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Posted: May 22, 2014

Chef Laura: Top 10 countdown to a spend-free month

A guide for the frugally-challenged

Laura Cook Newman

Without my company’s consent, I’m giving myself a $500 bonus this month. 

During the month of June, I am not going to spend any money.  Well, any extra money.  I will take care of the necessities: mortgage, car payment, childcare/tuition, and healthcare.  But anything outside of these expenses will be “off limits”.  I’m talking clothes, entertainment, and the biggest offender: food.

In honor of David Letterman’s retirement announcement, I present the Top 10 List for a successful spend free month.

Let’s start nice ‘n’ easy:  What’s in your wallet?

  1. Hide and SeekStudies have shown folks using a large bills only cash system are more aware of their daily spending habits and thus spend less.  Probably because relying on credit cards feels like Monopoly money until the statement arrives.  This month, keep one credit card, ATM card, and a $100 bill hidden in your wallet.  Secure a thick rubber band around the stack inscribed with “Emergency only!”
  1. Found money – Got jars of change around the house?  Have you checked the couch cushions recently?  Any found money is approved to spend or save this month.
  1. Gift Cards – While on your scavenger hunt for coins you may stumble across some abandoned gift cards.  Check the balances.  If there’s enough on them, feel free to spend.  If not, write the amount on the card with a Sharpie and set aside for next month.

Now it starts to sting: Some Sacrifices

  1. Are you being served? – Do you have a maid? Lawn care service? Bi-weekly mani/pedi appointment?  Take a vacation from your service providers for one month and DIY.
  1. That’s Entertainment – Cancel the Netflix subscription, skip the Redbox, and remove the premium cable channels.  Instead, head to your local library for free book, movie, and music rentals.  Revisit family game night; you won’t be Sorry!
  1. Sweat Equity – Postpone the gym membership for one month.  Check out some complimentary “first time” classes at local yoga studios, hike a mountain, or run the stairs at Red Rocks.  Better yet, leave the gas-guzzler at home and bike/walk.
  1. Avoid Triggers -   Say so-long to Starbucks for 30 days, no “quick trips” to money-pit Target, or wherever your financial Achilles’ heel lives. Bonus: Less shopping = less “errands” = less transportation money used.

Frugal Fanatics: JIT Inventory

3.  Shop your Shelves - Trips to the grocery store this month are strictly for essential perishables (think milk and eggs) that fit into a hand-held basket.  Everything else you consume is from ingredients you already have on hand: mysterious frozen meats, dusty cans of beans, and boxes of pasta.  There are plenty of helpful websites like that help you prepare meals from your pantry supplies.  Of course, if it’s old and funky, toss it.  Shop the rest of your home too.  There should be no need to buy toiletries or cleaning products this month, either. 

  1. Swap Meet - Clean out your closets and hold a clothing swap potluck party.  This is a much-anticipated annual event I host with my girlfriends. The benefits are three-fold:
    1. You now have an organized closet of clothes, shoes and accessories that you actually like (and fit!)
    2. You picked up a few “new” pieces that cost nothing
    3. You never laughed so hard at your friends’ (and your own) questionable wardrobe choices.
  1. Yard Sale – While cleaning out your closet, get the entire family involved and deep clean the rest of the house, attic, basement and garage.  Purge all those gently used items and have yourself a big ol’ profitable yard sale.  Everything that doesn’t sell, bag it up and bring it to Goodwill or ARC.  Don’t forget the receipt for a charitable tax deduction.  Finally, pat yourself on the back for dodging a casting call from TLC’s Hoarders.

Each Top 10 tip saves or earns about $50; that adds up to a cool $500 profit by month’s end.  Implementing this plan one month per year rewards you with extra cash and can be almost as much fun as watching Stupid Pet Tricks.

Laura Cook Newman is a professional Chef and Training Manager for a Fortune 500 food manufacturer. She earned her chops at Johnson & Wales University, has an MBA in Marketing and hosts a blog for behind-the-scenes insights on the food service industry. Contact her at

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Readers Respond

I bet you could save $500 on #4 alone! By PF on 2014 05 22
what about drinking up all of your booze around the house instead of hitting the bars? By Ta Tee on 2014 05 22
Excellent advice on shopping our closets and pantries. And what could be a better month to undertake the challenge!. Gardening work and longer daylight keeps us outside and away from the malls. We can make our own iced coffee from the morning's brew, etc., etc. But what about salon hairdos and manicures?? By Minerva on 2014 05 22
Good tips. One other thing I did was to go through the garage and gather up all the extra or unused parts from home projects that could be returned to Home Depot. A cool $62 smile By myvision7 on 2014 05 22
What a challenge! Other tips: try carpooling to work for a week/month. Save on some of the household chores by trading your skills with a friend or neighbor (babysitting, anyone?) Craigslist also has a section with items for trade. Throw a potluck party at the end of the month to celebrate! By Ted on 2014 05 22
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