About Me,  budgeting,  Family Life,  motherhood

31 Days of Spending Zero: Day 13

Surprise, surprise: I attempted some variant of a 30 day challenge and didn’t share about it upfront so as to increase the odds of success via accountability (never), and instead just plunged ahead with it.

And guess what?

It’s working. (Slams knuckles vigorously on wooden desk.)

I decided to join up with Ruth Soukup’s Living Well Spending Zero challenge because 1. we’d like to buy a house in the current decade and 2. do you know how much easier it is to avoid eating processed foods when Chicfila and Starbucks are both definitively off the list for an entire month? A lot, it turns out.

So we’re getting skinny and rich all at once, and it’s so easy!

Just kidding, it’s really, really hard.

And I’m still not skinny because breast-feeding + the hearty supply of Adam’s crunchy peanut butter I’m subsisting off of in the pantry.

It has been an enormous wakeup call to the reality of how much of our lives – of my life as a mom – revolves around spending money on things. Kind of nauseating, as a matter of fact.

No plans for the morning? Okay, let’s walk to Starbucks.

Kids misbehaving and bedtime still miles off? Let’s just pop into Target (yes, I caved, we’re back on the Bullseye as of Luke’s arrival. What can I say?) and see what kind of crap I can load into the cart along with the “necessities” of yet another pack of diapers and some paper plates. I’d wager around $80 worth.

Didn’t plan anything for dinner? We’ll just run to the grocery store for some key missing ingredient and…$40 later.

You get the idea.

Also, my kids, due to my careful grooming over their entire lifespans, have come to expect – nay, to demand – that whenever we enter a store, I buy them something. And I don’t even buy toys when it’s not Christmas time. Oh, except for those trips to Saver’s when I pick up another digger for the backyard dirt pit because “it’s only $1.99,” or those moments of weakness in the dreaded Dollar Spot (Avengers pencil cases! Because educational!), or those ubiquitous kid’s meal toys that seem to breed and multiply in the basement like vermin.


I’ve come face to face with the stark reality over these past two weeks that we are a family firmly entrenched in the same consumer mindset that grips our culture at large. Sure, we were consuming far smaller luxuries than trips to Cabo or weekends at Disney, but the net result was the same: an insatiable appetite for more, and mine, and next.

Also, I’ve come to rely too heavily myself on little treats to “make it through the day” when in fact all I was doing was, for example, Tuesday. Congratulations self, you did Tuesday! Here’s a $4 latte and an impulse buy on your Kindle. Don’t worry, you spent less than $10.

Except it is worrisome when it happens multiple times per week, both from a character-development and spiritual perspective and from a financial perspective. It was no wonder we were busting our food budget every month because “I’ll just mark this down as groceries” was happening over and over again and those little 10 or 12 dollar dalliances really add up.

So far what I’m seeing in our austerity measures for October is, strangely, a whole lot of increase. 

Increased gratitude, increased creativity, increased will power (turns out saying no to shopping and eating out translates nicely into saying no to wasting time/ignoring household duties/skipping prayer/mindless snacking), and increased satisfaction.

The last one is crazy.

If you’d told me I’d become a happier, friendlier SAHM if you took away my Chicfila drive through and my morning Pike’s Place roast, I’d have snarled at you. Perhaps ferociously. Because those are my “deserved” treats. Those were my mom tools, my answers to “I’m bored, I’m lonely, I’m tired.”

But they were never enough.

So here’s to the next 2 weeks of no spending, including (gulp) Halloween, and to not falling flat on my face now that I’ve thrown it out into cyberspace.

May what we have been given be more than enough, and may my children come to deeply enjoy the timeless combination of rice and beans and the creativity necessary to create fake spiderweb decorations out of dental floss and shredded trash bags.

Requisite Fall photo shoot at the “pumpkin patch” (aka trip to Whole Foods where we spent no money and fondled their gourds and probably endeared ourselves to the staff. Probably.)


    • Jenny Uebbing

      Good question! According to the challenge it’s any spending outside the bare necessities (so rent or mortgage, gas, basic produce and milk to supplement the food that’s already in your pantry, and utilities). She also points out that if you have a planned expense during the month (a car repair you budgeted for or a birthday party) that it’s fine to go ahead with it. It’s all the unplanned extras and the non-necessities that get cut out.

      • Katie

        Great post, thanks! I have been needing to do something like this but I think I need really strict rules. I’m good at justifying everything. One question as far as grocery shopping goes—did you have a big shopping trip or anything right before the 31 days? I am really bad about running in for milk and walking out $50 later.
        Also just want to say i love this blog. I’ve been reading for a while but I don’t think I’ve ever commented 🙂 I (maybe mistakenly) told my husband about your no target rule and I told him I couldn’t do it, but we decided now I have to specifically explain why I need to go and exactly what I am buying- nothing more. We will see how it works!

        • Jenny Uebbing

          I kind of did … I bought like 4 cases of La Croix and a wholesale amount of toilet paper at Costco. But other than that I resolved to shop the pantry and the freezer like she recommends. And I’ve been shopping once a week for eggs, milk, and produce. So far so good. We’ve had one or two unexpected things pop up like gripe water for the baby and shaving cream for my husband, but other than that it’s totally working! And Target abstinence is HARD. but it’s easier for me to abstain from Target than to moderate, it turns out. 7 months of nothing and then boom, baby time and booooooy did the budget reflect it when I let big red back into my heart. Sigh.

          • Holly

            Rob’s been using hair conditioner in lieu of shaving cream since before I met him. Y’all are weak.

            JK. Good job. We HAD to do this last fall/winter and it was awful and hard, but we learned a lot. The sad thing is, we don’t apply what we learned as well as we should!!!

        • Mish

          I want to try this! One question: what if your pantry and freezer are pretty empty to begin with? We only buy what we need for the week on our Saturday grocery runs. Maybe I could squeeze 2 dinners out of the odds n ends in our pantry and freezer. To start the challenge, would we just do one big shopping trip for the month instead?

          • Jenny Uebbing

            yeah I totally think that would work! We had a pretty bare pantry too, but a bit in the freezer. I did hit Costco a little harder than usual at the end of September to stock up on meat and cheese and toilet paper, and then I’ve been going once a week to the grocery store to replenish milk, bread, eggs and produce. Good luck!

  • christine

    Thanks for being so honest about this. I always say to my husband that I feel stomach pit guilt because he spends all his time at work making the money, and I spend all my time taking care of household and the kids and spending it! It’s the nature of the game but it’s a responsibility!

  • Hannah

    Excellent. Our current way of life as well. And it is so true that it becomes a real boost in willpower – I have actually cleaned my floors more than once in the last month. We also told the kids that for Halloween they have to use things around the house to make their costumes… we’ll see how creative they can get 🙂

  • Kathleen

    Thank you! I use everyone of those excuses as a “reward” for myself as a SAHM. It’s just an excuse to get out, but at what expense. Not just money expenses, but wasting creativity time with my kids, as well as trying to fill the need for community rather than with the Lord! Thanks for the eye-opener.

  • Kati

    I love your honesty on many topics, especially including household finance. Here is something that works for us, for what it’s worth: when we see things in stores that the kids want and ask for, I say, I’ll put it on your Christmas (or birthday) list! And then I do actually whip out my phone and put it in an ongoing “gift idea” page I have in my memo app, or I take a picture of it. Including small things like the 2.99 vehicles. It is satisfying to them in a weird way that I (overthinking it) think might be related to the universally inherent need to be seen and heard. If I actually take the picture or actually write it down, they are validated. And I didn’t buy it.

  • Patty

    Love your honesty Jeny! Its always what keeps me coming back to your blog:)
    I cannot remember do you and your hubby follow/are into Dave Ramsey? I know you’ve on saving money before here but for the life of me dont remember what you plan your family uses…

  • Amanda Teixeira

    Well done! What a great discipline to practice! You’ve got this…two more weeks! I am sure the entire experiment will change budgeting and spending form here going forward. Would love to hear about how it affects you in the future.

  • Amanda

    I have these same justifications. And they probably add up to more than I realize financially (my biggest is fountain Dr Pepper, which is $1, but still adds up a couple times a week) but also from a self control perspective. I can’t imagine St Therese saying she needs her little vice, you know? Once a month we do a “no spend week” but it no longer includes the weekend, because 7 days is too much? Not being able to grab lunch was no fun, but the bigger part was not being able to complete any projects. The house is one constant project. Anyway, good job! Amazon is my weakness. No car seats needed.

    • Dixie

      Amanda, would the “blow money” technique work for you here? Plan into your budget a small amount of money for you and your husband each to spend absolutely as you wish — on a new book, on Dr. Peppers, or whatever. No guilt, no accountability! But the flip side is, you agree that you will not use “regular” money for that book or that soda. It gives you wiggle room while making it harder for you to justify going overboard. We have been doing it for our whole marriage, and it is great. Most of our marriage we have done either $30 or $40 per month each, in cash. It also allows you to really treat each other to small things like an ice cream or a magazine.

  • Cami

    Evie looks so big next to those pumpkins! Back to target, huh? I don’t go as often as I used to but the holidays are coming and I do love to “window shop” the decor. Way to go on the no-spending-stravaganza! We are doing okay in this dept. Hubby is more tempted than me to jump into the drive throughs. But I could use some advice on how to cut down on tv watching with a 3 and 4 year old. When baby sister came we got pretty out of control with Netflix.

    • Caroline

      Very funny, very true. Target got its name right, we are the target and all those little things are the arrows aiming right at us! But it’s such fun getting struck with all those arrows!

      I can never leave there without picking up a few “extras” I certainly don’t need. That Dollar Spot? More like $10 Dollar Spot I’d you have more than two kids, as many of the things are $3 dollars! And do I really need that wire basket to hold things in?

      I put things in my cart as I go along, but chances are I will be taking out a good portion of those impulse buys at the register…or somewhere along the store… Sorry to leave a bunch of items on top of the soda ice box… The kids (and I) usually forget we even wanted them once we leave the store.

  • Diana

    I love/hate doing no-spend months! We’ve been giving up frivolous spending for Lent (basically what you described above in the comments…exceptions made for godchild bday presents or emergency car repairs, etc.) which is always hard but also rewarding. I need to do another this fall. It helps me break my personal consumerism cycle! Thanks for the motivation!

  • Judith

    I try to do this during Lent (kind of). For the past few years I have given up “shopping,” which I originally arbitrarily decided meant “anything that wasn’t on my pre-prepared list of grocery items and staples.” That sort of worked, but I still ended up doing a lot of “window shopping” for myself at Target and the Lands’ End catalog and making mental and physical lists for what I could/would buy come Easter Monday. Hmmm…kind of a loophole, no? I also missed out on being able to buy some great clearanced kids’ clothes that my boys could legitimately use the next season, which would have saved us money over buying them in season. So last year I tweaked it and re-defined it as no shopping (window or otherwise) for myself (except true necessities that run out. I’m not going to forego deodorant.) Seemed to be a better exercise for me.

    But this does take it to a whole new, impressive level. And no Chick-Fil-A drive thru?? Eeek! 🙂

  • Ashley Anderson

    We just had a budget chat two weekends ago. I burst into tears. I sobbed because I had really let some things slide. And that’s kind’ve weird. My husband and I are pretty awesome with money actually in contrast to other things we have long chats about. But the truth about money is that it is something that always takes maintenance though even if you feel like you’ve crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s a million times.

    I totally related when you said about treating yourself with whatever and realizing that it can become a common occurrence…. I can definitely fall into that. I’ll think “hey, Paul’s traveled five weeks in a row. Most women would lose it. Therefore, this coffee is totally warranted…” Not healthy logic. Especially on repeat.

    The irony of being a SAHM for me is that I have loads of time to go out and shop or spend money doing little things that add up, but I have to be more careful now with my money than when I was working. When I was working we actually had money pile up (no lie) & I’m not talking about the kind of money you pile up in savings. We just didn’t have time to spend it–to pick out pillows or paint or what not. It’s true what my mom always said, “Working women have the money to do fun stuff but not enough time to spend it, and stay at home moms have the time to do fun stuff but not enough money to do it.” I think she had a better way of working that and of course it’s a generalization. I realize lots and lots and lots of women don’t fall into one of those clear cut camps but DANG! It sure has been true for my experience in both working and staying at home!

  • Ashley

    Oh – seriously on point topic for me right now. Thanks for the solidarity!
    I finally just this month went to all cash, and it’s amazing how much more painful it is spending cash. When you have a finite amount of it in your wallet, and you know there’s no more until next month, the $4 latte suddenly isn’t looking as appealing!

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