This post comes from Raechel Conover at partner site Cheapism.com.
This February we invited readers to take the Frugal Month Challenge
and commit to what some have called a "no-buy month." My family of four embarked on this cheap-living challenge and now I'm back to share the results.
A quick refresher on the rule: Buy nothing extra -- only the bare necessities. For my family that meant we paid our mortgage and other monthly bills and bought groceries, dog food, and gas, but that's pretty much it. We even tried to pare down our grocery budget to increase our savings.
After accepting this frugal/no-buy-month challenge last year and saving a whopping $472, I was already a firm believer. Truth be told, my husband and I were actually looking forward to a no-buy month. Although we try to stick to a tight budget, we faced some financial challenges this past year, including a cross-country move and a new baby.
We eagerly embarked on the frugal month challenge and the results didn't disappoint: We saved $328 in the month of February. Admittedly, it's less than we saved last year, but $328 is nothing to blow off. And the frugal month practice showed us that several good spending habits we learned during the previous challenge stuck with us despite the hectic year.
The following is a breakdown of where we saved and where we didn't.
Haircuts. This category doesn't change much year to year. Both my husband and my son get haircuts monthly, so they went without. Honestly, the longer length doesn't look bad on either. Savings: $40
Clothes. We normally budget $50 a month for clothes -- our 3-year-old and 10-month-old go through clothes like it's their job -- but made no purchases in February. Savings: $50
Groceries. Groceries are always a challenge for us. Despite the good spending habits we learned last year and our best efforts to keep the grocery bill in check, spending creeps up. We were hoping to trim $100 from our monthly grocery bill, or $25 a week, but we failed. With a family of four it's hard to keep everyone happy with a meager grocery list. Still, we didn't overspend our budget, which sometimes happens. On a related note, we had successfully stuck with the grocery budget we adopted during last year's no-buy challenge, so it's possible there was less fat to trim this time. Savings: $0
Entertainment. Several times a month we have family movie night that includes a short, child-appropriate movie, a special snack, and a later-than-usual bedtime for our toddler. We generally rent movies for these occasions, but this month we borrowed (free) movies from the library or re-watched some we already own.
The rest of our entertainment budget consists of things like books for our Kindle, apps for our smartphones and iPad, outings and activities for the kids, such as play spaces, swim lessons, and drop-in music class. We did none of this during the frugal-month challenge. Instead of paying for activities, the kids and I went to free story times at the local library; instead of meeting other moms and tikes at a paid venue for coffee and play space, everyone came to our house for a free play date. And, we took the kids to several free family swims at the gym we had recently joined. Savings: $50
Childcare/date night. My husband and I got smart this year and instead of skipping our once-a-month date night we bartered a home-cooked meal in return for a relative's agreeing to babysit, which let us save on childcare costs. We also went to a friend's house for appetizers and drinks rather than to a restaurant or movie. Savings: $100
Eating out. We ate at home every single night during February, which meant that I cooked every single night. My husband also committed to packing his lunch every day for the month and neither of us stopped in a coffee shop for our java fixes. With two kids, giving up dinner out wasn't too difficult, but resisting the siren call of ordering carry-out or pizza even once was tough. Harder still was passing on coffee breaks and work-day lunches. Savings: $75
Gifts/holidays. This is begrudgingly a new budget category for us. It seems as though our oldest child is invited to a birthday party at least once a month, or I'm invited to a baby and/or wedding shower at least as often. Moreover, holidays cost more with kids, even the minor ones, like Valentine's Day. This year we wanted to do a little something special for our toddler so we decorated his door with balloons and hearts after he went to bed and left a special treat (character stickers that I found on clearance at the grocery store) at his door. It was a nice Valentine's Day surprise in the morning and cost $2; plus, the balloons provided entertainment for the entire day. And then, I was invited to a baby shower and lassoed into sharing a group gift, which ended up costing me $25 that I wasn't planning on. The savings in this category were less than we had wanted, but better than nothing. Savings: $13
How we adapted
We managed quite well during our no-buy month. We relied a lot on what we already have, sought out free activities for entertainment, got together with friends in a cheaper setting, and flat out cut down on some frills. And we survived.
Admittedly, we won't be able to keep this up every month. Eventually everyone will need haircuts and clothes, and I will need childcare for some reason or another. But this little experiment once again points out some areas in which we can save on a monthly basis. The no-buy challenge encouraged us to spend quality family and friend time and revealed many activities we can enjoy with our kids around town without spending money. Now we just have to make these good spending (and saving) lessons last beyond February.
How did your no-buy month turn out?
More from Cheapism.com