On October 1st, we started Ruth Soukup’s 31 Days of Living Well and Spending Zero Challenge. We weren’t sure what we were in for, but we’ve found it to be a really eye-opening experience.
After 31 days of dedication to not spending, we’ve seen better financial habits and an empty cupboard.
Financial challenges are a great way of focusing your attention on your spending or saving habits. They show you what you can do easily, what you struggle with, where you tend to cheat, and where you want to cheat but don’t.
One of the most important things to do, though, is to figure out what to do after the challenge. That’s where I am today. October is over, and it’s time to figure out which habits to carry forward, and how to do it.
Not everything about the challenge was easy. We didn’t embrace the cleaning, decluttering, crafting side of the challenge. We didn’t sell stuff on Craigslist, and we didn’t plan very many meals.
We did try out some different meal and entertainment ideas. Not going out to eat was not really a hardship. We found a couple of gift cards we had forgotten about, and I have a decluttered and organized closet. We reset our budgeting habits and saved some serious money on food and entertainment.
So where are we now that October is over? What will we take forward now that we aren’t getting daily emails encouraging us to stay focused and reach the goal?
Let’s look at what we did during #31DaysLWSZ.
Admitting The Cheats
First, I’ll admit there were a few cheats at the end of the month.
In addition to the rubber snake and Book Fair books Jon and I have already documented, we spent slightly over $5 on candy to contribute to our church’s Halloween party (not too bad) and $2.67 on a box of Cheezits. The Cheezits were mostly for the kiddo, who was suffering from some kinda weird offerings in her lunchbox that last week.
We also spent $14 at a farm stand for a pumpkin to carve. Some holiday treats you can’t give up.
I also went out to eat with a group from church, and expected to spend $16 on a really delicious Reuben and tri-color Sweet Potato Fries with cinnamon butter. The leader of the group picked up the tab for everyone, though, and wouldn’t hear of anyone else contributing. Even though I didn’t spend a penny, I’m still counting it a cheat because I should have.
There were a few other times I was sorely tempted to spend despite #31DaysLWSZ. I don’t know how many times I’ve almost pulled into Starbucks, but somehow I managed to stay away. There were a couple of times that it would have been really nice to hit a drive-through on the way home. I deliberately avoided looking at the Kindle bargains for October, and didn’t dare go within a mile of a Target.
Yeah, it may be a couple of weeks before I feel ready to face Target again.
The Struggle at the End
We had way too much food in our freezer and pantry on October 1, but by the 30th we were seriously struggling. I tried to make another pizza from scratch, but it wasn’t nearly as successful because we had run out of all our fats: no olive oil, no vegetable oil, not even any butter (although we had been purchasing butter through the challenge).
Guess what was on the top of my November 1st shopping list? Olive oil for me, frozen pizza for Jon.
Those 2 boxes of quinoa we started the challenge with? Still in the back of the pantry, though I did develop an obsession with steel-cut oats after we ran out of the instant stuff. So much better, especially with dried fruit, cinnamon and a little brown sugar.
We aren’t completely bare, but we have some definite staples to refill. In addition to the oil, I know we’ll need to restock grits, ground beef, canned tomatoes, and pasta.
Why? We ate those first. So I’ll be skipping the quinoa, instant mashed potatoes, and barley, because we don’t eat them very often. Our side dishes of choice are cheese grits and buttered noodles.
Good to know.
We also only have snack food in the house because of Halloween. So far, I’ve resisted Little Bit’s stash. It’s been a close thing.
Real Numbers from #31DaysLWSZ
In September, we spent $807 on groceries/food and $273 on entertainment.
In October, we spent $261 on groceries/food and $44 on entertainment (Harper’s books, snake and a field trip fee).
$305 is a lot of money for a no-spend challenge, but it’s still over $700 less than last month. The $305 also easily includes over $100 of non-food items like medicine, laundry supplies, and toiletry items that we weren’t trying to limit.
Break out the non-food items, and we probably spent around $50 a week on actual food. My guess is we usually spend about twice that. I think we can easily trim it back to closer to $75 and still feel like we have plenty of inventory and variety.
We just have to go with more of what we need and use, and do so in appropriate quantities.
November 1 and Beyond, Living Well and Spending Something
Despite having a countdown for November 1 and a long wish list, we didn’t actually go shopping. We have some staples we need to restock, like grits, tea, and cooking oil. But instead of cruising to the store after church because I lacked a couple of staples, as I might have done 2 months ago, I decided there was nothing we needed that couldn’t wait another day.
We still have some leftovers in the fridge, and plenty of fruit and milk. We’re good for a couple of days, as long as I don’t start making stuff on the assumption that we have all of the ingredients before actually checking.
So we came home from church, fixed grilled cheese sandwiches, and settled in for an afternoon of football and chess. This gave me time to figure out my actual shopping list and think about what I learned.
Here are my takeaways from the month of no spending:
- A limited produce budget will likely continue, although I will probably up it to $15 a week instead of $10.
- I should probably develop a snack budget, too. We really missed being able to buy junk, but the adults in our house probably ate better because we were leaving most of the snacks for Little Bit. I think we’ll be able to limit the oversupply of snack food if we apply a weekly limit to the amount of crackers, cookies, chips, granola bars, peanuts and ice cream. I think $10 will be reasonable for this, but we may go a little over this week.
- My freezer and pantry lists that I did on day 2 were extremely helpful in both shopping and meal preparation. I fully commit to those.
- Now that I actually have freezer space, I want to revisit freezer cooking from the first week. My goal for next weekend: set up at least a couple of freezer meals.
- I think I can go a year without buying any new clothes for myself. As a matter of fact, that’s my next challenge: A year of buying no new clothes, shoes, or accessories for myself. It probably won’t be the only challenge, but I think it needs to happen.
- I’m also going to try to knit down my yarn stash for a while, and read down my book stash. Those are both areas where I spend money on inventory that I have vague plans to use/read. (Yarn especially. Books I either fly through immediately or they sit forever.)
- Going back to recording all of our expenses has not only got us tracking them better, we are also discussing them more often.
So thanks, Ruth. We’ll move into the holidays with refreshed spending and budgeting habits and a roomier freezer.
#31DaysLWSZ may have had quite a few daily tasks that were outside of my comfort zone, but it helped us by making us more mindful of our spending, more focused on what we actually need, and even more focused on which wants are casually indulged versus truly yearned for.
Oh, yeah, and with more money in the bank account. Not a bad way to go into the holidays!
So what challenge do you think I should take up next? Any advice for moving forward without overspending after a challenge like this?
Our Challenge from Day 1:
- Frugal Living Boot Camp: The 31 Days of Living Well & Spending Zero Challenge
- Saying No at the Grocery Store: The 31 Days of Living Well and Spending Zero Challenge, Part 2
- I’m Afraid that I Spoil My Kid: The 31 Days of Living Well and Spending Zero Challenge, Part 3
- Why It’s Okay to Fail the Daily Tasks if You’re Winning the Challenge: The 31 Days of Living Well and Spending Zero Challenge, Part 4
- How to Not Pinterest-Fail during Craft Challenges: The 31 Days of Living Well and Spending Zero, Part 5
- 5 Ways We Beat Bad Habits This October: The 31 Days of Living Well and Spending Zero, Part 6
- I Miss Pizza and Paper Plates: A Guy’s Take on The 31 Days of Living Well and Spending Zero Challenge