Our Family’s No-Spend Challenge

November 9, 2009 by Amy Clark

Are you up to the No-Spend Challenge?

Recently, my family held a No-Spend Challenge. Our goal was to spend nothing at all beyond monthly bills, groceries and gas.

Why do this?  Well, I’m always taking a closer look at my family’s spending habits so I can find ways to cut back. And I saw the No-Spend Challenge as way to help my family save even more cash.

I’m proud to say that we did it! At month’s end, we had spent less than $10 on a few random items.

During the Challenge, I had the chance to revisit some old tips and work on money habits that I’ve struggled with.

By sharing our experience, my hope is that you can tailor a No-Spend Challenge to fit your family’s life. For some, it may be a week of packing lunches and taking coffee. Or it may be eating dinner at home seven nights a week. Or just staying out of the mall! No matter how you approach the challenge, you’ll feel great about meeting a goal – and amazed that it’s not that difficult!

Here’s how we rose to the challenge — and what our family learned.

Make your own household cleansers

I saved a lot by easily making my own household cleansers using vinegar, baking soda and dish soap. Doing this was good for our budget and the planet because many brand-name cleansers have chemicals that aren’t eco-friendly. Besides, I just don’t like having those chemicals in the house.

Watch my video on how to make green cleaners >

Don’t use disposables

It was hard, but we tried not to use disposable paper products. And yes, we were all really challenged during cleanup time!  We used cloth napkins and microfiber towels to keep from using paper whenever we needed to wipe something up, which actually saved us money and cut down on trash.

Make a mealtime plan

Planning ahead for meals was challenging because our family schedule doesn’t always mesh with regular mealtimes. But the weekly meal plan we used during the Challenge helped us set aside quality family time, and spend less on eating out.

Keep it fun

Instead of eating out, we also made mealtime fun by mixing it up. Sometimes I served breakfast for dinner, replacing one dinner a week with a breakfast food like an egg casserole.  It was one way we were able to get creative and stretch meals across the week.

Planning ahead took a little extra effort. And it was switching around little things, like meals, during the week that really helped keep us on track during the Challenge.

Use a budget tool

Speaking of staying on track, having (and following) a budget helped us, too. I used a price book as a tool to keep track of everyday item prices at the stores where I always shop.  You can download the same price book I used – it’s on my site at MomAdvice.com. Each week, I downloaded my spending history and reviewed what I paid and what still needed to be budgeted, so I knew where my money was at all times.

I tracked my spending with these online budget tools:

  • Mint.com
  • PearBudget.com
  • Quicken

Be prepared before you grocery shop

Going to the grocery store fully prepared was hard — but it really paid off. I challenged myself to take cash and a calculator with me so I could stay on top of purchases and keep a running total before I got to the checkout line.

I learned a big lesson about my grocery shopping habits — can you say “impulse purchase?” I was reminded that if we take a little extra time to create a weekly menu plan, we can really keep from buying unnecessary stuff. It was tough but I was able to do it.  And it really would’ve been tough without that weekly menu plan.

Know when to splurge

Now, splurging wasn’t part of my No-Spend Challenge, but I’m not against a splurge once in a while. My advice is to be wise about when and what you splurge on. Because spending a little extra on the things that matter most to your family, like a weekend trip or a better camera, is important.

In the end, the Challenge helped me think more about my urge to splurge and how my family can save money.  And I hope by sharing my family’s No-Spend story, your family can save money, too!

What do you struggle with when trying to save money? What money-saving tips do you have to share?

Amy Clark

Amy Allen Clark has been the driving force behind MomAdvice since 2004. In addition to running a successful community for women and running after her two kids, she has appeared on The Early Show, and in Parents magazine, Redbook, Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food, MSN Money and The New York Times.