So, back a couple of years ago, we started budgeting to zero every month, and also creating "funds" that we contributed to every month. We basically had a "fund" for everything from taxes to our cat to toiletries to household expenses to kid clothes. For us, it just worked well to toss $5 or $20 into the fund, and some months we used it all, and other months we rolled it over so that it was there in case we saw a really good deal on chicken breasts or Costco had Ziplock bags on sale or Becca suddenly grew out of all of her clothes. The money was just there, and it was less stressful for us. We were excited about it, and it was like a game to roll over as much as we could each month.
But somewhere along the line, we grew a little complacent. We'd stick $100 in the household fund, and I'd find myself thinking, "Great, I have $100 to spend!", and wouldn't you know it, I'd always find something to spend it on. This was happening with both of us to some degree nearly every other category--we'd spend because the money was there, not because we were buying something that we needed or even really wanted.
So, as we've been talking about our financial goals for the year (we also just recently attended a financial literacy workshop at church that was AWESOME), we decided that we wanted to do a no-spend month. Emily @ Imperfect also did one last month and was also a big influence in our decision! Now, I will mention that the financial guy at church works with consumer credit counseling and he talked a lot about the dangers of complete self-deprivation in a budget, and as a whole, Justin and I agree that complete deprivation isn't sustainable long-term, but for us, one month is a short enough time that we feel it gives us an opportunity to change our focus without just getting so frustrated that we throw our hands up and just say I DON'T CARE, I WANT A BURGER AND A NEW PAIR OF SHOES!
For us, a no-spend month means:
-We pay all of our regular bills/expenses, house, utilities, internet, gas, student loans, etc.
-We continue to give, both in terms of tithing and to the fund that we use for family birthdays and other special occasions.
-We have a grocery budget for the month, and it's set for the same amount that we'd like to spend every month--$300. We find that by sticking to a grocery budget that allows us to eat well, we miss eating out less. I feel like $300 a month for a family of four is still a pretty reasonable grocery budget, and that restricting it too much wouldn't be wise for us.
- We have allocated a small amount ($25) for eating out. The reality is that sometimes we get stuck at church or out and about longer than anticipated, and it's not fair to make our kiddos wait to eat until we finally get home. For us, if we're not realistic, it won't work. This gives us a little bit of flexibility while also encouraging us to plan ahead (i.e. if we think there's a chance we might get stuck at church, maybe pack a sandwich).
-We also have a few major expenses that will be paid this month--new tires on the car, and also replacing all the light fixtures in our house. Those are both safety issues that cannot wait, and will be paid for. Doing the no-spending month will also help us pay for those things without having to put them on credit--hooray! (And hopefully once we get back on track with the "fund" system, it won't be an issue if things like that come up in the future).
For us, a no-spend month does not mean:
-That we expect friends or family to take us out to dinner or buy us groceries. If friends ask us out to lunch/dinner, it's my goal to be able to say, "We're trying to cut down on eating out this month--I've got XYZ going in the crock pot, want to come over to our house instead?"
-That we severely restrict our gas and grocery budgets.
-That necessary, unanticipated purchases will not occur (i.e. if Justin happened to rip every pair of his work pants, he'd still buy new pants even though it's a no-spend month).
-That we're going to be making lists of everything that we're going to buy come March 1st.
-That we won't give to others--if I have a friend having a bad day, I may pick her up coffee. We'll just adjust accordingly from groceries or some other category.
-It also won't necessarily mean that we'll put a ton in savings this month, due to the major expenses that I listed above.
Since there's a good likelihood we'll get our tax return back this month, I'll also mention that we have made the decision to depart from our usual tax-return plan--usually, we pay Lizzy's school tuition with our tax return and have a little extra to buy things that we've been putting off (usually underwear, clothes, and shoes for all plus a fun dinner or two out). It's nice to have tuition paid in full, not to worry about it, and still have some fun, and usually it is a really good balance for us. This year, we're applying all of our tax return to the balance of our car loan. This will mean paying off our car by June. And then even when monthly payments for tuition for Lizzy begin in August, they'll be about $80 less per month than our car payment was...and we felt like no car payments and more money in our pockets each month was a pretty good thing.
So, that's our plan so far! I'm actually pretty excited...but it IS only February 3rd ;)