Could they live without electricity and discretionary spending for a month?

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contributed by Van in Alabama


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My family did not like it. My five children told us we were crazy. But, they now do it with their families. It is a learning experience no child should be without, especially today's coddled children. It is called "Go to Zero." For one month each year, the family should spend zero "discretionary dollars."

We picked a month in fall or spring, since we were doing without any non-essential electricity (everything off except the chest freezer). My favorite month for this was always October, as we would be outside a lot anyway, raking leaves and generally enjoying the weather. Back then, there was no internet or cable, so we did not have that dilemma. We just pulled the cord on the TV and the telephone. In addition, there were no radios allowed or what we called Hi Fi's. Today, my son waits for his WiFi/Cable contract to be over and cuts it off (he says this lets him rethink and shop around for better options). We use Straight Talk, so we still cut off the phone usage for a month, and we use Vonage, so when the computer is off, we have no phone at all.

It's important to prepare ahead. Have plenty of canned items, drink mixes, canned milk, and enough wood to cook and heat water as needed. You can use tea candles in glasses for light. Make sure you have games, cards, and books to read, as well as hymnals and music for sing-alongs. Look at every bill added in the year and cancel or change insurance policies as your needs have changed. The idea is to re-think the essentials. Do not eat out or go out (church on Sunday and work/school are the exceptions). If the kids wish to go somewhere, they may, but no rides should be given out or money spent.

For that month, all dirty clothes are hand washed and dried. All meals are cooked over wood. All bath water is heated over a fire. Nothing is bought at a store. Only a medical emergency qualifies as an exception. There are no electric lights, no air conditioner, no fans, or electric heater. Take a lot of walks and visit a lot of neighbors. Eat outside a lot. Have bonfires in the backyard, and roast marshmallows with the neighbors. Maybe do some carving, water color painting, or sewing. Play with the animals more and entertain small children with games. This is also the month the whole family does "spring cleaning" or "fall cleaning." You can have a yard sale, too.


The result is a refreshed soul and an increased appreciation. In addition, it is a shot in the arm to the family bank account because of a whole month without thoughtless spending. After several years of doing this, some of our neighbors started doing it too. We would have a great time enjoying each other's company, instead of huddled inside in front of the television. I've recently been in contact on Facebook with old neighbors who remembered that month as great fun.

I encourage all frugal families to start their own "Go to Zero" traditions. One advantage is that the kids know how to do without if the time ever comes when they need to.

In fact, each of my children has, at some time in their early adulthood, chosen to "Go to Zero" in order to achieve some important goal. For my oldest, it was to save enough for graduate school. For the second boy, it was the choice to live without utilities while he lived in a foreclosure home that he bought very cheap and redid himself. The son who went to China was able to find a very cheap apartment without electricity, so he could save to invest in an online start-up. My youngest daughter lived in an RV with no utilities, so they could save up their down payment for their current home. The older daughter saved enough on a "Go to Zero" budget that she was able to add a room and bathroom to the house rather than purchase a three bedroom home.

Would any of them have been able to do that without the training they got from that early "deprivation"? Maybe not.

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