The Big Revelation? No-Spend January Challenge Week 3

I really wanted to do a no-spend month update, as I’ve done the last two weeks. But then I realized that nothing much is going on. Three weeks in, we haven’t seen a big revelation from our changes in behavior.

Maybe that’s because we haven’t made any major changes in behavior.

Aha! I think I’ve found my big revelation!

No-Spend January Blahs

Three weeks into our No-Spend January Challenge, we started seeing a few holes in our supplies.

It’s a far cry from last week.

Ice Cream? We’re out. Meat? Well, we still have a ham and those darn turkeys, but Jon made chili this week using a frozen turkey burger and a couple of sausage patties. We’ve emptied most of the cereal boxes and the stash of Christmas candy is seriously depleted.

I was feeling a bit off track. We spent a fair amount on groceries this week, pretty close to what we would normally spend. We ran out of laundry detergent, fabric softener, and coffee…there went $30. Little Bit got an ear infection that kept her home for three days and all of us awake for two nights. Jon figured everyone needed a treat and bought 2 boxes of Girl Scout cookies from our stash for another $8. And we picked up a fair amount dairy and produce for $40 more.

Aren’t we supposed to be cutting back?

When I looked at our monthly spending total, I was pretty depressed. Then I remembered all the weirdness adding to our total spending that had nothing to do with the no-spend January. Our power bill was double the usual amount, probably because our water heater was on the fritz and working way too hard until Jon fixed it. And, oh yeah, we paid the HOA fee on one of our rentals for the entire year.

So our total spending might be high, but that fact didn’t reflect what was going on this month.

…And No-Spend January Revelations

Our discretionary spend is way down, way more than it seemed at first glance. I think it’s still well within the challenge, even if some numbers this week seem wonky.  It was pretty unlikely that we could have a whole big stash of Girl Scout Cookies around for half the month without breaking down and getting a box or two, right? Little Bit recovered enough for school today and her parents will consume their daily quota of caffeine.

The library even notified me that I could now download two e-books from my wait list. That makes waiting til next month to pick up 2 new releases from 2 of my favorite authors much easier. Jon, Little Bit and I are perfectly happy to read, watch Netflix and Sling, and play with toys without spending anything extra on entertainment. Little Bit hasn’t even wanted to spend her allowance this month.

We’ve gotten through the first three weeks of our No-Spend January, and mostly I’m struck by the fact that we don’t seem to be doing much out of the ordinary. We’re a little more aware of the fact that we aren’t giving in to our impulses to spend, but other there’s far less of a sense of accomplishment this time because we’ve gotten used to fewer indulgences. 

November, when we went to Orlando, and December, when we celebrated Christmas, were the odd months. No-spend January just feels back to normal life.

Just maybe with a little less ice cream.


The Big Revelation? No-Spend January Challenge Week 3



Speaking of a little less ice cream, I made an effort this year to focus on weekly to-dos to help move me towards my bigger goals rather than big resolutions.  And I really wanted to improve my health habits, with year 50 approaching this fall.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been really concentrating on two healthy living goals: eating sweets only on the weekend, and trying to get moderate exercise at least 4 times per week. 

Yeah, Baby! Saying “I’ll only eat sweets on the weekend” makes it a lot easier to NOT indulge my sweet tooth during the week. Yeah, it means Jon and Little Bit got into my stash of good chocolate, but it also means I’m cutting my sugar intake way down.

And it means that our supply of junk food has lasted a lot further into the month than it would have otherwise.

I may make exceptions for birthdays and other celebrations, but I’m happy to find some incremental success on the way to healthier living. This victory is sweet!

And Moving

I’ve also been able to make movement a priority with regular sessions on our elliptical machine.

I’d love to say I was getting tons of steps in, but that just hasn’t happened. A combination of short days and my work schedule this month has meant a lot less opportunity for neighborhood walks or other outdoor activities. That’s what happens when your part-time job turns out to be much closer to full time than you anticipated, at least for now.

But I have still been able to spend 20 minutes or more on the elliptical machine at least 4 times a week. Not great, but not bad considering we’re all adjusting to a new schedule. And I haven’t let extra-busy days or lack of sleep derail the plan yet, so I’m feeling pretty good about the success I’ve managed so far.

I’m even seeing longer sessions, now that I’m building stamina. So for now, I’m happy with the to-do list approach. It’s meant I’ve stayed focused and prioritized. When I have let things go, I’ve had to confront the fact the next month and decide whether to recommit to the list item or rechannel my energy. 

If I can keep it up, that should lead to a lot more progress this year than last.

The Big Revelation?

So that’s our big revelation…we may be making changes this year, but it seems to have very little to do with changing our short-term spending habits and a lot more to do with setting some new habits.

In retrospect, that’s hardly surprising. Over the last year and a half, our focus has been frugal living.  I’m not ready to say that we’ve mastered it. We (and especially I) can still get off track from time to time.  But when I focus on saving and not spending, as I’ve done so much of this month, I find myself satisfied with most of the spending habits we’ve established. 

Sure, I could buy a little less food, as I mentioned last week, and do a better job of using what we have. But there are a bunch of other areas I need to focus on where good habits aren’t as set.

Time to stretch a bit into new goals and new goal setting areas…healthier lifestyle goals, income-related goals, and more productivity. I have plenty of self-improvement to look for elsewhere.

Have you ever done something to reset some bad habits only to realize the bad habits weren’t really there?

Or as an alternate discussion, what parts of frugality do you find easy? What parts challenge you?

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich*

33 thoughts on “The Big Revelation? No-Spend January Challenge Week 3

  1. Slow and steady wins the race? I said it before our biggest challenge is still our food/household item budget. Shopping this past weekend I really thought about some of the things I was purchasing. Do we really need paper towels, when we have hand towels and a washer at home. If we eliminate the paper towel would that increase cost of electric and detergent, because we are now doing more wash?

    We are trying to change some of these habits to help save some money in these areas. Just trying to find the right balance. It’s not easy.
    Brian @ Debt Discipline recently posted…Relationships and Shared Credit Cards – the do’s and don’tsMy Profile

    • Jon would never agree to not having paper towels…I can’t even get him to stop using paper plates. (In fairness, he usually does the dishes, not me.)

      I’m not saying we won’t spend a bit at the groceries in February, especially because Jon and Little Bit still want their snacks. We definitely have room to draw down our regular grocery spending, and probably should work on that. Our current challenge doesn’t do that, though. It’s just an austerity month where we are deliberately not doing the normal, but an austerity month is so much easier than it was the first time we did it.

  2. Nice, Emily. It seems your big revelation is that there is no big revelation. And that’s to be expected after you’ve turned mindful spending into a habit over the last couple of years. At some point, there’s very little frivolous spending to cut out. Bravo.
    Mr. Groovy recently posted…I’m Not a Bum, I’m a Human BeingMy Profile

    • Yeah, I read an article from Nicole and Maggie, where they talked about the last time they did a no-spend month being “eh, why did we do this?” I don’t think we’re there. Cleaning out the freezer and realizing that we’ve set a bunch of these habits is useful. But I can see where the benefits are different this time, and not as dramatic.

  3. I can totally relate, Emily! Though our spending is down for the month, life hasn’t changed much at all. Like you guys, we are happy to read, exercise and play games for entertainment – it’s not a huge shift this month. I have learned some things about my grocery shopping habits (and Alan’s home improvement shopping habits). And I’ve learned what our bare-bones budget looks like. But, otherwise, life has gone on as usual.

    I love your focus on habits – and it seems like you have the frugality habit down!
    Amanda @ centsiblyrich recently posted…How to work on your goal when you don’t feel motivatedMy Profile

    • It’s funny, but I’m learning something about Jon’s habits too. He went to the store again yesterday, even though I’d been Sunday. He said it was for coffee filters, knowing I would agree that coffee filters are a need and that he’d forgotten to mention it on Sunday. But I noticed he and Little Bit had ice cream last night for dessert.

      He’s much more likely than me to give in to little treats for Little Bit. Must be a Daddies and Daughters thing.

      • We bought a reusable coffee filter at the grocery store for our coffee maker & we never have to buy filters again!

        • We’ll have to look into that, Holly. I don’t know anything about reusable filters. It seems like it would save us money…if I can convince Jon to go along.

  4. Ha. This is exactly why I don’t do no-spend months. That’s no longer my issue. If anything, I need to learn to let myself enjoy a bit more balance in life. I feel like I’ve lived both extremes. Spend all the money! Buy NOTHING! Now, it’s all about figuring out how live happily in between. Love this post, Emily!

    • Yeah, there’s a balance. And maybe that explains the whole “we were spendy for two months” feeling that in retrospect really focused on vacation and holiday spending more than any other crazy spending. We were acting unusually, but it was planned rather than random, and maybe I shouldn’t have gotten so concerned about it.

      But there’s a reason we are supposed to balance austerity with excess. (Mardi Gras and Lent) Sometimes it takes work to get back to the middle, and find the moderate path.

  5. It sounds like your big revelation is a good one. You’ve been working on frugality and it’s paid off. Now you’re working on some other habits and I’m sure you’ll succeed with those, too. The habits I’m focusing on right now are getting to the gym more often and getting more posts written further in advance. Those are based on bad habits that definitely need changing.
    Gary @ Super Saving Tips recently posted…15 Ways To Get Your Money’s Worth from Doctor VisitsMy Profile

    • LOL, I need to work on my posting schedule too, Gary. Right now, I’m wrapping up the article and hitting publish rather than getting ahead at all.

  6. Wow, amazing work! I am so impressed on the progress you’re making. And it sounds like it really is becoming (has become?) a sustainable way of life. I don’t doubt you’l be able to keep it up as the year professes It’s also great to see your approach of taking small steps is paying off. Nice pivot from a lesson-learned!
    Jay recently posted…Top 5 Rookie Mistakes For Trend TradingMy Profile

    • Thanks Jay. Small steps and incremental progress may not feel like much, but they add up and for me are more sustainable.

  7. You’re doing great! First of all, 20 minutes on the elliptical 4 times a week is excellent, Emily. Sugar indulging only on the weekends is also great. I have been doing that with alcohol. No after work wine or beer. That is much easier to stick to. And you are allowed to buy milk and Girl Scout Cookies! My son’s school just sent home a box of 60 chocolate bars that we need to “sell.” Meaning we need to sell them if we don’t to pay for/ eat 60 chocolate bars ourselves! Both my and my husbands office colleagues usually buy a bunch, but you can bet there is no way they will all be finding their way out of our house!

    • The sugar thing was Mister Groovy’s idea, and I figured that it was a good step. (not ready to give up both wine and sweets during the week. Isn’t wine healthy if you just have a glass with dinner?) The one thing I’ve noticed this time is the addictive quality of sugar. On Mondays, I really want something sweet. On Tuesdays, I kinda want some, but it’s easier to just substitute a cup of tea or something. Wednesdays, I’m okay. So, probably making weekend only desserts my norm will be a good thing.

      Good luck with the chocolate bars. I think the girl scout cookies are probably a lot easier to sell, since they have a cult following.

  8. Compared with others in this pf blog world, I don’t feel very frugal. For me, the paradigm shift has been towards mindful spending and money management. I used to spend mindlessly, and I had no money management at all. Now, we’re killing our remaining debt, saving for the long term, saving for the short term – and yes, being more frugal. Efforts like “no-spend” months are worth it – maybe not in and of themselves – but for what they allow to surface.
    Like you, I’m trying to reduce sugar intake. I’m really not consistent with that. Time to apply that “mindful” thing again.
    Fruclassity (Ruth) recently posted…Debt and the Battle of the MindMy Profile

    • I guess we also aren’t uber-frugal. We’re not in Mr. Money Moustache world, for sure. But it is nice that spending mindfully and within your means allows you to do a lot more without as much stress and anxiety.

      Mindful sweets…that’s probably a good approach. I like it, at least for deviations from the plan. I mean, I might have cake at my MIL’s birthday next week, but that’s planned and considered.

  9. Have you considered foraging? depending on where you live there might be loads of edible stuff out in the wild that you can fill bags with.

    its also a fun thing to spend an afternoon doing.

    …although Winter might not be a good time to start if you’re new.

    • I haven’t done foraging for anything other than blackberries/blueberries/grapes (which are certainly out of season) when I was a kid. It’s something that interests me, but I’m so bad at plant identification that I’ve been afraid to try it. I may have to look into it…but take my FiL along (he’s a plant physiologist.)

    • I still wish my steps were higher, but I like that I’m looking at more flexibility in measuring my activity level this year than when I was just focussed on steps. Overall steps are great, but I can also feel good about 20 minutes on the elliptical or exercise bike a few times a week. And so on days like yesterday when I didn’t, I can say “eh, I hit the day before, and I’ll hit tomorrow.” Changing my focus a little away from steps and towards reducing sitting times and increasing active minutes seems to have helped.

  10. Good for you for making the elliptical trainer a priority!!! I’ve been focusing on feeding our family LOTS more whole foods this month after we all started experiencing some symptoms of needing a detox. This has blown our grocery budget, but we’re doing great as far as discretionary spending. I feel the trade-off for better health is worth it, though.

    • Yes, anything you can do helps. I need to get out more, but I appreciate the chance to jump on the elliptical when the weather or day cycle don’t make that as easy as I might want.

  11. I love the idea of eating sweets on the weekend. When I was growing up that was the rule in our house. Actually not so much the rule as it was it just bought once a week and that was it. We were a lot skinnier then. Thanks for the idea…now to talk with the husband. I’m glad you are doing so well!
    Vickie@Vickie’s Kitchen and Garden recently posted…My Frugal Ways this Past Week 1/22/17 and The Third Grocery Shopping trip of No Spend January!My Profile

    • I’m finding the weekends only rule to work really well, and I think even on weekends I’m becoming more measured. I actually turned down a cupcake at a birthday party yesterday, and I never do that!

    • And I’d guess your schedule doesn’t help, either, Mel. I like cooking, but I’ve also had to work on my skill set. Fortunately, Jon likes cooking too, so I’m not doing all the heavy lifting. Both those things make eating in a lot easier for us.

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