Could You Have A Frugal February?

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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  1. Marianne on February 23, 2012 at 7:44 am

    Even though as you mentioned it’s not actually a no spend month if you’re still using heat, hydro etc. I think it’s more about hitting the reset button. I wouldn’t mind doing something like this myself but we would have to buy groceries like you said because we eat so much fresh food. We might be able to do this in the summer though when we’re growing our own veggies. We also would still have to buy gas. We only put gas in our two vehicles like once every two weeks but I’m not about to forego seeing my family (several hours away) for a month in the name of saving money.. Also carpooling to work isn’t exactly an option when you have a kid to drop off at the babysitters on the way.

  2. Michael James on February 23, 2012 at 8:16 am

    Maybe a good compromise would be to sit down and list the things that you will spend money on and then try to avoid spending on anything else. I sometimes play a slightly different game. A few times in my life I’ve forgotten to pay my credit card bill in time and I ended up paying some interest. This left me annoyed at myself and I played a game of seeing how long I could go without using my credit card. I went two months one time.

  3. krantcents on February 23, 2012 at 9:33 am

    Extreme diets do not work and this is extreme. I would rather see a small cutback of all expenses over time such as a year. It would be longer lasting!

  4. Money Beagle on February 23, 2012 at 11:52 am

    I’m skeptical of this as well. We shop once a week. We make lists, base meals off ingredients we have and what’s on sale, and make sure to make a meal list that ties everything together. Trying to plan 20-30 meals at once would be way too much of a hassle, plus you’d be missing out on at least 75% of the sales for the month. Doesn’t sound like a winning strategy except for those that can’t stay out of stores, but even then I can’t imagine they’d be honest about sticking with it.

  5. SE Book on February 24, 2012 at 11:28 am

    you make a great point, that they themselves clearly missed, unless they went completely off the grid, what they are doing isn’t actually proving anything.

  6. Young on February 25, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    Wow that sounds like a difficult task. I hope they can make it because they have some serious temptation ahead of them. Stay young and thrifty =)

  7. Andrew Hallam on February 26, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    I suppose if they want to eat as healthily as they would in a closed bunker they could try this. But fresh fruits and veggies are pretty important. Having said that, perhaps we really can get our nutrition from frozen greens and such. Interesting experiment though. They would likely spend less for a while (I think) after such an experiment.

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