Recently on the news I saw an interview with a family of six who vowed to stop spending for the month of February.  On January 31st, they shopped for a month’s worth of groceries.  They didn’t drive, but walked everywhere.  The 9-year old daughter made a wallet out of duct tape for a friend’s birthday gift (lucky girl!).  They probably will now write a book about their experience.

Can this actually work?

I don’t know if they actually managed to not spend any money but, personally, I think it would be next to impossible.  I’ve heard of no spend days, or frugal weeks, which would be manageable, but not a whole month.

Groceries:  While you can purchase a month’s worth of groceries (in fact, I do a big grocery shop once a month) and eat what’s in your cupboards and freezer, what about fresh milk or produce that don’t last that long?  Yes, you can get by with canned and frozen fruit and vegetables and the dreaded powdered milk, but I still like to eat fresh.

Monthly bills:  You can of course pre-pay these, but I don’t really consider that not spending.  You still use electricity and water, heat your home and probably use cable and Internet.  This also includes your mortgage or rent payment, and possibly taxes and insurance.  Also note that if you have a credit card balance, even though you might make a large payment one month, they still require at least the minimum payment each month.

Driving:  It’s very commendable to walk everywhere, or ride your bike but not always practical if you live in the suburbs, work more than a mile or so from where you live or have to haul kids around with you.  One of my children didn’t like to walk, wouldn’t sit in a stroller and always wanted to be carried.  (It wasn’t easy lugging a 30-pound child around everywhere.)

Miscellaneous:  It’s hard to anticipate every expense that may arise during the month.  Relying on family and friends to pick up the tab is just plain wrong.  It’s like the person who “quits” smoking yet bums cigarettes all the time.

I think this family is missing the point of Frugal February.  The goal is not to stop spending altogether.  I think the point is to reduce impulse spending.  For one month you can eliminate:

  • Your daily latte
  • Eating out
  • Shopping for clothes, household items, toys and other “extras”
  • Going to movies, the pub, or other paid entertainment
  • Buying any gadget related to your hobby
  • Using your credit card for anything
  • Excessive long distance phone calls
  • Pay-per-view movies and sports
  • Any little impulse item, from a pack of gum to a magazine.

The purpose is to eliminate mindlessly thinking that little things don’t count.  If you put aside the money you would normally spend on extras you’d be surprised at how much is actually flowing through your fingers.  It doesn’t mean doing without.  It means to think about what you buy.

This exercise could probably change your spending habits (and they are habits).  You could even save enough money to actually pursue something you really want.

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