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Frugal February

A year or two ago, I tried to start my own water-conserving, planet-saving initiative—something akin to Meatless Monday. I called it “Dirty Thursday,” and urged my friends to forgo bathing one day a week. The plan was met with an enthusiastic chorus of disgust and disapproval, including a particular request that I not engage in it myself. However, my zeal for introducing calendar-based initiatives to the world has not waned, and so I present to you: Frugal February, which I have now started for the seventh year.


Why frugality?

I tend to think of myself as a relatively frugal person, though some might disagree. My boss is shocked that I haven’t bought a new coat or purse in the six and a half years I’ve been at my job. My husband is shocked that I will happily spend $170 to attend the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. (Totally worth it—I got my picture taken with Will Shortz one year!). However, the months leading up to February featured unavoidably spendy circumstances:

October: Halloween. The regular rules are suspended on Halloween anyway—once you’ve committed to dressing like a corpse and draping the apartment in cobwebs, buying skull-shaped cupcake molds is really no big deal.

November: Thanksgiving travel. And if you’re not traveling, you might be cooking, which can be just as expensive.

December: X-Mas shopping (which includes shopping of the “one for you, one for me” variety).

January: My husband’s birthday. (This bit is only unavoidably spendy for me; he’d really prefer that you not get him anything.)

An instant-gratification spending pattern is very easy to fall into, especially as the short days stretch gray from dawn till dusk, and lunch at Chipotle begins to feel like something you’ve earned just for making it until one o’clock, instead of an indulgence that could have easily been obviated with a little planning. So I pick February to be extra-aware of my habits and my budget, with a few guidelines:

• Make lunch every day.
• Netflix, not movie theaters.
• No new books, no new music, no new clothes (and really, why bother with another sweater when dress season is right around the corner?)
• Avoid dinner out, within reason—if a friend is swinging through town and a dinner out is the only way I’ll get to see her, then dinner out it must be.


Why February?

1. Alliteration.
2. Who would ever pick May or June to deny themselves anything? February is universally acknowledged to be the worst month. Bears invented hibernation just to avoid February. Its big event? Valentine’s Day, designed to make everyone, single and coupled, feel completely inadequate. Even the candy is either cliché or semi-disgusting.
3. Shortest month, with shortest wait between bi-monthly paychecks.

My goal is always to make it out of Frugal February having spent under $1,500, including rent and groceries. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t (depending on how many deposits I have to put down for upcoming out-of-town weddings or, um, crossword puzzle tournaments), but February is always a little reset for me: the holidays are over, and it’s time to get serious.

And then March comes, and I celebrate with an early birthday present or two. I call it: Magical March. No, Makeover March. Marabou March? I try to keep it Mindful March, sometimes it slides into Megalomaniacal March, or Monkeyshines March, but it’s never Monastic March. I’m still working on a nickname.


Elise Nussbaum lives in Jersey City with a husband and a cat.


22 Comments / Post A Comment

readyornot (#816)

I have a weakness for this type of device, anything that makes a personal goal more like routine and less like a willpower suck. Being able to talk about it with friends probably helps, so the alliterative cute name is key. (though I guess it doesn’t have to be alliterative, since drynuary does the trick.)

February is definitely the best month anyway since I’ve also noticed in my mint trends I usually spend the least then. I am curious what Elise’s breakdown of rent/groceries/other is. There are no increases in the $1500 for rent going up or food prices being higher? Squeezing very last ounce of indulgence out. That’s amazing.

cryptolect (#1,135)

@readyornot Hi, Elise here! My rent/food/utilities budget is a little under $1100 per month—not living alone definitely cuts those numbers. So the goal is to spend under $100/week on not-quite-necessities, like Netflix and a smartphone data plan. It never quite gets to the point of monasticism!

readyornot (#816)

@cryptolect Hi Elise! That does sound doable. Really great idea.

Marissa (#467)

I was kind of doing this anyway. I found myself a little strapped for cash in my monthly budget because I put away too much in savings last month (I was going to try to double my usual monthly “donation” this year but I’ve already learned that it’s not sustainable!) The money I put away is still there and everything but I treat the $ in savings like it isn’t mine. Basically, my checking account feels a bit trim even though I’m not technically any poorer. Frugal February it is!

olivia (#1,618)

I was actually planning to do this, but got terribly sick this weekend and was home sick from work today, so I ended up internet shopping.

But I don’t want to use that as an excuse to not do this, either. It’s not too late to get back on the wagon, right?! I can return the clothes I ordered!

Frugal February here I come!

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

I was planning on doing this too, with a break for a Faux Valentine’s Day/Anniversary of dating dinner out. Manfriend and I started dating right before V-Day so we lump the two together but we never actually do anything on Valentine’s Day because it is expensive and dumb, we just pick whatever weekend evening is closest and do something semi-special. We’ve been wanting to try this new restaurant forever so this will be the chance. Otherwise, frugal February it is! My birthday’s in March too, so February’s a good month for it.

sea ermine (#122)

Oooh I think Im going to do this! In march though. February is my favorite month, it has my birthday my boyfriend’s birthday, my dads birthday, and is cold and awesome. Also I share a birthday with a good friend so February is full of parties and presents. And then I can do monastic march to recover

saritasara (#2,710)

On a side note — I would say almost every week there’s one day where I don’t end up taking a shower, for one reason or another. (Lazy Sunday in so what’s the point / Tuesday morning and I snooze my alarm for so long it cuts into my shower time / etc.)

I always thought this was relatively normal, but maybe I’ve secretly been a dirty freak this whole time? ;-p

TheDilettantista (#1,255)

@saritasara RE: The shower, I could never do this because I go to the gym every day and I’m not just cruising on the treadmill, I work up a damn good sweat, so I don’t understand how this is a feasible option for people? I’m guessing if I said to the article writer “So the no shower thing is crazy because I’m routinely working up a sweat,” she’d likely tell me to shower. I don’t wash my hair every day (maybe this is gross but sweat = texture so whatever) so I guess I’m saving there?

Annifest Destiny (#2,700)

@TheDilettantista and @saritasara RE: the shower, there are days when I work up a sweat and I don’t shower because I am gross like that. Usually it is a Saturday or Sunday and no one is going to smell me afterward except maybe my boyfriend and he loves me too much to care. Also he does the same thing so maybe we just tolerate each other’s grossness?

I love Frugal February! I hope that the Billfold follows up with you at the end of the month to see how it went!

Lily Rowan (#70)

Crossword Tournament!! The thing that makes it really expensive is moving away from New York, I tell you what. I could definitely justify the registration fee + subway ride, but + Amtrak is a little much.

cryptolect (#1,135)

@Lily Rowan Plus the hotel room for Saturday night! I don’t think I could justify it if it weren’t right there in Brooklyn.

Lily Rowan (#70)

@cryptolect At least I still know people to crash with in BK, so didn’t have that expense the one time I traveled for it.

Frugal February FTW! I’m trying for a new-clothes/shoes free year and I think February will be the hardest because I always get bummed out in Feb and try to cheer myself up with new things. So far, so good through January though…

nikp (#3,186)

I actually started this too (but I thought it was a unique idea lol). I had surgery in November, then Christmas shopping, then $1000 bill out of nowhere in January, so I hadn’t be able to look at Mint due to the shame. Then I realized that February was a fresh (short) start, and the rest is identical to your story.

amirite (#2,677)

I should do this, especially since the first 4 days of February were Take a Vacation from All That Responsible Spending You’ve Been Doing Extended Weekend and now I’m trying to decide whether I can push my scheduled haircut and a few other things from this month’s budget to next month. Time to buckle down. Usually February is not a month for spending a lot of money for me because it’s cold and all I want to do is stay home, so I know I can do it, but this year has not followed that trend so far.

LookUponMyWorks (#2,616)

Frugal February! Love this! I am off to a terrible start – I have spent $193 since Friday. Sheesh. Hiding my debit card starting now!

Runawaytwin (#2,693)

This sounds great… except that this month i plan on
1. registering for a foreign language class (long term goals)
2. joining a gym ( i seriously need to do this but commitment issues have prevented me. I hate adding another montly bill
3. getting my hair cut (but its my first haircut in long than i care to admit)

Not sure if it still counts if I am paying for all that but at least i can try to cut my discretionary spending. (bye clothes, dinners, books etc)

For the past three years I’ve done Retail-Free February, where purchases of clothes, shoes, jewelry, accessories, etc are forbidden. It amazes me how much I end up saving, and how little I learn from that once March 1 hits.

kellyography (#250)

So Elise, if you wanted to buy my DVF dress, I should contact you about it in March?

cryptolect (#1,135)

@kellyography YES. (starts to drool)

Fig. 1 (#632)

March Moderation
April Austerity
Marginal May
Judicious June
Joyful July
August Appeasement
September Satiation
October Overindulgence
Nail-biting November
Dutiful December
Jittery January

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