Cheap Challenge

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This February we invited readers to take the Frugal Month Challenge and commit to what some have called a "no-buy month." My family of three embarked on this cheap challenge and now I'm back to share the results. But first a quick refresher on the rule: Buy nothing extra -- only the bare necessities. For my family, that meant we paid rent and other monthly bills and bought groceries, dog food, and gas, but that's pretty much all the spending we did. Doesn't sound like much fun, does it? Surprisingly it wasn't too bad -- and wait until you see how much we saved.

The Results.

Okay, I'll admit it: I wasn't a huge believer that this cheap challenge would save us much more than $50 by the end of the month. I thought our budget was pretty tight to begin with, but the results have proved otherwise. During the month of February my family ended up saving $472. That's right -- 472 big ones. Here's a look at where we cut expenses:


Both my husband and my son get haircuts monthly, so they went without. Honestly the longer length doesn't look bad on either of them.

Savings: $45.


We normally budget $50 for clothes -- we have a 2-year-old who outgrows things on a regular basis -- but this month we didn't buy anything.

Savings: $50.


For the first time this month we started planning out our meals before we went to the grocery instead of haphazardly buying things we thought we might eat. As a result we actually ate everything we bought each week, so we didn't have to throw away spoiled food.

Savings: $67.


This part of the cheap challenge was tough on all of us. We rent movies often, buy books for our Kindle, purchase apps for our smartphones and iPad, go on costly outings, and indulge our son in new toys. This month we didn't do any of that -- and you know what? We survived.

Savings: $50.


My husband and I went without our once-a-month date night so we didn't have to pay for a sitter.

Savings: $50.

Eating Out:

Not only did we skip date night, we also ate at home instead of relying on carryout, delivery, or dinner out. I realized I had no idea how much we actually spent each month on eating out until I looked back over the past few months.

Savings: $100.

Snow Removal:

Many of you are probably like, "You actually pay for that?" But we just moved to Wisconsin, where the winters are much snowier than where we previously lived. We don't own a snow blower and snow removal was something we thought would be convenient and save us some time. What we didn't anticipate was the cost.

Savings: $110.

How We Adapted.

Now, from this list it probably seems like we didn't have any fun in February. Wrong: It actually wasn't a bad month and none of us felt deprived. For example, I was in sore need of a haircut (I get one only every four months and it had been six) so I found a coupon for a free haircut from a new salon in town and it actually turned out pretty well. We even did a few things we normally wouldn't have done as a way to avoid spending. Instead of paying for activities for my son, we took advantage of free story time at our local library and found a free indoor play space at a local health club. We also went to a train exhibit for free on a Friday rather than paying to go on a Saturday or Sunday. Instead of watching movies, downloading apps, or reading new e-books, we turned on some music and played games as a family. We also invited another couple over for an evening instead of paying a sitter and going out.

Lessons Learned.

Admittedly, we won't be able to keep all this up every month. Eventually everyone will need haircuts and clothes, for instance, and I will need childcare for some reason or another. But this little experiment did point out some places where we can save on a monthly basis. Meal planning really helped us cut down on grocery costs and spurred us to use everything we bought rather than let it go bad. The cheap challenge encouraged us to spend quality family time instead of just throwing on a movie at the end of the day for easy entertainment. It revealed many more activities we can do with our son around town without spending money. Finally, it proved to us that snow removal is a big waste of money, given that it didn't take long for my husband to go out and do the job himself. My son even went with him and spent some time outdoors.

Would we take the Frugal Month Challenge again? Absolutely! What about you? How did your no-buy month turn out?

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