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No-buy month saves family $450-plus

Imagine how much you could save if you spent only on necessities like food, rent and gasoline for an entire month.

By MSN Money Partner Mar 7, 2013 3:11PM

This post comes from Raechel Conover at Cheapism.


Multi-colored ceramic piggy banks © Andy Roberts, OJO Images, Getty ImagesThis February we invited readers to take the Frugal Month Challenge and commit to what some have called a "no-buy month." My family of three embarked on this cheap challenge and now I'm back to share the results.


But first a quick refresher on the rule: Buy nothing extra -- only the bare necessities. For my family, that meant we paid rent and other monthly bills and bought groceries, dog food and gas, but that's pretty much all the spending we did. Doesn't sound like much fun, does it?


Surprisingly, it wasn't too bad -- and wait until you see how much we saved.


The results

OK, I'll admit it: I wasn't a huge believer that this cheap challenge would save us much more than $50 by the end of the month. I thought our budget was pretty tight to begin with, but the results have proved otherwise. During the month of February my family ended up saving $472.


That's right -- 472 big ones. Here's a look at where we cut expenses:

  • Haircuts. Both my husband and my son get haircuts monthly, so they went without. Honestly, the longer length doesn't look bad on either of them. Savings: $45.
  • Clothes. We normally budget $50 for clothes -- we have a 2-year-old who outgrows things on a regular basis -- but this month we didn't buy anything. Savings: $50.
  • Groceries. This month we started planning out our meals before we went to the grocery instead of haphazardly buying things we thought we might eat. As a result we actually ate everything we bought each week, so we didn't have to throw away spoiled food. Savings: $67.
  • Entertainment. This part of the cheap challenge was tough on all of us. We rent movies often, buy books for our Kindle, purchase apps for our smartphones and iPad, go on costly outings, and indulge our son in new toys. This month we didn't do any of that -- and you know what? We survived. Savings: $50.
  • Child care. My husband and I went without our once-a-month date night, so we didn't have to pay for a sitter. Savings: $50.
  • Eating out. Not only did we skip date night, we also ate at home instead of relying on carryout, delivery, or dinner out. I realized I had no idea how much we actually spent each month on eating out until I looked back over the past few months. Savings: $100.
  • Snow removal. Many of you are probably like, "You actually pay for that?" But we just moved to Wisconsin, where the winters are much snowier than where we previously lived. We don't own a snow blower, and paying for snow removal was something we thought would be convenient and save us some time. What we didn't anticipate was the cost. Savings: $110.

How we adapted

Now, from this list it probably seems like we didn't have any fun in February. Wrong: It actually wasn't a bad month and none of us felt deprived.


For example, I was in sore need of a haircut (I get one only every four months and it had been six) so I found a coupon for a free haircut at a new salon in town and it actually turned out pretty well.


We even did a few things we normally wouldn't have done as a way to avoid spending. Instead of paying for activities for my son, we took advantage of free story time at our local library and found a free indoor play space at a local health club. We also went to a train exhibit for free on a Friday rather than paying to go on a Saturday or Sunday.


Instead of watching movies, downloading apps, or reading new e-books, we turned on some music and played games as a family. We also invited another couple over for an evening instead of paying a sitter and going out.

Lessons learned

Admittedly, we won't be able to keep all this up every month. Eventually everyone will need haircuts and clothes, for instance, and I will need child care for some reason or another. But this little experiment did point out some places where we can save on a monthly basis.


Meal planning really helped us cut down on grocery costs and spurred us to use everything we bought rather than let it go bad. The cheap challenge encouraged us to spend quality family time instead of just throwing on a movie at the end of the day for easy entertainment. It revealed many more activities we can do with our son around town without spending money.


Finally, it proved to us that paying for snow removal is a big waste of money, given that it didn't take long for my husband to go out and do the job himself. My son even went with him and spent some time outdoors.


Would we take the Frugal Month Challenge again? Absolutely! What about you? If you've done it, how did your no-buy month turn out?


More on Cheapism and MSN Money:

Mar 11, 2013 1:41PM

I recently lost a very good friend to cancer and NOT ONE person asked about her credit score or what her 401k or savings account balance was at the funeral which was excellent but at what cost? I often asked her if she shouldn't start living a little more becasuse time on this earth is short. She had no social life and thought a museum ticket was a waste of money and was ALWAYS stressing over the price of everything and now she's gone at 50. I'm not saying not to save; I have some saved but I'm not going to reheat days old food just to save 1.50. I spend on life insurance and good clothes and shoes so I don't have to buy very often. Happiness is more important than going to your grave with no life experiences. I'm sure some people will say im irresponsible, but I have no Credit Cards or more electronics than I need but I would rather spend my money seeing the world!

Mar 8, 2013 4:32PM

I've been doing this for the past few years, I probably average about $300 in savings for 30 days. It's not easy but the dollars really add up quickly and you realize how much money you're blowing on a monthly basis.

Mar 15, 2013 9:41AM
If you took your son to the library, then why didn't you download some books to your Kindle at the same time and borrow some movies?  Kids love watching the same movie over and over so that is not a problem.  Also, when kids are growing like weeds, why not buy some if not all of their clothes at Goodwill or Salvation army stores.  You can even find them with labels still attached and it helps out a great cause - a win/win situation.  Also, why weren't you out helping to shovel?  It is great cardio exercise, a fun thing to do together and you get a bit of vitamin D to boot.  Date night is important too - why not get a friend to exchange 'hours' of babysitting so you can both enjoy a night out once a month?All of this is just common sense to those of us who don't live in the world of 'plenty'.
Mar 11, 2013 11:43AM
I'm 50, been brown bagging it all my working career...I've always bought-cash cars and held long-term, I cut my own hair..until my wife started cutting it. Point debt, own house and 6 pieces of property own outright along with an immense nest egg. Biggest mistake I see young people making is buying that new car or building-rebuiding that classic car....eyes too big for their wallet. I see wealth as a family-taught secret that is handed down. It'll be difficult for someone whose parents aren't wealthy to hang onto their own they have no in-grained-family-raised experiences to draw off of. I'm sure many will disagree with me...but that's what and how I percieve things to be. I'm sure there are many financially impaired 16 to 32 year olds that say if you just give them $500,000. today they can easily grow it to 1 million in the next 20, yeah right.
Mar 15, 2013 10:41AM

This is exactly what every new imigrant to America does. In 5 years they end up owning your local pharmacy, or other business.


Deprivation? No, this is how people are supposed to live. We've grown fat, happy and complacent and have become a nation of whiners because we have no ability to improve our lives because we are to busy squandering the American dream.

Mar 8, 2013 4:41PM
It's an interesting game, and definitely will change habits, to think of how you can NOT spend, rather than spend.  Every time you have the urge to buy something, think about how you can NOT buy... a lot of the time you figure out that you don't really need that "thing"/
Mar 27, 2013 8:22PM
What is wrong with this picture? We do not hate the government, Obama, Bush, Democrats, Republicans, illegal aliens, homosexuals, wealthy nor poor people. We worked hard, raised four kids, lived below our means, retired and live very well. Made good and bad investments (thank goodness more good than bad). We spend wisely, vacation, clothes when needed, eat at home and rarely go out to eat, visit with friends and family, have very old flip phones, basic cable, work out at the "Y", drive a nine and five year old paid for autos, use the library, pay off credit cards every month and have a very affordable mortgage. Our parents were immigrants from Scotland and Italy and drilled into us needs and wants are completely different. This is America, the greatest country on the earth they would tell us. Opportunity here is like nowhere else. Work hard and then work harder, you will be well off. Thank you Moms and Dads you were so right.
Mar 27, 2013 8:02PM
It is just plain wrong for people to be forced to go on financial "diets" or even fasts, when Uncle Sam is gorging on the fruits of their labot.
Mar 9, 2013 10:37PM
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