Update: I've decided to rename this Low-Spend Month instead of No-Spend Month, as I think that's more accurate and requires less backpedaling! :)
Sam and I have started a
It's already a combination of adventure and chore.
I'd invite you along, and I do, but I figure you'd have to have a compelling reason to want to join in. For us, it's that we have taxes due at the beginning of October and need to save up as much as possible before then. We decided it was best not to trust ourselves to "cut down" on spending and just nix it entirely.
And that's sort of not true, because we're still spending in some respects. I know some people might think of these exemptions as cheating, but it's our no-spend month, so we can set the standards.
Here are our guidelines for what we can spend:
No-spend Low-spend rules
- We can pay non-negotiables (mortgage, health insurance, etc.).
- We can pay off previously spent, billed purchases (credit card bills, diaper service, etc.).
- We can spend the minimum amount of money necessary to honor previous commitments, such as important outings with friends planned before low-spend month, gifts for a birthday party we promised to attend, or our upcoming trip to visit my parents. (The tickets are already purchased, but there might be travel incidentals.)
- We don't have to count gas or public transportation as costs. I can't bear to be stuck at home for a month in the summer! With no air-conditioning! This doesn't mean we'll just drive around aimlessly, but that we can go places we need to. I understand a lot of people wouldn't make such a sweeping allowance, but we are.
- We get $100 a week to spend on all food and necessary household purchases (like the floss we ran out of immediately after declaring low-spend month). This includes groceries and eating out and comes to about $14 a day. As people who haven't budgeted for food for a decade or so, this has been the most interesting part so far. Again, I realize other people are stricter about spending nothing, but we didn't think that was feasible. (See floss example above.)
- Mikko can still spend his allowance as he wishes.
- Everything else is off limits. I know that seemed like a long list of exceptions, but I guarantee there's plenty we would buy if these limits weren't in place. We're putting off larger purchases that we'd been considering, cutting out smaller purchases and impulse buys, considering free ways to amuse ourselves, and curtailing treats.
Our budget vs. yoursI know that all discussions of finances are fraught with issues of privilege. Our spending habits and income levels and budgets are going to be different from anyone else's, and I don't mean to make this some declaration of how virtuous we're being. This is just our choice to stop spending so much for one wee month (and then reevaluate), because we're privileged enough to make this choice, and I don't judge or compare myself to anyone else for spending less or more or having no choice but to do a no-spend month because they have nothing to spend. We all live in different locations, with different jobs or no jobs, and having made different choices as well as having non-chosen forces at work in our lives that have helped to put us where we are.
If you're in a category where you could spend less and want to join us in this experiment, feel free. If you want to be stricter or less restrictive, feel free as well. If this isn't an option or a desire of yours, you can just follow along and give us tips for budgeting if you have them!
I know from asking on Facebook that our "reduced" food budget of $100 a week for four people is a lot of people's norm; we sort of pulled that number out of a hat since we haven't budgeted or really inspected our spending for years, so part of this month is testing if it's a sustainable one for us or not.
Thoughts so farThe good: I like that we're doing something concrete to help our financial situation. I don't really want to go into the particulars, because it's complicated and kind of stupid, but it relates to the fact that we have to pay taxes on inventory and our inventory was very high last year. Meaning, we earned what should have been plenty, but we don't actually have that money in liquid cash. No one needs to feel sorry for us financially, but I hope no one feels derisive toward us, either. We're simply trying to keep taking responsibility for our finances, and this month (and perhaps future months like it) will help us beef up our savings and curb any mindless spending.
I've never enjoyed shopping and always feel guilty when I spend money, so for me, taking a dedicated break from having to decide what things to buy is kind of like a vacation. It's an excuse not to have to shop!
I like that we're reassessing all the fun things we know to do that cost little or no money. Just a short list off the top of my head: digging on the beach, playing on the playground, board games and card games, family movie night with a DVD from our collection or the library, reading library books, playing with toys and play dough, creating our own desserts and other fun treats, visiting public places where we have memberships or free entry (child-friendly museums and the like; we got a family coupon to one museum through the summer reading program at our library, for instance), visiting different parks and wading pools.
I like that we're using up food that was languishing in our cupboards and freezer. I like that we're less likely to let perishables go bad. I like that my garden harvests are being put to good use! And I love Sam's cooking, so that's a good thing right there.
The bad: It's really hot for Seattle right now, and I keep wanting to go places with A/C. Unfortunately, good places to go with A/C hereabouts include the mall and bigger chain restaurants, both of which are places you would naturally spend money. That's just one example of how it's inconvenient. Even places we have memberships aren't always that air-conditioned; when Seattle-ites use A/C, they tend to use it begrudgingly and sparingly. I was in the children's museum recently and knew they had some A/C on but was sweating like a pig. (I was heard to moan and wipe my brow several times, for I am a weenie in such matters.)
Another effect of the weather is that we're thirsty when we're out and thirsty when we're working hard (we've been moving stuff to storage), and we'd loooove an ice cold drink, but we have to stick within our $14 daily budget if we buy one. We've been doling these out very stingily as a result. (Oh, I know most of you would just drink water. Did I mention I hate water? I hate water. I'm drinking more of it, but that doesn't make me like it.)
We often have gone out with the boys on excursions — with Sam and me taking turns so the other person can work. Now that we can't eat meals or even buy snacks while we're out, that makes it harder to kill time or necessitates bringing food along and finding appropriate places to eat it.
I keep thinking of things I would buy if I could. Things I'd been planning to buy but had been putting off. And now I have to put them off more. Which is both good and bad (see above).
We've kept finding reasons not to do a no-spend month. This month is a good example of a month that doesn't seem like a good bet — we do have those previous commitments we mentioned, including a friend's visit and our travel to family. Plus, it's hot, and we're irritated by that. But we find good reasons to delay this every month, so we're just going for it and making do as we go along.
The effect on childrenMikko's been a little befuddled by the changes, so we've just been explaining it to him as straightforwardly as we can. We've told him we're trying not to spend very much money for a month so we can save up for taxes. We've told him that taxes are money we pay to the government to spend on things like roads and the fire department and libraries, and to help people who need money more than we do. We've told him our budget of $14 a day for food to help explain why we're buying certain things when we go shopping but not others.
It's actually been a good continuing lesson in math and finances, building off the lessons he's learned so far from having an allowance. An allowance has sort of taught him that we have to budget for fun stuff, but showing him that we have a limited amount of money for everything has been even more enlightening, I think. A lot of times, parents keep budgeting behind the curtain (my parents did, at least, and refused to talk about money with me), so that as kids we grow up thinking that adults can buy anything they want to — after all, they have a house! and a car! and lots of food! and look at those twenties in their wallets that came out of the machine! — but that they just refuse to buy the kids certain things out of pique or something. (Like, why oh why did my parents never buy me a battery-operated ride-in car? Or a horse? Or a battery-operated ride-on horse?) Letting kids in on the fact that you do indeed have limited amounts of money and have to choose what to spend it on, from housing to transportation to food to other non-negotiables and then whatever fun stuff might fit in the leftovers gives a clearer picture of what adult finances look like.
I'm not suggesting Mikko's grasped all of this as yet, just that it's been a positive side-effect to have started anew these discussions.
On the other hand, he's been cranky that we won't buy as many treats as we were wont to previously. For instance, if before when we were out, we'd get all of us a drink, or an ice cream, but now we're trying to tighten up on our $14 allotment, he doesn't necessarily want to pay for a treat out of his allowance instead. Last night we splurged with our final two dollars and all shared an ice cream cone for dessert — but had to keep reminding him we were sharing!
Alrik doesn't care yet. That's my summary of his reaction.
What I wish I could buyJust to get this out of my system, since I'm researching but can't pull the trigger, here's what is on my shopping list right now. You don't at all need to read this; I'm just letting it out.
We lost our camera's remote control, so we can't take family photos without a photographer. This comes in handy about twice a year, but it really comes in handy at those times. Without the remote, we've been resorting to (and I swear this is true) taking multiple photos with one adult (playing photographer) missing at a time and then Photoshopping together the best resulting images. It's doable, but a remote would be easier. I know Mikko at one point buried the remote in the sand (this is true), but I do believe we rescued it that time, even though we haven't seen it since the rescue. Where is it? Finding it would cut this item off my to-spend list.
Related to this, our tripod is also broken (it's now a bipod). Maybe I could find one on Freecycle, but I don't suppose I'll bother till we have a remote.
My cellphone is wonky. It's two years old, and it bothers me that electronics don't last past two years without going stupid, but such is modern life. It won't tell me if I have a text or voicemail (two essential elements of a cellphone, yes?), and it keeps force quitting all applications, including its internal ones. It has some error message that makes it believe all its memory and storage are full when that is just not so. Our carrier (T-Mobile) didn't seem all that interested in helping us get it fixed or replaced, so I was considering just buying a new one but stymied by what to get. I'd like to switch our plan to a $30 prepaid one offered through T-Mobile and Walmart (100 minutes talk, unlimited texting & data), but it's confusing exactly how to sign up and whether the coverage is reliable, so I'd been putting it off. It would also mean buying whatever phone I decide on for full price, or finding a decent used one. Now that we're in low-spend month, I think (a) I'll do a factory reset again on my phone, even though it was really annoying, because it did make it start working again temporarily, and (b) campaign harder with T-Mobile to fix or replace the darn thing since I was duped into the handset replacement warranty charge.
Pettipants for summer skirts! I wrote so much about this topic it became its own post. I know — exciting! You'll have to hold out.
All right, that's all for now!
Have you done a no-spend or low-spend month before? Any tips? Want to join us in not spending till September 15?