Our “No Spend” Year

by Guest Author -

no spend year

[Morning! Here’s a fantastic journey from Allysgrandma who took on a No Spend Year this year and is now going on indefinitely… Amazing how well we can adapt (and save!!!) when we actually focus and get a little creative! Congrats, Allysgrandma! It totally changed my life years ago too :) (Though I was much less brave and only shot for a month, haha…]

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We are older (61) and did not handle our money like we should have.

I had to retire early due to chronic pain and my husband is getting very tired and can’t retire for at least 5 years and a few months when he gets full Social Security. We have made every mistake in the book and then some. Never, ever did I consider that I would not be able to work as long as I wanted.

Since “retiring” I try to do as much as I can to take responsibilities off my husband, and while doing kitchen chores I like to watch You Tube videos. Mostly I like watching frugality type videos. I came across Coffee With Kate at some point, and last fall stumbled across her vlog about a No Spend Year.

I’ve done similar challenges in the past with not buying any new clothes or shoes for a full year, but I’ve never done everything at once before. I thought about it for about a minute and decided I would do it. As I remember you make your own rules, but I decided to go completely nuts and not buy ANYTHING we did not need.

The first thing I did was inventory our freezer and pantry, then I decided to do cleaning supplies and personal care products. The second thing I did was talk to my husband, but any discussion about finances makes his eyes glaze over and he becomes grumpy.

I evaluated our spending for 2018 and two things stood out. Our grocery and gift categories seemed ridiculous. I had already done Christmas shopping for 2018, and I realized that my No Spend Year would be over in time for Christmas 2019! I made other gifts, including twin 3 year olds really cute aprons for their birthdays. I made my granddaughters the same thing. I have a ridiculous amount of fabric as I am a quilter. I made baby quilts for a baby shower for former coworkers also. I’m currently working on a quilt for my 3rd son-in-law. The other two already have theirs.

For groceries, the plan was to cut spending down from $6,500 in 2018 to a goal of $5,000 for the year. Vowed to not go into a grocery store without a list. I also placed a 6 month moratorium on meat purchases. My husband has never met a meat sale he did not like. He did 99.9% of all food chores before I stopped working, for 35+ years. We have a very full freezer, and in fact have a whole turkey (20 pounder purchased at Costco after Christmas for $5 – he bought 4!) and several other packages of meat in my daughter’s freezer.

I decided to cut back even further a few months ago when I realized we were still throwing too much food out and now attempting a Zero Waste Kitchen (can’t remember where I got that idea (Editor’s Note: Maybe Bea Johnson?)). We stopped menu planning and started using what needs to be eaten each day. We have a vegetable garden and are still harvesting tomatoes from our greenhouse (I live on the coast of very northern California, and we can’t grow tomatoes or peppers without one… Well they will grow, but not ripen).

For instance, in August I made my daughter a lemon cake with lemon frosting from scratch, and then a chocolate with chocolate frosting for my husband in September. I froze the rest of the two frostings. I pulled them out a few days ago when my 5 year old granddaughter was over and she wanted to bake cupcakes. I used half a box mix and then those frozen frostings.

baking cupcakes

We eat the same thing until it’s gone or we are sick of it. We found a New York cut roast that had been in our freezer way too long. It fed us from Sunday-Thursday. I used it in salads and we had fajitas made out of it along with normal roast and potatoes.

I also have done quite a bit of batch cooking this year. My adult daughters also like me to make them the same! I have 3 dishes I mainly make that were my most used over the years. I also freeze extra soup and chopped onions/bell peppers and anything else I can if I cannot use them before they go bad (Zero Waste Kitchen). I made jams and have frozen 3 gallons of blueberries.

batch cooking

We make our dog’s food. Lila is an older rescue chihuahua. She does not have many teeth and choked on her kibble one day. We started buying her whole food, but it was so crazy expensive we started making it ourselves. She hit the lottery when we adopted her!

rescue chihuahua

I helped a friend move and she gave me a bunch of clothes including my new favorite jeans! She also gave me 107 hardback books! I pick my oldest granddaughter (11) up on Tuesdays and we go to the library and pick out books. Cheap quality time. We also bake when they visit. The oldest has free rein in my sewing room and the youngest (5) is working on her first project – a doll quilt.

grandkids quilting

They also love to work in the garden, harvesting, picking berries (strawberries and blueberries) and cleaning the chicken coop!

grandkids working in garden

For meds I get my high blood pressure medication in 20 mg, but only take 10 mg, so I save money cutting them in two myself.

Our health insurance was going up to just under $2,000 in January of 2018, so we dropped it and joined one of those religious based medical sharing plans.

It’s called Liberty Healthshare and we pay $479 a month. My husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer in June 2018. Liberty Healthshare will pay nothing the first year, $50,000 the second year (which we are in) and regular coverage after the second year ends. We have been able to cover all his costs and his medication is working great!

I divided up succulents and trimmed back geraniums and have a ton of starts. I will use those as gifts. All three of my grown daughters want succulents. I got a bunch of cuttings from my mom’s audiologist’s office (I asked first) and they really grew. We have chickens for eggs. I give the chickens any half bad vegetables and throw the rest in our revolving compost bins.

We started keeping our aluminum and CRV deposit plastic bottles and glass containers instead of just dumping them into the recycling bin that the local garbage company furnishes for pickup.

I have a 5 gallon bucket in my bathtub that I put the removable head in to catch the water until it heats up. I also dump leftover water into my plants or into that bucket. I use it to either fill the toilet tank or to water my plants and flowers.

We have had challenges, however.

When we were notified our power would be off for up to a week this fall, we decided to buy a generator because there was the real possibility of losing the meat in our freezer. We had very little warning, and generators were sold out almost immediately. We were lucky to get our vehicles filled up with gas the night the power went out. We found a generator 3 hours away and my husband drove up and bought it. We used it for 4 hours before the power came back on. A week later it was out again for a few days. It felt like a real luxury having power, and we shared with the family next door – alternating plugging in their refrigerator and freezer with ours.

I purchased a new pair of walking shoes when both of my pairs started coming apart at the soles. I’m old, so comfortable shoes are important!

My No Spend Year is up, but it has become such a way of life that I am continuing indefinitely.

We have paid for the house we are renting for 5 days in Anaheim at Christmas for our 3 daughters, their husbands and our 3 granddaughters. I can’t wait for Disneyland!

The exterior painting of our home was completed yesterday. We also decided to rip up our carpet and refinish the hardwood that was underneath. The floor also was completed yesterday. Those were both hired out and we used our home/car account money.

After we arranged all that to be done, my vehicle stopped recognizing the key. I called my son-in-law, who gifted the car to me after my 2006 Toyota Camry was totaled in a 4 car pile up. It’s currently in the shop. Then our washer stopped draining. The washer was fixed, but the repairman (who has been coming to our house for years) told us to start saving for a new one. It is 10 years old to the month! Luckily the dryer is still working fine.

We have also noticed that our cooktop is emitting a strange smell, so I am calling for the same repairman to come and take a look. I’m a bit concerned that what we thought was a hefty, well funded home/car savings account will be empty before too long!

I’m working to get our spending down even more in 2020. At the same time, I am continuing to spend as much time with my family and support my husband as he continues to run our business.

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So many great great tips here…

Anyone else currently doing a No Spend Year/Month?? One of the best things you can do – especially when you’re just starting out!

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tina November 19, 2019 at 7:39 am

Such an amazing story! I have decided 2020 is going to be my no spend year and my biggest opportunity is meal planning. I try to keep waste down as well, but am no where close to your efforts! I know this is about money, but my favorite part of all this is the relationships you are building with your kids and grandkids in how you spend time and share your interests with them. I think it’s beautiful!

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2 J. Money November 19, 2019 at 9:40 am

Amen to that :)

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3 Allysgrandma November 21, 2019 at 8:41 am

Thank you so much. No one ever told me about the overwhelming love you would have for your children or grandchildren. The oldest granddaughter lived in North and South Carolina for almost 4 years. I was so happy when I found out my son-in-law was being transferred to California instead of Hawaii, I jumped up and down like a little girl at a Justin Bieber concert! Unfortunately he lost so much vision after 3 tours in the Middle East he was medically retired after nearly a decade in the Marine Corps (Stargardt’s Disease). They moved in with us for 16 months a month after my second granddaughter was born. It was hard, but it was solid bonding time with those sweet girls.

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4 Paula November 19, 2019 at 8:35 am

I am currently on a No Spend November and even though I’m only spending on necessities (food, gas, home maintenance) it still feels like I’m spending too much! I think the issue for me is I didn’t input any specific guidelines on the necessities part. After reading this story, I definitely can do better. So I’m going to extend it for the month of December so that I can tighten up. Thanks for posting the story – it has totally inspired me to do better!

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5 J. Money November 19, 2019 at 9:38 am

Awesome!!

Remember it never comes out perfect the first time for anything, so very smart to go another round w/ tweaks:) And the holidays are a great time to watch yourself! Haha…

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6 [email protected] November 21, 2019 at 8:44 am

I feel like if I save one person from our stupidity it is worth it! Now it’s just kind of a hobby! The goal is $14,000 a year to our IRAs!!

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7 Allysgrandma November 21, 2019 at 9:03 am

I am part of a no spend group on Facebook and if I ever feel like a I need a boost, I get on and read/participate. I feel like I can do better too. I’m going to see how much better I can do in 2020! My oldest daughter manages our yearly secret Santa name picking by some app she found. We have a $50 limit. We even have the three granddaughters do the same, even though two of the are sisters!

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8 Josh November 19, 2019 at 8:48 am

Love this! You guys are always pushing me. I’m currently in a no-spend week and I thought that was gonna be hard. I know I got this! Thank you!

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9 J. Money November 19, 2019 at 9:41 am

You can do anything for one week!!

I challenge you to double it ;)

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10 Allysgrandma November 21, 2019 at 8:59 am

I started listening to The Year of Less by Cate Flanders yesterday. Her story is very interesting. I encourage you to read or listen (I buy super cheap audio books from Chirp.com). I’m sure I will finish it today. Start with one or two things. Good luck!

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11 Working Mom November 19, 2019 at 9:49 am

I did a No Spend Month several years ago when we were trying to help a single mom with cancer –it was basically a “spavings” type situation where anything I normally would have bought but went without, I put that amount of money in a jar/account and at the end of the month, gave it to her anonymously. It really helped me to have a strong “why”, like “She needs this more than me.” But if your “Why” is getting out of debt, getting a handle on your finances, saving for a car or house, that can be a strong Why too!

If you’re discouraged thinking you can’t do it that long, start small! Last Sunday we told our kids we wanted to participate in our church’s food pantry challenge (list of 25 items to bring to the Thanksgiving service) and told them in order to do that, we were not going to be buying new groceries for ourselves for those 10 days – we would eat what we had in the house/eat more leftovers, etc. I honestly don’t think they’ll even notice the “sacrifice” but we may just try to continue it until Christmas! It’s a real way for me to have the $ to buy the food pantry groceries, get creative, and be less wasteful.

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12 J. Money November 20, 2019 at 7:25 am

Love it :)

And such a great idea for helping people out too with that spaving/jar idea! Awfully kind of you!!

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13 Allysgrandma November 21, 2019 at 8:49 am

We had two young teenage boys trick or treat and ask for canned food for some food drive. We have always had a full pantry so I got a grocery bag and filled it up. His eyes got wide when he saw the bag. I love being able to do that and wish I could do more, but stupid spending in our earlier years prevents that now. We do donate to St. Jude’s every month. Also we have a very wealthy friend from high school, who responded to me on Facebook, after I said something about getting my husband in a costume, saying he would pay money to see that. I said how much? I got DH to put on the Santa Costume I bought after Christmas last year for 75% off, we took a picture, posted on Facebook tagging friend that sending a check directly to St. Jude’s would be fine. A week later we got a card from St. Jude’s saying a donation was made in DH’s name. We were so happy!

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14 Joe November 19, 2019 at 10:03 am

Great job! It’s never too late to improve your finance. Once you get used to living frugally, it’s not hard at all.

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15 Allysgranda November 21, 2019 at 8:54 am

I was raised by a very frugal mother. We had to practically force her to buy a new bed when she was in her 70s. On a teacher’s salary, in 7 years after she and my father split up, she saved and paid off her home. At 90 she has enough money to live in a nice assisted living facility near my home (that I used to run until my retirement). I think my spending was trying to make my children’s life better than mine as a child. I didn’t have enough socks and by the ages of 2 and 4, both my older daughters had about 30 pairs of socks. I figured that out! I still love socks but I can walk in a store without buying any now!

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16 J. Money November 21, 2019 at 9:58 am

Fascinating!!

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17 Torrie @ To Love and To Learn November 19, 2019 at 2:46 pm

I did a no-spend month a few years ago, and it permanently reset my spending patterns—we still have never gone back to how we used to be before that! Some months now, we’ll still have a less extreme version of a no-spend month (like if we’re cash flowing a big expense), but now, it’s more just habit than anything to only buy stuff we really need.

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18 J. Money November 20, 2019 at 7:27 am

THE BEST when it transforms your habits like that!! And not at all surprising as we’re creatures of habit and need to be *shocked* into paying attention every now and then! Haha…

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19 Kellie @ Big Style Finance November 19, 2019 at 3:41 pm

I remember picking beans and strawberries with my grandmother in their veggie patch! I used to love snapping the beans to get them ready for steaming. It’s a way of life that very few people live these days, isn’t it.

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20 J. Money November 20, 2019 at 7:28 am

Totally… I read something the other month that said our generation would be screwed if we had to live on our own haha… We’ve lost all those old skills we once had! ;)

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21 Allysgrandma November 21, 2019 at 8:31 am

I have those memories too, only it was my grandfather. He had a huge garden every year and also grew concord grapes about an hour north of Sacramento. His 2nd wife made sure I had a jar of jelly to take home with me when I visited each summer. We are so rural a fair amount of people have gardens and there are lots of small business farms with farmer’s markets all over. I hope to give that same love of gardening to the girls.

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22 Jill November 20, 2019 at 10:37 pm

This was a great post. I’m always looking for ways to drastically reduce my budget and increase my savings but I’m tired of reading that I need to cut cable, not go through Starbucks and buy dryer balls. I did those things long ago. The author included many frugal ideas that I will begin adding to my own list. I appreciate and admire those who are completely committed to living a frugal, debt free lifestyle. Please include more articles like this.

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23 J. Money November 21, 2019 at 6:32 am

Glad you found this helpful!

And funny you mention dryer balls – I literally JUST picked some up after reading about them for the first time last week and they just came in the mail :) Had no idea about them until now!

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24 Sheryl November 22, 2019 at 2:30 pm

I am delighted to read of all your NON-DIGITAL activities with granddaughters: library books, baking from scratch, sewing and gardening. Those girls have a wonderful head start on their adult lives.

Thanks for posting this, J!

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25 J. Money November 22, 2019 at 3:12 pm

My pleasure :)

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26 Debra Allen November 22, 2019 at 10:44 pm

I went thrift shopping this past Tuesday spotted a book written about real live personal accounts of Great Depression Age witnesses in U S A 1930s. This lifestyle bought the and others closer as a unit. They had to depend on one another for mere necessities. Amazing!!! This will make them stronger as a family.

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27 J. Money November 25, 2019 at 7:25 am

Totally :) And they got through it without cell phones or the internet too – imagine that!!

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