How to Do a One-Month Spending Freeze

by Meg Favreau on 16 January 2013 17 comments

Making a big financial change is like getting in a cold swimming pool. You can oh-so-slowly walk from the shallow end to the deep end, shivering all the way — or you can hold your nose and just jump in. It might not be pleasant, but it sure is faster — and you might be surprised at how quickly you acclimate to the water.

Similarly, if you’re looking to overhaul your finances — whether you want to pay down debt, save more, or just spend your money wisely — you can develop little habits bit-by-bit, or you can jump into the pool with a spending freeze. By cutting out all unnecessary spending, you can jump-start your financial goals — and discover lots of fun, free things to do that you might have never thought of.

You can do a spending freeze for any amount of time — a week, two weeks, even a year — but one month is a nice. It’s enough time that you can save what feels like a significant amount of money, but not so long that it feels like it’s going to go on forever. (For longer time periods, check out our article on How to Do a Spending Fast in 16 (Easy!) Steps.)

Here’s what to do.

Look at Your Budget

Actually, there’s a step before this — start a budget if you don’t already have one. The only way you can take control of your finances is to understand where your money is going.

Now, look at what you spend money on every month, and separate the needs from the wants. Common “want” categories include clothing, entertainment, and dining out — but there are other, sneakier wants too. For example, how much of your weekly grocery bill is wants, and how much of it is needs? Also look at regular subscription services — such as newspapers or Netflix. Many will allow you to put your subscription on hold without actually cancelling it.

After you’ve done this, make a revised version of your budget where you spend nothing on these want categories.

Figure Out What You’re Doing With Your Savings

Now that you’ve established where you won’t be spending money, you have to decide what you will be doing with those funds. Whether it’s a large debt payment, creating your first emergency fund, or even saving for a vacation, having a goal you’re working towards will make the spending freeze easier.

Enlist Others

Anybody who’s ever had a gym buddy knows that doing something you don’t want to do gets easier when you do it with someone you like. In this case, it might be your significant other, your parents, or a friend. This step isn’t necessary, but if you do the spending freeze with someone else, you’ll be able to support each other along the way.

Clean Out Your Pantry, and Plan Your Meals

Now that your plans are in place, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty. While food is a need, there are several ways that you can cut down on food costs over the next month.

Cleaning and reorganizing your pantry will remind you what foods you have hiding in your cupboards. After you’ve made a list of what you have, use these foods as the basis to plan your meals for the next month — not only will you use up ingredients that have been sitting around, but you’ll slash your grocery bill.

Schedule Free Fun

One of the most difficult things about being on a spending freeze is the “I can’t” feeling. Instead of moping around feeling annoyed that you can’t go out for drinks with your friends, be proactive! Invite people over for a potluck, schedule a hike for next weekend, or set up a weekly board game night with some friends. If you need to get some ideas, check out 50+ Ways to Have Free Outdoor Fun and 7 Free Ways to Get Out of the House.

Remix Your Wardrobe

Don’t think you can go 30 days without a fashion infusion? Then try the 30 for 30 Remix, which challenges you to take just 30 pieces of clothing you own and make them into 30 different outfits in 30 days.

Track Your Progress

It’s important to track your progress — seeing that you’re on the right track can make you charged up to keep going. Consider putting up a chart on the fridge where you can track your savings.

Adopt Permanent Changes

At the end of the month, take some time to consider what worked for you. Maybe you discovered that packing your lunch for work wasn’t so bad, and you didn’t miss eating out. Or that there’s more versatility in your wardrobe than you thought. Or you didn’t miss cable. Whatever it is, see if there are some frugal changes that you can adopt as long-term habits instead of just going back to your old ways.

Need Motivation? How About $10,000 in Prizes?

Almost inspired to start a spending freeze but need a little extra motivation? We're here to help! Wise Bread has teamed up with SaveUp to give away $10,000 worth of cash prizes to reward you for not using your credit card. Check out our contest post for full details.

Have you done a spending freeze? Or are you thinking about trying one? Share your experiences in the comments!

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Guest's picture
Bridget

Cutting back is not easy. I do not like bringing lunches to work, I prefer eating out. I understand that this is something that has to be done in order to reach my goals.

Guest's picture
Steve

Great ideas-for a month or even a week, a great way to save some extra money!

Guest's picture
Nick

Preparing my own meals and free fun are a couple big ones for me. Making my own meals and bringing them to work saves me money from eating out, gas money from driving somewhere, and also prevents extra wear & tear on my vehicle. Also if you are a parent of young children, taking them to the park on a nice day is a great way for them to have fun without spending anything. Not nice outside? Try building a "fort" with chairs, couches, and blankets. They love this.

Guest's picture
Guest

bowling with toys is another good thing to do inside. Also I used to put "treasures" in a box of rice and have them find them with a spatula.

Outside everything was mysterious when it was dark, so we went to the park and played ghosts in the graveyard. They loved it

Guest's picture
Guest

Does a spending freeze mean no spending? Because I still have my share of the rent and the food and my health premiums and my medicine and gas to get me from one place to the other. On te other hand, if it just means no spending except for necessities, I've been doing that for a while.

Meg Favreau's picture

The second definition is correct -- no spending except for necessities.

Guest's picture

I unintentionally froze spending in the past few months by doing one simple thing: I started buying my veggies from a co-op once per week. It's SO MUCH healthier! I developed a meal planning one pager in word, so after I get my veggies, the meals for the week are planned. Then when I go to the grocery store I don't have to get as much (although I will admit I'm still spending quite a bit on wine).

Guest's picture

I am attempting a no spend January but my great love of take out food has gobbled up most of my funds. Luckily I just received a Costco rebate cheque from using my American Express card. It is less than $10.00 but it will buy us milk and I will take the cash change to another grocery store to buy a bit of fresh fruit.

We have a lot of food in the house but most of it requires effort to prepare. After a stressful day at work drive through is my favourite easy, no dishes meal but I do no like to fail at challenges I set for myself so I will be forced to eat my own cooking.

Guest's picture
Guest

budget

Guest's picture
Molly

We started one this month. It's going so well that I think we might do it in February too! It has helped us pay some bills that needed to be paid. It's hard but it's worth it!

Meg Favreau's picture

Molly, that's awesome! I'm happy to hear that it's helping.

Guest's picture

Start of every month, have an automatic facility to transfer 20% of salary to some mutual fund. This accumulates and makes it seem like lot of money!

Guest's picture

Good article. As a bankruptcy lawyer, I always discuss non-bankruptcy options with my clients and simply paying down debt is certainly the most obvious way to dig out. No one actually wants to file for bankruptcy, but unfortunately, many who come to realize they're in trouble don't have the resources to get rid of debt themselves. While debts are still manageable relative to earning power, cutting back on discretionary spending can help pull some families back from the brink of financial ruin, pay down debt and avoid bankruptcy.

Guest's picture
Charlie

It's definitely a lot harder than it seems. We're not even half way through January, and we only have 8% left in our miscellaneous budget. My sister-in-laws baby shower was an out of the ordinary expense =P

Definitely going to try next month to accelerate Our Journey To Zero Debt!

Guest's picture

Starting this week I will plan my meals first before going to the grocery store. Usually I don't have a list of my meals, I just get what I want without thinking that I'm not on the right budget already.

Guest's picture

That sounds scary but also fun at the same time!

Not sure I could talk my wife into this, but I think we could have a lot of fun with it. Thank you for sharing, Meg!

Guest's picture
Guest seeema habib shah

That's actually awesome! I Inspired by this article and I will soon embark on a spending freeze.