Why did we do it?
The goal this month was threefold. The most immediate goal was to find funds to pay a one-time fee for my husband's online classes, which will get him a professional certification he's pursuing so that he may change careers. Starting these classes was a big step of faith, not knowing if there will even be jobs in the industry when he finishes them. He's got a job for now, and so do I, so we're able to wait it out, but we've started to move into the direction we're hoping to go, and that's exciting.
The second reason we tried this challenge was to find out how low we could go. What do we actually need to live? If we had no income, what funds would we need to meet our basic responsibilities? What does our lifestyle cost? You'd think this would be an easy number to come to, just counting up all our bills, but I've found it's hard to pinpoint what is a Need and a Want without actually living it out. Come to find out, in a normal month, we spend 50-100% more than the baseline Needs number we came up with. That was sobering.
The third reason was to make significant progress on our emergency fund, which had been languishing at around the 2-3 month mark while we had been trying to build it up to 6 months of expenses. As I already said, we used this month to more clearly define what "expenses" are.
What did we learn?
We learned that it is possible to eat at home for all our meals. We learned that there's tons of free things to do in the community, if we take the time to look. We learned that we keep a lot of food on hand. We learned that borrowing rather than buying or renting is a valid option, and friends and family are more than willing to offer. We learned that some people "get" what we were doing, and others totally didn't. We appreciated friends that would give us a no-spend option for hanging out, and found others always wanted to do something that involved spending money. We learned that hospitality is inexpensive and oh-so-valuable. We learned we can get by with no cash in our pocket for an entire month, and have self-control over using plastic.
What was the result?
- Almost $900 in classes and materials paid for
- $0 spend in our budget categories of Home Improvement, Miscellaneous, and Allowances
- $33 spent on groceries
- $10 spent at restaurants (due to forgotten-at-home lunches)
- $70 spent at birthday dinners at restaurants
- Had our lowest-spending month (since last November when I started tracking it), by almost $1,000
- Added $2,000 to our emergency fund since mid-July
What permanent changes will we make?
My husband has said he wants to stop eating out as much as we were before August. This means more cooking for me, but I agree, what we were doing before was excessive. I learned to use leftovers and plan for leftovers better this month than ever before, and I want to continue to learn to do that. I want to keep looking for free activities to do in the community, because not only is it easy on the pocketbook, it connects us more deeply to our neighbors. Because we're on the cash system, I think sometimes we spend money just because it's there, out of the bank and in our wallet. The cash system keeps us accountable to not spending more than our budgeted amount, but I think we can do better in underspending- maybe leaving some of the cash at home rather than carrying it all in our wallets.
We definitely agreed we'll be trying this experiment again someday- maybe as an annual event? It was motivating to jump-start our savings goals, and eye-opening to see some of our bad habits. Quitting cold-turkey wasn't easy, but it was necessary!
Go check out others trying this challenge in August- Kacie and Frugal Confessions and Karen, who had a No-Spend summer!