10 Lessons We Learned by Spending NOTHING
When we started paying off our debt back in October, we thought it would be impossible. Our debt is almost three times our combined income – it’s definitely not going anywhere fast.
But then we started experimenting…
We found new ways to live our lives, we budgeted tighter and tighter each month, and soon the debt didn’t seem quite so daunting.
After less than four months we had paid off over $20,000.
That’s when we decided to take it a step further. Instead of budgeting tighter, we would stop spending entirely for 30 days.
So we did.
The results were amazing, but the lessons we learned topped those by far. Here are 10 lessons we learned by spending NOTHING.
Lesson #1: You don’t need money to be happy.
For the longest time, I have equated food with love. I know this is a problem that many people have and that I am not alone, but I struggle to find love elsewhere. I see food as the ultimate sign of happiness, love, security, comfort. So giving up eating the foods I want to eat for an entire month seems like somebody is legitimately removing love from life – it hardly seems worth it.
But the thing is:
food isn’t love. And money isn’t either.
My wife and I spend many nights cuddled on the couch watching television or sitting at the table playing board games. We focused on painting. We spent time reading. We went on walks. Did these cost money? Well, you could say that they all did to some extent – while we don’t have cable, we do pay for Netflix and phone service to watch it. We may not be paying for it now, but at one point or another we bought the board games, the painting materials, the books.
The point is: we didn’t need to go out of our way and spend money to be happy. We were happy enough to do our own thing – there were plenty of free things to do in our community. And above all:
making the choice to be happy is not a financial one.
Click HERE to read my post on Making the Choice to Have a Good Day. Lesson #2: Getting out of the house is essential.
Of the 10 lessons we learned during our NSC, this one came the hardest. We did our best during the month of January to use as little gas as possible when going about our days. Other than my wife’s drive to work and our Tuesday dinner every other week with friends, we did not use any gas.
As someone who works near home (or lives at their work), this meant that I never actually left the grounds for my work / home. I never knew that this was an issue before – that it could be an issue – but I am saying this clearly now:
Leaving your home is an essential part of your life: whether you need to go somewhere or not, find time to get out of your house. Lesson #3: Tell your friends, they’ll surprise you.
At first, it was scary to tell people that we were on our journey to pay back debt. Unfortunately, many people equate the accumulation of debt with an inability to understand finances. What I mean by this is that many people will say “well, it sucks that you’re in debt, but you did it to yourself so deal with it.”
I’ll admit that that’s true, I did take the debt on by myself. At the same time, it can really be frustrating when people invalidate you for making these choices. Which is why my wife and I didn’t tell our friends about our journey for quite some time (even though I tell you all on here).
But when we did tell our friends, we were surprised by their response. Most of them were supportive and excited to help us along. We had friends who bought us meals a few times during the month just to help us get through. One friend was amazing and bought us soda when we ran out (we have a horrible addiction). Most importantly, they asked how we were doing, they offered to help, and they cared to talk about the situation with us and make us feel like we were important.
So, as part of these 10 lessons we learned, I encourage you to tell your friends your struggles with debt,
they may surprise you. Lesson #4: You have more food than you think.
I used to look into my cupboards and see the food we kept and not realize how much it was. In fact, when we started the NSC, we stocked up on some foods that we considered to be essentials thinking “there’s no way we’ll have enough food to last us the entire month.”
Boy, were we wrong.
We got through to the end of the NSC and opened our fridge, our freezer, our cupboard: do you want to know what we found? MORE FOOD!
Even after an entire month without buying groceries we STILL had plenty of food to last weeks. In fact, it’s March 2nd and we are just now finishing up the food that we had. Finally.
I’ll write more about this on another day, but the point is: one of the most significant of the 10 lessons we learned was that we had far more food than we needed.
Lesson #5: Necessities and luxuries are different.
There are so many things in life that we consider necessities that truly are not, but we didn’t really realize this until we were about halfway through the challenge. Right about then we started running out of shampoo and conditioner. We didn’t know what to do.
We had always been the people to buy the more expensive versions of these things believing them to be necessities. We thought “if we want to work in the professional world, we need to look nice each day and that means that we need shampoo and conditioner.”
The problem is that that just isn’t true. There are many things we believe to be necessities that are actually simply luxuries. In fact, most things can be made on your own.
Lesson #6: Try making before buying.
Which leads me into the next segment: if you run out of something that you truly believe to be a necessity, try making it before you buy it.
Most importantly, do some research online before shopping. You would be surprised what kind of information is available for those who simply look. For example: I learned how to make my own ricotta cheese, evaporated milk, sweetened and condensed milk, and coffee creamer just by some simple research and experimentation.
Here are a few things we learned during our NSC that can be made easily at home (don’t worry, there are plenty more).
Buying Bread at the Store VS. Making it at Home
Buying Pasta at the Store VS. Making it at Home
Using Store-bought Cleaning Products VS. These All-Natural Recipes
Shampoo & Conditioner VS. the No Poo Challenge Lesson #7: First world problems are for real.
Do you ever get home from work late? I know I do. The first thing that comes to mind is that horrible feeling of “Oh crap, now I have to find and make dinner.”
I open my fridge, my freezer, my pantry and see a ton of food staring back at me, but for some reason my mind registers all of it as “bad” or “inedible” or even “too much work.”
So, instead, I complain about having to eat fast food, pay for it, and drive out to get it.
That, my friends, is a first world problem in real life. If you have food and complain that it’s “not what you want” then it may be time to reconnect with your thinking and remind yourself: you are lucky. You have so much in your life. You are well fed, clothed, and loved.
So, for the 10 lessons we learned, here’s an important one: Feel blessed. And don’t complain about problems that aren’t really problems.
Lesson #8: Helping others comes first.
No matter what, my wife and I truly believe in the importance of helping others before ourselves. If someone were to come to us and ask us if they could eat at our house – we would accept them graciously and offer them the last of our food.
In fact, we had to do this a few times. Perhaps it was not because the person did not have the money, but they instead needed to feel wanted or loved. One of my college-aged friends came over and asked if they could use have some of our food. We watched a movie and served dinner. They ate all the food they were given, went back for seconds, ate a ton of dessert, stayed later, at more of our food, and by the end of the day they had eaten more food than we do on a normal basis.
Now, I know that that may seem frustrating and to be honest, we
were pretty peeved about the situation, but at the same time, we note that food gives them a sense of belonging. They felt safe enough and welcome enough to make themselves at home.
We are always here to help those in need, even if it means less to go around.
Lesson #9: Some things are worth the money.
Let’s just say that there are things in life that should never be given up (or luxuries that are simply worth the money). The most important one that comes to mind is toothbrushes. It seems simple enough, but buying a cheap toothbrush can do more harm than good sometimes.
You need a good quality toothbrush to keep your oral hygiene good and keep you from expensive dentist visits later in life. Being proactive about healthcare is never something that should be skimped on.
Also, tampons, but I know that I have some male readers so I won’t get into that.
Lesson #10: Saving $$ doesn’t need to be hard.
There were days that we were beyond frustrated, sad, and tired that we simply wanted to go out and buy something. We knew we
technically had the money so why couldn’t we go spend it? Well, the unfortunate truth is that we are so far in the hole we simply can’t waste our money right now.
Basically, that means that this is being forced upon us. But it doesn’t have to be that hard. Saving money – it absolutely doesn’t.
Saving money can be as simple as using different, less expensive items. It can mean giving in to your needs and avoiding your wants, but it can also be freeing.
Letting the control of money leave your life means grabbing hold of your non-financial life and letting it soar in the wind.
Of the 10 lessons we learned, I hope that you remember to do your best to save money. Remember, it doesn’t have to be hard.
10 Lessons We Learned by Spending NOTHING
Ultimately, the No Spend Challenge taught us the important of living life to the fullest on our frugal, skimpy, and crazy low budget. These 10 lessons we learned will help us to continue our journey to debt-freedom.
What do we plan to do with that in the future?
Well, it’ll be awhile before we have enough food in our home to do a NSC again (and that’s probably okay). So, for now we are doing the following:
Limiting our budget to only $300 a month
Finding new and
each and every day weird ways to save money Working and side hustling for most of our free time to
earn extra money Paying off our debt as quickly as possible
STARTING A NEW CHALLENGE –
the 30 Day Minimalist Decluttering Challenge – on April 1 (read more about this during our post on March 7th!)
That’s all for now, folks, but I sincerely hope that you will stay tuned, follow along, comment, and share our journey with your friends and family. Thank you for reading our 10 lessons we learned by spending nothing.
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