No Spend January: An Experiment in Minimalism

When I was younger, I wanted to be a priest. I wasn’t a particularly devout Catholic1, but I was a damn good alter server; being a priest seemed like the next logical step…you know, career wise. But once I discovered computers2, that dream quickly faded. I also wanted badly to be a Jedi. I still couldn’t have a family. But I could use computers…and you know, use the Force.

Both priesthood and the Jedi Order have something in common: a dedication to minimalism3. This isn’t something I’ve particularly dedicated myself to — I have too much stuff. And lately it’s become abundantly clear.

A Lot Changed in 2021

A lot changed for our family in 2021…especially in December. We welcomed our daughter, Abigail Grace, into the world. She’s our 3rd; we have 2 in diapers now. Providing for a family of 5 isn’t something I was planning to do for a couple of years.

Plus, we have car payments again since we got that sweet, sweet minivan. Oh, and the child tax credit is ending…for now. That money was off-setting Teresa’s tuition nicely.

We also spent a lot in Fall 2021, between events, Christmas, and planned and unplanned expenses. We aren’t living above our means, but we’re awfully close.

Committing to a Month of No Spending

As a result, we’ve committed to doing a No Spend month in January. We’ve set up some ground rules, thanks to the helpful4 book, The Year of Less by Cait Flanders. They are:

  1. Only buy what we need
  2. Put any money we would have spent into savings.
  3. Use what we have
  4. Declutter physical and digital stuff

To expand a bit, we have some specifics to help us.

On Spending

When we say only buy what we need, we mean essentials, important stuff for the kids, or gifts for others. We cannot buy anything we want, we can only cook at home (no going out to eat or ordering in), no coffee orders, and we need to run all Amazon purchase by each other. Ideally, we won’t be ordering anything off Amazon, or anywhere else.

The last bit is important. Erin and I would basically buy things on Amazon as needed, and it adds up. Ordering out too. We spent over $330 on Uber Eats in December, which is far too much.

Use What We Have

When it comes to using what we have, we’re going to inventory our pantry and use up stuff we’ve had for a while. We’re also making room in the basement for bulk buying once the no spend month is over.

We have a TON of stuff and I’m sure we can use it instead of buying more. We tend to waste a bunch of food — something slightly inevitable when you have kids — and we got a little off the rails last year as I navigated having Type 2 Diabetes.

The same goes for toiletries and other non-perishables. We have a bunch of soap, shampoo, and paper goods we need to work through before we can buy more.


Using what we have is one part of decluttering. I don’t want to belabor this point, but with 3 kids, we have a LOT of stuff all around the house, and much of it we don’t really need.

Decluttering Physical Stuff

While Erin is on maternity leave and I’m working half days, we’re going to take the house room by room and donate stuff we no longer need. We’re also going to move toys that might be good for Abby into the attic until she’s of age.

I’m cleaning out my office and the basement. Part of our clutter comes from my unusual need to keep every box from stuff I buy. I’ve gotten rid of nearly all of them, keeping only the ones I’m absolutely sure I’ll be able to sell.

Oh, and we’re basically getting rid of all of our DVDs, save for the ones we’ll definitely watch that won’t always be on a streaming service we have.

Decluttering the Digital

I also want to get rid of our digital cruft. This is subscriptions and memberships, as well as time-sucking apps.

First, I went to Amazon and removed any subscriptions we didn’t need. Now it’s basically diapers, wipe, and medicine. Everything else we can buy as-needed.

I also downloaded a couple of apps: Truebill, which tracks spending, surfaces subscriptions, and even offers a service to try to lower bills, and, which will surface email newsletters and unsubscribe you.

Truebill helped me eliminate about $100/mo in subscriptions and other recurring charges right off the bat. I might give them a go for lowering bills too.

I removed some key apps: Uber Eats, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Twitter and Instagram are still on my iPad Mini, which isn’t on me nearly as much as my phone. I’ve also forged some good habits with the Mini that don’t revolved around boredom scrolling, so I’m less likely to go to social media there. The IG app is so bad on iPad I’m basically only using it for posting.

Logging Progress

Something I’m going to try to do is log our progress. This includes stuff we’ve gotten rid of, purchases we didn’t make, and money we’ve saved.

I’ll be using Craft for this and sharing it with my wife, though it seems she’ll be using a notebook or Apple Notes.

I’m excited to see the results at the end of the month, and have a sneaking suspicion we will make this a quarterly thing.

Have You Tried This?

What about you? Have you tried a lean or no-spend month? What did you think? Any tips? Let me know in the comments!

  1. I’m still not, but I try. ?
  2. and that I wanted to have a family ?
  3. It’s worth noting that I went to a Carmelite parish, and Carmelites take a vow of poverty. ?
  4. but more autobiographical than I thought it would be ?

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