What I Learned from No-Spend February

February is a depressing month. It seems to be that way every year for me. It’s the middle of winter. Even though we now live in North Carolina, and we no longer have a snow-covered backyard, the days are gray and largely rain-filled. Though some shoot push up through pinestraw-filled beds, Spring feels far away.

Our daily routine, which I have a hard time with on good days, feels unbearably heavy. (And as I write these lines I roll my eyes at myself, because, geesh, my life is so so good in the giant cosmical scheme of things. But feelings! They’re there for the feeling, right?).

On top of that, I added a No-Spend Challenge. Here were the rules of the challenge:

The Rules

  1. It started February 4th, because the weekend previous my parents visited and we did a lot of spending to celebrate family birthdays.
  2. It was for me only. Mr. ThreeYear traveled a ton this month and didn’t need or want to participate in the challenge. Same with the little guys.
  3. I spent on: groceries, gas, mortgage, bills.
  4. I did NOT spend money on: eating out, clothes, haircuts, home maintenance, entertainment, or pet treats for Lucy.
  5. Exceptions: I made an exception for a dinner we had planned with our neighbors, but we ended up pushing the dinner to March, so it didn’t apply.
I've never successfully completed a No Spend Month, until now. Here's what I learned from my No Spend February challenge. #nospendfebruary #nospendmonth #nospend #frugalfebruary #nobuymonth #debtfree #financialindependence
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A Year of Good Money: No Spend February

This year, my family is focusing on making better spending decisions. To that end, we’re (I’m) engaging in twelve money experiments designed to help us reexamine our spending patterns and hopefully, get better at them. I’m calling this the Year of Good Money.

Last month, we launched the year off with the “Stop Eating Out” experiment. We pledged to not eat out at all for one month. We’ve always spent several hundred dollars per month on restaurant eating, and that has vaguely bothered me for a while, because I don’t feel like we’re getting as much value from eating out as we’re spending.

In the past five years, our eating out has averaged a whopping $258.40 per month. If that money were going to one amazing meal that we enjoyed with friends, or something of that nature, it would be one thing. But most times, it’s a couple of visits to the Mexican restaurant, a night of take-out, or other underwhelming food choices that we don’t even enjoy that much.

January’s Experiment

So how did we do last month with the experiment? Honestly, incredible! We spent $0 in our Eating Out category. We had one exception when Mr. ThreeYear insisted we go out for sushi, paid for my his birthday money, so we did. I didn’t count it because it was his birthday, and his birthday money.

Other than that, we enjoyed an eating-out-free January, and the best part was, aside from the sushi excursion, no one seemed to miss it.

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A Frugal Reputation Pays

When we lived in New Hampshire, it was pretty standard to be frugal. New England is a region of the country that was settled by English Puritans. A group of Puritans settled the area around Boston back in 1640 in order to escape increasing religious persecution in England.

Putting aside the theological, Puritans believed in living Godly lives both as individuals and as a community. They believed that hard work was the epitome of such a life, and eschewed owning servants or slaves for that reason. They stripped their daily lives of “worldly distractions” such as entertainment and ornate adornments or decorations in the house.

Fast forward four hundred years, and the descendants of that group continue to value some of those core beliefs, like dressing simply and practically (trust me when I tell you that makeup and highlights aren’t big in New England), using their resources wisely (ie being frugal!), and simple entertaining (people don’t have big parties and it isn’t very common to be invited over to your neighbors’ house for dinner).

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How to Save Money When You’re Not a Saver

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more info, please read my disclosure at the bottom of this page).

Raise your hand if you’re a saver. You know, you never spend money. You’re biologically opposed to pulling out your wallet. You’ve got thousands squirreled away in a savings account somewhere, and you’ve built it up almost without thinking about it.

I bet you grew up in a frugal family, right? Did your mom always pack sandwiches when you went on road trips? Did you rarely, if ever, go out to eat? When you did, the whole family ordered waters and split entrees. Am I close? Did you live in a modest ranch your whole life, wear hand-me-downs, and ride in the same car for a decade (that your parents paid cash for)?

I’m not making fun. No way. I’m actually a little jealous. Here’s why: you had the best possible education growing up. Your frugal family taught you how, almost without thinking about it, to spend less than you earn. You feel trepidation–a healthy fear–towards buying stuff, and you instinctively pause before buying a material item, and think about whether you actually need it or not. Continue reading “How to Save Money When You’re Not a Saver”

Life Is Short. So Why Not Buy What You Want?

Life is short. Do not forget about the most important things in our life, living for other people and doing good for them.

-Marcus Aurelius

Life is short. I was reminded of that yesterday when I heard the news that yet another friend’s sister entered Hospice. I’ll spare you the details, because it’s a heart wrenching story. They all are.

Life Is Short--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

It wasn’t that long ago that I hugged my friend Pam, both of us sobbing, as we absorbed the news that her sister had three days to live.

Life is short. Eff it. Buy the car, I hear people say. Sometimes death feels like it’s all around, especially with the advent of social media. I’ve watched more distant friends, their spouses and children, suffer cancer, car accidents, the loss of babies. I’ve watched the intimate details of people I was sort-of close to once upon a time live unimaginable, heart-wrenching things. It’s gotten so bad at times that I’ve had to step away from social media and shut it all out. The worst part of so much heartache is that it reminds you that it could happen to you, that you or one of your people could get sick, get in an accident. Reminds you that you, too, are vencible, as Junior ThreeYear likes to say (“That should be a word, right, Mom?”).

If we don’t ever know how long we’ve got on this beautiful planet, why even bother saving for the future? Thinking about the future? Sacrificing now for a better tomorrow? Continue reading “Life Is Short. So Why Not Buy What You Want?”

How We Survive and Thrive in Summer

Summer looks and feels a little different for most of us, but for those of us with kids, there are some big logistical challenges to overcome. My friend who has works full time starts planning her kids’ camp schedule in February. Another friend who works part time has her husband work remotely on days she goes into the office. I’m home with my kids all summer since I’m a teacher, but I definitely need a plan for fun and sanity.

Read on for how I’ve finally figured out, after many summers, how to include both, without spending a fortune.

Survive and Thrive in Summer--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com

Two years ago, after seven and a half years as a stay-at-home mom, then two years as a part-time marketing manager, I did an abrupt career change and became a part-time ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) teacher at my kids’ elementary school. It’s been such a wonderful way to make a difference, earn money, and see my kids every day.

And the best part of it is that when summer finally arrives, the boys and I are off! We are free to enjoy the summer, go to the beach, and have playdates.

Even though we look forward to summer all year, I’ve learned over the years that ten weeks of expansive free time makes mama and boys less-than-happy. Continue reading “How We Survive and Thrive in Summer”

Outfitting Your Kids

Mr. ThreeYear and I practice selective frugality. That is, we spend our money on the things that matter to us, but minimize spending in areas that don’t matter. One of those areas is clothes. While I haven’t been on a three-year clothing ban like Mrs. Frugalwoods, I minimize costs in this area whenever possible. We also have two kids and live in Winterfell–I mean, New England–so we have growing bodies to clothe through our long, snowy winters.

So how do we outfit our Little ThreeYears each year so that they wear clothes that fit, don’t get made fun of by their peers (yes, this still happens, folks–little kiddos live for the moment they can decimate their classmates and be King of the School for a second), and aren’t wearing capris in the middle of the winter?
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Can You Shop Zero Waste and Be Frugal?

I discovered the Zero Waste movement, like so many others, when I stumbled on Béa Johnson’s blog, Zero Waste Home. Zero Wasters try to purchase and create as little trash as possible. People like Bea, who really originated the movement, get so good at it they can put all of the trash they generate in a year in a mason jar–everything else is refused, reused,reduced, recycled, or rotted, in that order.

The movement is super inspiring. Paying attention to how much trash you purchase and/or generate gets you thinking about how much waste we, as a society, generate. Zero wasters freely admit that for most people, creating no trash is really hard, if not impossible. The idea is to reduce as much as possible the amount of trash you create, to really think about what you purchase and be creative about ways of buying stuff with less packaging.

The biggest place you can make a difference in the amount of waste you make is at the grocery store.

Continue reading “Can You Shop Zero Waste and Be Frugal?”