A couple of times a year, we’ll get to a point where it seems multiple irregular expenses hit all at once. Ouch. Even if we’ve budgeted for these expenses, shelling out that much dough in a short timeframe can be a little unnerving. Other times, we’ll go through a quarter where it seems like our spending has been creeping up and up and up. When things like this happen, it’s time for a Frugal Month in our household.
Hopefully whatever budget/system you’re running allows for some fun or personal expenditures. Few have it in them to get by on only the essentials (read: food, housing, utilities) for an extended period of time for the sake of getting out of debt or saving. Frankly, I don’t think it would be healthy for your psyche or for any relationship you might be in. J & J have talked about splurging and giving yourself personal spending, and I completely agree with their takes. That being said, getting back to just those spending basics from time to time is a good way to right the ship and get back on track as needed.
Frugal months encourage us to focus on just the basics by placing some additional artificial constraints on ourselves. For a limited time, we purposefully cut out the fluff and reduce our personal spending. Here are some examples of things we try to eliminate or reduce:
- Eating out
- Going to the movies
- Clothing/Fun/Discretionary purchases
- Buying music or apps
- Costco runs
- Purchasing decor/items for the home
Some may argue that we are just kicking-the-can-down-the-road. We’re eventually going to go to Costco and load up on paper towels, so why put it off until next month? Or we’ve already talked about and decided that we are getting a new area rug for the house, so why wait?
I agree that there will be purchases that are merely delayed, but I think there are purchases that we think will be delayed but really never end up happening: Some cute clothes for the kids? A tool I want to get for the latest project around the house? A new mirror for that empty wall upstairs? I think we’d be surprised at how often we move on from a wanted item by waiting just a few weeks before purchasing.
For those items that you are 110% sure you are going to be purchasing anyways, I still think there is psychological value in temporarily holding off. Tightening the screws across the board is easier and likely more effective than cherry picking (and probably rationalizing) here and there.
Then there are those expenditures that can be avoided altogether. Even though we didn’t go to the movie theater this month, it doesn’t mean we’ll have to make up for it next month; the same goes for eating out and babysitting. By going without, you can re-purpose those dollars to other areas or budget categories that might need catching up or help yourself build a bigger, better buffer going forward. Does that mean we can’t go out to eat at all during the month? Not necessarily (though that would be great). We just try to do it fewer times than we usually would or spend less than what we normally budget for.
Finally, the fact that it only lasts for a month makes it very manageable. Just like that new diet that lasts from January to February each year, we all can do anything for a month! Because it’s short-term, my wife and I don’t feel so bad reminding each other about it when we’re making plans. Could you imagine if I was constantly telling my wife, “Remember, it’s a frugal year, so we shouldn’t….” That wouldn’t last long at all. Seeing that light at the end of the tunnel and realizing it isn’t so far helps us to stay motivated.
So how often do we do this? It seems that it ends up being about twice a year. If we manage to squeeze in a third month, that’s even better, but I think going to once a quarter would be too much for us. That means that two to three times a year, we’re left with an extra $200+ to work with. We don’t really plan out in advance which months will be frugal months. It’s more that we call an audible when we feel like spending is getting a little out of whack. I could certainly see where some might like to plan them out a little more, maybe around months of larger expected expenditures like the holidays or a vacation.
Have you ever tried a frugal month or something similar? What could you cut out during a short-term, financial fast?
I love this! I was recently laid off from my day job, so I’ve temporarily been using my bare bones budget. It requires eliminating many of the things you’ve mentioned. Eating out is a big one for me. It’s been a great exercise over the past three weeks. I’ll probably make permanent changes for the better.
I’m sure you’ll be back on your feet in no time. “I’ll probably make permanent changes for the better.” This is exactly one reason why we do it. These periodic reality checks help us realize where we might have let some spending creep out of hand.
Awesome post! Really motivational. I’m publishing a financial post today and would love to include a link to this article if that’s okay. It ties in perfectly to part of my content, and I’d love to lead more people to this fun blog!
This article is great! is not easy…but once you do it the first time, you can do it again. My frugal month consists in cutting food (learning to manage portions taught me that I do not need quantities, but quality). Also a little cut on gasoline usage, making errands, exercising in the neighborhood, visiting my mother on the same way back home and cover the priorities within the “perimeter” helps me to stretch the gas tank.
Food is such a large part of most everyone’s budget, so I’m not surprised that you’ve found savings there. Nice to hear about that extra efficiency with your driving and routes.
We do something similar to this pretty regularly – we call it our “no-spend” week. Besides saving money, it’s a great way for me to get creative in the kitchen and use up some of those “pantry staples” that have been sitting in the pantry for months. We now have a new baby, so the “no-spend” has to be a little less rigid (if we were to run out of diapers, or needed to purchase medication, of course we still buy that).
I like the short-term adaptation, and the excuse to get to those seldom used pantry items. Have you ever tried doing it for two-weeks in a row?
Not on purpose! We got unexpectedly snowed in a couple of years ago and ended up going for about 10 days. Good thing we like garbanzo beans haha! (We’ve since become better “preppers” during the winter!)
Yeah, we have the same type of weeks or months but we usually find that they’ll get offset naturally by other times when things are less costly, and things tend to even out.
I envy your natural balance. I naturally/subconsciously always seem to be pushing the envelope. That’s why I need to make things a little more official with my frugal months.
This month has been our frugal month and I am so impressed at how much we have saved. And we still had a couple of little luxuries along the way.
Learning that you don’t have to go without everything fun to save some coin is a super valuable lesson. I’m glad it went so well for you.
This is a really good idea. I’ve noticed around here November is really tight, thanks to property taxes being due + holidays + multiple birthdays. For us, the easiest item to cut back on is eating out as often.
Outside of the end of year holiday season April has a lot of birthdays and tends to be a little tighter. I try my best to do at least one frugal month in February or March each year.
We are going through a frugal month of our own trying to hit a big savings goal and pay for several large once a year expenses. It happens every September at our house. Sometimes it is nice just to get back to the bare minimum and be reminded that we can live with a lot less expenses than we allow ourselves.
Bingo! Tough to say it better. Ever tried doing it more than once a year?