5 Tips for a Successful “No Spend” Month

Jeff and I have relied on self employment, contract and freelance income for years, which has caused us to take a more cautious approach to our finances and spending. About 1 year into our marriage we set a goal to move and as a result we came up with a “no spend” challenge to help us save up for our big transition.

To save as much as we could we trimmed our monthly budget down to only the essentials.  We deemed our essentials to be rent, groceries, gas, utilities, retirement savings, charitable giving and household items (toilet paper, dish soap, laundry detergent, deodorant -that stuff). This meant no new clothes, no dining out, no furniture, no books, no movies, no kitchen gadgets and no more fun “just because” items.

We had our eyes set on long term goals so the short term splurges had to stop.

The first several “no spend” months were full of exceptions and failed adjustments to stay within the new spending plan. Sometimes it was a random expense that would pop up, sometimes it was a sale that looked too good to not indulge in.

We’ve been in a “no spend” stretch for a few months now and our years of practice have taught us a few lessons to not only stay the course, but enjoy it too. If you’re considering a self-imposed shopping ban or are wanting more contentment in your finances I hope these suggestions give you the help you’re looking for!


1. WRITE OUT YOUR BUDGET

I am a fan of tracking every penny but that might seem like a little too much. However you decide to set up your budget, the purpose of writing it out is to identify:

  • where you are spending your money (rent/mortgage, groceries, gas, internet, phone, insurance, etc.)
  • what categories are your essentials/non-essentials

Once you’ve scrutinized your budget and identified what your essential expenses are you can then list out what you’ll be cutting back on. This will tell you how much you’ll be saving by putting an end to spending on those categories.


2. PLAN AHEAD 

In our budget, dining out is a non-essential because cooking our own meals allows us to eat much healthier at a much lower cost. You may love going out to eat and find it is an essential for staying connected to friends, convenience, schedule or your lifestyle. In order to avoid this extra expense we pack food if we’ll be out and about during meal times. It takes intentional planning and prep to have food cooked and packed up for our outings. If you’ll be cutting a budget category that carries convenience to it, you’ll need to plan to exchange time for money in that category.

If you’re not sure you’ll ever see your friends if you stop going out to eat suggest meeting up to hike, plan a picnic where you can bring a homecooked dish, offer to host a potluck style meal or plan a group clothing swap. Connection doesn’t have to happen just one way.


3. IDENTIFY YOUR HABITS

We’ve all got weaknesses.  Mine are candles, almond milk lattes at hipster coffee shops, thrift stores, a cinnamon bun at IKEA, markets with locally crafted anythings and the list goes on and on. Name your weaknesses and come up with a plan to avoid these places so you don’t cave when temptation to spend creeps in.

hipster coffee

It may be helpful to make yourself wait 24 hours before making a purchase. After the waiting period passes, if you still feel it’s better to indulge than put that money towards a long term goal then go ahead with it. Stepping away will help to combat impulse spending and buyer’s remorse.


4. ASK YOURSELF TOUGH QUESTIONS

If you find yourself tempted to make an unplanned purchase, ask yourself some questions to get to the root of your motivation. Sometimes the answers can bring up a personal insight you might want to dig deeper into.

What do I think this item will do for me beyond it’s basic function? 

Why am I not content with what I already have? Am I looking to my possessions for my identity and self worth?

What is this also going to cost me? Time and money to clean? Storage space? Something else I’ll have to sacrifice in my budget?

A truthful answer to these questions can sting and be a humbling experience. It’s ok to admit that you are looking to feel better about yourself and see a new outfit as the remedy. Material objects are not meant to give us life. They may be packaged and sold to us that way but they cannot fix what we are wrestling with on the inside. The most important thing is to combat that coping mechanism with the truth that you are good enough without this new flashy item. You are much more than what you own and you can be the best version of yourself without a material object. Contentment can be difficult to find, but starting with addressing the lies we fill our heads with is a good place to start.

Anyone else having deep inner monologues while shopping, or is that just me?


5. GIVE YOURSELF GRACE

Sometimes grace means not beating yourself up for buying something you weren’t planning to. Sometimes grace means scouring your house and car for spare coins to buy a donut. I don’t feel bad about it. It’s much sweeter when indulging is out of the ordinary and reserved for a special occasion, or craving. If you have trouble sticking to it, don’t give up! Figure out what caused the spending to get off track and come up with a specific plan for the next month.

donut


If you are taking on a shopping ban or no spend month challenge please let me know! We are in the thick of it and have been paring down our budget drastically as we are experiencing income changes. I’d love to encourage each other as we try to stay the course together.

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