The No-Spending Project

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine posted on Facebook about how she and her family recently completed a month-long no spending challenge. For 30 days they spent money only on necessities (rent, utilities, simple meals, gas), and they found creative ways to make up the difference. I was inspired by what I consider their act of bravery. I wondered: Could I do it? Could I go without all of the little extras–the Amazon purchases, the random stops for lunch when we’re out, the kid events, the little trinkets, the gifts, the coffee–even for a little while?

I decided to find out.

I wasn’t sure if I was ready to take on a whole month, but I knew I could handle a shorter time…say, 10 days. Just to see what it was like. Just to test the waters. Just to become more aware of my spending and, hopefully, save a little money in the process.

Before I began my 10-day challenge, I laid out a few ground rules for myself. First, there was to be no frivolous spending (obviously)–my credit card became totally off-limits. In addition, I could only spend money on necessities that couldn’t wait until after the challenge (bills that became due, doctor co-pays, etc.)–the groceries already in my house and the gas already in my car would have to suffice. I should also note that Hubby was traveling for work during most of this time, so that made it really easy for me to control what was being spent or, in this case, NOT being spent!

Here’s a rundown of how my no-spending project played out:

Day 1:
We spent most of the day at home doing school and catching up on chores. I saved money on housecleaners by teaching the boys how to put away their own clean laundry and handle a broom and a dustpan #forthewin. Since I kind of decided to do this whole no-spending challenge on a whim, I hadn’t filled up my car with gas and was already hovering below half a tank. In the afternoon I decided to take the boys for a walk in our neighborhood instead of driving to the park so we could save some of that precious fuel for another day when I really needed to get out of the house.


Day 2:

We spent the morning at Playhouse (an indoor preschool play time at our church) where I happened to win a Starbucks gift card in a raffle (coffee would still be had this week–Thank you, Jesus!). After Playhouse we brought a picnic lunch to the park down the road where we met up with some friends. We spent most of the afternoon playing in the park and exploring the creek. I even had some leftover carousel tickets from when we’d had David’s birthday party in the same park that we were able to use for a special ride.

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Day 3:
We went to the library and checked out about 400 books and movies to get us through the week. We ate leftovers for every meal. I also drank some wine that my friend had given me as a party favor at her daughter’s 4th birthday party the weekend before. Have I ever mentioned how much I like my friends?

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Day 4:
We had planned on going to a park day with our homeschool group but at the last minute we got rained out. Not one to cancel fun, I looked into some indoor options for us. A few weeks ago I’d purchased a Groupon for Pump It Up (just picture a giant warehouse full of inflatables and sweaty children bouncing off the walls), so we decided to switch gears and head over there.

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The boys spent 2 hours jumping/climbing/sliding/hurtling their bodies through space. Then we went home for lunch and a nap (and by nap, I mean I took a nap with the baby while they watched PJ Masks in the living room) .

Day 5:
We spent the morning at a lovely race–even the boys got to run and win their own medals!


It had already been a long week and I needed to feed my feelings, but since the grocery store was off limits I decided to spend the afternoon in the kitchen. We baked chocolate chip cookies and scones, then had a proper tea party to nosh on our bounty.

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Day 6:
Mother’s Day! Since Jon was out of town and my children are too young to have the decency to sleep past 5 AM, I decided it was time to cash in that Starbucks gift card I’d won earlier in the week.


The rest of the morning was spent at church, and then we went home to pick up some beach gear. We ate a picnic lunch in the car while we were driving (because having children strapped into a carseat is just about the only sane way to get them to eat, anyway). We managed to find one of the last free street parking spots at the beach and spent the rest of the day lounging in the sun and surf.


Day 7:
More school, more chores, more leftovers. In the afternoon we went to the boys’ gymnastics class and while they were in class I snuck out for a quick walk on the nearby trail (45 minutes alone…well, mostly alone except for the baby…was starting to feel like a mini-vacation!). After gymnastics we picked up a dinner order before heading home (I ordered the dinner using a meal-delivery gift card that we’d been given as a gift when Hannah was born…only they don’t deliver to our house, so I had to pick it up from my friend’s house. And they were late with the delivery. And I had 3 screaming, tired kids waiting in the car. But it wasn’t leftovers and I didn’t have to cook it, so it was still worth it.).

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Day 8:
After a full week of very full time parenting I just needed some time to myself so I decided to find some creative ways to carve out some no-cost me-time. First on the agenda was reading a book. I’d been trying to read this book all week, but by the time I got all 3 kids in bed at night (and staying in bed) I was usually so exhausted that I fell asleep on the couch by the end of the first page. Instead, I decided to distract the kids at the park so I could sneak off to a bench by myself and read mid-day. This tactic worked wonderfully. I sat there incognito for nearly an hour before the wild banshees realized I was missing.


The boys had swimming lessons at the YMCA in the afternoon. After swimming lessons I took advantage of the free childcare and got a quick run in on the dreadmill before mommy guilt took over and I ran breathlessly back to check on my fragile infant and crazy boys who were surely wreaking havoc on the poor underpaid childcare staff.


Day 9:
Daddy came home! Praise the Lord, Daddy came HOME. There was no need to spend any money today because all I wanted to do was throw the children at him and hide in a dark closet by myself.

Day 10:
We had a very full schedule of gymnastics class for the boys (their last one…thank goodness because I am SO not the mom who can shuttle children to activities every day of the week), a veterinarian appointment, and another swimming lesson. It all seemed totally manageable, though, because I had HELP! Jon’s mom (better known as Grammy around these parts) had arrived for her quarterly baby oggling…er…family visit. And when Grammy is in town, we all get spoiled. She came bearing treats and promises of delivering Childrens’ Heaven on Earth (a trip to McDonald’s for Happy Meals). With free help and free treats, it was an easy end to my 10 day no-spending challenge.

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At the end of my 10 days, I’m happy to report that YES, I CAN go without spending. In fact, I actually rather enjoyed the challenge! It was a good exercise for me to recognize where I spend unnecessarily and to find creative ways to use what we already have access to. As a side note, we also received our tax refund in the mail during my no-spending challenge. Coincidence? I think not.

Although the official challenge is officially over, I’m going to keep at it. I do need to go to the grocery store and fill up my car with gas (our pantry and gas tank are both empty), but I’m going to continue my no-excess spending challenge for the rest of the month.

Now, how about you: How long could YOU go without spending?


Blackrock Castle Observatory


One of the first things that struck me when we moved to Ireland was the number of castles. You’ll just be driving or walking along here, turn a corner, and–BAM!–castle! They’re everywhere. Some are just little piles of rubble and others have been beautifully restored. Coming from Seattle where the oldest thing we have is a crumbling piece of highway called The Viaduct, the castles have made quite an impression on me.

There’s a really neat castle down the road from Jon’s office called Blackrock Castle. This particular castle was recently restored and is now home to a restaurant and an observatory/science center.  It’s right on a pedestrian path that goes along the waterfront, so I frequent the area on my runs. Until this week, though, I had never set foot inside the castle walls. Friday happened to be “Free First Friday” at the castle and, since “free” and “castle” happen to be two of my favorite words, I just had to go.

All of the exhibits were open to the public for free in the evening, and they even had some little workshops and a guest speaker available (we didn’t burden the guest speaker with our presence). We did have a great time exploring the hands-on exhibits inside the observatory.

David colored a rocket ship picture (and it must have made quite an impression on him because now his favorite game is to turn every box in our home into a rocket ship):


We looked out a “moon window” at a cargo ship floating past us in the harbor (I pointed out that this was the same kind of “big ship” that carries little boys’ balls and toys from places like Seattle to places like Ireland).


The boys moved metallic objects around a table with giant magnets:


And David got to experiment with sand and water to see if he could make land formations like they have found on Mars (he really just built sandcastles, but maybe someday they will find sandcastles on Mars, too):


As we were leaving the castle we saw another Irish icon: a beautiful rainbow arching over the dimming horizon:


Goodnight, castle. Goodnight, rainbow. Goodnight, Ireland.

Angry Birds Learning Activities

The other day I woke up and, like most mornings, the first thing I did was to roll over, rub my eyes, and check my phone for whatever items of crucial importance might have popped up while I was sleeping. Unlike most mornings, however, my phone was flashing a message from my Angry Birds App:


Seems that someone had the audacity to beat my high score and claim my top spot in the weekly tournament. The only thing is, I’ve never actually played Angry Birds. David is only one who has ever played the game on my phone–which means my 2-year old is somehow an Angry Birds record holder. An Angry Birds prodigy, if you will. I am one proud mother.

And, while I’m sure he’s learning tons about the trajectory and velocity needed to catapult those birds into towers, there is still a part of me that thinks his love of Angry Birds could be redirected into more noble endeavors. I was thrilled, then, to discover that Homeschool Creations has actually created loads of free printable Angry Birds learning activities (yessssss!).

I printed off all 24 pages of the Preschool Angry Birds Activity Pack (there are also a Kindergarten activity pack and vocabulary cards available to print on the site). There were a few activities that required (minimal) prep work like cutting and gluing pieces together, but after only a few minutes I had everything ready for our Angry Birds fun and learning time.


There are several different age-appropriate activities in the learning packet: line tracing, color words, patterning, sorting, counting, sound-matching, and even puppets for creative play.

David was so excited to see all of the Angry Birds mumbo-jumbo that I don’t think he even realized he was practicing school skills.

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After a good hour of intense concentration, David was ready to put down his “Angry Birds games” for awhile.


We will definitely be returning to this packet-o-fun again sometime soon. In the meantime, I’d better get busy. It’s only a matter of time before David passes me up in more than just gaming.

My Favorite Four-Letter Word

Free–that is my favorite four-letter word. And a close runner-up: deal.

I have always loved a good deal and, now that I have kids, I love deals more than ever before. Turns out kids are really expensive. They have basic needs (food, clothes, diapers, doctor visits), they have wants (toys, outings to the zoo, ice cream sundaes), and they have collateral costs (needing a bigger car because your Volkswagen Jetta can’t fit the double jogging stroller in the trunk). And all of those costs require $$$.

In our family, we’ve decided that it’s Jon’s job to make the money and it’s my job to save it. I’m always looking for ways to cut costs or save a few bucks. Here are a few of my favorite ways to save money in our day to day lives. It’s nothing earth-shattering, just little things we do to steward our resources well.

  • Not Spending Money
    This is kind of obvious, but it does take some forethought. For instance, I have learned that I spend at least $100 every time I set foot inside Costco, regardless of if I’m there for 1 item of a month’s worth of stock-up groceries. I now try to limit my trips to Costco to once a month. If I absolutely must go for a must-buy item another time in the month, I don’t bring a cart–that way I can only buy what I can carry in my own 2 hands (or in the stroller) which, at Costco, is usually just 1 item. This idea also works in other scenarios–I had to unsubscribe from receiving daily emails for Groupon and Living Social because there were just too many deals I “had” to have. Basically, just find the areas that are your money traps (that coffee shop down the street, the shoe store in the mall) and avoid having them be a part of your daily routine.
  • Coupons
    I used to be a pretty avid couponer. I had multiple subscriptions to newspapers so I could clip coupons from the Sunday inserts. I would spend hours each week perusing the internet for printable coupons. I had a stockpile of food, cleaning supplies, and personal care items that could get us through a nuclear holocaust (that is, if all you needed during the nuclear holocaust was frozen pizza, Windex, and toothpaste. Oh, the toothpaste. I think if every toothpaste manufacturer in the company shut their doors today, couponers could supply the world with toothpaste from their free toothpaste stockpiles for the next decade).That was back when I was a full-time stay-at-home mom to one peaceful baby who was content to spend countless hours scouring drug stores and grocery stores for deals. Now I have 2 kids that take an hour to get out the door, one of whom is a two year old with a -2 second attention span and ZERO tolerance for sitting still in a grocery cart. Needless to say, my couponing days have changed.I don’t have my newspaper subscriptions any more because I just wasn’t using the coupons before they expired. What I do now is I get coupons that I know I want from friends and family who do have newspaper subscriptions. And, instead of going to several stores each week for my deals, I just use the coupons at my regular grocery store on items I’m already buying.I also watch Facebook and online sites for coupons for my favorite items that I can print and use the next time I need that item.Couponing can save you a lot of money, whether you commit to it full-time or do as I do and just use them as you’re able. If you want to learn more about couponing or money-saving in general, there are tons of blogs and online tutorials that can help you. Some of my favorite local blogs are Thrifty Northwest MomThis Beautiful Frugal LifeCoupon Connections, and Hip2Save and The Coupon Project.
  • Choosing My Stores and How I Shop Them
    Some stores cost more than others. Sure, with coupons you can get the prices down on many items. But you can’t buy EVERYTHING you need with a coupon and sometimes you just don’t want to deal with them. I have found that some stores have consistently lower prices, and that’s where I shop. For me, that’s WinCo. They have great prices on produce, which we buy a lot of and you can rarely get with a coupon anyway. They don’t have a very large organic selection, but a great overall selection including exotic tropical fruits and the largest array of chili peppers I’ve ever seen. They also have a HUGE bulk section. You can buy anything in bulk there: spices, pasta, cereals, soup mixes, snacks, candy, pantry items…you name it! Buying in bulk allows me to buy the amount I need at a lower price. Another thing I like about Winco: they don’t accept credit cards. I’m a lot more conscientious of my spending when I have to pay cash!Somewhat related to this is the fact that I try to buy fresh and local when possible. I love going to u-pick farms in the summer and filling my trunk with fresh fruits and veggies for pennies. My mom also has a fairly prolific garden and apple orchard that she lets me harvest from whenever I go over for a visit for, you guessed it, FREE! Even if I get more fresh produce than we can eat right away, I know that I can always freeze, can, or give away wthe extras.
  • Preparing Our Own Meals
    Jon used to go out for lunch every day. At $10-$15 a pop, we were spending close to $300 a month on his lunches! Now I make all of his lunches–they’re not as exciting, but they are healthier and the cost a whole lot less. We also don’t go out to eat as a family very often. We eat out a few times a month, but other than that I prepare all of our meals at home, including Jacob’s baby food. It’s a simple thing, but when it costs $30 for our family to get a meal at McDonalds, it adds up quickly!
  • Cheaper Date Nights
    When we only had 1 kid, we used to do babysitting swaps with some of our friends on a pretty regular basis. We’d watch their kid, then the next week they’d watch ours. Or, even better, if you have family living nearby call them in for a little back-up. Grandmas and Grandpas and Aunties (and Uncles) usually seem to enjoy getting a little one-on-one time with the little tikes.
    There are lots of ways to save money on dates themselves: Go somewhere free (long walks on the beach, anyone?), try to hit up happy hour at your favorite five-star “$$$$” restaurant, go to a $2 movie theater or a drive-in movie (yes, they do still exist!), go to a free museum on First Thursday, and utilize daily deal sites to find unique experiences. And, if all else fails, you can always snuggle up on the couch with a bottle of wine after the kidd-o’s have nodded off.
  • Free and Cheap Activities
    I love taking advantage of community resources, most of which are free or available for a small fee. Some of my favorites: story time at local libraries and bookstores, parks (we even have one near our house that has a free petting zoo and water park in the summer), beaches, hiking, biking on bike trails, and indoor play areas at malls and coffee shops.
    Memberships to local activities can also be a good deal. For instance, an annual membership to the zoo or children’s museum pays for itself in less than 3 visits. Plus, if you have a membership somewhere it’s easy to go for a short time (which is the only time I seem to have with a toddler in tow) and not feel bad that you’re wasting your money by not spending all day there.

    A zoo membership is affordable fun year-round

    A zoo membership is affordable fun year-round

    You can also get pretty good discounts on activities if you have a membership somewhere else. For instance, if you have a Bank of America Visa card you can get in to hundreds of museums for free during the first full weekend of each month. If you have an REI membership, you get a discount on lift tickets at local ski areas (each state has their own partner ski area). It’s always worth looking into the benefits you get with services you’re already using.

It does take time and a bit of research to save money but, in my experience, it really is worth the effort. What are some of your favorite ways to save money day to day?