Do you ever feel like you’re spending more than you need to? Have you ever felt stressed trying to stretch your paycheck through the end of the month? Maybe you feel stuck in a financial mess and you’re not quite sure how to dig your way out. Or perhaps you simply want to build a cushion to help you weather the unexpected. If you can relate to any of these scenarios, keep reading to find out how a no-spend month could help you.
What is a no-spend month?
Eight years ago, my husband, Jeremiah, and I were in the middle of digging our way out of debt. As someone who loves to find new ways to optimize my efforts, I religiously read blogs and listened to podcasts about personal finance. That year I stumbled upon a woman who had just finished a no-spend year. You read that right, she didn’t spend money for an entire year.
I was in awe of her discipline and ingenuity. The amount of money she saved by saying no to spending was enviable. I would have loved to have done the same, but our careers and lifestyle would not allow for such drastic measures at that time.
As the years passed, I’d occasionally see people share plans on social media to do a no-spend month. I was certain we’d be able to not spend for an entire month. But as with many of our best intentions, the years came and went. I never did get around to trying to go an entire month without spending.
That changed at the beginning of this year. A friend announced that she was doing a no-spend month during January and invited others to join her. I wanted to commit so I could enjoy the support and comradery of a team. However, Jer and I already had a trip planned. So as much as I wanted to join the challenge, January and February were not going to work.
As January and February came and went, I couldn’t get the idea out of my mind. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to try my first no-spend month when I returned home in March. There was just one thing that stood in my way.
Those of you who are coupled know how challenging it can be to get your significant other on board. Especially for something sure to cause discomfort. After enduring years to frugality to become debt-free, I was certain Jer wouldn’t be on board.
I know what some of you are thinking. Sure, I could go it alone. But it felt pointless since our lives are intertwined. It would be too easy for me to cheat and break the rules.
It turns out I was getting ahead of myself. To my surprise, Jer agreed. His commitment felt half-hearted, however. Whether he would follow through was yet to be seen.
Our first try
I returned home from an extended road trip on March first and our no-spend month started that same day. It obviously wasn’t the best timing. I was gone for almost 40 days which meant I didn’t have a chance to stock up on necessities. But as a Costco shopper and a planner, I thought we could get by with what we had. Not only that but I’m a backpacker. I can survive with very little and know exactly how to make a roll of toilet paper last 10 days. Little did I know how important that was about to be.
The rules were simple. The only thing we were allowed to spend money on was gas and groceries. I could easily have skipped the gas since I drive very little and live within walking distance of any necessities. I could even have skipped the groceries and stocked the freezer with frozen veggies. But I consider the food we eat to be an investment in our health so I was more than willing to stick with our regular monthly grocery budget.
Beyond those two budget categories, we paid our monthly bills. As I eluded, we’ve been completely debt free for close to six years so we had no mortgage, car payments, or student loans. But we still had water, gas, electricity, internet, and trash bills to pay.
How did we do?
For those of you reading this in the future, I have a quick question to jog your memory. Do you recall that time the world as we knew it changed overnight with our first global pandemic? Yeah, that was the month we did our first no-spend month.
On the one hand, it made it easier because we couldn’t buy toilet paper, cleaning products, eat out, or get a haircut even if we wanted to. But as I mentioned earlier, we didn’t have time to prepare so there were some staples we ran out of.
(As I write this I’m daydreaming about the future when I can finally buy a 12-pound bag of Costco’s organic brown rice again.)
All things considered, I’m delighted to say that both Jer and I only had one emergency purchase. Jer bought hair product so he could look good for his Zoom meetings. And I desperately needed new trail runners so I could get outside and enjoy some much needed alone time. I used my REI dividend and didn’t spend actual money on them. Had I not had the dividend, I probably would have waited. But I feel this is an important disclosure.
And my fears about Jer not following through?
It turns out he’s the world’s best team player. He’s incredibly engaged when he feels like we’re working on something together. Which is challenging because I’m much more independent and a bit of a lone wolf. I mention this as something to consider for those of you thinking about doing a no-spend month as a couple. Consider what motivates your partner as you create your plan for success.
What we learned
I am grateful that I finally got around to completing my first no-spend month. The circumstances were weird and unexpected, yet I’d love to do it again. I always enjoy being challenged with a bit of discomfort. That’s where I find the most personal growth.
Here are some other things I learned on our no-spend journey.
1 – How to be open to receive
I wrote a whole post about learning to receive last fall. If you haven’t noticed, people tend to preach, teach, and write about the things they’re working on. And that’s certainly true for me too.
Early on in my life journey, I decided that I was someone who offered help and not someone who needed it. So receiving has always been hard for me.
When everything shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19, a local private yoga instructor started offering free classes via Zoom. Since I try to make yoga a daily practice, I decided to switch things up and give virtual yoga a try.
When I received the email with the link to join the class, I noticed an option to leave a tip at the bottom. I can’t explain how hard it was for me to not tip. I’m the person who usually leaves a 20 percent tip for terrible service because I don’t want to look like a jerk. And since this is someone I know and like, I felt guilty and told myself I’d make up for it next month.
But then I reminded myself that the best gift to the giver is to simply receive. I don’t know about you, but when I give time, money, or resources to others, I don’t expect anything in return. A genuine thank you or a recommendation is more than enough. So the first benefit of my no-spend month was allowing myself to receive.
2 – You don’t need much to get by
As a camper, backpacker, and wilderness explorer, I know this. Every trip seems to inspire an Instagram post that says something like, “this is all I need to be happy.”
Yet I seem to lose this sentiment when I’m stuck in the day to day. We don’t have a large home, but it’s larger than a backpack and easy to fill with things that are nice to have but we could get by without.
We’re not big shoppers. Still, we have no shortage of outdoor gear, footwear, and clothing. Our no-spend month was a nice reminder that although it would be nice to have more trail runners to alternate through, I can get by with one pair at a time.
3 – Life is abundant
This perfectly complements my last point–there is very little we truly need to be happy.
Committing to a no-spend month might also help you realize the abundance you already have. When you can’t go out to be entertained, you start digging up books, games, and equipment you had previously forgotten about. You’ll feel inspired to find creative ways to make the most of the groceries you have on hand. And you’ll feel appreciation for the wonderful humans who are doing this life alongside you. A no-spend month is sure to increase your gratitude for all that you already have.
4 – Creative solutions abound
I’m pretty sure we could have figured out a way to make hair product for Jer with the ingredients we had at home. That said, I pick my battles wisely and dropped my case quickly. I did, however, make my own bath salts and disinfecting spray during that time.
I’m a practical person. But I can’t imagine what you creative types could come up with during a no-spend month. New recipes, games, and even business ideas are sure to abound.
5 – You’re more disciplined than you know
I’m naturally disciplined and a bit of a perfectionist. And while he displays above average discipline, Jer is much more laid back. When it came to our no-spend month, I was diligent about sticking to the rules. Jer, on the other hand, often thought they were pointless.
As disciplined as I am, I still have moments of weakness when it comes to financial decisions. So this no-spend month was a great reminder of how disciplined we both truly are. I imagine the same would be true for you. Even if you don’t plan and have a few slip-ups as we did, you’ll see exciting results when you tally how much you saved at the end of the month.
How a no-spend month could help you
In my opinion, money is one of the most interesting topics. It’s something that seems like simple, rational math on the surface. But financial matters can be deeply emotional and triggering. Our personalities and experiences combine to form unique perspectives on how we think about and respond to money. Almost everyone I’ve met has had limiting beliefs and struggles with money. That aside, I believe all of us are capable of improving our financial health, one small step at a time.
In our household, Jer and I have very different money habits. I imagine the same is true in your family. Over the years we’ve learned how to work together. I’ve written about how to work together here and the benefits of finding a balance between the two here.
Since we all have a unique experience on this planet, you’ll likely enjoy different benefits from your no-spend month. Here are additional rewards you might experience.
1 – Change your habits
There are different opinions on how long it takes to change a habit. I believe that it depends on the individual as well as the specific habit they are trying to change. At the end of the day, it’s simply easier for some people to change habits than others. The good news is that much of the ease some people appear to possess simply comes down to experience.
It’s going to be easier for someone who has quit smoking, eating junk food, and missing workouts to quit impulse spending. They already have experience changing habits and feel more confident because of their past successes.
If you’re new to habit change, allow yourself some grace. Do the best you can, of course. But don’t badger yourself if you slip up. It’s a learning process and will get easier as you continue to practice.
When you commit to a no-spend month, your spending habits will improve even if you screw up. Maybe your habits will improve significantly. Perhaps just a little. Either way, you’ll be ahead of where you’d be had you not given it a shot.
2 – Goodbye impulse purchases
I imagine that most of us end up coming home with more than was on our initial list when we do our weekly shopping trips. I’m pretty good at sticking to my list, but I’m certain that impulse purchases add up to hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars each year.
When you commit to a no-spend month, there will be very little you allow yourself to purchase. This means fewer opportunities to spend impulsively. Calculating your savings at the end of the month might even inspire you to curb impulse spending for good. Imagine how quickly that one change will get you closer to your bigger financial goals
3 – See your potential.
Whether you knock your no-spend month out of the park or struggle with some slip-ups, you’ll inarguably be better off than had you not made the attempt. Whether your no-spend month yields a savings of 200 or 2000 dollars, you’ll realize the potential that’s already within you to get financially fit. This might be the push you need to realize that financial freedom is attainable for you.
Tips for a successful no-spend month
Our rules were simple. Aside from gas and groceries, no spending. When planning your no-spend month, you can create whatever rules you want. As much as I love to create rules and strategies, I preferred to keep it simple for our no-spend month. When devising your rule list, ensure that it’s a bit of a challenge and still something you can stick to. Here are more tips to ensure your no-spend month is a success.
1 – Choose a slow month
We chose to do our first no-spend month in March. There’s not much going on in Minnesota in March so that decreased the temptation to break the promise we made to ourselves.
Choosing to do your first no-spend month in June, with weddings, graduations, and summer vacations, will make it less enjoyable and you’ll be less likely to repeat it. The same goes for December. When planning your first no-spend month, choose a month that’s slow, calm, quiet, and won’t make you regret trying it.
2 – Plan ahead
Our no-spend month would have been a lot easier had we planned ahead. Here are some things to consider when you create your plan.
Make sure you have more than enough health and household items like toilet paper, toothpaste, and laundry detergent on hand before the month begins. Review your budget and look for categories you’ll need to find a no-spend replacement for. For example, if you go out for lunch each day, plan how you’ll get your lunch without spending. If you go on a date night every Friday, create a plan for some no-spend date nights. Check out this post with more ideas to save.
3 – Define your why
I write about identifying your why in a lot of how-to posts. I’ve learned firsthand how hard it is to stick to something if there’s not a good heartfelt reason to.
We’ll use maintaining a healthy weight as an example because it’s something most of us can relate to. I think many of us would love to lose those 10 extra pounds to look good in our swimsuits next summer. But I don’t think that particular motivation encourages lasting change. A health scare, wanting to be able to play with your grandkids, or to be mobile and healthy as you age are whys that are more likely to make your lifestyle changes stick.
Whys that align with your mission and purpose are more likely to help you succeed. Here are examples of whys that might motivate you to stick to your no-spend month.
- Set a good example for your children so they have good financial habits when they head out on their own.
- Build confidence by proving to yourself that you have the discipline you need to achieve your goals.
- To finally get your spending in check and start saving for retirement and your kids’ college fund so you can sleep better and feel less stress.
- Build wealth so you can leave a legacy to your favorite cause.
What’s your why and how could it help you stay focused during your no-spend month?
4 – Tackle it as a team
It’s really hard, if not impossible, to make a big change if everyone in the household isn’t on board. The teamwork begins when you come together to define your why. Communication is another key to succeeding as a team. Like I say when we’re navigating the wilderness, it’s impossible to over-communicate. Talk about why you want it, how you’re going to do it, and how it feels openly and often.
Check out this post for more tips to ensure success as a team.
5 – Enlist your friends
Most of us do better when surrounded by a support team. Build your own by inviting friends to join your no-spend month. You might even up the ante by making it a competition. You could have everyone contribute twenty dollars and the family who spends the least wins the entire pot. Get creative and have fun with it.
6 – Avoid temptation
Don’t go shopping. Unsubscribe from emails from your favorite store. Don’t drive past the doughnut shop. Just say no to that after-work happy hours. If there’s something that tempts you from month to month, create a plan ahead of time for how you’ll avoid it.
The importance of filling your cup
In a book about happiness, I learned all of the reasons money can’t buy happiness. But then the author cautioned that if we stopped spending, the economy would collapse and we’d subsequently be unhappy. There’s no denying that we’ve got to spend money to keep the economy afloat. But here’s another perspective to consider.
Years ago I wrote a post about why we need to fill our own cups. As wives, mothers, husbands, leaders, dog dads, and cat moms, it’s easy to put everyone else’s needs before our own. This leaves us drained and often unable to give our best.
Over the years I’ve learned that I need to get enough sleep and exercise, to eat well, and meditate each day if I’m going to show up as the best wife to my spouse. I need to fill my own cup or there’s nothing that can spill over into the lives of others.
As we’ve journeyed through a global health crisis and an unstable economy, I’ve been thinking about how this is true of our finances as well. The companies and households who filled their own cups were not only able to take care of their own needs but also able to serve and give generously to others.
That’s not to say that the companies that were forced to layoff employees and cut back made mistakes leading up to this. This was unpredictable and for some industries, impossible to prepare for. The same is true for many households. There are so many varying circumstances.
Still, there were plenty of generous people who were able to pay their employees when their businesses were forced to close. There were even more who sent food and financial support to food shelves, helping those who found themselves without a paycheck. And they couldn’t have done this without had they not filled their own cups first.
I could be wrong but I feel this is a safe prediction. If you’re worried about hurting the economy by not spending, don’t fear, others will do it for you. Admittedly, it’s too early for a non-economist like me to predict our economic recovery. But if everything I’ve read about consumer behavior holds true, you shouldn’t have to worry about the economy collapsing while you fill your own cup.
A no-spend month is a great way to get ahead on your financial goals. And with the right team and plan in place, I dare say that it could even be fun. What’s stopping you from giving a no-spend month a try?
What are your best tips to curb spending? Share in the comments below or come tell me all about it on Facebook.