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7 Lessons Learned while spending (almost) zero

In late September, my husband and I decided to do something crazy – sign up for the 31 Days of Living Well and Spending Zero Challenge from Living Well Spending Less. The purpose of the challenge was to spend as little as possible for 31 days. Seriously.

Now we still paid our bills. And there were some food items we decided on ahead of time that we’d replace when we ran out (namely butter, milk and green veggies). We also had a few pre-planned things before we started the challenge, so we budgeted for those.

But. That was it.

We did so for a few reasons:

  • I’ve felt for a while that our spending has gotten out of control and we needed to reign it back in
  • We’re saving money to take a family trip to Europe next summer (!!!)
  • And it actually sounded kind of fun.

Yes, I’m weird like that.

So how did it go? It actually was fun. And challenging.

My husband and I saw just how much we got used to spending without even thinking about it. We had to get creative more than a few times instead of just running to the store or heading to a restaurant.

We also saw just how little we can actually spend in a month. Our food budget, for instance, will be dramatically reduced from now on because our favorite foods are so cheap – there was a lot of impulse buy stuff in our pantry at the beginning of the month. No wonder our food spending got out of control!

Overall, it was a good experience. Here’s what I learned:

My kids are more aware of our spending than I realized

We found this out right off the bat when we told our kids. Our son quickly asked if we’d still be paying bills. Surprised, we told him we would. Turns out his concern wasn’t about losing our home or electricity.

“Oh good,” he replied. “I was afraid we’d lose Netflix.” Priorities.

Aside from that, the kids were pretty aware of the challenge. If they asked to do something that involved spending money, they quickly remembered and mentioned the challenge when we said we weren’t going to. Because we let them know ahead of time what our goals were, there was little grumbling.

Bartering is wonderful

I’ve known this for quite some time, but was reminded during the challenge when I ran out of coffee. Scary, I know. But I mentioned it on Facebook and offered to barter my hippie goodies in exchange for some good coffee.

Many people expressed interest and offered up coffee beans and I ended up trading a good friend a few bars of soap for coffee he’d just roasted himself. It’s delicious.

We are creative, we just often lack necessity

A lot of people tell me they aren’t creative. I don’t think that’s true, though. From what I’ve seen, we just lack the necessity to be creative. When we have all we need at our finger tips and can run to the store or order online when we run out, there really is no need to be creative unless someone decides to go crazy on Pinterest.

But when it’s Halloween and you’ve once again forgotten all about it until the day of and you can’t run out and buy costume supplies, you figure it out. And when the whole family is brainstorming, it’s even easier!

We ended up with a firefighter, rock star, mummy and hipster.

We ended up with a firefighter, rock star, mummy and hipster.

Setting limits ahead of time is crucial

I still went to coffee shops. Gasp. But as someone who works from home, getting out every once in a while is crucial. And if I’m going to a coffee shop, it’s my opinion that I should support their business if I’m going to use their wi-fi. But I set the limit of once a week.

I’ve set some stricter spending limits for myself now because I saw how well they work when it comes to potential impulse buys.

Hospitality is possible on a super low budget

We had friends over a handful of times and they knew in advance about No Spend Month. They came anyway and graciously accepted our weird assortment of snacks and drinks. We even had a no spend gathering and everyone dug through their cupboards and brought what they had.

Near the end of the month, my friend Dusti came to stay in our bus for five days. Instead of running around doing things that cost money, we finished our latest book on hospitality. We share our tips for entertaining with children, an introvert’s guide to hosting and doing hospitality on a low budget.

I am SO blessed

I feel like I should know that by now, but this month showed me just how blessed I am. We were gifted all sorts of organic food at the beginning of the month. Family and friends found out about the challenge and offered to give us things we ran out of. Visitors saw it as an opportunity to spoil us with treats.

How did I get so lucky?

I want to carry on with these new old habits

The funny thing is, it was pretty easy to fall into the habits required by a no spend month because I used to practice them all the time. However, as money became more plentiful, I became complacent.

I’m going to stick with these habits, though, because I truly enjoyed the creativity, intentionality and thriftiness that came with spending zero.

Have you done a similar challenge? What did you learn?