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Published April 05, 2012, 11:30 PM

Richards: Challenging myself to spend a little less for an entire month

Five years ago, my husband and I embarked on a month-long venture I dubbed “Spend No Money May.”

By: Sherri Richards, INFORUM

Five years ago, my husband and I embarked on a month-long venture I dubbed “Spend No Money May.”

I’d been inspired by MSN financial columnist Liz Weston, and discussion boards she moderated. There, I read about others who had taken on the challenge to spend as little as possible for one month.

For some, it was a statement against our consumption-based lifestyles. I saw it as a good way to stash some extra cash.

I made a list of exceptions (gift cards we’d gotten for Christmas but hadn’t used yet were fair game) and ideas, such as borrowing books and movies from the library.

I planned out a month worth of meals on a calendar, and stocked up on groceries and toilet paper on April 30. We resisted eating out and skipped my usual mocha during afternoon coffee breaks for the entire month.

We didn’t buy new clothes, music or go to the movies. We tried to drive less.

Of course we spent some money during the month, on perishable foods like milk and bread, on gasoline to get to work and back. But there were lots of places we were able to cut.

There were also hurdles. I hadn’t accounted for Mother’s Day gifts. The solution? We gave our moms rocks. They were crystals we’d dug up at a mine during a vacation to Arkansas the prior month.

A co-worker told me she thought we were crazy for taking on the month-long challenge. She wanted to scatter restaurant receipts around our house.

She also told me at the end of the month, she’d spent less, too, because the two of us hadn’t tempted each other into spontaneous workday lunch outings.

The exercise forced us to look at all the areas of our budget, and realize which parts are fixed and which can be reduced. It opened our eyes to how easily we spent money, especially on going out. My credit card bill (which I pay off in full every month) was about half its average total that May.

We haven’t taken on another no-money month since, and recently, I got the itch to do it again.

When I broached the idea with my husband, he wasn’t so enthused. After all, with two kids and me working part-time, every month is basically spend-no-money month.

So I decided to take on a personal challenge. While I’m pretty frugal at the grocery store, I don’t have a set limit for our family’s monthly food budget. So I’m going to see how little I can get by spending on groceries while preparing balanced meals for my family.

Once again, this will require meal planning, and digging a little deeper into the freezer and cupboards.

To be more mindful about grocery store spending, I’m going to use a cash envelope system. As a weekly maximum, I’m putting $103.20 in the envelope. That’s the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s thrifty plan weekly cost of food at home for a man, woman and 4-year-old. The goal will be to see how much less than that we can spend.

The web site www.cnpp.usda.org includes an online booklet with recipes and tips for following the thrifty meal plan.

If I counted 8-month-old Owen as a 1-year-old, I could add $21.30 to the weekly budget. The little man can really put away his rice cereal and pureed peas, but this is a money challenge.

Let “Eat Less Expensively April” begin.

Sherri Richards is a thrifty mom of two. She blogs at www.topmom.areavoices.com and can be reached at srichards@forumcomm.com