Saturday, August 18, 2012

Spend-Free Challenges

How much did you spend last month? How much did you really need to spend? Most of us have a tendency to spend without thinking. We spend money on things we don't really want and then we have to work longer hours and don't get to attain our goals.

A great practice that I commonly participate in is Spending Free Months. For the entire month, I don't spend anything except for utilities and rent. No going out to eat. No groceries. No shopping. No gas except to commute if the weather is particularly nasty.

It takes some planning to pull this off. Before the month, I make sure I have food in the house, especially staples such as flour, sugar, cheese and milk. I fill in any obvious gaps (such as no pasta), but don't spend extra to stock up. I make sure I have refilled any prescriptions and filled the gas tank. In general, I make sure my basic needs are met. Also, in preparation, I may put a temporary hold on services such as Netflix, if possible.

Once the month begins, I plan meals around items in my pantry. It helps me to grow as a cook and I try lots of new recipes. I particularly like to use up any items that have been in the pantry for awhile. On a recent month-long challenge, I found a can of garbanzo beans that I had forgotten I had. I made hummus for dipping and veggie sandwiches. Once I roasted a 15 lb turkey that I had bought during the Thanksgiving sales for $7. That made for many sandwiches stir-fry, casseroles, omelets, wraps and a big pot of amazing turkey noodle soup.

I don't spend a penny on entertainment. I go to free concerts or movies in the park and free community theater productions. I go for bike rides and hikes. I have friends over for dinner or tea instead of meeting them out. I also look online for free fun in my city such as festivals and free days at local museums. I check the free local daily for any announcements of giveaways at restaurants (Once I found that a large coffee chain gave away free coffee if you bought a travel mug).

Since I am not spending time in stores, I have lots of time for frugal tasks. I darn socks and replace buttons. I harvest wild foods to supplement my pantry or to stockpile for winter. I work in my garden. I walk or bike to work when the weather is cooperative. I clip coupons and dumpster dive.

I visit the library often. I get lots of free entertainment. I check out a lot of good books and will pick a new skill to learn or subject to explore. I check out movies and documentaries. I check out CDs, and try a few new bands each time. I can also read the newspaper or magazines. Some libraries have free concerts, lectures, movies or classes.

The benefits of these challenges are great. I save around $600 extra each month that I complete a challenge. In the next few months, I am more aware of my spending, and as a result, don't spend as much as I did beforehand. This enables me to save an extra $200 a month for a few months after. I learn what things mean a lot to me that I missed greatly (having coffee at my favorite locally owned coffee house) and which things I didn't miss at all (commuting by car).

By doing a challenge every 4-6 months, I keep my spending in check all year round. This helps me speed up my savings for big goals. When I am not up to a full-month challenge, I may take a week-long or weekend-long challenge. Since my days off are usually my biggest-spending days, taking a two-day challenge has a high yield for the duration.

By doing a challenge every 4-6 months, I keep my spending in check all year round. This helps me speed up my savings for big goals.

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