The Ground Rules {Day 1}


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I’m not sure how many of you are on board for this month’s challenge but the gauntlet has been tossed and I am calling on ALL of you to try, in your own way, with your own rules, to do this with me. Right here, right now commit to a whole month of no spending:

31 Days of Living Well and Spending ZERO

If you’ve read this blog for longer than a week you probably already know that my husband and I just finished a 30 day spending freeze. For the entire month of September, we cut out all of our non-essential (and even most of our ‘essential’) spending. (To read about the 5 financial lessons I’ve learned so far, check out Friday’s post here.)

I’m not gonna lie, there were some tough moments. By the third day I was really, really regretting my lack of foresight to stock up on a few bottles of wine, and about halfway through the month I think I would have traded both my children for just one double -tall-one-and-a-half-pump-cinnamon-dolce-lattes.

Spending zero means saying no to fancy coffee (but you can still enjoy it at home)!

We ate more than a few very random–and not in a good way–meals and we sometimes found ourselves talking longingly about all the favorite restaurants we used to frequent. Princess is literally counting the days until we can go back to the Golden Corral. Yep, we really know how to live. 🙂

But guess what? At the end of the month we had saved over $1,000, tackled some very hard money discussions that we had previously avoided, cleared out much of the long-forgotten food in our freezer & pantry, and ultimately realize that we need so much less than what we have.

I wish I could say we didn’t fight about money that whole time, but in a strange twist, we actually had a doozy of a fight when Husband wanted spend a few dollars on something and I said no, that it wasn’t “essential.” (Let me tell you, having had ALL our previous money fights originate from MY spending habits, it was practically like the Twilight Zone to have it go the other way.) But we lived!

So would I do it again? In a heartbeat! I am ready to start all over again, this month, with YOU. To be perfectly honest, I am far more concerned about committing to writing a blog post a day for 31 days then I am to committing to another month of no spending.

But this month is not just about spending ZERO, although that will be our main goal. It will also be about living WELL while we do it. It will be about finding out just how much we already have and how little more we really need. And hopefully, by the end of them month, my definition of “living well” will also be yours:  A life rich with faith, family, friends, & creativity, secure in the idea that a life well lived has nothing to do with what we have but who we are.

I thought it would be fun to put together some printables for this challenge to help you complete the challenges & track your progress. Not every day will have one, but some days will and as you print them out you can put them in a folder or binder and create your own (cute) 31 day notebook. If there is anything I love more than a 31 day challenge, it is a cute notebook to go with it!

31 Days of Living Well & Spending Zero

Get your printable notebook cover sheet here

*   *   *

So let’s get started, shall we? Today your task is pretty simple. First, you have to COMMIT! You can’t approach this half-heartedly or you will fail. If you are married you will also need to get your spouse on board–you will need each other! Once you’ve signed it, snap a picture and tweet it with the hashtag #31DaysLWSZ .

Download the printable Zero Spending Commitment printable.

Get your printable commitment page here

Next, you will also have to set some ground rules for your challenge. Our ground rules last month were very basic: no spending on anything that wasn’t absolutely essential.

For us that meant paying only our regular bills, as well as giving to the church, buying one birthday gift, and purchasing a handful of other “essentials” (such as seeds for our garden, a needed part to fix the car, etc.)  The only food items we allowed ourselves to buy during the month were milk, bread, eggs, & cheese. The rest of our food we ate all month came from our pantry and freezer, using what we had on hand.

Your rules should account for your own circumstances.  If you have a birthday or event or vacation already on the schedule, just account for it in your plan and move on. If you do not have a huge stockpile of food stored up, eating only from your pantry & freezer probably won’t work, so you will have to include limited food purchases in your rules. This month, with our freezer and pantry already depleted, we will most likely run out of food. However, our plan is still to use what we have before we buy more. Resist the temptation to make too many exceptions ahead of time. The point is to stop spending! 

There are a few expenses that should definitely be cut out for the month:

  • Eating at restaurants
  • Starbucks
  • Clothing
  • Hobbies–crafts, golf, etc.
  • Entertainment
  • Toys
  • Toiletries
  • Alcohol & other vices
  • Lottery Tickets
  • Furniture/Home Decor

The ground rules for 31 Days of Spending Zero.Get your printable ground rules worksheet here

*   *   *

So who’s ready to take on this challenge? What are your fears or concerns? What are you most excited about? Do you have any questions? Let’s do this!

*   *   *

{Go to Day Two}


  1. Denise
    September 30 at 09:28PM

    The closer it got to the end of the month, the more nervous I got! But now that it is finally here, I am excited. We have gotten very careless with our spending lately and I am ready to get back on track. Thank you so much for doing this!

    • Ruth
      October 1 at 08:54AM

      You’re welcome Denise! I promise it won’t be too painful. 🙂 Glad to have you on board!

  2. Sarah L.
    September 30 at 09:46PM

    I don’t know exactly why I find this so scary but I do. I know we need it though, and my husband is excited so we are going to give it a try. Thanks Ruth!

    • Ruth
      October 1 at 08:56AM

      You’re welcome! Thanks for joining us! 🙂

  3. Jessi
    September 30 at 10:26PM

    While *I* may be committed to seeing just what we’re capable of doing re: not spending, I’m having a hard time getting my husband “on board”. And you know that you can’t attempt something this life-changing if only HALF of you is fully committed. What can I do/suggest to get him to try something like this?

    • Ruth
      October 1 at 08:59AM

      That is tough Jessi! Is there something in particular he is worried about cutting out of your expenses? I would suggest maybe just printing out the ground rules worksheet and showing him that you guys can still account for certain things. Maybe you could explain that you feel it is really important to your family and to you, and offer to give him a small amount of “pocket money” that would be just for him. Good luck. Let us know how it goes!

  4. September 30 at 11:15PM

    I’m looking forward to following you this month. We usually do our no spend month in February – this upcoming one will be our fifth year. I would like to add another month since the family is finally on board for Feb. So I hope to add another month in 2013.

    • Ruth
      October 1 at 09:00AM

      Wow Debra, it sounds like you are a PRO! I hope you will share a lot of your tips and tricks with us along the way. 🙂 Thanks for joining in!

    • September 15 at 03:51PM

      Debra, this seems like a great idea, to plan a month one month a year.

  5. Zoey
    October 1 at 08:47AM

    I love this! I could use a kick in the pants when it comes to overspending! I’m not sure I’m ready but I’m going to try!

    • Ruth
      October 1 at 09:02AM

      You’ll do great! Glad to have you on board Zoey! 🙂

  6. October 1 at 09:55AM

    I have recently took over our finances. My husband and I decided it was a little confusing have 2 people trying to pay bills and keep up on things. So for October we are going on a bit of a spending freeze. Bills and food ONLY! Hopefully my kids don’t hate me by the end of the month =P

    • Ruth
      October 1 at 10:34AM

      They won’t. 🙂 Glad to have you join us Keirra!

  7. Crystal
    October 1 at 10:10AM

    I am not an overspender, but husband sure is when it come to lunches. He buys lunch out every work day and often stops at a gas station for a drink and some chips. We’ve had “the talk” about this and while it seems he is on board for a few days, he quickly goes back to his old ways. It’s not horrible though and I have to say that once (long before kids) I dropped $50 plus at Starbuck’s each week…. This is going to be a fun challenge and definitely worth the work!!! Thanks, Ruth!!!!

    • Ruth
      October 1 at 10:35AM

      You’re welcome! I’m excited to hear how it goes for you guys! Glad to have you join in the fun!

    • Rob in Munich
      October 6 at 02:08AM

      I had the same issue with my wife regarding clothing, always a hassle because she’d want something new and I’d be stuck with trying to fit it in the budget, so I finally took a page from my sister in law and set up her own bank account, I transfer (this inspite of the fact she’s the wage earner) X amount into HER account each month and then she’s responsible for managing it. Every so often I’ll pop into the bank for her to pay a bill but other than that it’s completely under her control

      So I’d suggest talking about him either having an allowance that is his to manage or a completely separate bank account. The key is not to be too generous with the money.

  8. October 1 at 11:07AM

    As a Financial Peace University graduate, I love all things Dave Ramsey and let’s face it I’ve been on a spending spree lately and it’s time to pay the piper! I was just thinking of freezing my spending this morning and then remembered I have kids on fall break for 3 out of the 4 weeks this month. Hmmm??? That’s my hesitation, I have some fun things planned and they cost money, plus it’s my bday month. 🙂 I’ll have to think on it, because I know we need it badly. BTW, pop over and give Ruthanne some comment love on today’s MMM post.
    xo, Jessica

    • Ruth
      October 1 at 08:39PM

      Girl, I know how you hate commitment but this is one month of your life….you can do it! 🙂

      Oh, and done and done. xoxo

  9. Peggy
    October 1 at 11:42AM

    I have a hard time understanding why someone who subscribes to “Living Well, Spending Less,” especially the head “saver,” would need to give up “Starbucks.” Spending less and including Starbucks as an expense is an oxymoron to say the least. Their coffee is more expensive than any others and it doesn’t even taste any better than others. That’s not something I could drop from my list of expenses, because I refuse to pay for it at any time.

    • Crystal
      October 1 at 12:07PM

      Everyone has their “vice”. Some people like Starbucks over other coffee shops or vice versa. To each his own, but do undertand that some people actually budget for a “coffee treat”. I buy the bagged Starbucks coffee- mainly when on sale, paired with a coupon, and gift card. Then I take my empty bag in to my local Starbucks and get a free tall drip coffee. A definite treat for me. Let’s not judge.

    • Ruth
      October 1 at 08:48PM

      LOL Peggy I can tell you must be new to LWSL because I am by no means a financial wizard! 🙂 Far from it, actually. I originally started this blog because I was a shopaholic in danger of spending my marriage to death. (You can read all about it here and here and here) In any case, welcome! I am so glad to have you here & hope you will be able to find lots to relate to here, even if you don’t share my deep and abiding love of overpriced (but oh-so-delicious) coffee. 🙂

  10. October 1 at 11:54AM

    I did a spending freeze last year and it was FABULOUS! So empowering to have the ability to just say no to buying the inessentials!

    • Ruth
      October 1 at 08:50PM

      So does that mean you are joining us this year? 🙂

  11. Brandi
    October 1 at 12:57PM

    I’m in. going to go over my rules for the month right now!

    • Ruth
      October 1 at 08:50PM

      Woot woot….glad to have you Brandi!

  12. Dolores Smith
    October 1 at 01:41PM

    I’m in, Ruth. As a single retiree, I need to learn to cut down on the shopping. Have a pantry full and freezer full of food that needs eating before I add a single thing AND I’ve already been working on it for a month. It’ll take some time, but my budget will love it!

    • Ruth
      October 1 at 08:51PM

      Ms. Dolores, I am so glad to have you! 🙂

  13. Angie D.
    October 1 at 01:50PM

    Wow, this is awesome (but scary). However, if you could do it last month, then we can do it together this month. I can’t wait to push myself and see how creative I can get with the stuff in my cupboards. Besides, any reason to start a cute binder is awesome!!

    • Ruth
      October 1 at 08:54PM

      Yay! So glad to have you on board Angie! 🙂

  14. October 1 at 03:14PM

    This sounds amazing! It would be hard to do this month since I start Christmas shopping in October.

    • Ruth
      October 1 at 08:53PM

      I hope you’ll join us Nicole! You could do one of 2 things….budget a certain amount for Christmas shopping this month (in your ground rules) OR spend this month working on FREE gifts–either homemade or recycled. You might be surprised at how creative you can be once you set a few limits. 🙂

  15. October 1 at 05:12PM

    I want to do this, but the idea of being cut off what I want to do is scary. Before you did this for the first time, did you stock up on some things? Anything? I know you said you wish you had on some other things… Part of me wants to stockpile before I start, but I’m not sure that’s the point.

    • Ruth
      October 1 at 08:57PM

      We did not stock up on things–that would defeat the purpose! If you run out & it is something you absolutely cannot live without, you can always buy more. The point is to use what you have. 🙂

  16. October 1 at 09:11PM

    Great ideas! hmmm…I need to think about whether I am ready for this challenge..

  17. October 1 at 10:52PM

    This is perfect timing. My husband and I decided we would make October “no spend month” in our household even before I stumbled on your blog. So I will be following along! Problem is, i actually failed already today on Day 1, totally by accident. So I am just going to tack on another day.
    I am also doing the 31 days too. My topic is “31 Days to Healthier Grub!”

  18. October 2 at 12:20AM

    I found you via The Nester. I’ve already committed to a no-spend on the house over the next month, so I’m going to try it for the other categories too. Not sure I’m organized enough for groceries, but I think if I only buy perishables I could do it. Thanks for the challenge, and the fun printables!

  19. October 2 at 12:56AM

    Boy, how I wish I could commit to a month of no spending. (Except bills of course). Honestly, I just don’t think I could do it. Maybe one day, because I would LOVE to see how much we save!

  20. October 2 at 09:25AM

    ok I am in!!! I have a blog so I will be keeping my progress on blog too. this is a great idea!

  21. Heather
    October 4 at 02:01AM

    wow, in October? I’m gearing up for Christmas! I’m going to watch and see how you all do, and then go ahead and try this out in January.

  22. October 4 at 06:49PM

    Ruth, you’re a woman after my own heart 🙂 An Australian charity is doing ‘Buy Nothing New Month’ for October, and I’m doing that along with my 31 Days series. Buying nothing new isn’t hard for me. Buying non-essentials is a harder challenge – especialy when it comes to coffee – and one I’m embracing this month (I’ve already failed on several occasions!!). Makes it interesting when I’m in the process of renovating my house!!

  23. October 5 at 12:38PM

    no where’s near ready for a challenge like this (cin dolce is my fav, too-but i went to dbl nonfat latte w whip to save calories and decrease sugar). love your definition of living well, too. perfect.

  24. October 15 at 02:39PM

    Fantastic challenge! Saw you on Frugal girl the a.m. Now getting caught up reading your 31days project…I’m doing one myself. Cheers!

  25. February 11 at 02:36PM

    I absolutely love your quote at the end: “A life rich with faith, family, friends & creativity, secure in the idea that a life well lived has nothing to do with what we have but who we are.”
    I hope you don’t mind but I mentioned it in my blog post from today and linked it back to your website of course. Totally fit with something that happened this weekend that I was writing about and then I saw your quote today and thought-wow, she totally gets it!

  26. Virginia
    April 18 at 03:33PM

    Starting today! We just got married and are learning to balance our finances, at a rapid rate! I also printed your budget sheet, and some coupon-ing tips and tricks! This is my favorite blog find yet, thanks for all the great advice!

  27. Anonymous
    May 13 at 04:53AM

    I am in on this.

  28. Kim
    May 18 at 11:53PM

    I feel like to do this type of thing it would take a lot of preparation and saving up to go on the “big shopping trip.” I do know that for two weeks we’re able to live off of our pantry and can get by with only getting essentials (like formula and diapers and purified nursery water). We tried buying stuff for a month’s time and didn’t really plan out anything (I told the hubby about the idea and he went on a spree when I sent him to the store…). Still left us near penniless at the end of the month. So I feel like its something to plan for.

    HOWEVER – I really want to do it for the experience of it and to see how much of a difference it would be. For one if it saves us money I’m all up for that. And two, I’m TRYING to start up my own blog so anything I can blog about would be great. Perhaps I can blog about the preparation for it. Ha~

  29. July 12 at 11:12PM

    Are you planning another no-spend month this year? I love the idea, but think I need the support of like minded folks. Let me know and I’ll be in!

  30. D. B.
    August 1 at 03:19PM

    starting your challenge today….the toughest part is getting my husband on board……he is the one that makes the money & just gives me a set amount each time he gets paid for groceries, gifts, etc.

  31. Susie
    September 5 at 02:01PM

    I have been wanting to do something like this for a while – I’m on board! Now to get hubby there too…

  32. Christine
    September 30 at 06:22PM

    Tomorrow’s my 55th birthday. I’m in more debt than many small countries (thank you x- and divorcing) and am a waitress. I feel like I’m down to bare bones already, but feel like there’s more I could do. I think writing down every penny I spend might make me feel more in control. I already record to the PENNY what I make, so why not compliment that. What better month to start than the advent of a new year of life?

  33. Melissa
    October 1 at 07:22AM

    Well hubs and I discussed it yesterday and have decided to try this using your blog as our guideline. We have a birthday (my son) this month but we’ve already bought his gift and have the very small party planned (going to a local farm). But the money was set aside for that already as well. We have a close to negative budget as it is so over spending on large items has n

  34. Melissa
    October 1 at 07:26AM

    Well hubs and I discussed it yesterday and have decided to try this using your blog as our guideline. We have a birthday (my son) this month but we’ve already bought his gift and have the very small party planned (going to a local farm). But the money was set aside for that already as well. We have a close to negative budget as it is so over spending on large items has not been an issue, its the little things ( craft stuff for the kids, the 30 millionth hammer for hubs, yet another bin to sort things into) that always get us. I’m going try try and pull my mother in law in on this as well since she tends to go a little crazy buying stuff for the kids and our new house (I appreciate all of it but its hurting her finances). Wish us luck!!!
    I’m jump starting to or rows task and doing my meal plan now!

  35. October 23 at 12:49PM

    I love this! I’m late to discovering your blog, but my husband and I have done similar spending freezes over the past few months. We are tackling our student loans and were AMAZED at how much quicker we could pay on them once we cut out many non-essential items! Loving your blog and looking forward to reading a lot more!

  36. Brandy M
    November 17 at 11:00PM

    I just found this today. Glad I did. I was hurt on my job over 2 months ago and havn’t worked since. I am receiving a very small worker’s comp check each week, but it doesn’t go far!! It’s forced me to spend more wisely, but, I’m still having a rough time. I wish I had found you and this post a long time ago. I think that deciding to go on an “extreme budget” would have been much easier than being forced into it! I will be doing this month of no extra spending very soon. Just gotta get my ducks in a row. (AKA….Hubby on board!)

  37. Mary
    November 18 at 07:19PM

    I just found this today. I am very motivated, now that I am not alone. I am starting tomorrow. Thank you for the inspiration!!!!

  38. Mandy Tirado
    December 27 at 01:41PM

    Oh, this sounds super hard and really scary, but I am so game for this! My husband and I keep having more month than money and the kids are acting so entitled! I hate that! We are literally about to pull our hair out. Something drastic like this is EXACTLY what we need to start off the new year and set new habits. I am grateful there is a support group because oh baby am I going to need it!!!!

  39. anna louise
    December 30 at 11:54PM

    This sounds so interesting, but the one thing I wonder about is nutritional value of meals without fresh fruits and veggies. Growing kids need nutrients and vitamins I won’t find in my pantry. Would you consider this an essential, or sacrifice whole foods for the month?

    • Anonymous
      January 1 at 01:15PM

      I would consider for our family fruit and veggies essential.
      Though you would have to eat every single piece before more is purchased. Throwing away
      Perishables would defeat the purpose of the challenge. I agree though. Nutrition is key!

  40. Delores
    December 31 at 07:31AM

    The Facebook groups are closed groups? How do you join a closed group?

    • Ruth Soukup
      December 31 at 10:03AM

      When you click the link to visit the group, you can request to join. Then my team will make sure to add you before the challenge starts!

  41. Becky Davis
    December 31 at 03:10PM

    I saw this challenge on my facebook page shared by one of my friends. I’m a spendthrift with a passion for semiprecious rocks and unusual plants (I have a greenhouse). I really need to save some money because I know I can’t eat rocks and they won’t pay the bills. I’m accepting this challenge in the hopes that with your support and support from the group I won’t go into complete withdrawal. Soooooooooo, count me in! (Shaky but smiling) Becky

  42. January 3 at 09:21PM

    is it too late since it’s the 3rd of January?

  43. jayne
    January 16 at 06:17PM

    You only allowed yourself to purchase milk, bread, eggs, & cheese?
    What about fresh fruit, vegetables & meat?
    We buy local fresh items every week, just enough for what we need, so don’t have a stock pile. Our veggie garden only provides a supplement to our meals, we currently have quite a bit of fruit on the trees.
    We might have one or two individual serves of meat in the freezer, if one of the kids unexpectantly misses a home meal.
    Are you advocating eating package food for a whole month? We probably manage that for more than a week or two only have enough Asian noodles for 3 meals, pasta for 2, 2 packets of cous cous, rice & one can each of chick peas, lentils, tomatoes & corn. And we’d be out of breakfast cereal by Monday.
    Maybe this challenge isn’t suitable for us.

    • Ruth Soukup
      January 17 at 08:51AM

      We also buy produce when we do this challenge! The main point of the challenge is to spend zero on non-essentials. Food is definitely essential! 🙂 It is great to try to use up what is in your pantry, but if you are not much of a stockpiler you will probably have to spend ore on food. You should of course customize it to fit your own family’s needs! The philosophy that I share all the time on this blog is simple: Any savings is better than none!

    • alexis
      November 9 at 12:38PM

      I second that. I’m all for a no spend month, but if you have to stock pile to make it happen your better off just shopping deals to begin with.. there’s no point to spending $100 more his month so you can spend $100 less next month. To me it should be less spending across the board every month instead of having a month where you live out of a bear cupboard…

  44. January 31 at 01:19PM

    I’m in.

  45. Jennifer
    March 31 at 09:19PM

    I know we can do this!

  46. April 26 at 09:13PM

    I am thinking while looking at this, that since you have the printables for a notebook that this would be a good thing to incorporate into homeschool. We are winding down this year and getting ready for a mission trip in Ecuador, but I think this would be a great project to start my daughter’s 7th grade year in either August or September.

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  49. Lindsay Mae
    July 15 at 03:51PM

    Starting this tomorrow! So excited to get my spending under control!

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  52. alexis
    November 9 at 12:22PM

    1,000! Holy buckets! We could cut down to just milk and eggs a month and still only save 200 more!! Plus my hubby won’t be happy if we cut out meat. We are always looking for ways to save more, we plan to buy a house ( Buy, as in pay for with cash) in 5 years.

    Our budget looks like this

    Straight talk (we have one phone)
    Laundry (we spend about $4 a week washing clothing and nappies)
    Rag money $20 each. To spend or save buy gifts what ever we want.

  53. Anonymous
    February 28 at 11:31AM

    What about daily fresh fruits and vegetables.

  54. April 4 at 01:34PM

    Wow, I’m pleased to read the actual blog comments versus the facebook comments above – yikes! I find it interesting how many of the facebook commentors “already do this” – didn’t know so many people pay only their basic bills and not a dime more thru their whole lives. Anyhow, I could go on but I’d be as snide as those comments are so I better stop! I have done a variance of this twice and loved what it showed me about my spending habits and what I thought was “essential.” I also didn’t notice a significant grocery bill in the next month – I just had more space in my freezer and cupboard and added things back in the same way they got there – little by little. I called my times “Minimal Spending March and set myself a budget of $80 for the whole month – for food, gas, TP, – everything. (by the way, have never once thought of TP as “toiletries” – toiletries to me is shampoo, lotions, etc). If the way Ruth has described it doesn’t work exactly for you, keep the concept but tweak the particulars!

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  56. Melanie
    September 6 at 12:53PM

    Hi Ruth , I really want to do the 31 days of no spending but I am scratching my head thinking this is going to be impossible . I have 3 boys and we go through about 2 gallons of milk a week , my middle sons birthday is in October and Halloween as well . My boys are expecting costumes , I will be making the costumes but there are still some items I need to purchase in order of them to be complete . I so badly want to do this challenge , do you have any tips you can give me on how to be frugal in a month with a birthday and holiday . Thank you so much and hope to get some much needed advice .

  57. Felicia
    November 1 at 05:12PM

    I* am starting this today. Excited and nervous at the same time, but it will be for the best I am sure.

    Thanks for this amazing idea!

  58. No question about it, I need this challenge. Emptying out our freezer is worth the month of austerity. Planning for mid month in January to Mid February. wish me luck.

  59. Mj
    December 30 at 02:19AM

    I will be starting this January 1st!:)))

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