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The Challenge For three weeks, spend money on only essentials, like bills and groceries. No restaurants. No toys. No kidding.

The Family Alicia and Patrick Kamm, of Providence, Rhode Island, and their 16-month-old daughter, Felicity.

Calculating costs:“I have a bad habit of spending,” admits Alicia, whose shopping habits are wreaking havoc on the family budget–tighter than ever since Alicia left her job to stay home with Felicity. Then, earlier this year she launched a baby planner business, where she helps expectant and new moms transition to parenthood. She hopes cutting spending can help the family press the reset button on finances.

A choppy start: Good intentions notwithstanding, on day one, Alicia mindlessly picked up her regular morning coffee at the drive-thru. It wasn’t until she got home that she realized she broke the challenge. That she was so unaware of what she was buying “was a wake-up call,” she says.

Going homemade: To stay on track, Alicia decided to avoid the big-box discount stores, where browsing can quickly turn to buying, and she made a list before heading to the supermarket. Though she did pick up a few off-list sale items, with the family eating home every night, the extra food didn’t go to waste. And the home-cooked meals were making everyone happier: When she hosted a gaggle of moms for a morning playdate, Alicia skipped the bakery snacks she normally orders and sliced up homemade chocolate banana bread. The moms (and their toddlers!) loved it. And Patrick made a similar DIY swap for the family’s standard Friday night pizza. Instead of calling for delivery, he made it himself.

Business matters: As Alicia approached her buying more thoughtfully, she found herself analyzing her business too–and realized she needed to spend less on training and seminars for herself and put more energy into taking the business online. She also cut expenses with clients by baking treats for new moms rather than hitting up the baby aisle. “The client was really appreciative,” she says. “And I felt better about it because it was a little bit more personal.”

Free fun: For Alicia, the best part was realizing that her family didn’t have to spend cash to have a great time. They used her discounted membership at the zoo and, on weekdays, Alicia and Felicity tried out a free music class and went to the library. “Those days that we have together when we go to the zoo, go to the park, or take the baby in the stroller–that’s so much more meaningful than going to Target and spending $100,” she says.

Adding it up: Though Alicia did buy a few nonessential items, like clothes for Felicity from a local thrift store, she managed to cut her pre-challenge spending in half. Thinking about a spending break for your family? Start small. Even a one-week challenge can help, says Alicia. “When I think about what I did, they were just small changes, like not going to a certain store. But small alterations in your daily life do add up to huge results,” she says.

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