A few weeks ago, one of my favorite bloggers – Melissa at Mom’s Plans – challenged her readers to try a no-spend week with her. The goal was simple: to get through seven consecutive days without spending a single penny. I’m a competitive person by nature, and there’s no one I like to beat more than my own lofty expectations. Game on, self, game on.
My Plan of Attack
Being the Type A personality that I am, I didn’t jump headlong into Melissa’s challenge without first preparing myself. As I read Melissa’s post on a Sunday, I figured I’d have to wait until the start of the next week to start the challenge. After talking about it with my husband, though, we both decided that our no-spend week didn’t have to start on a Sunday; instead, we decided to start it on a Tuesday, giving me a full 36 hours to prepare.
I started by filling up both of our cars with gas on Monday – as my tank was on empty, it cost me $60.98 (seriously, why do gas prices keep going up?); it cost me another $21.12 to fill up my husband’s mostly-full tank.
Next, I headed to the grocery store. This wasn’t much of a change for me, since I normally do my grocery shopping on Mondays anyway. I bought a little more than usual – especially when it came to milk, fruit, and bread, three staples which tend to disappear in my house faster than a sinner in Church on Easter – and went over my weekly grocery budget of $100, spending $138.35. Still, I was satisfied I would be able to make it through the week thanks to the overage.
Finally, I sent in the tuition payments for my daughter’s first month of preschool and dance classes a few days early. The bills were due on September 1st, and since I wanted to play by the rules of the no-spend week, I didn’t want those payments to get in the way of my goal.
The Week Gets Off To A Solid Start
My family started our no-spend week strongly. We spent absolutely nothing on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday morning. Then, my husband walked in the door Thursday evening, ready to celebrate the Labor Day weekend… with a 6-pack of beer in his hand. This is the conversation that ensued:
Me: What on earth is that?
Him (looking confused): Um, it’s beer. See? (Holds up the beer for me to get a closer look.)
Me: I can see what it is. Did someone give it to you? Did you confiscate it from some underage kid? (He’s a sheriff’s deputy, and while he’s never kept alcohol from an underage buyer, he’s told me stories of fellow law enforcement officers who have.)
Him (still looking confused): No, I bought it.
I just stare at him. He still looks confused. I stare back, but harder, while slowly nodding my head. He finally gets it.
Him: Crap, I forgot we were doing that don’t spend any money this week thing. Sorry babers.
And that was that. His $8.03 purchase officially brought my family’s no-spend week to an end. Trying to salvage the not-quite-world record setting attempt, I decided that since I – the official acceptee of the challenge – had not spent the money, that I would push on. I issued my husband a harshly-worded reminder not to inadvertently spend any more money until Tuesday, and put the $8.03 behind us.
**Note: My husband would like to say that, in his decidedly male opinion, I did not “put the $8.03 behind us.” He claims that I brought it up no fewer than half a dozen times in the days since then, always, he says, with a hint of accusation in my voice.**
Friends Get In The Way
After Thursday’s snafu, I approached Labor Day weekend with levity. Our pantry was stocked with food, and our plan was to spend the holiday weekend poolside with friends.
Then it rained. All weekend long.
Our plan to spend the weekend at the pool, using our membership, which we’d long paid for, went out the window. Instead, we found ourselves scrambling for alternative plans to celebrate the last unofficial weekend of summer in style.
Saturday was easy enough – with the start of the college football season, we hunkered down in our living room to watch the games. Several of our friends came over… and they brought food. Now, this might not seem like an obstruction to our no-spend week, but take note of this – it’ll be important later on. (That is what we call foreshadowing, folks.)
The next day, one of those friends – in fact, the ones who had brought over not only a case of beer, but also a really amazing red velvet cake to share the day before – invited us to their house for an impromptu cookout and pool tournament. And, most importantly, they asked us to bring something to share.
That was the problem – by this point, our pantry was starting to look a little sparse. We didn’t have anything on hand that was easily shareable; there wasn’t anything we could whip up, either. I’d bought literally enough food to get us – and only us – to Tuesday morning; there wasn’t any extra. We faced a choice – either we could decline the invitation because of a self-challenge to our weekly budget, or we could give up and head to the grocery store.
And The Week Ends…
…with us giving up on our budget challenge and buying a watermelon, a cantaloupe, and a bottle of wine at the grocery store to share with our friends. It just didn’t seem right to turn down our friends’ offer, especially after they’d been so generous when we’d had them over the day before.
Now, I know what some of you hard-core budgeting folks are saying as you shake your heads: that saying “no” is a large part of what budgeting is about. I get that – sometimes you have to learn to decline an invitation or say no to something you really want to do when it negatively impacts your finances. But for us, this challenge wasn’t about salvaging our finances; our finances are in pretty good shape these days, considering we have two young kids, I work freelance (an unstable money source at best), and my husband is a law enforcement officer (never a high-earning field). This was a fun challenge – no more, no less. There weren’t dire implications if we failed.
And so fail we did. I must admit, had the get together not been a total blast, I probably would have kicked myself for the $19.77 we spent at the grocery store on the food we brought to share. But, as luck would have it, our whole family had a fabulous time with our friends (and their friends), and we didn’t regret the purchase. It was, to be cliche, money well spent.
The Final Stats
All in all, we spent $27.80 during our no-spend week. Really, that’s not bad for us. Even if you factor in the $38.35 overage from my last-minute trip to the grocery store the previous week, it still comes out to $66.15 – still bringing us in $33.85 below our usual weekly grocery budget. On top of that, I didn’t stop at Starbucks or give in to my kids’ requests for frozen yogurt at the new shop down the street; nor did we eat out. In all, I bet we saved between $75 and $100 by keeping a close eye on our expenditures.
Was it fun? No, not really. I swear, I craved my iced chai tea lattes more during those seven days than I normally do, but I got through it. My kids whined a little bit more when I said no to their demands for fro-yo, but they’ll get over that too (eventually; the kids have memories like elephants, I swear).
And what did I learn? Well, my one take away from this little no-spend adventure is this: don’t schedule a budget challenge over a holiday weekend.
Reader, have you ever attempted a no-spend week? How did it turn out for you?