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How to save money quickly

Photo illustration by Alexandra Floersch / The Forum

FARGO — No matter how much money we make or spend, we never seem to have enough. Keeping up with life's unexpected twists and turns requires a fat wallet and some serious self-control. Just when we feel caught up on bills, the next turn of events throws us into panic.

That's what led Alicia Kellebrew and I to take action. As a financial counselor at The Village Financial Resource Center, Alicia offers people advice about their finances but, this time, decided to be a guinea pig herself. Starting on March 1, we will be embarking on the "buy nothing month challenge."

Essentially, the buy nothing month challenge is exactly what it sounds like. Aside from some fixed expenses we have to pay and variable expenses (like groceries) that keep us alive, we plan to limit our spending entirely.

Sounds crazy, right?

Motivation and inspiration

The motivation for attempting this seemingly impossible challenge is different for everyone.

For me, it's a way to test my self-control. Can I stick to the challenge? In the end, I know that I'll have money saved to pay for car insurance due in April and two trips I have on the calendar for June. I also like to think this experience will be eye-opening in that I might see really how fortunate I am.

"That's part of the goal here, too," Kellebrew says. "You're going to develop an appreciation for what you have and what you have the ability to do when you can't do it anymore. I think we all take those things for granted."

After a medical emergency in December, Kellebrew is in a reactive state, knowing bills will soon be arriving. On a more exciting note, she is also newly engaged and hopes to save money for wedding expenses and a down payment for a home after marriage.

The other part of her motivation comes from the desire to fight lifestyle inflation. "I used to live just fine on way less income," she says. "I want to work back towards that habit and remember what is truly important."

Process, rules and guidelines

Here's how our buy nothing month challenge works:

Step 1: Set goals and address challenges. What goal are you looking to achieve during your buying nothing month? What challenges might you face? A financial assessment worksheet is available at alexandrafloersch.areavoices.com; the document will help you address your motivations and prepare for challenges rather than react to them.

Step 2: Create a budget. List fixed expenses that must be paid (i.e rent or mortgage, loans, internet, cable, cell phone, car payment, utilities, etc.). Determine variable expenses (i.e. groceries, gas, medication, etc.) and set a cap for each each based on a 6-month average.

Lastly, determine any exceptions and allot an amount to your "cushion" fund, if desired. "We want to try to make it pinch because that's the point, but without pinching too far," Kellebrew says. (Kellebrew and I both set our cushion to $50 in order to account for unforeseen expenses.)

Step 3: Plan your month. Brainstorm ideas for free events, entertainment and activities. Look at pantry, fridge and cupboards for what food you already have to plan meals ahead of time so you can purchase them ahead of time.

Step 4: Track expenses. When the challenge starts, use a tracking worksheet each day to track every dollar spent (linked below).

Step 5: Find accountability partner. Ask someone you trust to join you in the challenge or, at the very least, keep you accountable throughout the month. Check in with your accountability partner once a week. Using the weekly accountability worksheet (linked below), discuss feedback, money spent, greatest accomplishments, creative ways you had fun, biggest challenges and additional concerns.

Step 6: Reflect. At the end of the month, revisit your weekly accountability worksheet. Reflect on challenges, successes and the ways you had fun without money. Would you do it again? What would you do differently? Who else might benefit from this challenge?

Step 7: Add up savings. Here's the best part: go back and total the amount of money you saved throughout the month. (Income - fixed and variable expenses - cushion = savings.) Bask in your glory and feel the hop in your step as the weight of debt is lifted from your shoulders.

Expectations and anticipated challenges

Of course, we don't expect this challenge to be easy. I suspect I'll get pushback from friends and family who hope I will make an exception for "just one night out." As an overly social human, I know avoiding social activities that cost money (like celebrating St. Patrick's Day) will be the hardest part. But I also know that managing my time will be of utmost importance because grabbing takeout on the way home won't be an option.

During the challenge, Kellebrew wants to develop the habit of planning meals, but realizes implementing the habit will be tricky at first. She will have to fight the temptation to buy extra because of a sale or available coupons and instead buy just what she absolutely needs. Knowing it's easy to spend money when bored, Kellebrew plans to keep busy by finding cost-effective ways to have fun.

Though this challenge seems impossible at first, by setting a plan, we are confident we have much to learn in this journey (and so will you!). If nothing else, we'll have a pocket full of money in exchange for self-control. I'll make that trade any day.

If you'd like to accept the buy nothing month challenge (and pad your wallet), visit alexandrafloersch.areavoices.com for links to worksheets, including a financial assessment, expense tracking and weekly accountability.

Alexandra Floersch

Alexandra Floersch has worked for Forum Communications since February 2015. She is a content producer and photographer who enjoys writing about finance, fashion and home.

(701) 451-5730
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