February is over!

1 03 2009

We made it. It has been 28 days since my family and I set out to spend no money during the month of February. We never went hungry, we were never bored and we did not run out of toilet paper. In the end, we parted with a few dollars, but not many.

So how did we do it?

The key to our survival was our freezer and pantry stockpiles, which were jam packed full of food on Feb 1 from my regular routine of savvy shopping. Matching coupons with store sales, I frequently pay pennies on the dollar, which allows me to stock the kitchen, laundry room and bathrooms for that proverbial rainy day.

Pantry on Feb. 1

Pantry on Feb. 1

Pantry on March 1

Pantry on March 1

Just for the fun of it, I took before and after photos of my two freezers, my pantry and what I call my “satellite pantry” so you could get an idea of the amount of  food we went through and how much we have left. In the freezer, though it is the most empty I have ever seen it, we still have plenty of items to build a meal around, including 3/4 of a pound of scallops, two pounds of ground beef, two packages of stew meat, a quarter of a bag of shrimp, two chicken breasts and several bags of frozen veggies.

My pantries are similarly low in inventory, but we still have an abundance of oatmeal, side dishes such as noodles, stuffing and rice, snack foods such as pretzels, not to mention a two-year supply of cake and brownie mixes, enough mustard to carry us through the year and a generous supply of  cold cereals, pasta and spaghetti sauce.

My stockpile of health and beauty supplies looks no different today (March 1) than it did Feb. 1. I think we finished up two tubes of toothpaste and a bottle of shampoo or two but that’s about it. Oops. Except for toilet paper. Our mountain of TP is considerably diminished but we still have 26 four-packs so there’s no real need to rush out and purchase TP.

Main freezer on Feb. 1

Main freezer on Feb. 1

Main freezer on March 1

Main freezer on March 1

Another key to our survival was our mind-set. Since we’re a pretty frugal family already, we don’t make that many discretionary purchases. We borrow books from the library rather than buy them from the bookstore, my husband takes a coffee to go in the morning and packs his lunch, we watch $1 redbox DVDs instead of going to the movies. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

And since our “rainy day” was self-imposed, it was fairly easy to resist the impulse purchases:  the easy-way-out fast-food lunch or dinner, the diet soda from the drive-thru or the occasional treat for my 10-year-old. (I also found that since I wasn’t out and about shopping, I had very little opportunity for these impulse purchases.)

But as the month wore on, I wondered how I would feel about the restrictions if they were mandatory. If  my husband, the sole working parent in our household, had been laid off, how would I feel about not spending a dime more than necessary? I have a feeling that the thrill of the challenge would give way to feelings of deprivation.

My biggest temptation of the month came early when my favorite grocery, Harris Teeter, offered a triple-coupon promotion. Think coffee-addict kicking her daily Starbucks habit. It was tough. 

Secondary freezer on Feb. 1

Secondary freezer on Feb. 1

When I asked my husband and daughter their thoughts on the No-Spend Challenge, both initally had no complaints. My daughter said it was fun. When I pressed them on it, my husband recalled being annoyed when I asked him to delay his purchase of crab grass prevention until March.

My daughter, after I reminded her, said she would have really liked a slice of pizza at her school’s pizza and bingo night last week. Lest you think I’m too cruel, I did feed her macaroni and cheese (her favorite) before we went.

So, in the end, how much actual money did we spend?

Secondary freezer on March 1

Secondary freezer on March 1

In the waning days of the challenge, I had to put $5 worth of gasoline in my tank after an unexpected trip to Chapel Hill. Since I usually fill up every nine or 10 days, I never dreamed I could stretch my tank nearly four weeks. While we did walk to piano lessons in the neighborhood and carpool to a few events, mostly I saved on gas by simply staying at home. Going forward, I’m going to have to work on consolidating my bargain shopping trips.

The final tally of actual dollars spent:

*$1 for parking at Duke Hospital so my husband could visit a sick colleague

*$15 to Girl Scouts for an April camping trip

*$17.50 for previously ordered Girl Scout cookies

*$50 for deposit on Girl Scout summer camp

*the aforementioned $5 for gas (two days before the end of the month)

Satellite pantry on Feb. 1

Satellite pantry on Feb. 1

Now for the fine print. In my original post, I said we would pay all our bills, my husband would fill his tank with gas to get to work and back and we would use our gift cards. I rationalized that since I earned the gift cards through couponing, rebates and other promotions, we could draw on this resource guilt-free.

We did, in fact, end up using my gift cards, but sparingly.

To review, we treated ourselves on Valentine’s Day to a Panera bread dinner, I bought bagels for a neighbor grieving the loss of a loved one, I bought a few fruits and vegetables, yeast to make my own bread and a gallon of milk a week — all with gift cards from my stash.

Satellite pantry on March 1

Satellite pantry on March 1

I also treated myself to one bagel and one sub sandwich while out with friends, courtesy of my gift cards. (I brought my own cream cheese for the bagel and my own beverage for both meals.)

How much money did we save in our moratorium on spending?

For certain, we saved $200 on food for February, based on our $50-a-week grocery budget. Based on my usual gasoline consumption, I estimate we saved another $100 in gas. And I’m going to guess we saved another $50 to $100 over the course of the month on miscellaneous purchases. I’m not counting the purchases we simply delayed, such as the lawn fertilizer, which we will purchase in March. I have already deposited the extra savings in our emergency fund.

Not only did we save a little extra money this month, but we saved time as well. The hours I usually spend researching grocery deals and shopping, I spent on things I rarely find time to do.  I baked bread (with not so great results), worked on a sewing project, read, scrapbooked and best of all, cleared several areas of my house of clutter. It was a huge fringe benefit of the No-Spend Challenge.

What happens now? A lot of people asked if I would be running to the grocery store on March 1. I can tell you in total honesty that I did not. After church today, we picked up my husband’s free birthday meal to go at Moe’s Southwest Grill. My daughter and I ate leftovers. Afterward, I scrapbooked with friends while making crock-pot barbecue for dinner. I planned on hitting Harris Teeter tomorrow, March 2, but with snow headed this way, I’m not so sure. We could make it another day without spending. No doubt about it.

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8 03 2009
Frugal fashion: Recycled juice pouch purses « Free to be Frugal

[…] fashion: Recycled juice pouch purses 8 03 2009 During February, our month of no spending, I took advantage of my free time to get behind the peddle of a sewing machine. It’s not the […]

3 04 2009
My April challenge: Cashing in on clutter « Free to be Frugal

[…] of not spending any money, as we did in February, I’m going to use April to challenge myself to “cash in on my […]

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