My Story: No Spend Month

contributed by SMT

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In our household of two adults and two teenagers, we are getting ready for February or, as it is being called in our home, "No Spend Month." In other words, other than paying our utility bills, we are not going to spend any cash or add anything to our credit cards during the month. We have done this before and the lessons learned were immense. We chose February as (for us) it is relatively quiet time socially, the January bills (and sales) have come and gone, and it is a time of the year where we need the excitement of a challenge. Believe me, it can be challenging. This means no purchased lunches at school and work, no suppers out, no impulsive purchases, and basically living on what we currently have.

I have to admit that we do have a couple of exceptions. We learned previously that two tanks of gas (we have two cars) is not enough to get us to and from work and to all the kids' activities, and that some people in our house love fresh milk. However, we are fortunate in that our gas station gives cash value coupons to use in their store, so we do exchange these for milk. Another important exception that we have built in (but did not have to use) was, of course, an emergency situation (car accident, illness or death, etc.) where we would obviously give up the plan to take care of the emergency.

Because it is a "No Spend Month," we found that we tend to be creative in using what we currently have, but generally take for granted. For example, we make meals from scratch and do use the stuff at the bottom of the freezer or back of the cupboards that often get overlooked. The kids make do with what they already have and are more likely to use the library, their bartering skills, and rediscover previously enjoyed activities (snow shoeing, board games, etc.). They can use gift cards or "previously paid for" coupons that, too, often get overlooked. Also, in preparing for a month like this, we tend to look in advance at things we might need, but would normally just go out to purchase if we ran out, such as light bulbs, fuses, cleansers, computer paper, etc. We plan ahead for this by stocking up on staples, but in our previous experience, we did not spend more at the end of January or in early March stocking up than we usually would. In fact, our financial expenditures dropped drastically overall. An additional challenge that we have done is to try to add to our income by selling unneeded items, taking our recyclables in, and doing additional work projects.

What have we learned from this? We have learned more creative recipes and more careful meal, activity and resource planning. We learned the difference between frivolous expenditures and necessities, and now we tend to consider our purchases in this context. During this month, we do not accumulate a credit card bill (except for gas), have reduced packaging and waste production, and tend to eat more nutritious foods. We also have increased family communication and problem solving as we attempt to manage this challenge. Most importantly, we learn gratitude for what we have. (As a nurse, I know people living in poverty often live this existence every month.)

I am looking forward to this next month. The last time we did this was three years ago. Our children were much younger then (one not a teenager). Because they know it is hard, my children have already been grumbling about the upcoming month, but the lessons learned in resource and financial planning and usage, ecology awareness, and gratitude are tremendous. Try it out!

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