Monday, October 10, 2016

'no spend september' : a lesson in patience + priorities

I had always been interested in doing a 'no spend' month.

I'd seen other bloggers doing it and it seemed intriguing.  If you've been reading this blog over the years, you know I love all sorts of personal challenges - but I've never done a financial one.  Until now: my very first finance post.  (Insert either an excited or blank-faced emoji here.)

I knew Hubby would be on-board, as he is a finance guy by trade, a big Dave Ramsey and Mr. Money Mustache follower, and very budget-conscious.  We have big personal finance goals and anything that keeps us focused on that is encouraged!

So when I pitched it to him during our Spain trip he was pretty excited!  We started immediately upon returning home, September 1, and we wrapped up a little over a week ago.

I've had so many thoughts going through my head during this process, I am pretty excited to be getting them out there...

Before starting we had to decide what we would spend money on - the necessities - and stick to only that.

This meant no extras.  We would use the same "all-cash" spending budget we usually follow but ONLY spending on what is truly needed. (I take out X amount of agreed upon cash each week for gas, groceries, kid stuff, health and beauty, etc. and don't use a credit card unless there is an emergency.)

So in the airport, traveling home from Spain, I made a list :

Our necessities...
food to feed family (bought intentionally at grocery store)
church offering/tithe
medicine (if an illness or injury occurs - which did, several times)
birthday gifts
renovation supplies for active projects (aka the backyard)

Not necessities...
fast food
ANY eating out, vending machines, restaurants
random cute stuff at Target (ahhhh!)
dates that cost $
new clothes
new, unnecessary beauty products
random plants from Lowe's
apps! internet purchases!
outings with kids that cost $

Your family's list may look completely different, but that is what we came up with.

So we embarked on the month with those parameters in mind.

Full disclosure : 
  • We did go out on a group date with friends that had already been planned.  We enlisted Hubby's sister as our babysitter and used cash we had received as an anniversary gift to cover the dinner/drinks.   We might have went over this amount slightly, but definitely NOT the usual pricey evening out.
  • I did spend on black coffee and herbal tea while out and about on several occasions.  No expensive lattes, but there were a few times when I needed to write outside the house and needed the peace and sanctuary of a coffee shop.  Or I was letting the kids play at a McD's playland and felt obligated to buy something.  Plus, I deemed basic caffeine a necessity about halfway through month.  Seriously.
  • There was one night, right at the end, that I was so stressed and it had been such a long day with the kids that I went through a drive through on the way home and got us dinner.  I was super annoyed at myself after for doing that, as it was purely for convenience and I felt gross after eating that burger.  
My takeaways from the experience...
  • Such a good example to the kids.  My kids really want for nothing, so it was nice to explain to them, particularly Cormac, that we can't just spend our money on random stuff just because we have it.  He struggled with this.  I don't ever just buy them toys for no reason (EVER) but when out I will occasionally say they can pick a treat for $1 or less.  The biggest issue for my kids was actually our usual Friday Icee and popcorn at Target.  Wow.  They struggled to cope with the fact we couldn't just plunk down five bucks at our favorite place for a snack.  I'll admit, I didn't love it either.  But after many questions of "When is No-Spend September over????" we made it through the month, despite lack of Icee/popcorn consumption.
  • Taught me to be much more organized when it comes to grocery shopping and meal planning...and preparing to go places.   I usually don't cook on the weekends at all, but we'll get takeout for dinners or get lunch on the go!  During our no-spend month I had to spend a bit extra on weekend meals; however, we still ended up saving money overall by not going to restaurants.  I also learned to pack snacks for me and the kids - always - and always have a specific plan for my errands.  My biggest "unnecessary spending issue" became clear from the start of the month...I mostly spent extra money because I was ill-prepared - or bored.  If I had packed a snack for myself, I would not become voraciously hungry and need to buy a snack.  If I had gone through the kids clothing before shopping and made a really specific list, I wouldn't buy extra stuff they probably didn't need.   If I take the time to pack a lunch for the kids, we don't have to eat out. If I just don't go to Target, I won't spend money at Target. Seems obvious, I know.
  • Cutting out little extravagances gives me money for real NEEDS.  For example...the aforementioned occasional eating out.  Simply not eating out AT ALL with the kids, even though it was rare, saved me 10-20 bucks per week!  To me that is big savings!  The money I saved this month on cutting out fast food (and doing all free outings)  with the kids bought ALL their fall shoes!!!!!  (I only buy them each three pair in the fall - athletic pair, trendy pair, church pair. They wear these until they are worn out or outgrown. In spring I do the same. Kids shoes are way expensive.) 
  • I ended up doing more relaxing, rather than shopping/running errands during my weekend "alone time."  Since I couldn't go to stores and actually buy anything, what was really the point?  So I'd read my book, or Paul would take the kids on an outing and I would relax at home.  It was kinda weird - and nice.  I'm not naturally very good at that part was a challenge in itself.   
  • The numbers (Hubby thought I should include this!) -- To give you an idea about how much doing this saved us personally...  Month's spending (including mortgage, bills, everything) was $3100, compared to $4100 in September of 2015.  A savings of $1000! 
Overall, it was a really good (and difficult) experience!  My mindfulness about what I spend money on, and WHY I am spending the money, increased exponentially.  I realize now I can make small changes to save us a little cash, which in the end adds up to a lot!  I realize now I can spend a LOT less by simply using my free time for things other than shopping.  (Duh.)  Plus, I feel MUCH better about everything when I read, relax, or do something productive rather than buy stuff.
It's nice to take a pause and enjoy the beautiful, simple things you already have,  instead of things you need to buy.
Will we be boycotting our weekly Icee and popcorn fix at Target going forward?  Probably not.  But other fast food stops I can definitely avoid.  

Have you ever tried a 'no spend' month?