We did it. As of tomorrow morning, we will officially be in February. And with nothing but staying in out of the snow planned for today, I feel confident saying that we will come in under my projected $500 cash spending for January. That included 31 days of groceries (while I did not run out on December 31st and stock up, this was made easier by using up pretty much everything we had just sitting in the pantry and freezer the first week and a half), taking meals to several friends who had really hard Januarys, 4 birthday gifts purchased, diapers for Miss Nell, and even a get-together here and there at our house with some friends. Not included in the $500 were our monthly bills, tithing, or gas for our cars. As I was driving into our neighborhood yesterday behind a UPS truck after picking T up at school, I realized the UPS guy (Fedex, etc) has not been to our house once in January. In this day and age of Amazon Prime, that’s just not normal for us. After his nearly daily stops in December, he must have appreciate the reprieve.
I accomplished a lot in January since I wasn’t walking the aisles of Target looking to kill time on cold and dreary days. I got quotes for our big exterior projects for this Spring (and was pleasantly surprised to realize I overestimated the costs of some big projects). I got our household pretty well organized to add a 5th human to in a month – I have a very small list of things we need to buy to either get Nell’s room up and running once we move most of her furniture to the baby’s room or a few things that we’ll need for the McNugget (I’ll post on the plans there, soon).
But mostly, it was a really good exercise for us to take a good, hard look at how and why we spend money. Towards the end of the month, I’ll be honest. I just wanted to go out for a burger and fries. And as Nell’s leggings and tops became increasingly short on her, it took all of my will power to hold off on the cute Spring toddler clothes ads that were flowing into my inbox – so I unsubscribed from all those stores and that, in and of itself, has been liberating. But I digress. No spending January was exactly what we needed to remind us of how our spending is a choice – we are not any less happy at the end of January than we would have been if we’d bought everything and done everything our hearts desired this month. And that is eye-opening.
But our no spending month also helped us highlight some areas of our budget that weren’t working for us and we have decided to make some budgeting changes for 2014. It turns out that after 5 years, the envelope budget might not be the best thing for us. We did a much better job with a lump sum of money that we had to spend for our entire household budget for the month than we had recently been doing with categories. I think a lot of this is just mindset – once we were used to the categories and the amount we could spend in them, we spent the money because it was there and we were allowed to. We’ve always justified the categories saying that they roll over and become savings vehicles – and for certain areas, that’s true. We will continue to put $75 a month into Casco’s envelope – it gradually adds up to help offset vet expenses when they come up and covers the pricey, limited-ingredient dog food that our first born’s allergies require. But the other categories we are going to take a long, hard look at and decide if we’d be better off living on less every month, and then occasionally spending a little bit in certain areas. Like, for example, when Nell outgrows her entire wardrobe in a span of 5 days.
The most important thing we took from this month was that things come up, but when we approach our budget thoughtfully, we can usually balance the unexpected expenses that come up. I mentioned that B’s car needed to be repaired on the 4th day of our no spending month and his last semester of tuition was due before the end of January, too. We were so annoyed, but as we talked about it, we realized that’s how we should always handle months when those things come up – cutting back in other areas so we can absorb the unexpected costs into our budget rather than just putting less into savings that month.
So B and I have to sit down and figure out how our budget looks for February – and the rest of the year. Beyond determining a plan of action for our budget, my financial goal for February is to look into cutting our costs for our recurring monthly bills – if it weren’t for sports, we could probably cut cable altogether and go with Hulu or Netflix…but that’s just not going to happen in this football/golf/baseball/hockey/basketball/you name it obsessed household. But, we’re feeling energized knowing how much we now know that we can save monthly when we choose to forego unnecessary items. So, that’s how January is wrapping up for us. I’ve heard from a couple people who are contemplating a no spending month in the near future, and I would love to hear how it goes for you! B and I are still discussing doing this more than once a year, but I think it will definitely be something we stick to as a spending diet after the holidays in January for a few years to come!