This guest post from Marisa Bell-Metereau is part of the “reader stories” feature at Get Rich Slowly. Some stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success or failure. These stories feature folks with all levels of financial maturity and income. Want submit your own reader story? Here’s how.

Every year in February, once the holidays are over and life is slowly returning to normal, my boyfriend and I undertake a project that helps us stop lifestyle inflation and save on the order of $300 each for the month. We call this exercise “Superfrugality Month” and the rules are pretty simple.

We don’t spend any money on non-essentials during the month of February. Once March first rolls around, we can spend money on wants again. That’s it in a nutshell.

Origins
When I first graduated from college six years ago, my roommate and I noticed that we spent a lot of money eating out, and not very much money at the grocery store. In our quest to become responsible grownups, we challenged ourselves to eat only home-cooked meals — no takeout, no restaurants, no exceptions — for an entire month every year.

Once I met my boyfriend a few years later and told him about my wacky annual February challenge, he jumped on board wholeheartedly, and we expanded the concept and renamed it Superfrugality Month, where the aim is to be extremely, super frugal.

The rules:

  1. No unnecessary purchases. At all. Not at the grocery store, not at the convenience store, nothing. Coffee from Starbucks, eating meals out (even lunch), and emergency gelato runs are all classified as “unnecessary purchases.” Sadly.
  2. Bank the savings. The leftover money at the end of the month is split between our savings account and our annual trip fund.
  3. Seriously, no unnecessary purchases. Plan accordingly.

One reason that Superfrugality Month works is that it’s a challenge with an expiration date. I can resist eating lunch at that place down the street for a month, but not for the rest of my life. Once March rolls around and I can get takeout from there again, it feels like such a fun treat, not something that has become rote and expected. Same goes for buying cookies at the grocery store and going out for coffee or brunch on Sunday morning.

Every year, March — the dreariest month in my part of the country — feels like Christmas all over again. The process of paring down my spending to the absolute essentials, and realizing how much I spend on nonessentials, really helps me curb lifestyle inflation.

This year, thanks to a serious caffeine addiction, I felt like I was owed my daily Starbucks until I denied myself it for a month and had to make coffee at home. I never went back to buying coffee out once Superfrugality Month was over this year and now I have extra money in my bank account every month.

Making it Work
As I have learned through personal trial and error, there are certain key things that make or break Superfrugality Month. They are:

  • Strength in numbers. Tell everyone, friends and strangers (like your barista) that you are doing Superfrugality Month. Ask them not to tempt you with invites to lunch or dinner for the next month. You will find that most people are sensitive to your situation, and some will even want to participate themselves! Superfruality Month has become an annual event among our friends.
  • Plan ahead. Map out meals like your life depends on it, especially if you tend to get weak-willed when hungry. I’ve learned to always have a granola bar in my purse and an easy boxed dinner in my cupboard.
  • Find fun free things to do. Superfrugality Month doesn’t have to mean that you sit at home by yourself for 28 (or 29) days, it just means that you have to get a little creative when it comes to entertainment. Have friends over for a movie night and watch something you already own and love. Host a potluck dinner where everyone brings their favorite dish. Check out what’s going on at the local library or a museum (many of which have free days). Pick up that paintbrush or guitar that has laid long-neglected. You’d be surprised how many ways there are to entertain yourself for free once you go looking for them. I’ve rediscovered hobbies and finished many previously-abandoned projects during Superfrugality Month.

The point of Superfrugality Month isn’t to deny myself life’s pleasures; it’s more of an exercise in making sure I really enjoy the things I spend my money on instead of taking them for granted. This ties in with the fifteenth tenet of the Get Rich Slowly philosophy: You can have anything you want, but you can’t have everything you want.

J.D.’s Note: I like one-month challenges, and I use them myself all the time. In fact, this month I’m doing “Every Day in May”, which is a challenge to get to the gym every day this month. So far, so good. Next month I’m doing “No Junk in June”, which is a challenge to eat only healthy, organic whole foods. I’m not always successful at these challenges, but they force me to be more mindful of my behavior.

Thanks to financially-savvy parents who set a good example and a personal interest in the subject, I have a good handle on my finances. I track my spending, max out my employer-contributed retirement account and personal Roth IRA, have targeted savings accounts, and carry no debt. But lifestyle inflation still creeps in, and usually around December I find myself bemoaning the fact that I have no money left by the end of each month. I start to get a little lax because I know I’m that overall, I’m in sound financial shape.

Superfrugality Month is a way to re-evaluate spending habits, take a good look at wants vs. needs, and make sure I enjoy the wants I choose to spend money on while disregarding the rest.

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