Our Mini No-Spending Challenge

posted by Andrea | 03/30/2018

Five years ago, I shared the self-inflicted no-spending challenge Dave and I did during the month of May — aside from paying our utility bills and buying groceries, we essentially went an entire month without spending anything.

It was a great experience for us, and we learned a lot!

I realize a full-blown no-spending challenge won’t work for every family or every lifestyle, but if you’re up for the challenge, it’s an excellent way to force yourself to think about how you’re spending each month, and to catch yourself if you feel like you’re falling into a trap of over-spending in certain areas.

Since our first no-spending challenge back in 2013, Dave and I have done several smaller no-spending challenges — most recently, a no-spending challenge for fast food and restaurants (which is what I’m sharing more about today!)

Over the past year or 2, I feel like we’ve slowly been spending more and more on pizza, fast food, and car-side-to-go options at local restaurants. Now, to be clear, “spending more and more” on restaurant food for us is most likely still considerably less than the average American — but it was still a lot more than we spent in the first 8-10 years of our marriage.

Add to that the fact that I wanted to finally lose the last of my baby weight, and I figured it might be good timing for a no-spending challenge specifically related to buying fast food, pizza, and restaurant food.

And we actually did it for TWO months! 

We went all the way through February and March without buying any food outside the grocery store… with a couple small exceptions!

  • We got Culver’s one night for Simon’s birthday (we had BOGO coupons and gift cards)
  • We used Nora’s BookIt coupons to get a her free personal pan pizzas from Pizza Hut

Other than that, all meals were made and lunches packed by me.

Honestly, it was harder than I thought it would be! 

I’m almost positive that 3-5 years ago, it would have been SUPER easy for us to go several months without ever paying for pizza, fast food, or restaurant food — but now, it was much more of a challenge.

Apparently we’ve started to rely on and enjoy the convenience of ordering food a little too much — this no-spending challenge helped me realize that!

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I want to reiterate (once again) that I realize a full-blown no-spending challenge probably won’t work for every family… BUT, if you feel like your budget is extra tight in one area, or if you keep over-spending in another area, a mini no-spending challenge might be a way to get back on track.

Even if you only do it for a week or two (not the whole month), I think you will still benefit from this type of challenge.

And if you have to quit part-way through, there’s really no harm — just pick it up again the next month if you want to.

The important things is that you are actually focusing on your spending, paying more careful attention to where your money is going, and thinking through ways you can save more (all good habits to build!)

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With Spring Break starting today, I’ll be happy to enjoy a little fast food (maybe even a restaurant if we feel really daring!) But I’m definitely happy we made it through our mini no-spending challenge!

Have you ever done a no-spending challenge? If so, what did you learn?

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14 comments

  1. Jen Purdin

    04/02/2018

    We leave “eating out” for vacations and make every meal at home. We figure this a good way to save some money. We really don’t miss it much..some days I am lazy and I don’t want to cook but we really do enjoy just making our own food.
    We just got back from spring break vacation and even then we brought cereal and fruit for breakfasts and sandwich stuff for lunch so we only had to eat out for dinner.
    It was actually fun to stop at rest areas and eat our sandwich lunch. 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes, we usually make our own breakfasts and lunches on vacation, and just go out to eat for dinner. It’s a lot cheaper (and A LOT fewer calories) that way!

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  2. Jenny

    03/31/2018

    Recently, on a vacation, I paid attention and found that even for just my husband and I, lunches were around $20 and dinners about $40. That’s over $400 a WEEK for us to eat in restaurants, and some were fast food. Plus, we took people out a few times and that added up to even more. No way could we do that very often! I guess since he always paid with a credit card it wasn’t as noticeable in the past, but this was an eye-opener. I think I will try to mitigate the damage, somewhat, by trying very hard to cook at home every day in April- except for a few things we already have planned. Thanks for the heads-up!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yeah, eating out can really add up — especially on a vacation when you don’t have coupons or know the local deals.

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  3. Luba @ Healthy with Luba

    03/30/2018

    Andrea, what a great idea! I have been getting pre-made food at the grocery store when I visit, and it’s been increasing our grocery bill (and having an unwanted effect on my health). Last time I got some, I thought about how much meat I could buy for that same price.

    My goal is to cook more for each meal so that we can have leftovers!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes, the premade meals can be very expensive!

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  4. Debbie

    03/30/2018

    It’s amazing how I also started relying on getting food at restaurants or grocery store deli because we either have no more pre-made food left for the week or I’m tired of eating the same thing over and over. I want to start doing a mini no-spending challenge this April on parking at the downtown garage. If I miss my $35/month shuttle bus I end up parking at the garage for $7/day. It adds up, and I’m realizing I’m missing the shuttle bus more and more because our auto gas expense every month is always over budget. I need to discipline myself to leave home earlier so I’ll be able to catch the shuttle.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yeah, fast food is an easy crutch to fall back on over and over again. There were many times I thought “let’s just pick up a pizza or get fast food” but I’m glad I stuck to my plan and resisted!

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  5. Michelle

    03/30/2018

    Perfect timing…thanks for the inspiration!! We will try this over the next month or two and use the money saved towards a visit with family over the summer. It just takes planning and thinking ahead through what meals work best on which days but totally doable!

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  6. Jen @ Bookish Family

    03/30/2018

    We’ve done many over the years since about 2007. Usually in February, because it is the shortest month 🙂

    It was a great way to realize that if we delayed buying something, we usually learned how to do without it permanently. Now, I hardly ever buy something non-consumable without waiting 1-2 MONTHS! And I’m much more likely to ask to borrow something, like a tool or a book that I would really only need for a very short time.

    I also learned how to have fun dates and good times with friends for free. This has served me so well as a homeschooling family living on one income while paying down debt.

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  7. Carol

    03/30/2018

    I tried “no buy July” 2 years ago and repeated it again last year. It was really eye opening! I enjoy shopping and so will go “to look” even when I don’t have a particular item I need to buy. I was working on decluttering items in my home, but it has made me more mindful of what new items I buy to bring into my home. I have to know what I am going to do with it!

    Around that time my youngest son, who had moved home after college, moved out on his own. This past July I realized I was still buying and stocking up on cleaning products, toiletries and food like I always had, even though it’s now just my husband and I at home and I had quite the stockpile. Now I don’t buy those things every time they go on sale and I have a coupon as I had in the past.

    I plan to do it agin this year, since it seems to keep me mindful of what I am buying and whether or not I need it or have a use for it. I recently cut back to working part time and plan to retire within 5 years so this year it’s time to reevaluate my clothing purchases. Realizing I don’t need to buy as much professional clothes and should start planning to wear out a lot of what I have before I retire!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yeah, I think my mom could relate to you –always stocking up on those toiletries even though all her kids are moved out 🙂 She donated a lot of hers to organizations that fill bags for foster care children.

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  8. Jaime

    03/30/2018

    This is really impressive! We live in Ohio and find ourselves going out to eat more during the winter as a way to escape cabin fever. To make it through February alone without looking for an “escape” is something to be proud of!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — it really wasn’t that bad once we got going. We managed to get out for other reason than just eating so we weren’t cooped up all month long!

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