How I Use Superfrugality Month to Curb Lifestyle Inflation

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.

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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Bren
Bren
8 years ago

This is called ‘Frugal February’; just google it and you’ll find lots more suggestions for things you can do (or stop doing) to live more frugally for the month of February.

I love the idea of the ‘every day in May’ challenge, too. Before you know it, you might have formed a habit.

Malcom
Malcom
8 years ago
Reply to  Bren

I think it would be great for this site to have an article at the end of January about “Frugal February”

Hatburglar
Hatburglar
8 years ago
Reply to  Malcom

That is exactly what this article is. Did you read the above article?

Sean
Sean
8 years ago
Reply to  Hatburglar

It’s not exactly January right now …

Hatburglar
Hatburglar
8 years ago
Reply to  Hatburglar

The internet is available 365 days of the year. If you don’t like the timing of this post, bookmark it and feel free to return to it during the month of your choice.

LMoot
LMoot
8 years ago
Reply to  Hatburglar

Or Malcolm wants a NEW article each year. But hey, if you want to re-read the same article every single year have at it…it could be a tradition.

grs_FAN
grs_FAN
8 years ago
Reply to  Bren

interesting post. I never knew there was a frugal Feb till now!

Marsha
Marsha
8 years ago

At our house, we call this the money diet. When we see that we’ve become too self-indulgent and our wants have turned into needs, we go on a spending diet for a week or two or three. When you first start doing this, a month may be too long. Try a week first, and build up your willpower from there. Or cut back in a single category that’s gotten out of control. Another way I use this is to challenge myself to pay an upcoming bill out of our general budget. I have savings earmarked for college tuition, car repairs,… Read more »

bg
bg
8 years ago

I like the general idea of a superfrugality month, but have found that I’m unable to meet such tight challenges. I’ve lost 25kg of weight with the “slow and steady” approach that leaves a lot of wiggling room for still eating goodies, and find that with money saving, I also prefer to do it without (what feels to me like) big sacrifices. Test runs of a week or a month with a specific target, though, that’s a really good method for me too 🙂 Actually, I had a winter challenge from October to March, which went very well. In the… Read more »

Mary
Mary
8 years ago

Do you worry that the savings aren’t sustainable? Sounds like a lot of the poor advice given to dieters who try to go “cold turkey.” In the long run such tactics prove unsuccessful and demoralizing. Hence the repeating cycle you find yourself in every February.

When it comes to savings, doesn’t “slow and steady” win the race? A principle pillar of investing is continual investment and averaging. To each his own, but these are things to be focused on continually, not once a year. After all, is the name of this site not, “Get Rich Slowly?”

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago
Reply to  Mary

I don’t know about the dieting comparison – seems like not eating and not spending have different rewards – you don’t get to hold the calories you didn’t eat that same day, the way you have money in your pocket the very day you don’t spend it.

Stopping habitual spending for a week or a month is a good way to reset your level of happiness – purchases make us less happy over time, so doing without for a while is a good way to make them enjoyable again.

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago
Reply to  Mary

I don’t think this article is about maximizing savings. It’s about pushing the re-set button on lifestyle inflation.

The writer admits that over the course of the year little treats become routine.

February is the month she and her boyfriend use to find out where they’ve let occasional indulgences become habitual.

eemusings
eemusings
8 years ago

Neat idea! I’ve done a similar thing when we’ve had some spendy runs, and also once to see if we could make it on our monthly ‘nut’ (the number I calculated to be the lowest we could get by on in a frugal month – just the basics and a very small amount for discretionary fun).

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago

We spent about a year doing random monthly challenges. Some of them worked better than others.

http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/tag/challenge/

One that we really liked was “getting finances in order”– you know, doing all those niggling things that a person puts off, like rolling over old retirement accounts, calling companies for discounts, that sort of thing.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

Yes to the getting finances in order! I don’t do Frugal February (it overlaps with lent), but in March when I’m getting my taxes ready I clean financial house.

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

I also do finance-projects months. Because some of that crap takes a good bit of time & concentration … it’s not so easy to do a good job of it on worknights, much better (for me) to devote a few Saturdays to it, knock it out, and then forget it till next quarter. I also started doing No Spend months this year. The first one was a big success and the second comes up in June. I’m not as frugal as the OP – I don’t restrict food purchases – I just don’t buy anything EXCEPT food. 🙂 What this… Read more »

indio
indio
8 years ago

We adopt a similar money saving challenge. Over the Summer, we eat food only grown in our suburban backyard garden for four months. This means no stops to the grocery store for bananas or mangos. This is eating as local as it can get. It’s our version of farm to table, but it’s backyard garden to outdoor table. Buying milk is the only exception since we have growing children. After accounting for seeds and supplies, this project has saved us over $2000 and I’m not including the health and environmental benefits.

Emily @ evolvingPF
Emily @ evolvingPF
8 years ago
Reply to  indio

This is AWESOME! I don’t think I’ll ever do that for all food but I hope to challenge myself with a version of this once we own property.

I’m just trying to probe the boundaries a bit: What do you do for protein and fat – do you buy or raise meat? Do you use any condiments that you have to buy – for instance, cooking oil?

Maria
Maria
8 years ago

Legumes that they can grow, and also dairy, which they have already said they buy, are already proteins. Maybe you are asking only about flesh protein? I don’t know about them, but many raise rabbits over the garden areas for flesh protein, and some are able to have egg producers for protein, too. But speaking as a vegetarian, our summer beans, peas, and alfalfa are lots and lots of protein. Good question too, about oil. Maybe they just buy it and use so little that what they have in the Spring lasts them all Summer long, so they don’t buy… Read more »

Brent
Brent
8 years ago
Reply to  indio

Indio,

Very impressive and inspirational to eat that locally for that length of time. We have friends who eat mostly from their suburban gardens in the growing season. They taught us how to preserve (can and freeze) which stretches the local season even further. Nothing like opening that jar of pears or peaches in winter to make our day!

Sarah
Sarah
8 years ago

“Ask them not to tempt you with invites to lunch or dinner for the next month.”

This is penny-wise and pound-foolish.

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago
Reply to  Sarah

Uh, how? Invites to dinner don’t necessarily mean “we’ll buy you dinner.” In fact I’d bet they don’t USUALLY mean that. Invitations mean “join us for dinner” usually at a restaurant. So yeah, IMO, telling friends “this is our Superfrugality month, no eating out!” would be helpful because A) if you say no to an invitation your friends already know why, no hard feelings; and B) if your friends are on board and want to help you, they’ll kindly refrain from issuing the tempting invitation in the first place. If eating out is a big part of overspending – which… Read more »

Lance@MoneyLife&More
8 years ago

Neat concept. I’ll have to try it out sometime. On the other side you could have a make extra money month as well and see if that ends up creating a bigger difference than frugality month.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago

I like that idea! I find challenges where I have to do something — give away things, exercise everyday, etc. — make a big difference.

Emmy
Emmy
8 years ago

Love it! I’m totally going to try this. I, too, get into ruts where I think I “need” or “deserve” that iced coffee or Thai takeout, and those expenses start to be more and more frequent. It’s good to do a financial cleanse, so to speak.

SB @ One cent at a time
SB @ One cent at a time
8 years ago

I don’t think any GRS reader is non-frugal. still there are new readers joining each day who’re just learning financial management. A super frugality week may be a good start that can be gradually extended to a month.

JD one question on your footnote – Are you eating junk in May and will will you stop gym in June?

Sam
Sam
8 years ago

We use spending fasts over the weekend or during the week. We used these fasts quite often when we were paying off our debt in 2007. Now we use these fasts when we seem to get off track or if we need a jump start for a particular goal. I often do a 30 day shopping fast after the holidays as well.

Kaytee
Kaytee
8 years ago

It’s all good as long as you don’t follow Frugal February up with Must Have March.

Elisa
Elisa
8 years ago

long time reader, first time commenter- One thing I love about GRS, are these Reader Stories. I find them encouraging and as good reminders in my quest for financial excellence. The coffee/snacks at Starbucks resonates with me, esp because where I work, there are two lobbies, each with a Starbucks! One, is 100 feet away from my desk. So with the challenge to avoid (over)spending there, I take it one week at a time! I use real half and half in my (break room)drip, and on weekends I make a healthy banana bread (or Chocolate chip cookies!) for days I… Read more »

Maggie
Maggie
8 years ago

I love this idea!! I will try it with my husband. Sounds like a great antidote to that general feeling of over-indulgence after the holidays. We might have a Frugal January!

Holly
Holly
8 years ago

I use the month-long strategy in different categories–don’t buy food month or months, which helps clean out the pantry and freezer. (and tells me what not to buy in the future) Don’t buy toiletries–use up those shampoos samples from hotels and the toothpaste samples from the dentist. Maximize your charitable giving where you try to give as much stuff to charity as you can for one month. Get rid of your stuff and get a tax break! Cut the expense month–where I compare my car insurance, fuel expense, cable bill, phone bills to be sure I’m getting the best rates.… Read more »

PB @ Economically Humble
PB @ Economically Humble
8 years ago

This was a good post… I noticed that every season I tend to go out and buy clothing… which I only do when really necessary. Unfortunately, this means that I buy $300 of closing at a time and usually at a big box store rather than theft stores.

Jacq
Jacq
8 years ago

“Theft” stores??? I hope you meant thrift stores…

cc
cc
8 years ago

the deals are MUCH better at theft stores 😉

Deacon
Deacon
8 years ago

I often buy things for less than I did the year before when I use coupons or buy when things are on sale. I used to keep a spreadsheet to track the costs of our regularly purchased items, but that kind o f fell by the wayside…

Kenny
Kenny
8 years ago

We practice a lot of frugality ideas that we call ‘economizing’ and that is something that we utilize 6 months out of the year. The monthly challenge is good, but have a ‘program each month’ is a better idea. By calling it ‘program’, it avoids the word challenge and makes it at least 10% better (or more). 1. Eating out at Lunch instead of dinner as a family. 2. Picking to eat at (healthy) All You Can Eat places to satisfy everyone in the family (Sweet Tomato for example). 3. Bringing home one dish and making the rest at home… Read more »

Jaime
Jaime
8 years ago

Oy vey, another article on avoiding lifestyle inflation. Nothing against the writer but this is the type of article that is overdone on GRS and pretty much on other PF blogs.

Maria
Maria
8 years ago
Reply to  Jaime

These articles remain popular, however, either as a great idea, or a great reminder, so they are meeting needs. What do you want instead, since this is overexposure for you? What type of frugality do you concentrate on? Or are you an expansionist, increasing income being better than conservationist, holding on to more of what you already earn? Not trying to argue or belittle, just want to know what you would like to see instead…

Alex
Alex
8 years ago

I did the same thing this past February, only I referred to it as a No-Buy Month. Admittedly I picked February beacuse it is the shortest month. 🙂

It was a little tough at first but eventually it all became habit. I saved $180+ on Starbucks purchases alone. Which was sort of horrifying. But the best thing was that it finally broke the habit. Even after the month was over I cut down to once a week. Now due to health problems I’ve quit caffeine entirely, but the prep work on my no-buy month made it that much easier.

Joseph Lewis
Joseph Lewis
8 years ago

Great idea Marisa,

I love it that you are both fully involved and use your savings towards someting fun like travelling.
I love eating out and I love trying to save money so I started a blog on doing both.
It’s also fun to see how much money you can save each month at the supermarket. My girlfriend and I just bought a 5kg bag of rice for $10 AUD. Bargain!

Nina
Nina
8 years ago

I like the idea of superfrugality month! I’m always on the lookout for new ways to save, as I get demotivated pretty easily, and tend to change my saving method a few times a year to keep it fresh. Currently I use a concept similar to superfrugality month. It works for me as I get paid weekly and have no children.. Every month I’m not allowed to spend any extra money until I’ve saved a certain amount. After that, I can use the rest of the month’s paychecks as I like – although I have an automated savings account transfer… Read more »

bobj
bobj
8 years ago

J.D.

I like the month theme.
I’m having New Automobile August!

leaf (the indolent cook)
leaf (the indolent cook)
8 years ago

It must take a lot of discipline to do this super-frugal thing for one month so kudos to you! I did a “live below the line” challenge (this is to raise awareness for a charity that works for countries in poverty) recently where I made $10 worth of food last me 5 days – this is in Australia. It really opened my eyes to how extravagant some of my daily choices are. As a result I donated some money to the cause and these days I’m trying to pack lunch to work more often.

LMoot
LMoot
8 years ago

I like the idea of doing something like this, like sort of a lifestyle “reset” or like a finance fast.

Sometimes I get into a particular habit of eating out on weekends, or eating lunch out, or making multiple, unnecessary trips out of town and buying too many gifts (and things for myself too).

I think I will try this in June. I’ve already conditioned myself to be comfy at 83 degrees with the fans on, because for a while I just automatically set the stat at 78 because that’s where I was used to it being back in winter.

Patrick
Patrick
8 years ago

You say that the point of this month isn’t to deny yourselves of anything, but all the habits that are outlined in GRS and in most personal finance sites can be used to achieve the same goals, if the goals are indeed centered around savings. For instance, if your goal is to save an extra $300/year, you can automate that into an online savings account each paycheck, and then you don’t have to go through the difficulty of a whole month of keeping extra careful track of yourself. If the goal is to “reset” your spending habits, what do you… Read more »

Marisa
Marisa
8 years ago
Reply to  Patrick

My goal isn’t to save an extra $300 a year, it’s more to focus on enjoying the “wants” I spend on instead of letting them become expected and therefore not as much fun or as much of a treat. In March I generally go back to spending money on wants, but with a more carefully edited list of things I choose to spend my money on. For example, I never went back to buying coffee out, and now I don’t miss it. I did miss buying treats at the grocery store from time to time, so I resumed that practice,… Read more »

frugalscholar
frugalscholar
8 years ago

Marisa–I knew your parents in grad school. I remember being impressed that they saved and saved and bought a house–long before most of us had even thought of such a thing.

Alex
Alex
8 years ago

This is awesome! Thank you!

Allison
Allison
8 years ago

My husband and I do the same thing in Sept. we call it “starving student month”. It coincides with the back to school theme of Sept and our goal is to live like we did as starving college students. Same basic rules but we also cut way back at the grocery store. No expensive cheese, meat, seafood, wine, etc. We save a ton of money and it really reminds us of how much we spend on things we don’t really need. It absolutely helps us pull back the reigns on lifestyle inflation and does remind us to appreciate those small… Read more »

CB
CB
8 years ago

What about V-day? No gifts (needs) for loved one?

Amanda
Amanda
8 years ago

Thanks for the article. I enjoyed it!

Michael
Michael
8 years ago

I feel you can do anything for 30 days (in the case of February, fewer days than that). Every may, I eat a very strict diet for two reasons: first, to prove that I have the self control, and second, to re-establish good eating habits. I like the idea to give my spending a 30 day diet. I am going to try this.

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