Posted by: Amanda | February 8, 2012

February’s Experiment: The “Rules”

This post is a long and winding detail of one middle class American family’s experiment in spending less.

To avoid generalizing, I’m not going to say that most Americans spend too much money. What I will say is that my family spends too much money on junk we don’t need or on junk we might need but already have but can’t find because we have too much stuff (even after purging greatly this past summer during our big move). We also spend too much on eating out. For February, we are trying a new experiment: spend dramatically less than we usually do.

The goals:

  • Be more mindful of spending.
  • Eat out less.
  • Spend less time in stores and more time together, pursuing our interests.
  • Be more industrious, prepared, and smart with what we already have.
  • Save money!

The rules are vague, but here’s what we’ve kind of decided:

  • We will spend only $100 a week in cash.
  • This $100 total doesn’t include bills we pay at the beginning of the month like our mortgage, electricity, HOA dues, internet and so forth. Part of February, though, is to evaluate our spending in optional areas such as communications, which is an insane part of our budget (and we don’t even have cable!).
  • Gift cards and already purchased Groupons/deal vouchers don’t count to the total either. We aren’t planning to use any unless they expire in February.
  • We aren’t counting the price of things we’ve pre-purchased (like the beef we buy in bulk that’s already in our freezer or the CSA that delivers our shares on Wednesdays). We were also lucky that our truck was already full of gas before this month started. (And we didn’t go out on January 31 and fill up our cars, buy 4 gallons of milk, and 20 boxes of Cheerios. We didn’t even decide to do this until January 31 right as we were headed to bed.)
  • We aren’t counting medical copays or prescription copays since we use a FSA for those purchases.
  • We are trying to not eat out at all unless we have a Groupon/deal voucher/gift card that expires. One of the goals of this experiment is to be more prepared for days when we aren’t home and to have more meals at home. We homeschool the kids, and all too often instead of packing them a lunch when we’re going to be out all day, I just think, “Oh, we’ll stop somewhere.”
  • So really what does the $100 include? Gas and any groceries/supplies we actually purchase during the week with our cash on hand. (We already don’t use credit cards for purchases that we don’t pay off in the same month, but that same rule applies. If we use a credit card to purchase gas, it counts toward the $100.)

Got all that? Make total sense? And, yes, I know: what a first-world problem to have all your bills paid and only $400 left for the month for gas and groceries. And, yes you can judge: “But you aren’t really just spending $100 a week. And seriously, gift cards?” We’re working on our lifestyle one baby step at a time.


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