Frugal Living Boot Camp: The 31 Days of Living Well & Spending Zero Challenge

We just started Frugal Living Boot Camp, and this recruit is struggling with her first task.

I’m new to trying a frugal lifestyle. I spent my 20s running up and then paying down excess debt. I learned that I never wanted to repeat having too much debt and bad credit. Since then, I have generally lived at my means. Note that’s living at my means, not below them. I kept a money cushion, and always had enough to cover what I spent. My husband and I put money into retirement savings and started a 529 plan for our daughter, but we didn’t max out our tax-deferred savings. We got to the point where the only debt we had was mortgage debt, but never really thought about paying off a mortgage in 3 ½ years.

Three months of blogging about personal finance and reading other personal finance blogs, and I’m kicking myself for missed opportunities.  While I still have an investment focus, I’m more and more fascinated by the personal finance community’s commitment to saving money on every aspect of life, being debt free, and aggressively finding sources for extra income. The path to a happy life is not just “Find a good career, work hard, and don’t get yourself into money troubles while you buy your big house and big screen TV.” You mean there’s another, better path if you are willing to put your preconceptions of the American Dream aside?

This idea of financial freedom is a whole new world for me. At 47, I wish I’d discovered it sooner.

So when I came across Ruth Soukup’s 31 Days of Living Well & Spending Zero Challenge, I decided it was time to dive into a new way of life. This would be my boot camp, and I was going to let Ruth be my drill sergeant.

Ground Rules for the 31 Days of Living Well & Spending Zero Challenge

The rules? No extraneous spending for October. We’re still paying our bills, our donation to our church, gas for the cars, and our haircuts (I debated that one, but ultimately went ahead with it).  My daughter will still get her allowance. The rules also specify that you can buy a few grocery items over the course of the month, if you go ahead and limit them to a defined list. You can decide on your personal lsit, and I’m picking

  • Milk
  • Coffee and half and half (I can’t commit to a week without my daily caffeine, much less a month)
  • Cheese
  • Bread
  • $10 worth of produce per week
  • Eggs
  • Toilet paper

Other than those, we’re supposed to go strictly from what’s on hand. Pantry, freezer, fridge. No trips to Trader Joe’s. No eating out. No paid entertainment. No Pumpkin Spice Lattes or store-bought Halloween costumes. No new e-books, no matter how much of a bargain. It’s time to reboot my spending habits.

Frugal Living Boot Camp: Day 1

No sooner did I sign my commitment to join #31DaysLWSZ than my husband came home with a bag. Um, okay. The bag contained a car washing mitt that his dad had bought him, but I still realized I had forgotten an important step. Mistake number one was not effectively discussing the challenge with him. I mentioned not spending money in October a couple of weeks ago, but I don’t think he realized I was serious until the commitment and list of exceptions were posted on the refrigerator.

So he asked for three exceptions. The first was easy to grant, and was already on the list. We have some rental properties. One of them needs a serious repair, and a second was just acquired. Our rentals are a business, and spending to get them in good shape is a business expense. Jon’s doing the labor, but he needs materials. While I don’t want to hide spending by classifying it under the business expense category, we need to spend some money to keep our tenants happy.

We’re also in the middle of a kitchen remodel. Jon started this in late May, and since then, we have not had a usable kitchen sink. Evidently we need some additional tools to finish up, and each step seems to require a few new parts. Now, we’ve also been buying a steady supply of disposable plates, bowls, forks, etc since May, and I’m not making any allowances for more paper plates. No more disposable tableware! Hopefully by the end of the month Jon will have finished working his maintenance magic and we will not resume buying one-use products. Anything to get my kitchen sink back is within the spending plan. Go Jon!

The final exception he wanted was to fulfill a promise he had made to our daughter. So, on Day 1 of the Spend Zero challenge, Jon bought a rubber snake at Dollar Tree.

I’m pretty conflicted about this one.

My daughter has a lot of toys. They fill our house and thanks to various family members, she gets new stuff all of the time. Spending on toys is definitely something I want to put the kibosh on during our zero spending month.

On the other hand, parents should keep their word. Little Bit knows I’m afraid of snakes, and desperately wants to prank me. She’s decided a rubber snake is essential to making Mom jump. Jon promised that if she met certain conditions, he would buy her a rubber snake to use in her pranks. He made the promise last month, and yesterday she fulfilled the terms of the bargain.

A dad made a promise to a daughter.

So we spent $1.07 and bought the promised snake. So far, it’s appeared three times:

  • in the doorway of her room, when Little Bit called me into her room to help her get dressed for bed.
  • sticking out from under her bed, when I tucked her in at night.
  • under my Kindle when I picked it up this morning.

Every time the snake appears, I give a nice little (theatrical) yell, and she laughs hysterically. My first thought is that it’s worth $1.07 to get that laughter. But the point of the 31 Days of Living Well & Spending Zero Challenge is to change that first thought. Why should I have to pay extra money for her to break out in adorable giggles?

I’m not sure Day 1 can be counted as a success. In Frugal Living Boot Camp, I’m struggling with the first push up. This is a marathon, and I’m not sure I’ve made it through the first mile.

On to Frugal Living Boot Camp: Day 2

The only choice is to keep on moving. It’s Day 2, and that’s all about straightening up and inventorying your food supply. I just cleaned out my pantry and freezer, so this step shouldn’t be too bad. Organizing my storage space is not my strong suit, so I’m hoping that I can pick up some other good habits as I try to figure out the best ways for us to use what we have to make it through the next 30 days.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Recruit Jividen, reporting for Pantry Duty, Drill Sergeant!

Have any of you trying the challenge, or tried it or something similar in the past? What’s your best tip for cutting your spending to the bone?

Image courtesy of Witthaya Phonsawat at

4 Responses to “Frugal Living Boot Camp: The 31 Days of Living Well & Spending Zero Challenge”
    • Emily Jividen 10/04/2015
    • Emily Jividen 10/08/2015

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