All the Nitty Gritty Details on What to do (and What Not to do) During Your No Spend Month!

I am a sucker for a good challenge! Tell me I can’t do something, or it’s impossible, and I will move heaven & earth to prove you wrong!

Am I overconfident, arrogant? No, I’m just determined. You too?

That’s why I was so pumped to do a no-spend month this past April! Now, no one laughed in my face exactly, but I did get a few, “Are you crazy?” And the answer is yes, yes I am. I am crazy in need of $500.

Nothing was going to stand in my way of saving it! Here’s how my month of not spending anything played out, along with some tips, tricks & resources for you to do your own no spend month and save a boatload of money!

real world no spend month

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What is a no-spend month?

A no-spend month is essentially a spending freeze, a type of money savings challenge, where you try and not spend money on anything other than a few essentials. All so you can save extra money for something specific.

It sounds an extreme dive into frugal living, but honestly, it’s fun. I like to see if I can do hard things; I like to push myself. Competing against myself is the best kind of motivator!

My regular spending habits aren’t too bad, I don’t make a lot of impulse purchases, nor have bad spending habits. (at least I don’t think so). But I wanted some extra money, and I knew I could cut some spending.

My no spend month savings goal

Now, I had a bit of a hard time deciding what I was saving money for, as there are a few things. Maybe save for a solo vacation, or perhaps a new computer. But when I finally determined what I was saving for, my determination jumped tenfold. I wanted a stand-up paddleboard!

Last summer, my friend introduced me to it, as she has two boards. Every week or so, she’d invite me out to spend a few hours on the river, just relaxing in the sun and being out in nature. If nature therapy was a thing (it probably is somewhere), then this was it! Being out there on the board was the highlight of each week!

Everyone talks about self-care, and I never really “got it,” that is until I found this and thought of it as a healthy, self-care hobby. I did have a hard time coming to terms with purchasing it, as a board is expensive. I got one from Costco for $400, I needed a permit for $30, and an electric pump for $50. So all in about $500.  

That’s not cheap, BUT I am dedicated to being the healthiest & happiest me I can be, as a happy me = a happy mom, which is the best thing we can do for our kids. So I decided to invest in myself; I invested in my wellness.

Besides, the number of times I’ll use it will totally make it a long-term, cost-effective hobby. As once you have the board, the only ongoing cost is a $30 permit from the State every two years. 

Other people do a no spend challenge to help them fill their emergency fund, or they do it in January to help mitigate any holiday debt they racked up. Or, they feel their spending habits are getting a bit too loose, and need to practice more mindful spending.

Whatever your financial goal, a spending freeze for the entire month will help get you cut out those unnecessary purchases and get you there!

How to do a no spend month

With anything that is “hard,” you need to get prepped, as you can’t just jump into this on a whim and be successful. You have to lay some ground rules and get prepared. Read up on what a no-spend challenge is and know “why” you’re doing it.

Pick Your Month

I chose to do a no-spend month, but if it’s your first time with a money savings challenge, maybe try a no spend week first, or even a no spend weekend. It’s much less intimidating and can help you get prepped for the full no spend month.

For April, my husband was leaving for military reasons, so it was the perfect time for me to do this challenge. Now, I still could have done it with him, but he’s not that into it, and I didn’t want to make him miserable, so I opted to wait for when he’s gone.

Be sure that you don’t have any birthday parties or events that need presents. 

Decide on your spend month rules

You need to decide what is okay to buy and what is off-limits for the month. If you’re doing this with your family, you all need to agree with what is okay and write the rules down. Trust me; there will be arguments later on if your hubby comes home with a Slurpee!  

I have a Money Savings Challenge Printable Pack with 12 different challenges, including four pages dedicated to doing your own no spend month. I printed these up and tapped them up to my fridge, front & center, so I had to see my goal every single day!

ALLOWED: 

  • mortgage
  • utilities
  • insurance
  • medical co-pays
  • prescriptions
  • gas for my car
  • fresh fruit & veggies
  • fresh dairy items
  • bread

NOT ALLOWED:

  • health & beauty items
  • dining out or fast food (1 exception)
  • nonessential groceries
  • paid for fun – activities, events, etc

30 day no spend challenge prep:

As I said, you can’t just decide to do this on Sunday and Monday start it. You need to do a few things to make sure that you are successful.  

  • Do a freezer & pantry inventory: People sometimes do a Pantry Challenge (or Freezer Challenge) right alongside their 30 day no-spend challenge. Your goal is to use up as much as possible, clean out the pantry, so you can restock it what you know you’ll use, and overall organize it. I know there are things buried in the back of the cupboards and the back of the freezer. And throwing those things out isn’t a good option.

    So that means it’s time to use that frozen hunk of meat (I know, it’s too frozen even to tell what it is). Make a list and put it on the fridge of things to use up. I had a few bags of opened half-used frozen veggies, some veggie patties, a pie crust, and some one-pot meal kits that just never got used. I had lots of cans of beans in my pantry, some odd boxes of couscous (my husband wouldn’t ever eat it), and lots of different grains.  

  • Tell your friends: Yes, we love our friends and family, but my friends love to go out to eat, which isn’t great for my money-saving challenge. So I let them know that for this one month I’d love to see them at home or go to a park, or whatever. They were really supportive if a bit skeptical, but that’s okay. This was good because I know if they invited us out to eat, I would be tempted, and I just don’t need that FOMO in my life.

  • Look at your must spend items: I should have done this, but I just forgot. You should absolutely look at any prescription medications that you will need to fill and do that beforehand. Also, consider if you had any Dr appointments the month before. If they bill once a month, that bill may come due in your no-spend month (hands raised here on this one too).

    Don’t forget about any discretionary subscriptions that you have going. We just have Netflix and Disney+, so I grouped those in with our “utilities” category, but I did have two monthly payments come out of my discretionary budget. (Which I initially forgot about, and it threw off my whole savings goal by $100! ARG!)

  • Do a prep grocery run: Now, the point of this run isn’t to stock up on all the nonessential items to last you the whole month. That kind of defeats the purpose as you wouldn’t be saving anything; you’d just be purchasing it earlier. Yet, if your pantry & freezer aren’t full, you may find meal times hard.

    I did a tentative meal plan, where I made one large meal with a lot of leftovers. So chili chicken bowls, back bean & sweet potato buddha bowls, etc. I bought the meat and the dry/canned goods that I would need, but I still had to come in under that last week of March’s budget. I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t overspending one month just to look like I saved the next month. Be sure to check out this post on frugal meal planning if you want to help!
  • Gather your tools: I did go around gathering up any gift cards that I had laying around, as I knew they would come in handy (as it turned out, I was right). I had…
    • $30 to Target
    • $5 to Starbucks
    • $.43 at Cracker Barrel – not much help 🙂
  • Track everything: I developed some printables to help me keep me on track during the month! I fully admit that my motivation can lag, and I lose sight of the big goal. So I decided to turn the kitchen refrigerator into Command Central, where I would keep track of everything I spent, and on what, everything I saved, and how much progress I was making on my savings goal! I absolutely recommend putting these someplace where you will see them daily!  
fridge with no spend month printables

Saving & spending goals:

For a regular spending, my monthly budget is…

  • $400 for groceries
  • $300 on gas for my car (I drive a lot, it can’t be helped)
  • $330 on spending. I usually buy more groceries or put this money towards necessary purchases like birthday gifts, holiday stuff, paper goods & cleaning supplies, filling sinking funds, etc.

TOTALS: $1,030 a month or $237 a week. 

I average my spending over the “month,” which equals 4.33 weeks in a month. As I don’t want to have to keep juggling, “is this a four-week month or a five-week month?” Averaging it makes it so much easier! It’s 52 weeks a year divided by 12 months = 4.33 weeks a month.

 I planned on saving all of my spending money, which is $330, and most of my grocery money. My budget is $400, so my goal was to save $320 of it.

My gas is something I have to spend, so none of that will be saved, but I will consciously try and limit my driving as much as possible.

At the end of the month, I had hoped to save $330 from my household budget (aka spending) and $320 from my grocery budget = $650

BUT…

A week into my plan, I realized I had forgotten about my must spend items that automatically get paid- my chiropractor’s wellness plan and my sales platform. Those two together are $96.96 a month, so $3.24 a day that automatically get’s spent.

So I knocked down my original savings goal by $100 to be $550. It was frustrating and demoralizing that I had made such a big mistake so early on! (but on the bright side, that meant I still had plenty of time to adjust my game plan).

Failing to plan is planning to fail

Benjamin Franklin

Weekly recap of my no spend month

April week 1 recap: (only a half week: 1st – 3rd)

I spent:

  • $40.22 on gas
  • $6.19 on medical prescription
  • $38.23 on groceries (ARG!) – see below for an explanation
  • $10 on a medical co-pay. The appointment was in March, but the bill came on 4/1 – I had spaced this, my fault.
  • $9.72 on my must spend items (chiro & sales platform)
  • TOTAL = $104.36

I saved:

This week is weird since it’s a partial week (only three days). Each week, my budget comes to be $237 total (for groceries, spending and gas), so divided by seven days = $33.86 a day x 3 days this week = $101.58 that I “could have” spent in my regular budget.

$101.58 – $104.36 = -$2.78 overspent… not gonna lie, that sucks. I thought I would have done better (even with a partial week).

How I messed up:

I spent more money than I should have at the grocery store on Easter breakfast ingredients, but I’m okay with it. What happened was that I got put in charge of cooking for the family get-together (as I was at my parent’s house w/ my brother too).  

I made the mistake of going to the fancy grocery store (as they have excellent produce), and I bought fruit salad stuff there. You know that fruit at discount clubs can be dicey, and I wanted it to be nice for my parents. So I went there and spent way too much on three apples, 1lb of strawberries, two mangos, five bananas, and 12oz of raspberries… and a loaf of cinnamon pull-apart bread.   OH, COME ON, IT’S EASTER BREAKFAST!!!

No, I wasn’t yelling at you. 🙂 That was the voice inside my head while shopping at the spendy grocery store. I wanted to treat my family to a delicious breakfast, so I stood there in the store for 5 minutes, just holding the $7 cinnamon loaf, arguing with myself. (It’s the most fantastic bread ever).

And these are the arguments that we get into with ourselves ALL. THE. TIME.  This is precisely what happens! BUT, I’m okay with it. I told myself that I would knuckle down this week to make it up. We’ll see how I do!

free saving money printables

April Week 2 Recap:

This week (April 4th – 10th), I did a lot better with my spending, some of it unintentionally. My daughter got a rash on her arm on Easter Sunday, and we stayed home the whole week. (I think it was just some new/different chemicals in the bedsheets as we stayed at Grandma’s house, and my little has sensitive skin). So that means we couldn’t go to preschool at all for the week, which equals 16 fewer hours driving in the car. Yup, we saved about a tank & 1/2 of gas!  Always look for the silver lining, huh!

I spent:

  • $5.78 at McDonald’s for a Happy Meal. This was planned, as my little one had a long & tough day of Dr & therapy appointments, so I set aside $5 at the end of last month specifically for this – she loves Happy Meals!
  • $35.80 in gas
  • $25.25 at Winco (discount grocery store) on milk, bread, broccoli, mango, bananas, grapefruit, satsumas, apples, and baking powder 
  • $22.68 for my automatic spending (chiropractor plan & selling platform)
  • TOTAL: $89.51

I’m okay with each purchase, as it was planned & allowed according to my no-spend rules.

I saved:

Each week my regular budget is $238 for everything.  $237.87 allowed – $89.51 spent = $148.36 saved!  Which is great! So excited about this, as last week was such a bust with overspending!

April Week 3 Recap:

So I will freely admit that this week was more challenging than the past no-spend weeks. We did well with saving & spending, but mentally it just felt “tougher.” BUT, I say tougher, knowing full well that it was easy. It was easy because we had enough food, our bills were taken care of, our needs & wants were being met.

It was tough because we’re spoiled, and we want to eat what we want to eat, not necessarily was available to eat. We’re lucky, and we’re privileged. I fully recognize that fact, so it’s with a cringe and a guilty conscience that I even say that it was tough.  

Is it okay to even admit that? I don’t know. But it’s real, and I want to be honest & open, so there it is. How do I come to terms with this? I don’t know yet; I need to keep processing this.

What lead to this is that I was looking at our credit card account, and I saw that my husband went to a burger place (he’s away for military training for this month). And I could imagine the delicious greasiness of the burger & fries. I was jealous and a tad bit resentful. BUT, I had no business being resentful, as doing a no spend month was 150% my choice! Yikes, “feelings” are tough, and so is recognizing your own ridiculousness.  

Staying motivated while saving money is hard, but there are a few things you can do to help you get your head back in the game! Such as utilizing visualization, getting in some great money-saving FB groups, etc.

On the positive side, I was able to clear out a bunch of random food from my freezer, which was my goal for the month. My little one and I cleared out a bag of frozen corn, frozen peas, frozen sliced sweet peppers, and a frozen risotto mix.

I am never buying frozen peas again, and I have no idea why I ever bought them. Since I’m stubborn, I ate them, the entire bag over the course of a few days, and I didn’t like them one bit!

I also gathered up a bunch of gift cards that we had stashed away. I had $30 in Target GC’s, a $5 Starbucks card, and $.43 at Cracker Barrel 🙂

With over half the month left, I was a bit worried about how little I had to spend (if I wanted to meet my savings goal). So as I was cleaning up the house, I noticed an item that I bought at Target last month. I didn’t need it, I didn’t love it (it was just okay), so I returned it and got $8.99 back. I used that credit and some of my other gift cards to do some grocery shopping. 🙂 #win

I spent:

  • $74.36 on gas for my car (two tanks of gas)
  • $22.68 on my must spend monthly obligations
  • $0 on groceries as I used a gift card

I saved: $139.98 (which means I’m 50% of the way to my savings goal, with 14 days to go)

The fun part was that my little one was starting to get more curious about the saving sheets on the fridge, and she’s been bugging me on when I will color in more of the piggy bank tracker 🙂 So at the end of the week, she got to color in our savings! (I talked to her about the challenge a few times, but she doesn’t really “get it.” BUT, she does love to color, so there we go!

kiddo coloring no spend month

April week 4 recap:  

Sometimes, life’s a bust, oh well. Adjust your expectations and deal with it. At the beginning of the week, I was determined to not spend on groceries, just use a gift card for fresh milk, bread & produce, but life had different ideas.

I went to Target to use my gift cards, and the refrigerated section was 85% empty. It seems that the day before, they had a power outage and had to dump almost all of their refrigerated food-bummer for them and me. 

So I had to go to the actual grocery store, where I didn’t have any gift cards, and spend cash. (The next nearest Target was 20 miles away, no thanks). So I spent a lot more money than I wanted this week.

My husband, who’s away right now, took pity on me after last week. He read how I was struggling, and he had some Red Robin delivered to us for a night. A burger & fries for me, and a cluck & fries for our little one. It was delicious! Amazingly delicious! (and it was the first time I had meat, other than some breakfasts bacon).

Do I feel guilty about it? Kind of, I mean the money didn’t come out of my budget, but in the beginning, it felt like I was cheating like I “should” have been depriving myself of restaurant food. Would you have felt guilty about it? A twinge, maybe? I took a moment and sat with the guilt, and then I called bull$hiz on it!  

I didn’t sign up for a Boring Food Challenge; I signed up for a No Spend Challenge. AND I didn’t spend anything! I worked through my negative thoughts and actively decided to change my outlook!  (more on this below)

I spent:

  • $69.03 on gas – 2 tanks
  • $28.68 on groceries
  • $22.68 on my must spend monthly obligations
  • TOTAL: $120.39 – my highest week 🙁

I saved: $116.63

April week 5 recap:

I DID IT! I completed a month long no-spend challenge, and I am RELIEVED! 

Relieved that I did it (I feel dang proud!), and yes, relieved that it’s over. No, I’m not going to go crazy at the grocery store now, but there are a few splurge items like I’d like to get – corndogs, brownie mix, tortilla chips is what comes to mind 🙂 So nothing too crazy but definitely not a part of the “essential grocery items” that were the only things I could buy before.

Before we get into the month’s totals, let’s recap the last week of April.

Spent:  $98.45 in total for the week

  • Winco: $23.59 for all essential groceries
  • Gas: $67.04
  • Target: $0 (used gift cards) for strawberries & cheese
  • Regular grocery store: $7.33 for mangos and a can of wine. Yup, you heard, I bought wine. Definitely not an approved purchase. BUT, Mama was struggling, and some wine at night in the bathtub sounded terrific. I was lured into it, as I saw it on sale at the store, and I could save 10% that day. So I spent $5.39 on it. ARG! Do I feel guilty? Yes, but it was worth it!

Saved:  $138.57 (not too shabby!)

Totals & full month recap

Now for the month totals… Squee 🙂

I am super excited by how much I saved. YET, I missed my revised goal by $10. (whew, my can of wine didn’t sink me totally as it was only $5.39). But still, it didn’t help.

I didn’t meet my savings goal. But was my goal realistic? Looking back, I don’t think so. Spending only $80 on food wasn’t enough for us. It sounded like enough money, but it wasn’t. It made me think that food is a lot more expensive than I previously thought (especially produce), even with shopping at discount grocery chains.

Looking back, I should have allocated $120 to my must spend food purchases, maybe even $140, because I did use gift cards for about 15% of my purchases.

Even though I missed my goal (it was only by $10), I should be very proud of how much I saved! Saving half of my budget is a huge accomplishment, so I’m not going to let $10 in overspending rain on my parade!

30 day no spend challenge tips:

  • You need to give yourself enough time to plan before you start! At least a week so you can inventory, plan meals, and shop.
  • Know that you will make a mistake by forgetting something. Go easy on yourself, remember you are only competing with you!
  • Do your math calculations a few times, just to be sure you entered everything correctly.
  • Have an emergency $10 cash tucked away somewhere. You will have a moment (or three) when you want to quit.
  • Be okay with spending “some” money. You decided on your rules beforehand; it’s okay to spend money on those allowed purchases. I know you want to scrimp & save as much as possible to have a big number at the end, BUT that sounds like a recipe for disaster.
  • Be realistic with your spending & savings goals. Don’t make yourself and your family miserable. Challenge yourself by all means, but don’t make this a drudgery!

At the end of the day

Completing this challenge was hard work. It was! BUT, it was absolutely worthwhile on two levels…

  1. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it! I like accomplishing hard things!
  2. I really love paddle boarding! I knew that it would be a worthwhile investment (as I went on my friend’s board all last summer). So I knew I liked it, and I knew that it was good for me. Good for my mental health, it’s so relaxing, and it’s light exercise, sort of. I don’t spend a lot of money on myself, so I felt that it was time to splurge. But was it splurging? I didn’t spend anything extra during the month; that’s the beauty of doing a no spend month!
saving money free templates

Are you game to try a 30 day no-spend challenge? Yes, you absolutely can do it!