Easy Street: Week One of our No-Spend January Challenge

Last month, Amanda at Centsibly Rich threw down the gauntlet. She was beginning a no-spend January challenge and looking for others to join her.

So we did. We did a no-spend month in October 2015 and learned a ton from it. And, fearing that we might slip back into old habits, I put it down as part of my 2016 New Year’s Resolutions. As with so many resolutions, I set it and then forgot it. And, sure enough, as we got to the end of 2016, I realized that I struggled a bit more to control spending impulses.

I needed a reset, and a no-spend January challenge was a good method of resetting.

Rules Recap

In our December State of the Blog update, I stated our rules.

  • Grocery spending is limited to $10 of produce a week and dairy (milk, half and half, cheese, vanilla yogurt). Maybe TP if necessary. No snacks, no sweets (not like that should be a problem right now), no new meat, etc.
  • We’ll limit other shopping to stuff to work on the rentals and the two birthday presents we have on tap for this month. Little Bit will still get her allowance to spend as and when she wants, but Jon and I are limiting purchases.
  • Entertainment spending is limited to things our current commitments…Little Bit has a Girl Scout event scheduled for next week. Our Amazon Prime membership comes due in January (and we save enough that renewal is a no-brainer.) No movies, no meals out, and no other events that cost extra, though. (Library and park visits are fine and even encouraged.)
  • Bills, gas purchases, church donation, etc get paid per usual.

Very simple rules, right? But of course, we didn’t actually stick to them.

One Restaurant Meal

Stuff happens. And, sometimes, despite your best intentions, you do feel an obligation to eat out. And we did…on January 2.

How can you be OBLIGATED to eat out? Easy, you forget to grab your Christmas present at your out-of-town relatives’ house and they kindly agree to meet you halfway between. At lunchtime.

Actually, my dad and stepmother delivered 2 presents. Jon and I forgot the box of frozen sausages on Christmas day, and that started things. But my older niece and nephew weren’t able to come to my Dad’s on Christmas day, either, so my dad and stepmother had another present to deliver for my daughter.

So, we met at a Smithfield’s Barbeque between Raleigh and Fayetteville to pick up the gifts and spend a nice lunch with my dad, stepmother and baby nephew. Total cost $17.89 (because you can’t go to Smithfield’s without picking up some extra hushpuppies.)

And now we have a freezer full of sausage patties to help get us through the month.

Snowpocolypse Supplies

Weather forecasters predicted a huge snowstorm for Raleigh on January 7-8. It didn’t actually materialize the way they predicted (we got mostly sleet,) but we still are pretty much housebound this weekend. While that’s made it super-easy not to go out and spend money, we did pick up some extra stuff for the weekend that we didn’t predict.

First, we got milk. Before a Carolina snow storm, you are obligated to go to the store to pick up milk and bread. But we had a loaf of bread already, so we just got milk. Yeah, dairy is on our list of what we can buy this month. But, obligatory snow storm milk must be mentioned.

Then, having a history of snowstorm-related power outages, I also urged Jon to get the LP gas tank refilled at BJs. We’re having record cold weather, and $10 to make sure we can stay warm if necessary seemed like a good precautionary expense, even if it’s not on the original list.

Fortunately, we haven’t had to use it.

And, we picked up a few other things…mostly a giant pack of toilet paper. (I won’t have to buy toilet paper again until spring.) And body wash and conditioner. Because…um…we were almost out and I don’t compromise on hygiene?

Anyway, we spent a total of $46.68 on Friday morning to prepare for the storm. More than we predicted or planned, but about half of what we’d spend on a weekly grocery trip.

Not only that, when I looked at what we spent on our first grocery trip during our last no-spend challenge, we spent almost the same amount. Crazy! I wonder what all we bought?


Easy Street: Week One of our No-Spend January Challenge


Last time we did a no-spend challenge, we had a bunch of temptations to spend extra.

This time, not so much.

First, we have a huge backlog of sweets and snacks in the house from the holidays (and I did stock up just a bit to reduce the grumbling.) And, since part of my to-do list last week included delaying sweets til the weekend, I’m not delving into the snack stash as much. We’re good on snacks for at least another week, possibly two. We’re good on meat, with the sausages, a couple of turkeys, chicken and ham in the freezer.

Next week we should need some fruit and veg. For now, though, food, even fun convenient food, is not an issue. 

And, we just started our Sling subscription, so we have new entertainment options to explore. With new toys and games around, not even Little Bit seems tempted to spend her allowance.

I have one unscratched itch…one of my favorite authors released a new book this week and normally I’d use an Amazon gift card from Swagbucks to pick it up (our library probably won’t carry it.) I have a $25 gift card balance right now, and another 2100 in Swagbucks, so I could buy the book without real spending. But, that seems a bit like cheating. I’ll try to apply our credits toward our Prime renewal and delay getting the new book for a month or so.

In the meantime, I’ve downloaded a good book from our library. Jon and Little Bit have just come in from sledding down our hill. Life during week one of our no-spend January challenge is good!

A Quick Word on the Weekly To-Do List

To refocus habits this year, I’m trying a weekly to-do list in pursuit of overall goals to live healthier, increase financial health, improve the blog and do good things.

Last week was the first week I really put this new strategy into effect, and week one seemed to work really well.

I might have grabbed a doughnut hole during the week before I remembered I was delaying sweets, but it was only one. And, my exercise might not have been anything to brag about, but i did jump on the elliptical machine 5 times last week instead of none. I even managed to fit in the HTML class.

So far, this is a promising approach to pursuing resolutions and setting new habits. My week 2 list looks a lot like week 1 (substituting CSS for HTML), but I know if I screw up on them I can refocus my attention again next week.

Week One: Easy Street

We’ve done a no-spend challenge before, and we knew that in a lot of ways, week one is easy street.

Maybe we didn’t quite stick to the plan, but we haven’t veered that far off it either. Even though we veered off course a bit, it was easy to get back to the plan. The supplies are still so plentiful we barely have room in our fridge or freezer for anything else anyway. No one’s bored with staying in for the weekend (and we could hardly get out even if we wanted to go somewhere.)

The big struggle the first week of a no-spend month is controlling impulses to spend on fun stuff. I think Jon and I got a handle on ours a while ago. Most of the time we stay mindful in our spending, at least outside of the grocery store.

It will get harder. Not so much next week, but during the second half of the month when we have to start getting more creative with our pantry and freezer supplies, or when staying home begins to feel claustrophobic.

But for now, I’m gonna enjoy easy street.

What struggles do you have when you try not to spend money?

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich, and Racing Towards Retirement*;

21 thoughts on “Easy Street: Week One of our No-Spend January Challenge

  1. Very impressive undertaking! Thanks for sharing your experiences and glad you’re not feeling the temptations too badly. And as you mentioned, this seems like a particularly effective way to work through the freezer full of leftover holiday treats.
    Jay recently posted…Trend Following Trade Ideas January 2017 (Part 2)My Profile

    • Probably! We need to work through the freezer and pantry. I’m sure there are some things we’ve forgotten about or just delayed cooking, and, hopefully, this will force us to deal with at least one of the turkeys! (we didn’t buy them or the ham. My inlaws gave them to us. But when were we ever going to need to cook them?)

  2. Sounds to me like week 1 was an overall success! Even though you spent a little, I’m sure you’ve saved way more than you would have otherwise. Plus, you were very mindful of spending – this is the thing I’ve benefited from the most during my first week.

    Isn’t it interesting that this month isn’t as hard as the first no spend month you did? Obviously, you’ve developed some super frugal lifestyle habits since then! I admit, it’s not been hard for me at all so far. I expect it to get more challenging as the month goes on too. But really, I have soooo much food in my pantry and freezer, I needed to cut back on what was coming in. I did notice the boxes of cereal are dwindling quickly…we’ll see how that plays out!

    Thanks for the update!
    Amanda @ centsiblyrich recently posted…Advice in a letter to my college selfMy Profile

    • We did save over what we normally would spend, but I don’t think it was by too much. Okay, we didn’t rent any movies this weekend, but we already had cut out most meals and treats out and most impulse buys, and everything’s full. Except cookies. Little Bit’s probably going to start talking about cookies this week. Fortunately, I have some cookie mixes in the cupboard.

  3. I love it, Emily. Mrs. G and I have tried a $200-food-shopping month a couple of times in the past. But never a no-spend month. A very intriguing challenge indeed. I’ll run it by Mrs. G. Perhaps we’ll try it in March. Thanks for sharing, Emily. And best of luck for the remainder of the month.

    • I think last time we did this, we still spent over $200 at the grocery store during the month. I think we can spend less this time, but if we stick our grocery bill below $150 this month (about $37 a week) for dairy, produce, toiletries and cleaning/laundry supplies, I’ll be really happy. (We normally spend about $500.)

  4. The biggest challenge is the unexpected. You mentioned a few just in the first week of the month Snow Storm, impromptu invite to meet family, running out of something, etc. Unless you planned these they and how you handle them become the biggest part of a successful no spend challenge,

    We are just looking to cut back generally during the year and increase saving rate overall.
    Brian @ Debt Discipline recently posted…Holiday Hangover: Tips to get your Finances on Track in the New YearMy Profile

    • Yeah, we weren’t as good at improvising as Amanda was…but we know we’re not perfect and we’ll keep with the program. Good luck on increasing savings, Brian.

  5. Good job on your first week. We’re not doing a no-spend month, in fact, we’re on our way out to an afternoon full of errands and shopping, mostly because the sales cycles have hit on some of our needed items. I’m all ready with my coupons, sales circulars, and certificates, so hoping not to spend a penny more than planned.
    Gary @ Super Saving Tips recently posted…Budgeting: The Ups and Downs and All AroundsMy Profile

    • The biggest problem with using January as a no-spend month is that you miss out on some great deals, especially on winter gear. And our daughter could use a new fleece jacket for milder days soon, but we can probably pick one up either at a consignment shop or from a Facebook group later.

  6. Kids (and college costs) are my biggest challenge! Getting ready for one to go back – so helping out with some supplies. She also needs to finish up a few grad school applications and I said I’d help pay for those. The younger one found another college to apply to. He hadn’t done a “stretch” school and found one that he thinks he would love 😉 We’ll see…
    Vicki@MakeSmarterDecisions recently posted…Make Smarter Decisions – Saturday Share Day, 2017 – Week #1My Profile

  7. I love your example of having to meet half way at lunchtime : ) That is my life! I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who finds herself in situations that fly in the face of resolutions. Good luck with your challenge – especially in the last half of the month.
    Fruclassity (Ruth) recently posted…Does Your Grocery Budget Need a Makeover?My Profile

    • No, it’s easy to get sidetracked from resolutions, happens to me all the time, Ruth. That’s why I’m resetting each week…so that if stuff does happen (say I get sick and don’t exercise one week,) I can go back to the goal the next week instead of forgetting about it….which happened all too often in the past.

    • LOL, true, the meat’s probably worth more than the gas and meal to get them…though we really shouldn’t have forgotten it Christmas Day. My stepmother reminded us to get it no more than a half hour before we hit the road, and probably 4 times over the course of the visit. I can only blame too many mimosas on my part (Jon was designated driver, I’m not sure what excuse he should use.)

  8. I think I really need to sit down and do a no-spend month! It’s something I’ve always wanted to try and never commit to. The task seems intimidating. BUT breaking it down into weekly goals seems much more doable!

    • You should try it, Krystal. Not only does it give you something fun to blog about, but it can stretch your creativity, reset some spendy habits, and change your family’s focus a little. I guarantee we’ll be your cheering section if you choose to try it. If you do:
      1) Set your ground rules carefully. You probably won’t go a full month without spending anything, but try to limit it to what you plan. (Hence, we said birthday presents and the Girl Scout skating party were still on.)
      2) Discuss it with the others in your house, and get their buy-in. Things will go a lot better if they know that their favorite foods might need to be rationed more than usual to get them through the month.
      3) If things go differently, don’t let it derail your whole month. Just move on to the next day of the challenge.

  9. I love reading about these challenges but I think we’re done with them for now. We did the last one right after DH got a job that paid double his previous job (and infinitely more than his unemployment spell which is why we’d planned the challenge) and it just seemed silly given how much money we were suddenly bringing in. Previous challenges had been useful but the last one we wished we’d had more time instead of the money.

    Which sounds like bragging, and it sort of is, but I guess my point is that if you don’t have early retirement plans and you have good financial habits including frugality and increasing your income streams, eventually you can get to a point where the money saved with a no spend month is inconsequential. At the end of the month we were just kind of like, why did we do this? (Which had not been our experience previously!)
    Nicoleandmaggie recently posted…January Mortgage Update and Wells Fargo thinks we’re ready to buy a new homeMy Profile

    • I can see that after a few no-spend challenges, you’d learn a lot less. Part of the reason we didn’t do one last year (even though it was on our goals) was that I really thought we had the spending under control until November. And looking back over our expense sheet, while November was very spendy (trips to Disneyworld will do that,) we didn’t spend as much in December as I thought we did. I felt the need for the reset, and was happy to play along with Amanda’s challenge, but we don’t do meals out much and we don’t do too much non-food shopping anymore. Mainly, we have too much food inventory in the house, and a couple of weeks of limited grocery shopping should take care of that nicely.

      But congrats on getting to the point where the no-spend month seemed superfluous. That’s worth bragging about!

  10. Great work, Emily!! We joined in too with a “low spend” challenge and it’s working really well! Right now we’re on track to have our lowest spend month in about two years!! This might turn into a low spend year if I can get everyone on board. 🙂 I am loving this!

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