Ever since I have had a family, I have had periods of time when I have intentionally not spent any money. These are called ‘no spend’ weeks, or months. In the old days it would be out of necessity because my wage would have been paid at the start of the week, or later at the beginning of the month, and at some point I would have run out of money before I was due to be paid again. I would therefore go a few days, or even weeks, with no money to spend. I had no choice. This was before the days when credit was easy to obtain. We would just eat what we already had in, walk if we could not afford bus fare or petrol, and occupy ourselves at home until the next pay day.
Some grocery shops would offer ‘tick’ and allow people to pay when they got paid but there was a stigma to this, and people gossiped, and so I never did this. I can remember having just eggs, bread, a tin of mandarins, some sugar, spices, and a cabbage to last three of us for 3 days when I was at my poorest. Luckily, I knew a few things I could forage and it was black berry season. As supermarkets became more popular, and available where I lived, I realised that if I wrote a cheque for food, it would take 3 days before it was processed through my bank, and so I could buy food 3 days before my monthly pay date. There were times when we would have to have more than one ‘no spend’ week. This was usually after Christmas or when I had needed extra child care during the summer holidays. I would plan for these times, making sure that I had extra food available to cover this period. Although these times were a reaction to events, I had started to be proactive by putting some planning in place, as I knew that they were going to happen.
As my wage increased with promotions, my spending habits were bad and I would still run out of money before the end of the month, but I was budgeting at this point and was making sure that my bills were being paid and that we had enough food to last us until pay day. I just had some days when my purse and bank were empty and I could not spend spontaneously. When I retired, my income was a tenth of my salary. At this time, I was living on my own and so I had to change my spending habits drastically (though I had been practising and saving for a few years before hand).
For the next six years I had 3 no spend months a year. These would usually be in February, July, and November, though the months were not set in stone. I picked months that I knew I had no large outlays, there would not be bargains in the shops (January and after Easter always has bargains), or that I knew I would have an abundance of food growing in the garden or stored in the freezer. Not spending in February meant we used up Christmas bargains and allowed me to save for Easter, not spending in July meant there was money for cheap breaks away, and not spending in November helped me save for Christmas or winter bills. When I say that the month was ‘no spend’, my direct debits for utilities etc would still go out, and I would also pay for milk and petrol each week, if it was needed. However, there would be no food shopping as I would use food from my freezer and my store cupboards, and I would not spend any other money on leisure or anything that month. This meant that I had to be organised. If I knew it was someone’s birthday, I would have had to buy a card and a present in a previous month. If I knew I needed to meet someone for a coffee that month, I would have had to buy a card or voucher from a previous month’s budget. We also asked for vouchers for Christmas or birthday from family so that we could have a meal out if on a break in July, and we would take all our food with us on our self-catering holidays. We had an old transit van that we had converted into a camper van and so we often went away and wild camped in hidden coves and laybys.
Having ‘no spend’ months was not only good for my bank balance, but it was great for training the brain to only spend intentionally and to get out of bad habits of spending spontaneously. It also helped me to rotate my food in my freezer and cupboards. The November ‘no spend’ meant that there was room by the end of the month in the freezer for Christmas bakes and New Year bargains. The July no spend meant that there was room in the freezer for my harvests from the garden and autumn foraging. The February no spend meant that there was room for Easter baking. I also used up those tins that were lurking at the back of my cupboard, and those unmarked items at the bottom of my freezer.
This last few years as the rise in the cost of living has taken hold, I have changed how I do my ‘no spending’. Prices are rising every month and so it makes no sense to do as I did before. If I went a month with out buying food it would cost more when I bought it the next month. I therefore no longer have ‘no spend’ months as I did before. Each month I try to have as many ‘no spend’ days as I can. I make it a challenge and try to have more than the last month. I make sure that I have a minimum of 3 days a week. I buy food every month now, but buy it when I need it, or more usually, when I see it on offer. This summer when I have been mainly living on produce from my garden, I have been building up food supplies for winter. I have also been preserving food so that I will be able to spend as little as possible over the coming months but keep my food stocks full. I still rotate my food as all the new food goes into storage in a separate cupboard or drawer in the freezer, and I have to live on old stock and what is in the kitchen cupboards and chest freezer, as usual.
So far, I have found this change really useful. Surprisingly I have been able to stick to my same food budget and not increase it, and I feel more food secure this year. Having a stock of food has meant that I have been able to buy more things when I have seen them on offer rather than having to pay the price that day when they have run out. I have also been able to keep an eye on world news and stock up on things that I know there will be shortages of, or will increase in price, like rice recently as some countries like India have stopped their exports. Having at least 3 days when I can not spend each week is also helping me to not spend spontaneously. All my budgets are on track and I am living within my means. My food harvesting has been brilliant this year which has really helped, and I just feel more organised.
Has the way that you do your ‘no spending’ changed recently? Are you adapting to this new normal of higher prices and tighter budgets? I believe that we can’t just stick to old habits and do things how we used to do them, as times have changed. Strategies that worked during the great depression or even during the 70s and 80s, do not work now. The world is different and we need to adapt as this ‘global market’ changes. I have friends who are living in hope for the day that prices come down. They may never do that and so we need to change what we are doing now to survive and thrive during these troubled times. Next year I might have to change my strategy again as this one might stop working, but I will adapt. I have found that planning, evaluating what I am doing, learning new skills, making changes, and staying one step ahead, helps me to keep living my simple, frugal lifestyle without feeling deprived or fearful. We have got this!