January 24, 2019 | 01:51 AM

Savings Tips

07.02.2012How To Have A Frugal (And Fabulous) February

Natalie P. McNeal is marking her fifth annual No-Buy Month, a project in which she swears off all non-essential purchases during February.

J. Maureen Henderson, Forbes.com

We’re all watching our wallets these days, but Natalie P. McNeal is watching hers a little more closely than most. The blogger and  author of The Frugalista Files: How One Woman Got Out of Debt Without Giving Up The Fabulous Life is marking her fifth annual No-Buy Month, a project which has garnered her national media attention and  spawned a mini movement among her readers and social media followers. Each year, she swears off all non-essential purchases during February. If it’s not grocery shopping or bill paying, it doesn’t get done. McNeal initially started the project to get a handle on her own out-of-control spending habits and dig herself out of $20 000 of debt.

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“I did my first No-Buy Month in 2008 and I blogged about it when I worked as a reporter at the Miami Herald. It was life changing the first time because I loved seeing my back account stabilize. Still, I grew restless at the end of the month because I couldn’t buy any new music. Now, I’m pretty good about the financial discipline portion of it, but I have to work extra hard to be social during the month.”

Given that annual spending on restaurant meals hovers around $2500 per household, it’s not surprising that McNeal cites eating away from home as one of the most painful budget cuts she makes each February.

“I think dining out is the toughest. You really have to be good at choreography to prepare three meals a day. You have to remember to thaw out the meat. You have to be sure your home is stocked with what you want to cook. It’s so easy to just pick up something. I will say that the more I cook at home, the more I manage my weight.”

Now that she’s an old pro at voluntary financial austerity, McNeal says that she no longer feels deprived by the rules of No-Buy Month and claims that if you’re creative, cutting spending shouldn’t cause pain. In fact, she believes it should challenge you to find novel ways to enjoy yourself on the cheap.

“You’ll find that you have more time on your hands. Before Feb 1, I was feeling overwhelmed and behind the ball on a few projects.  As soon as No-Buy Month started, I started plowing through my work. It gets me focused. To do No-Buy Month properly, you must have fun. Go to the library and check out a DVD. Go to the local college and see a speech. Visit a museum on its free day. Go to a nightclub during the Ladies Get In Free period. Live life!”

But if 30 days sans shopping sounds a little extreme to you (although author Judith Levine stretched her experiment to 365), McNeal has some advice on easing into the cost-cutting mindset.

“Well, I suggest doing a No-Buy Week. It’s not that I want to be draconian, but you really DON’T have to spend money every day. We’ve been conditioned to think that and No-Buy Month stops that myth. Money management is about discipline. Even if you slip up a little, at least you tried.”

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