Space…The Final Frontier: No-Spend January Challenge Week 2

I think I still have too much stuff.

I realized this weekend that despite the fact that we’ve stuck to our no-spend rules, we still lack…space. Freezer space and pantry space in particular.

One of our goals for our no-spend month was to eat some of the stuff that’s been lingering in our freezer and pantry. Two weeks into our no-spend challenge, and there’s still tons of stuff in both. If I bought our regular grocery hall this week, I’d be struggling to figure out where to put it.

I must have been buying way too much food. We spent less than $20 at the grocery store this week for milk, half and half and a little produce. I may spend a little more this week, but only because we could also use some butter, eggs, and cheese.

(Jon doesn’t give up butter. Ever.)

Basically, though, we’re still well-stocked. We haven’t had any unexpected expenses. Not much has changed, other than a big awareness that maybe we’ve been buying way too much.

Amanda confessed in her no-spend January roundup this week that she might be bit of a food hoarder, and I might have an issue as well.

How did we get here? The last time we did a no-spend month, we said we were going to ratchet down our food supply, and we did for a while. Our level of food waste is way down. We still, however, have been buying way more food than we need. What’s driving it?

Old Habits

Sixteen months ago, Jon and I spent a lot more on an average month’s food than we do today. A lot of this was because we made regular trips to BJs and Trader Joe’s that added to our food costs without subtracting from our grocery bills. We got mainly extras, and snacky extras at that: We also had a tendency to buy new items that looked appealing but sat in our cupboards unused and a penchant for buying more produce that we got around to consuming.

After our initial no-spend month, we cut a lot of those things out and cut our food bill way down. We cut out the extra trips to warehouse clubs. Instead of going to Trader Joe’s every other month, we dropped down to every 5-6 months. We bought food, especially perishable food, in smaller portions more appropriate for the three of us.

Most of all, we stopped buying nearly so many experimental items and stuck to the basics…most of the time.

So this time, while we have a bunch of food in our pantry, it does tend to be things we actually eat. There’s no quinoa or barley in the pantry this time, waiting desperately for us to pick up and use. We mostly have the staples we eat…pasta and grits, rice and broth and canned tomatoes. It’s not the same stuff we had last time, and that’s a good thing.

An Ibotta Factor?

But, I wonder if I haven’t fallen victim to an Ibotta factor. 

I like using Ibotta to get rebates on things I ordinarily buy. And if you get rebates or use coupons on things you would buy anyway, using Ibotta or any other app or coupon that reduces your price or gets you cash back is just smart shopping.

But sometimes, I’m buying things I wouldn’t ordinarily buy because I can get a rebate. Not big things. But maybe I buy two boxes of Special K instead of one, or three packages of Knorr noodles because that’s what it took to get the rebate.

And that’s NOT smart shopping. I just bought extra stuff, crowding my cabinets, for a couple of measly dollars in rebates. And that’s one reason we’re stuffed to the gills in foods we haven’t eaten.

I’ll continue to use the apps, but buying additional items to get rebates is getting worked by the apps instead of working them.

The Moving Target

The other issue, of course, is that our daughter still asks to try new things she then doesn’t eat. So yes, we have cookies and cream Pop Tarts that no one eats, two types of Captain Crunch and stale white cheddar Cheezits Only Regular Cheezits

Only Regular Cheezits now, please. Or Toasty. Or Big. Or maybe the kind with the M&Ms, okay, Mom?

And no vanilla yogurt. I like peach yogurt. Or the vanilla kind with M&Ms. But don’t just put M&Ms in regular vanilla yogurt, that would be yucky, it’s not the same thing at all. 


By the way, I love blood oranges but don’t put them in my lunchbox, okay, because then the other kids tell me I’m a vampire. 

That’s not cool? That sounds cool to me. Evidently not.

So, buying the right food for a six-year-old still drives a lot of extra foods into the house. I’m hoping as the month progresses and the snack supply shrinks she’ll realize that she should probably stick to more dependable choices.

But I probably just need to stop taking her grocery shopping for a while. She can ask to add things to the grocery list, but making her ask ahead of time instead of letting her pick at the store will probably screen out a bunch of the surplus items.

The Gifts

We’ve gotten some wonderful food gifts from family members…turkeys, a ham, sausages.

We haven’t necessarily done a good job of leveraging those gifts into dinner. And we need to come up with a better plan to use food gifts when we get them.

Maybe a bit more menu planning?

Back to the List

Last time we did the no-spend month, we made a list of what we had in inventory.

I’m not naturally organized, and it can be difficult to figure out what we have around the house just from a quick glance. Things end up where I don’t see them, either because I’ve put them down somewhere different or because there is another item in the way. The list helped. We knew what we had, and we could make much faster decisions about what we might prepare for meals or even eat for snacks.

The list even reminded us to use certain things.

I thought maintaining the list was a great idea. I was going to keep an inventory list going. Only I didn’t do that. I got out of the habit, and we no longer have a list.

So I’m back to filling out the list and trying to figure out how to make it easier to maintain even as we add and use items.

Space...The Final Frontier: No-Spend January Challenge Week 2

What Else Have We Done?

Staying home and not spending has been pretty easy this week. Icy roads kept Little Bit home for several days, so we had a lot less running around. We had a bunch of leftovers in the house too, so I only really had to cook once.

We’re out of leftovers, though, so maybe we can start making some progress on clearing space.

Little Bit spent much of the week home playing Minecraft. It’s the first really immersive game that she’s played and I haven’t, so she gets to show me things. Right now, she’s obsessed with building virtual rollercoasters. Her Dad and I have been binge-watching The Expanse on Amazon and The De Medicis on Netflix. So we didn’t have the most active week, but I’m making an effort to jump on the elliptical machine most days.

We did, however, take Little Bit rollerskating for the first time. We had signed her up with her Girl Scout Troop over a month ago, so this was an anticipated expense. At Jon’s urging, I did not don skates. I did walk around the rink, helping her back up and providing encouragement.

We now, however, have a big temptation at our house right now: Sixty some boxes of Girl Scout cookies, waiting for some little Daisy I know to make some sales. She really wants some cookies so we may have to bend the rules a bit to allow for a box. Samples help you sell, right?

Space and Shopping

So here’s how we sit…plenty of food and still no space after two weeks of very limited groceries.

Our no-spend month is certainly showing us that there is room to continue whittling down our food budget while still maintaining an ample supply of good food in the house. 

We’ve let extras creep into our grocery cart and sit in our inventory, crowding our space and our budget. Some of the extras will be easy to screen out, some not so easy. We’ll see where we go from here.

What factors sneak into your food budget that you’d like to eliminate or limit? 

Read about week one of our No-Spend January Challenge.

22 thoughts on “Space…The Final Frontier: No-Spend January Challenge Week 2

  1. Thanks for the update, Emily! Isn’t it interesting how sales, rebates, and coupons can influence how much we buy? Buying to save…that’s the trap I fall into. But if it sits in the pantry or freezer beyond it’s shelf life, it’s simply waste. This month is showing me where to best spend my grocery money. We are running out of peanut butter, cheese and cereal, but we still have more than enough oatmeal, pasta, and grains.

    I understand having the extra food when kids’ tastes change (and change quickly). My kids used to eat the white cheddar cheez its, and suddenly stopped when I still had 2 full boxes. The same things happens with other snacks and cereal. And it happens often.

    You have Girl Scout cookies in your house? Oh my. Yes, you must sample to let customers know how very good they are! 😉 Good luck with your no spend month this week!
    Amanda @ centsiblyrich recently posted…Debt Free Story: How being debt free can grant you life choicesMy Profile

    • Girl Scout cookies are a big temptation, but the fact that I am trying not to eat sweets during the week is helping reduce it….so far we have not broken down and bought a box. We all know they are there, though.

  2. What about gifts for the family? Do they count in the No Spend January? Your mother-in-law has a birthday coming up on the 30th. Will you empty the freezer and make her a sumptuous dinner and bake her a cake? Can Lil Bit make her a candle? I know she loves home made gifts! Why not invite Nana and Pop over for a party using leftover Birthday decorations?

    • Jayne, we made an allowance for the birthday (and anniversary!) on the 30th. So Jon will pick up something for his mom, as well as a card and balloon. I probably won’t make a cake….I’m more of a cookie and pie baker. But, we won’t put the celebration on hold. You only get so many birthdays in a lifetime.

      • Her favorite cookies used to be Snickerdoodles. She would really appreciate any kind of backed goods she did not have to bake!

  3. I just got back from the store (two stores actually) and when I don’t take a list, it is amazing how many extra things end up in the cart. I wanted to get there before it got too busy, so no list. Our fridge was almost empty because we are trying to use things up and alter some habits too. The amount of packaging for most foods is bothering me too…
    Vicki@MakeSmarterDecisions recently posted…Make Smarter Decisions – Saturday Share Day, 2017 – Week #2My Profile

    • Packaging is a problem. So many big boxes and bags are only half full anyway and take up a lot of room.

      My issue with shopping is that at the grocery store I rarely stick just to the list. I think it’s to give me the flexibility to pick up bargains, but it’s probably just the flexibility to pick up extras. Good job on the fridge. Our fridge is actually looking a lot sparser right now, other than a huge collection of pickles, olives and condiments. If we cleaned those out, our fridge would be looking good!

  4. Yes, yes, and yes. I bought shelving for our basement because I had stockpile goals. It was that bad! Now we really can’t go more than a week or two without grocery shopping. I much prefer it! And you’re right about the apps. It’s just like couponing. You’re so busy saving, you don’t see how much you’re spending!

    • Yeah, I noticed that I had started treating Ibotta/Checkout 51 like a game and seeing how much I could get in rebates. Probably the WRONG approach. But, it meant I had an excuse to buy Lindt truffles last month! (Like I needed an excuse…)

  5. Not only do we not keep an inventory of our pantry and freezer, but just the other day Suzanne and I “discussed” which of us had put some mystery meat into the freezer without labelling it. We could definitely do with some better organization. I think we also overbuy on the food, with some items sitting around forever unused, like that veggie risotto we got on clearance for $0.39. Maybe we’ll start a challenge to incorporate one unused item into dinner until we’ve made some space.
    Gary @ Super Saving Tips recently posted…6 Types Of Debts You Can’t Kick Out In BankruptcyMy Profile

    • LOL, I get the mystery meat thing, Gary. Jon is forever taking stuff out of the packaging to save space, but two weeks ago he ended up making fish sticks when he thought he was making tater tots. Labels are good, both for what they are and when you put them in the freezer.

  6. Grains are the worst for me. At the end of the year I threw out boxes dated from 2015. Sometimes I’ll buy something I haven’t tried before, make one recipe, and then forget it’s in the pantry.

    You are a better woman than I am. I’d be having a fit with all those girl scout cookies in the house.
    Mrs Groovy recently posted…How Much of Your Portfolio Do You Really Own?My Profile

    • I’m bad about buying stuff that sounds interesting, fully intending to try it, and then forget it. Not even one use. Although I mostly curbed that after our last no-spend month and now stick to pasta and rice.

  7. I’ll take that turkey hill ice cream off you hands if you need to free up some space. 🙂 I think we have that nonperishable issue in our cabinets too. We have a ton of stuff in them that we never seem to use. We often buy more than we need because you get a deal if you buy in bulk, but if its just going to sit and eventually be throw away we may need to rethink that.
    Brian @ Debt Discipline recently posted…Teaching Your Kids about MoneyMy Profile

    • Little Bit will fight you for the Turkey Hill, lol. She likes her ice cream after dinner, as does Jon. We’re down to 2-3 nights’ worth and I’m not sure what will happen when they finish it.
      We don’t seem to have too much we need to throw out right now in the pantry…other than some cereal. And some candy that I think is left over from Easter? Not going to warehouse clubs probably helps keep our supply of things like pasta and canned goods down to reasonable.

  8. Our cupboards are constantly packed, yet how often we have “nothing to eat!” Of course, it is all those snacks, as you mention. Certainly pantry staples as well, but not every pantry staple is enough to make a meal. I am always left smarting after a $200 trip to Costco – all stuff we technically “need” – only to get home and realize I do not have anything that can create an actual dinner!

    • That happened to us all the time, Linda. We would go to Sam’s or BJs and spend $200, then realize we needed to go to the grocery store for “regular food” and we’d spend $100. We finally realized most of the time the stuff we were getting was extra, and that we could just go to the grocery store and save the $200 without buying too much extra. The only real “replacement” was diapers…which we’ve been done with quite a while and I think we could have gotten through Amazon just as cheaply.

  9. I think you have been doing well 🙂 it’s important to think about what you are trying to achieve with your no spend month and that is what you are working toward. It’s so, so easy to spend a lot more than you mean to on food shopping. Can you order it online over there?

    • Thanks, Francesca.

      Thanks for the suggestion. We could order online. All the major grocery stores have online services, and I guess that would cut a lot of impulses out. I know it’s worked for others, I may have to give it a try. The biggest reason I haven’t is produce…I like to look at what I buy to make sure it looks fresh, and I worry about someone else picking it out. But that may be just an excuse, since grocery shopping is the chore I enjoy the most.

  10. Being a foodie and food blogger I love to experiment in the kitchen, but I do have to be careful about buying things I won’t use very often. You can often substitute or leave something out all together.

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