Save it? Invest it? Spend it on something you've been eying? Take a weekend getaway? Put it toward a debt? Blow it all in one trip to Target?
For the last 2 years, Alex and I have been self-inflicting an "Essentials Only Month" upon our house once a year. We're about to do it for a third time, starting Saturday. Why Saturday? Well, it's the start of a new month (AGAIN - those months, they just keep coming, no?), so why not? The last time we did it, we were in the midst of a few big changes, so although that wasn't even a year ago, I'm ready to do it again. And, the practical reason: February was an expensive month for us, as we were hit with property taxes, car insurance premiums, and some expensive car maintenance.
What the heck is Essentials Only Month? [That sounds lame.]
I drew my inspiration from the fabulous Rachel at SmallNotebook.org. If you've never checked out this blog, you should. Rachel has very no-nonsense solutions to simplify life. As far as I can tell, she coined the term "No Spend Month" several years ago, and has been "hosting" a NSM every year since then. The premise of her No Spend Month - much like my Essentials Only Month - is to cut out the excess spending for 30 days in order to:
- Save money
- Eat what you've got in your fridge and pantry
- Find entertainment in inexpensive or free things
I cannot tell you how much I've actually enjoyed dong this. Mainly because I've found the results to be:
- A cleaner home because A) I'm using up the foods in my fridge and pantry, and B) I have more time to clean/organize since I'm not out spending money
- I'm not shopping for entertainment as I often do, so more projects are completed around the house (how many craft projects have I already bought the stuff for but haven't done? How many pictures still need to be hung in the house we moved into 7 months ago?)
- More fulfilling "date nights" - because we're either cooking together, or doing something we wouldn't necessarily do if we weren't watching every penny
- More appreciation for the things I own - which in turn, means I analyze everything (Why am I still holding onto this sweater? Do I really need to buy this fillintheblank?)
- More money: obviously. There is simply more money left in the bank at the end of it all.
Set a tight budget for all the things in your life that you spend money on day to day. This can include gas, food, entertainment, clothing, toiletries, eating out, lunch break shopping out of boredom, etc. Stick to it by using cash wherever possible.
Typically, I define "Essentials" - things that must be paid, and therefore do not come out of your allotted amount - as the following:
- Bills: mortgage/rent, car payments, utilities, insurance, cell phone, etc.
- Medical costs: co-pays, prescriptions, medical bills
- Home or car repairs/maintenance
- Gifts for other people: your family/friends shouldn't have to suffer :)
The first time we did this, I set a limit of $200. Last year, I budgeted a measly $75 (which didn't include gas), but that was due to a few special circumstances.
This year, I'm setting a budget of $225, which is for all the non-essentials outlined above.
A few things to note:
- Alex and I will both be traveling for work some, so gas usage for work isn't part of the budget (since we get reimbursed)
- Similarly, Alex is out of town for work several weekends this month, and all of his meals are covered when he's away
- I'm flying to Florida to see my family in March, but I already bought my tickets (and, I'm flying for $88 round trip. Pretty hard to beat).
- I typically spend about $60 a week at the grocery store, and about $50 every 2 weeks on gas. These expenses alone add up to about $340, BEFORE eating out, entertainment, clothing, and Target trips.
- I am not "stocking up" before March 1. That would totally defeat the purpose. I'll be shopping for groceries like I normally do this week.
- We have a few gift cards that we got for Christmas that we'll probably use when we're craving a dinner out
To be clear, everyone has to make up their own rules. What works for me might not work for you. There are just 2 adults and 2 furbabies in our house - obviously, a house with a couple of kids in it would need a bigger budget. That said, it's supposed to be a challenge - so if you want to join in on the fun, challenge yourself accordingly!
Once a week, I'll give a report of what we spent and where we spent it. So if you're interested in the spending habits of others, feel free to get up in my business this March. Totally fine.
Anyone want to join in? Let me know - I'd love to hear how your Essentials Only Month is going!