Oct 9, 2015 · 3 minute read

By: Colleen Valles

This month, I accepted a challenge to buy only what was absolutely necessary for one month.

The challenge comes from Ruth Soukup’s blog Living Well Spending Less, and it is called 31 Days of Living Well and Spending Zero. It’s pretty self-explanatory – don’t spend on anything unnecessary for 31 days. It kicked off October 1.

Given my somewhat exorbitant spending over the summer, I really need to give my bank account a break, so I figured why not? Also, spending means shopping and that takes away from doing what we love, no?

The nice thing about the challenge is you can determine for yourself and your family what “unnecessary” means. For me, it is:

  • no eating out
  • no alcohol
  • no home décor (I really want to fix up a corner that’s bothering me)
  • no coffee or tea out at a coffeeshop
  • no new clothes, toys or hobby items
  • And no cosmetics. Even though I seldom buy makeup, I just happen to really need mascara and some cover-up that matches my skin tone better than the one that leaves me looking like I’ve got orange spots on my face.

You’re supposed to eat what you have in your pantry, fridge and freezer, but you can go shopping for certain food items if you need them. I allowed us fresh veggies and fruit, dairy and eggs, as well as beans and tortillas, which, as a Latina household, we cannot do without.

Doesn’t sound too tough, right?

Don’t be fooled. It’s way harder than it looks. We’re nine days into it, and I’m already down $364.

That’s $364 in nine days. I don’t know for sure, but I’m willing to bet that’s not normal.

How did I possibly manage to overspend my budget? Let’s take a look. But to be clear, even though my budget was theoretically $0, I knew that wasn’t going to happen, so I gave myself $300 to spend on gas and food for the first half the month. Even that was $200 less than I usually budget. We won’t talk about how I usually overspend my normal budget.

So far, I’ve spent $51 on gas, $57 on groceries, $26 at the pumpkin patch, $30 for the PTA, $22 on a lunch and $3 on tea. Oh, and $175 to tune a “free” piano (more on that in another post) that we received unexpectedly.

OK, so the piano tuning is really what set me back, but c’mon. I still spent $189 on other stuff, including stuff I wasn’t supposed to spend on. I know one particular tenet of all budgeting is to keep track of your spending so you know where your money is going, and I’ve been doing that for a long time (eating out is my nemesis). Yet I still continue to marvel at the amount I am able to spend in a short time. I do live in one of the most expensive areas in the United States, so it doesn’t take much to spend a lot, but I know I can do better, and if I hope to buy a house ever, I need to rein it in.

So what now? I imagine I should stop beating myself up about this, redouble my efforts, and decrease my second-half-of-the-month budget by the $64 I overspent. But I don’t know – I’ve got six days left, and at the rate I’m going …

How do you keep yourself on a budget? And do you think you could do the challenge?

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Colleen Valles
I'm Colleen, a writer, mother, knitter, pet mama and tiny house enthusiast who truly believes that everybody should slow down and simplify to make room for the things that are most important in their lives. I'm on a journey to do just that, to be able to spend more time with family and friends, riding my bike and working in the garden. Sign up to get awesome content right in your inbox, or follow me on social media.