Charlie’s Gift Card Challenge – Results (January 2015)

charlie_imageOn January 1st, my family and I started our first ever gift card challenge. After Christmas we had accumulated $520 of gift cards and cash from the holiday season. When we added them all together it was hard to believe we had gotten so much converted cash.

Before the end of the year I approached my wife and asked her if we could survive on these gift cards for 21 days. With not knowing what we were stepping into and very little convincing needed, my wife and my kids set out to accomplish our goal. 

After 21 days here are the results:

  • Mission accomplished – We did it! We survived 21 days on only gift cards. We only cheated once, which isgift card challenge 2 when one of our friends (that weren't aware of the challenge) asked my wife out on a girls date night. Beyond that, we significantly reduced our spending over those two weeks and Mint noticeably showed that in our net positive savings in January. We spent 60% less than the previous month. Here is a picture of us celebrating on day 21 with our Outback gift card and remaining cash. It felt like we had just finished a marathon! :)
  • Sacrifices – During the challenge I realized just how much extra we spend. Any where from small purchases on Amazon to treats at work. All those small purchases add up, and after about the first week I felt like I was on a diet! A financial diet to be exact. It was like I was starving my body of the things it had craved or got prior to January 1st.
  • Utilizing cards first – Using cash was a last resort, because we only had $92 of cash. We did whatever we could to make it to a store that we had a gift card at. We also had to be real strategic on how we used gift cards that had balances below $10. For instances, some times getting groceries we had to use a gift card, a visa cash card, and a little cash. It was very odd checking out, and I felt like we got a lot of stares.
  • Julie taking the gift card challengeGroceries – Cutting down on groceries was hard. With only $110's in grocery gift cards a lot of food sacrifices needed to be made. In addition, a lot of our cash and cash visa cards went to pay for groceries. I saw how much cutting down on groceries cut down on our overall expenses.
  • Encouragement from friends – From our friends and family we got a lot of encouragement and questions about the challenge. Some of our friends even engaged in the challenge and did it themselves. Props to Julie M. and Steve for being part of our challenge and being such a source of encouragement in our personal finances!

My wife's thoughts:

  • Learned the difference between needs and wants – We got a lot of our wants prior to Jan 1st, so the gift cards challenged us to evaluate what really was a need.
  • Started using the library more instead of Redbox and Kindle – Getting a lot of free books and videos from the library was a big source of entertainment for our family over these 21 days. In addition, we typically went to Target or the grocery store after dropping the kids off at school and the library provided an alternative outlet.
  • It was little easier to do the challenge, because we buy in bulk – Prior to starting the challenge we had bought a lot of our toiletries in bulk (like our soap, toilet paper, and toothpaste). These bulk purchases allowed us to focus on the smaller purchases in those 21 days and keep our overall expenses down.
  • Both of us started feel deprived at about week two – For some reason after 14 days we started to have a lot of cravings, like ice cream, or a six pack of beer, or just the general feeling like we had nothing in our cupboards or fridge. Truth of the matter was that we had nothing we wanted to eat. It was during this final week that we were forced to be creative with our meals, and we definitely leveraged our chickens that final week!

Overall, I would chalk the challenge up as a success! Our challenge helped us get rid of all of our gift cards, it significantly cut our spending and made us eat things we didn't necessarily want and plan out our meals. This month (February) we are starting the cash envelope system, which I'm excited to try again.

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  1. I like it! I might have to try it! It seems like I always have a lot of gift cards after the holidays, so whenever I need anything, first I try to see if I have any gift cards that will work. For example, I received a Kohl’s gift card for Christmas and a few weeks later I needed some jeans…so I went to Kohl’s!

    • Heather – good for you! That gets rid of that plastic cash!

  2. What a fun challenge idea! I am very curious what the breakdown of the gift cards looked like… the ones I tend to receive are for restaurants and clothing stores, so I don’t know how I would be able to survive on them, other than trading them in.
    Spending sixty percent less (albeit compared to Christmas season), is a HUGE accomplishment. Nice work!
    Do you think you’ll be able to continue on at your reduced consumption level?

  3. Anne – it will be hard to match January’s low spend month, but our cash envelope system definitely will help. Having cash left over at the end of each month will provide some motivation.

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