Spend Nothing Week

Is it time for a spending reset?

In August of 2019, I decided it was time for myself and my family to become hyper-aware of our mindless spending and to hit the reset button. The result of this decision was a Spend Nothing Week, which provided us with a reason (or excuse) to just say no to the frequent discretionary spending we were doing.

As the Spend Nothing Week went on, I posted about it on Facebook. My posts and photos are shared below. Upon reflecting on our week of resetting our spending, I realized that awareness is just the first step; changing habits requires the hard, consistent work. Since taking the Spend Nothing Week challenge, we’ve definitely improved in making better use of the food we have at home … eating what’s available rather than what we’re craving. However, we haven’t managed another Spend Nothing Week in over a year. It seems we’re due for another spending reset, or better yet, maybe we should attempt a whole month of spending nothing. Can we do it?

Mom’s Piggy Bank

Aug 26, 2019 – After realizing how much money we spent on school supplies, clothes, shoes, band fees, end-of-summer excursions, and then listening to my kids continually ask for MORE, I announced to my family that we’re having a Spend-Nothing Week! Anyone up for taking the challenge with us?
Step 1 was to do pantry/fridge inventory and figure out meals with our limited supply of food in the house. I hadn’t planned for this so there was no big grocery trip last week to prepare. We had zero fruit, hardly any meat in the freezer, 3/4 gallon of milk, a handful of pre-packaged snacks, and only half a loaf of bread.
However, I was feeling super confident with my meal plan this morning and thought, “for sure, we can do this!“ Then, within the first few hours of Monday, a youth group pizza party invitation came up, and the kids poured almost half a gallon of milk into their cereal bowls this morning, BUT crises averted when I discovered a small balance in my Venmo account and transferred it. I grabbed a few groceries and paid for the $5 pizza ticket… we’re back to being in the black!!
Let’s see how long this lasts…. 🤔😬🤞

Aug 28, 2019 – I’m disappointed to report that there have been a couple hiccups with Spend-Nothing Week. The hubs STRONGLY suggested I get gas in the car if I wanted to continue to drive it. 😜 And then at my dentist appt today, I discovered that my deductible hasn’t been met, and I had to fork over $50. 😩 I guess those were non-negotiables, but I’ve mustered up all the willpower and stubbornness in my body to resist buying a new pair of sunglasses to replace the ones I lost this week and also to buy a new TV after one of the kids BROKE the screen of the one in our living room! 🤦‍♀️😖 (I’m sporting free shades from the dentist office today. 🤣)
But there is a plus side: The fam is getting Chick-Fil-A for dinner without a single dime being spent, thanks to app rewards and some freebies we had acquired!!

Aug 30, 2019 – Celebrating the end of Spend Nothing Week with steaks from the bottom of the freezer 😋, a salad made from veggies the kids won’t eat (including 1/2 a head of barely-edible lettuce), the last few potatoes, and margaritas, plus flourless PB blondies!! It was delish, but shelves are bare, and we definitely won’t make it another 12 hours without milk for the toddlers. I’ve never been so excited for an early Saturday morning grocery trip before! (I’ll share how much I spend tomorrow.)

Aug 31, 2019 – The day after Spend Nothing Week included a BIG grocery trip. Here’s a picture of my receipts from that day:

BIG grocery spending after Spend Nothing Week

Yep… that adds up to about $440 spent at H-E-B this morning. 😱😱😱 I made THREE different trips inside bc I realized in the parking lot that I forgot things and did not want to go back another day. The total definitely caused a bit of sticker shock, but I bought 2 weeks worth of groceries (hopefully), and if we actually make it 2 weeks, it will still be a big improvement on what we usually spend.

Recap: Total amount of money that we charged on our credit card was <$100 between Sat, Aug 24th and tonight, August 30th. The only money that left our bank account was a recurring medical bill. Full disclosure, I did go to the movies on Sunday evening, but I had paid for the ticket in advance, and on Sat night, I bought a beer and fries using a gift card. So, we did not, in fact, spend “nothing”, but it was the closest we’ve ever come, and it leaves room for improvement!

Sunday Surprise: Pantry Clean Out

State of our pantry this morning

When my kids open the pantry door to find it looking like this, let the whining commence: “There’s NOTHING to eat!” If they don’t see their favorite pre-packaged lunch and snack items, they are at a complete loss as to how to feed themselves. But I see several days of meals and snacks in this pantry…

– Noodles (with butter and Parmesan) for my picky eaters or meatless spaghetti for others

– Mac n cheese, Ramen, and Spaghettios for quick lunches (in a thermos for school)

– Canned veggies and baked beans for sides

– Flour and sugar for muffins (paired with nuts and/or the frozen bananas I’ve been saving)

– Oats and peanut butter for homemade granola bars, oatmeal balls, and flourless PB/chocolate chip cookies*

– Loads of cereal for breakfast and the after-school munchies

Red beans and Rice for dinner

– Quinoa and pecans to add to my leftover spinach for a more substantial salad

– Canned refried beans to pair with eggs and diced tomatoes for a Southwest breakfast scramble or dinner option

– Pancake mix for Sat morning hot cakes

– Ritz crackers and PB (and maybe some raisins on top) for toddler lunch or snack

– Rice Krispies and marshmallows for my kids’ favorite treat

– Canned corn for a hearty chowder (can add potatoes and diced ham or bacon for a full meal)

– Popcorn, remaining potato chips, and tortilla chips + bean dip for appetizers, sides, or snacks

– Gluten-free crackers, goat cheese in the fridge, and dates for a hearty and quick Mom-lunch

– Barley for a filling soup

– Biscuit mix + Nutella for another breakfast option

While my kids might see our pantry as half-empty, I see it as a pantry half-full. The above list of options may not be enough to stretch for an entire week if you’re feeding a large family, but if you’re looking for ways to save on groceries, you could add a few reasonably-priced perishable essentials, such as fresh fruit and veggies, milk, bread, cheese, lean meats, and butter. With those additions, I bet your “bare” pantry could feed your family for over a week.

Full disclosure – I did take a trip to the grocery store this afternoon because my fridge was looking a little sad and because I have a 4-year-old obsessed with milk, as well as a 9-year-old who binges on fruit. However, I don’t plan to venture back to H-E-B for at least 2 weeks, and our monthly (food only) grocery bill remains under $550 for our family of 6. For more ideas on how to save on groceries, check out my post, 7 EASY Ways to Save on Groceries.

* For this week’s Sunday Surprise, I used ingredients I always have on hand to make Flourless Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies (recipe linked above in list). These are usually a special treat for my husband and me, and the kids have to be quick to snag one for themselves!

Sunday Surprise

Making a Delicious Meal with What You’ve Already Got

My kids are picky. Even my typically non- picky eaters are picky in their own right. I’ve been dodging complaints all week about certain snacks not being in the pantry or about what I chose to make for dinner, even though, in my opinion, we’ve been pretty well-stocked. I don’t think it matters how much we actually have… my children still think, “there’s nothing here to eat!” (Enter eye roll.)

With that in mind, I decided to start a new tradition at our house, called “Sunday Surprise”. We’ll make a meal out of whatever randomness we’ve got in our pantry or fridge for our Sunday dinner. No special trips to the grocery store to fulfill a recipe, no Chinese food runs, and no resorting to frozen pizza. It’s our new family challenge, similar to the ones I mentioned in step 3 of New Year, New FRUGAL You(9 Easy Ways to Save Money in 2020).

One of my favorite aspects of frugal living is making the most of what we already have and really using up what’s in our house, especially the food. As I mentioned before, we’re relatively well-stocked this week, especially with vegetables, after hosting friends last weekend for gumbo night and a family slumber party. But the items I used tonight are likely in your fridge and pantry too.

With canned corn, potatoes, carrots, celery, a simple meat, milk, and a few common pantry items, you can totally pull off this potato and corn chowder! I had several gold potatoes that were about to go bad and some celery stalks that were on the verge of bending like rubber. I also had some leftover ham slices, which by the way, I recommend adding to your regular grocery list if they’re not a part of the rotation already. (Ham slices are a quick plan B option when dinner plans don’t work out.)

I love to make soups in the winter, and I found a yummy recipe on Pinterest. I just tweaked it a bit by adding about 1/2 cup of water and additional milk to get the texture I wanted. Plus, I also added some of my favorite seasonings and about 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese because, well, cheese makes everything better. https://www.dinneratthezoo.com/leftover-ham-recipes/

The chowder turned out to be delicious, and I had enough to bring to a friend for her family’s dinner tonight as well. The first Sunday Surprise actually worked out, aside from the fact that my picky kids still turned their noses up at it. Ah well, such is parenting. Luckily, I keep plenty of marginally unhealthy kid faves in the house as well.

Unrelated to the soup, I also realized today that we were out of coffee creamer, and I definitely did not want to go to the store just to replace that, knowing that I’d end up buying several other items once I stepped inside. So, I used an empty jar we had previously saved and mixed up half and half, a tablespoon (or maybe a tad bit more) of sugar, and a teaspoon of vanilla. I gave it a good shake and ended up with creamy perfection without having to run to the store.

Homemade vanilla coffee creamer

I would absolutely love to hear how you make the most of what you’ve got in your fridge or pantry, especially if it’s become a great way for you to save money. I am by no means a chef, so there’s no reinventing the wheel in this house. Please share away!