Imagine what would happen if you went an entire month without spending any money beyond basic necessities. Eating in over takeout, using what you have instead of buying new, saying no to expensive entertainment and finding free options instead. Would you have money leftover at the end of the month to go toward something you are saving for? Appreciate the things you already have instead of longing for more? Slow down to enjoy purposeful quality time with those you love instead of seeking constant entertainment to fill the time? This is exactly how Zero-Waste Maker and her family reset at the beginning of the year with a no-spend month.
Meet Noel a.k.a. Zero-Waste Maker
Here is my interview with Noel about how she does a no-spend month and lives sustainably while raising young kids!
Tell me a little bit about yourself and your family.
I’m a website designer and full-time working Mom of 2 little boys (6yo & 2yo). My husband and I moved to Denver 8 years ago to pursue career opportunities, and stayed because we love the culture.
What are you passionate about and why?
There are so many things I’m passionate about! Everything probably centers around creativity, creative problem solving, and living a life that’s satisfying. I knit, sew, garden, CrossFit, live frugally, keep a low-waste home, raise backyard chickens… all to live in a way that aligns with my values and makes me feel good on a deeper level!
How did you learn to knit and sew? What advice do you have for someone who wants to learn?
My Nana taught me to sew as a child and I’ve always been a very sloppy seamstress haha! I still am, although now I’m sloppy with a sewing machine. Don’t get me wrong I love crafting, but I’m not a perfectionist and try to emphasize to aspiring crafters that doing it *your* way is the whole point. I never knew another knitter in real life until after learning to knit, so I learned to knit from YouTube! My sister decided to learn with me and we picked it up fast. We help each other trouble shoot and still regularly watch videos to learn new skills. There’s a slow mo video of just about every technique you can imagine that you can replay until you’ve got it!
What inspired you to aim for zero-waste? What are a few ways you implement zero-waste living and why?
Zero-waste makes sense for the future of humanity and specifically the world I hope to leave my children. Why add trash when we can accomplish the same things without trash? Dry beans don’t need a plastic bag, shampoo bars work just as well as plastic bottles, and a reusable fork is always nicer to eat with than a disposable one. Some things we have done that save the planet and lots of money include cloth diapers, kitchen rags instead of paper towels, growing our own food, mending our clothing, and thrift shopping.
How do you pursue slow living in your day-to-day life?
The first thing that comes to mind is lighting candles at the dinner table where we sit down with our kids and talk daily over home cooked meals. Every day I perform the ritual of releasing my chickens from their coop and feeding and watering them. There are half a dozen small moments like this that I do daily like knitting before bed, walking to the bus stop with my son, and reading children’s books at bed time.
Tell me about your no-spend month.
Every January, just after we’ve spent extra money on holidays, we have a month where we do no discretionary spending. Of course we pay the bills, put gas in the car, and buy groceries, but we don’t spend on “wants” like takeout, restaurants, entertainment, clothing, home decor, etc.
Why do you start each year with a no-spend month?
I tell my kids January is “appreciate everything you have” month! We just enjoyed a major holiday season with loads of company, activity, and new belongings. January is an ideal time for rest, reflection, and to take some time to enjoy and appreciate all the new items we’ve acquired. It’s also a good way to reset our habits and move into the new year with clear intentions. We inventory all passes and subscriptions we have, make use of them, and decide if they’re worth keeping. We also spend time evaluating our belongings and decluttering for a fresh start to the new year.
Did you spend any money on food or shop beforehand?
I spend my grocery budget on groceries each week. Normally my grocery budget is a loose number, but during No Spend January the grocery budget is set in stone, and I attempt to come out under budget by cleaning out the pantry and freezer.
Did you pay for upcoming, necessary expenses the month before in preparation?
All of our bills like the mortgage, electric, daycare, etc are on autopay so they were paid as usual without our doing anything. Some items like a trip I’m planning in March, I delayed buying tickets for until February.
How did the no-spend month benefit you? Your kids?
We saved $2,500 in a sinking fund toward a new family car this month! Our car is 12 years old and has started having some trouble so we are hoping to replace it this year, preferably with cash to skip the car note. No Spend January has given us enough momentum to feel motivated and like this is an achievable goal. The kids didn’t notice to be honest. They went on weekly free outings and have lots of toys from Christmas, and soon they’ll have a safer vehicle to ride around in!
You shared on Instagram about your no-spend month helping you focus on gratitude for what you have. Can you talk about this more?
We don’t always recognize luxury when we have it in front of us all the time. “You mean I have to enjoy a beautiful, candlelit dinner inside my warm home surrounded by people who love me all month?!” Oh right, that’s an absolute luxury and not remotely deprivation or punishment… Haha! Truly though spending time inventorying what we have to get by with if we don’t spend money, the list is probably longer than we realize. I love writing lists of all the things that I can do for free. Afterwards I’m grateful for the simple things that make my life nice like our bath tub, our dog, the neighborhood park, our library’s online resources, and our nice furniture that I can totally rearrange for a fresh new look and feel now that I have some time!
What was the hardest part about your no-spend month?
The hardest part is other people not understanding. I explain to people around us what we are doing every year in advance, and every year friends and family invite us to spend money by going out with them anyway. It’s hard to say no because we can afford it, but we do say no because we have agreed to prioritize other goals. I’ve learned to offer suggestions for free alternatives like pancakes at my place or let’s go for a hike together, but also to hold my boundaries and let them know that we will resume normal socializing next month.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to try a no-spend month?
You set your own rules! Don’t feel beholden to anyone else’s rules. Decide for yourself what makes sense. My sister joined but had a budget for 1 weekly takeout meal to make it more manageable. My “cheat” is that I allow the use of gift cards so they’re used up after the holidays and not forgotten, plus we enjoy them extra since they’re the only treat allowed all month! Decide on your plan, be serious about your goals, and don’t cheat yourself out of the experience when temptation arises. I hope this helps someone to reach their goals and live a more intentional life!
Would you consider a no-spend month? I know I am considering implementing one with my family later this year. I believe it will help us save for our goals and focus on appreciating what we already own.
This post was about my interview with Noel who does a no-spend month to start the year off on a budget!
Interested in budgeting or doing your own no-spend month? Read about our budgeting plan that is helping us save for future goals HERE!