I did a low-spend challenge for one month. It saved me more than $600 on eating out, but impulse purchases were harder to curb.

I did a low-spend challenge for one month. It saved me more than $600 on eating out, but impulse purchases were harder to curb.
Melissa Petro, pictured here with her youngest child, saved an estimated $1,000 in February by following a low-spend challenge.Melissa Petro
  • Melissa Petro is a freelance writer and mom of two who did a low-spend challenge in February.
  • She saved an estimated $600 on eating out and swapped online shopping with giving things away.

"Frugal February" is a no-spend or low-spend challenge that's grown in popularity since it started online in the early 2010s. Some people challenge themselves to go the whole month without spending a penny, while others use it as an opportunity to cut back on excess spending like dining out or unnecessary clothes and entertainment purchases.

Money's always tight this time of year, and so I decided to do the challenge myself for the first time. I decided I'd allow any necessary spending for items like diapers and food, limit my family to one takeout order or meal out per week, and put off any other unnecessary purchases.

After a month of following the challenge and becoming more aware of what I was spending money on, here's what I learned.

1. Dining in saves more than just money

As predicted, our biggest savings came from cooking more and eating out less. Before, we typically ate out three to four times a week and would spend around $50 to $80 each time for a family of four, depending on the restaurant. By cutting this down to one meal a week, we saved upwards of $600 over the month.

I also noticed our family wasted less food because we used up ingredients before they spoiled and ate homemade leftovers that we'd have just thrown out after they were forgotten or trumped by restaurant leftovers.


2. I don't want to look if I'm not going to buy

During the pandemic, I developed something of an online shopping habit. I love a good deal on used goods, but $10 here and there on Facebook Marketplace adds up. I went back and checked, and from September through January, I'd spent an average of more than $400 dollars a month on random used goods like vintage handmade quilts, heirloom furniture, and mid-century modern tchotchkes.

During the challenge, I didn't buy anything on Facebook Marketplace (I didn't even look at or log onto the site), which saved us another few hundred dollars.

3. The line between necessary and discretionary spending is subjective

Most people, myself included, would consider childcare a necessity, but because we don't have a regular nanny at the moment, every hour I spend without my kids is at my discretion.

I paid $20 for emergency childcare one day when my husband and I wanted to run an errand without the kids tagging along. I also sprung for a date night ($60) and hired an eight-hour day of childcare to finish an assignment ($160). Were these expenses necessary or not? You tell me.

4. Tracking my spending was a lot harder than I imagined

About midway through the month I realized I hadn't even been tracking coffee consumption. How enormously privileged I am that my $5 latte here or there habit didn't even register as spending.


I also made my husband buy stuff that I would have probably paid for myself, like when we took the kids to Walmart on a rainy day and let them buy coloring books and candy. Definitely cheating.

5. Impulse donations and purchases were hard to curb

Beyond not eating out, I didn't anticipate having to make any major sacrifices, and so I was surprised by how hard it was to follow my own rules. An impulsive donation of $25 to a friend raising money to support foster kids felt justifiable, as did the $10 I spent on a 3D puzzle for my sick kid.

My biggest slip: By the third week of the month, we were back to ordering takeout every other night. Many days it's just so much easier to feed the kids ramen and enjoy a restaurant meal with my husband after the kids have gone to sleep.

6. Giving things away can be just as fun as shopping

To compensate for the loss of my Facebook Marketplace hobby, I joined a local Buy Nothing group. It was fun to browse, and though I didn't get any freebies, I did give away a car seat rather than tossing it into the trash, which surprisingly delivered a dopamine rush similar to what I'd have gotten from making an impulsive purchase.

I ended the challenge at the end of February, but some of its influence has carried on — I've yet to log back into Facebook Marketplace. I feel only slightly guilty about how much we spend on takeout, but I do feel badly about all the food my family wastes — which the challenge helped me to realize — so I plan to address that issue by ordering less and making due with what's in the fridge more often.


When it comes to buying used goods online, my mentality definitely shifted. I realized that just because it's inexpensive doesn't mean that I need it. After the experiment ended, I completely decluttered my house of all the unnecessary stuff I'd bought online.

I didn't follow my rules perfectly, but having saved around $1,000 on dining and shopping and having made some of my neighbors extremely happy by passing on my unneeded stuff, I'd consider the challenge a success. Next time I try the experiment, I want to go the whole month without spending anything and involve my husband as well. Call me a masochist, but I really want to try it again in December.