I can see it. The end. It’s almost here. We only have one week left of no-spend month, where we vowed to only spend $400 for all of November on everything we need, including groceries, entertainment, and gas.
But it’s a big week, with Thanksgiving and all of the usually-oh-so-tempting Black Friday deals that I have to ignore because they aren’t in the budget for me this year, no matter how cheap.
The silver lining is that the hubby has stopped pouting and has embraced our new super-frugal lifestyle, especially the cooking at home part. He now says “that the best thing about this challenge is that there is always something yummy in the fridge.”
Now that we are deeper into the experiment, we have seen the benefits and started to experience the drawbacks as well.
Let’s start with the positive.
1. The house is cleaner. If you can’t go out, you may as well vacuum. I also lost two pounds, which means for the first time ever our bank account is getting fat and I’m not.
2. Before the challenge, we saved about 10 percent of our take-home pay every two weeks. But we managed to put 50 percent of our pay into savings this week. That was thrilling.
3. The hubby and I also had the first real talk about budgeting — ever — in our 7-year marriage. He said, “You know, we should try to live on $600 a month, including bills, every month.”
I almost had a heart attack. First, because I don’t want to live on $600 a month, and second because we finally talked about money. We did work it out, we have decided to try to live on less all the time. Not quite as little as $600 a month, but still substantially less than before and a number we both agree on.
Now for the bad
1. I had a dream last night that I got to eat out. I’ve tried my best to replicate meals from our favorite restaurants, but it’s not always possible. I miss good ethnic food. And for the first time, we had to turn down a dinner and drinks invitation to our favorite restaurant. It just wasn’t in the budget. It made our library DVDs and popcorn date seem less thrilling that night.
2. I made a little headway on part two of the challenge as well, which was to try to lower our monthly bills. I only managed to shave $14 off of what we pay every month, by getting both my home phone and Internet with the same company. It isn’t as much as I had hoped, but at least it’s something.
Here is what we’ve spent:
During week two, we spent $118. About $90 of that went to groceries, which included most of the Thanksgiving dinner we are cooking for the family. Thank god for 29 cents a pound turkey sales. $19 went to gas, and $10 to odds and ends like a new inner tube for our jogging stroller.
During week three, we spent $86. Most of it, $55, went to groceries. We also spent another $18 on gas to fill up our other car.
How have we managed for this long on so little? If you’d told me two months ago we’d be able to live on $400, I would have thought you were crazy. But by breaking our bad habits — like eating out, all the time — and being a little more conscientious, we’ve been able to reduce our expenses significantly.
So, if you are sitting at home wondering how we’ve done it, or planning your own low-spend month, here are a few tips:
1. Meat is a luxury when you are living on a shoestring. Most of our meals have been vegetarian, more out of necessity than desire. If we do eat meat, it’s only what is on sale.
2. We’ve been borrowing DVDs from friends and from the library. And, we’ve been lighting a lot of fires and putting our feet up on the coffee table while drinking some of those bottles of wine we’ve had in the cupboard. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
3. So far, we’ve filled up the gas tank of each of our two cars once. To save fuel, we use the small, compact car for any trip longer than 5 miles, and we run multiple errands on one trip — no more running out just to get one thing at the grocery store.
4. I also recommend spending as little as possible early in the month, so that you don’t run out of money at the end of the month. Our first week was our lowest-spend, at $46. We haven’t been able to go that low since, because the pantry runs dry and the cars eventually run out of gas.
Beyond that, it’s been just a matter of staying out of spending’s way. No window shopping, no mouse finger dangerously close to clicking on the Amazon.com deal of the day.