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:
- It started February 4th, because the weekend previous my parents visited and we did a lot of spending to celebrate family birthdays.
- 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.
- I spent on: groceries, gas, mortgage, bills.
- I did NOT spend money on: eating out, clothes, haircuts, home maintenance, entertainment, or pet treats for Lucy.
- 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 think that, overall, I did well. While I certainly dreamed about stopping by coffee shops, ordering sushi, or flying to Cancun (several times), I told myself no a lot. It helped when I thought of not spending as a new, albeit temporary, identity. “I am having a no-spend February so I can’t do that right now.” I even had a friend who reads the blog comment, “Oh, right, you can’t do X because you’re having a no-spend February.” And my sister invited us over for dinner, rather than suggesting we eat out.
Because the challenge only applied to me, we did end up spending more than I anticipated for the boys and Mr. ThreeYear. And I did have some fails.
During the second weekend in February, after Mr. ThreeYear had been gone to Brazil for what felt like an eternity, rather than just a week, I took the boys to the library for some frugal fun. While we were there I checked out a book on creating beautiful and cool lunches for your kids.
In all of the pictures of this book, the lunchboxes were the Bento box style, where lunchboxes were divided up into individual sections for olives, cherry tomatoes, and bite-sized sandwich portions.
For some reason, I decided that I needed to go to Target and purchase these Bento boxes for the boys’ lunchboxes. I thought, “it can be part of my grocery budget.”
I don’t know why I didn’t stop myself, telling myself this was something that could wait for later. It obviously wasn’t urgent. I bought the Bento boxes, which cost around $18, and some other groceries we needed, then drove home.
Afterwards, I thought, “Why did I buy this stuff? How unnecessary!”
When I analyzed that spending decision later, I realized that I had a similar thought pattern to many other times when I buy unnecessary things. I thought something along the lines of, “when I buy these Bento boxes, they will fix the difficulty I have with making the kids lunch in the morning and my life will be better. This is the beginning of my new, improved life.”
I often buy new products or experiences that I think will fix some problem or fill some need, but the truth is, they won’t. The Bento boxes are cool, but we still struggle with making lunches.
The second fail was much bigger. Mr. ThreeYear sent me a link to a sectional sofa that someone was selling on Facebook Marketplace. We’d been looking for a sofa for our bonus room for awhile, and this one was a good deal. Plus, the woman selling it lived 7 minutes away from me.
I contacted her, and went to look at the sofa. I loved it and agreed to buy it. Honestly, No Spend February didn’t even enter my head.
So, we now own this beautiful new-to-us sectional that we bought for $250. So much for No Spend February.
BUT, aside from those fails, I’d say the experiment was overall, a success. Here’s why.
Because No Spend February was my challenge, I got to see first-hand how much my kids and husband spend on stuff, and how much is my spending.
I thought I spent a lot more than they do. But I don’t. However, I do buy a lot of unnecessary stuff.
Aside from our birthday celebration lunch, we didn’t eat out this month. I wanted to, a lot. I felt myself imagining the delicious meals we could have at different restaurants. But then I made some unique and delicious food at home, and that was enough.
I’ve really seen, over the last two months, how much eating out costs us, and why we need to limit it to really special meals. I’m willing to do that, and I think Mr. ThreeYear will get on board too, as long as I leave enough room in the budget for the occasional splurge.
Again and again, I thought about things I could (“needed to”) buy:
- running shoes (okay, this one I honestly do)
- new shoes for Little ThreeYear (ditto)
- paint for the kitchen cabinets
- patio furniture
- a new rug to go under the new sectional
- a new runner for the front door
- a coffee table for the front room
- a haircut for Lucy
- a frame for a painting we have
- new rugs for the upstairs bathroom
- flights to Mexico City
- a new tennis racquet
The majority of things I buy or dream about buying are for our house. One of the things I’ve reflected on this month is how I want to have everything completed in our house, right now. But that’s not realistic.
I am heavily influenced by others’ spending. I have a harder time saying “no” to pressures to spend. I know this and February was a good month for reflecting on it. Obviously the place I need to work on my spending is my “home maintenance” category.
At the same time that I didn’t buy anything (okay, except those two things I mentioned above), the other members of my family did buy stuff. Here’s what they bought (outside of their normal activities, etc.):
- Mr. ThreeYear: extra food and wine for a cookout ($86.44)
- Mr. ThreeYear: gum ($3.00 and $13.96 for a big pack from Amazon)
- Mr. ThreeYear: cable ties ($7.99, Amazon)
- Mr. ThreeYear: speaker wire cable ($10.39, Amazon)
- Mr. ThreeYear: laminated world map for his office ($17.89, Amazon)
- Junior ThreeYear: books at the book fair ($21.42, Scholastic)
- Junior ThreeYear: Nintendo game ($3.71, Nintendo)
- Little ThreeYear: Valentines for his class ($6.93, Food Lion)
- Mr. ThreeYear: sound bar for TV upstairs ($60, FB Marketplace)
All of those little purchases added up (to a total of $231.73–still less than the new sectional).
Making It a Treat
One of the things the No Spend February reminded me was that when something is unusual or rare, it becomes special.
If eating out becomes a treat, then I look forward to it and savor each part of the experience. I’m also more likely to spend time picking an amazing restaurant and turning it into a date night or inviting friends, like we’re doing in March.
I’ve been waiting so long to buy myself new running shoes that when I finally get a pair, I’m going to cherish them (I already feel that way about my tennis shoes).
End of the Month Woes
Another thing I saw with heightened clarity this month was that we have spending patterns that make budgeting difficult.
In the beginning of the month, we tend to spend a lot. We’re happy that we have a new budget to spend, and we can “finally” buy those items we’ve been waiting for.
Then, at the end of the month, for some reason, we tend to have a burst of spending, as well. This month it was all of those things Mr. ThreeYear bought from Amazon. Unfortunately, at the end of the month, we’re usually robbing Peter to pay Paul, and we’ve run out of money in most budgeting categories, so we’re “stealing” from our future selves, in the name of our sinking funds.
This repeats itself over and over again, and it isn’t fun. I am going to brainstorm ways to work through this problem–maybe it’s setting aside some money for end-of-the-month purchases. Not sure how to trick myself there.
We didn’t save as much as I’d hoped with No Spend February but we did save! If I can continue to ruthlessly prioritize and tell myself no for meaningless purchases, we will have a successful financial year. Otherwise, we’ll overspend. And that’s not cool.
Getting used to a larger mortgage and no income from me this year has meant we have less money available to save. While I’m planning to find a job for next year, we’ll still have higher expenses with our mortgage for as long as we live here.
That means we’ll need to prioritize our spending, and stick to our budget each month. It means we’ll need to space out home improvement projects. While it continues to be hard for us spenders, we’ve gotten better over the years and this No Spend February helped to remind me that we don’t need as much as we think we do to be happy.
The birds are chirping, trees are blooming everywhere, and it looks like Spring is coming to North Carolina. Enjoy your weekend!