreciated.

After you told me you were doing a no spend month I decided to do a 'Low Spend' month. I don't have goats anymore, so I still need milk and chicken feed. So far I have spent about $40 on groceries this month. Not too bad for a one week.

I'm using food from our freezer, root cellar and pantry. I don need to get that chicken feed tomorrow. I'm supplementing their feed with kitchen scraps and some squash that are getting soft. They love the squash!

Thanks for the update and ideas.
You needed your time to deal. I'm glad you took it.

Daughter and I have started some changes. Probably not a full on No Spending Month, but we've agreed to try going the whole month not eating out. I didn't realize how easily we ate out so often until I consciously avoided stopping at my usual haunts during lunch while running errands. Learning a lot about my eating habits as well.
Maria Zannini said…
Jenny: It really is. They're good too. Depending on the size of the chicken we can usually get 3-4 meals out of it.
Maria Zannini said…
Lisa: I have too many goats. :D I plan to sell off half the herd after the kids are weaned this summer. Originally, we planned to raised both Nubians and Boer but we've since changed our minds. It's a lot of trouble keeping the males.
Maria Zannini said…
Angela: I'm still wanting to hide for a while longer, but I need to get out there and rejoin the human race. Losing Iko like that was unfair on so many levels.

Tracking your spending does a lot to learn about how we ate. We're more mindful even after it's over.