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.
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So who’s with me? I’ll share how we did on our No-Spend Month Report Card sometime in February, including actual dollar amounts so you know I’m not faking it. Wednesday, I’ll post the super simple instructions to a No-Spend Month.
Although I stepped down from participating in the Self Reliance Challenge set up by the lovely Lisa Lynn of The Self Sufficient HomeAcre, I want to call attention to all the other bloggers who have some really interesting posts on self reliance. I have a page set up for all the other bloggers participating in the Challenge. Check out some of their posts for an inside look at how to do it yourself.