9 Things I Learned During My No Spend Month
Have you ever participated in a no spend month?
A no spend month is a great way to pay off debt or set aside some savings. More importantly, though, it can be a great way to learn how to save money and embrace better financial habits.
Debt is a lot like weight gain. If you’re not vigilant about avoiding it, it will inevitably sneak up on you!
We all have to provide for ourselves — shelter, food and clothing. So we’re forced into a relationship with money whether we understand it or not. And advertising and credit cards make it all too easy to spend unwisely and get ourselves in trouble.
This is exactly why a no spend month can help! It gives you a chance to step back and evaluate you relationship with money, so you can see exactly what mistakes you’re making and how to improve your financial habits.
If you’re not quite sure what a no spend month is, or how or where to start, this article will help you get started.
My ‘No Spend Month’ Experience
If you ask me, January is the perfect time to start a no spend challenge. We’re all a little hung over from the expenses of the holidays, and our poor pocketbooks are suffering. At the same time, we all feel invigorated by the New Year and inspired to make positive changes.
I started my no spend month immediately after Christmas, because we have a big trip coming up. I knew that I would need to spend a whole lot extra in February, on travel visas and flights and train tickets and such. So I figured that a no spend month would give me a jump on our upcoming expenses.
This is not my first no spend month, so it was pretty easy to plan, and my family was totally on board. One of our cars needed new tires, so I took care of that before beginning.
I tend to stockpile groceries because I purchase in bulk whenever I find a really great sale. And we have cows and chickens and I always cook from scratch. So the grocery aspect of our no spend months are usually pretty easy to plan, too.
Plus, we married young and started our family while we were both still in college, so the first several years of our marriage were one continual no spend challenge. I’m used to living this way!
I just quickly outline a 30-day meal plan using my list of 15 Easy Meals for Pennies as the framework. I make sure I have all the ingredients, and I am careful to plan the meals that require anything that expires quickly toward the beginning of the month.
The only other thing I needed to take care of was entertainment and activities for our family. Of course we wanted to do something fun for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, a week into our no spend challenge. And we also like to have fun together on weekends. Since I blog about frugality, though, free entertainment wasn’t very hard to figure out.
We spent New Year’s Eve watching two movies we had rented from the library, and finishing off all the junk food we still had around the house from the holidays. New Year’s Day we took the kids sledding. We always take a thermos full of hot chocolate with us, along with homemade donuts.
Here is a rundown of what I spent during our no spend month (this doesn’t include health insurance, because it’s automatically deducted from my husband’s paycheck, or homeowner’s insurance or auto insurance, because we just pay those once per year):
- Mortgage $1980
- Utilities $164 (that doesn’t include phones, which we only pay every six months, or water or sewer, because we have a well and septic system)
- Gas for our vehicles $249
- Music lessons $860 (I can’t cancel music lessons for the month, because that wouldn’t be fair to all of our music teachers)
That was about $15 less than what I had budgeted, because I anticipated all of those expenses, but I estimated a little high on utilities. We saved approximately $1765, which is what we would have spent on groceries, home repairs, clothing, entertainment and other incidentals.
Kaching! I immediately added those savings to my China fund, which I keep in a high-yield savings account that is somewhat inaccessible. I’ll use it to purchase train tickets and Shanghai Disneyland tickets in the next few weeks.
It’s funny that my kiddos really missed bananas midway through the month, because we usually have several brown, overripe bananas that nobody will touch every week. I missed being able to throw together a salad for dinner.
But really, missing our produce for about two weeks (we were FAR from starving!) was totally worth being able to pay cash for our upcoming trip. (Not that we saved it all over the last month. We’ve actually been saving for this trip for awhile, using a series of money saving challenges.)
What I really want to tell you about, though, is all of the things I have learned from participating in this no spend month, and other no spend challenges over the years. I’ve heard lots of people say that they think no spend challenges are useless, because you’re really just spending ahead of time, in anticipation of your needs, or afterwards, to catch up.
That’s only partially true.
Lessons You’ll Learn During Your No Spend Month:
You’ll waste a whole lot less during your no spend month.
My freezer is where things go to die. Every time I clean it out, I throw out dozes of ‘things’ that I can’t even identify. The reason they are there in the first place was that I had too much in my fridge and I hated to throw out something perfectly good.
The pantry is less troublesome, but we do still have things in there that should be used. Soon. Like, they may already be past their ‘use by’ date, but not so much that I’m worried.
If you’re family is like mine, you’ll never use them up until you cut off the flow of incoming groceries. By the end of a month without grocery shopping, your family will be eager to eat up the stale biscotti.
You’ll find all kinds of uses for things you formerly considered junk. You’ll also realize that you shouldn’t purchase certain items anymore, because they are a waste of money.
A no spend month can help you improve poor financial habits.
I consider this one of the biggest benefits of a no spend month. As you participate, you’ll notice the financial mistakes you were making.
I still laugh about the time my little sister opened a checking account, wrote a ton of checks, and was flabbergasted when they all bounced. After all, she still had checks in her checkbook.
Some people use credit cards that way. Max one out, make the minimum payment, and open another. That plastic card in your wallet is the greatest enabler of debt and bad money habits. It enables you to spend on a whim, with no thought for your budget.
Lock that bad boy up! Seriously, remove your credit cards from your wallet and hide them away in your sock drawer if you are a person who has problems with credit cards. Use this No Spend month to rid yourself of that habit.
Hopefully you’ll see a difference and like it, so that upon completion of this challenge, you can continue with your new, better habits.
No Spend challenges can help you discern your wants from your needs.
Life is busy and chaotic, and I understand operating on auto pilot because there is no spare brain power. You kind of don’t care anymore. $5 feels like nothing when you really need a latte. (Or for me, because I don’t drink coffee, a chocolate bar.)
Or you might use shopping as entertainment or an anti-depressant, splurging on stuff you don’t need to give you a quick happiness boost.
It’s a bad place to live — not every thinking about what you truly need vs. what you merely want. When you are forced to put your credit card away, it makes you think about why you are doing things. It can help you be more deliberate and mindful.
It can help you ignore the Joneses.
The Joneses are just stupid. Can we all agree on that? And we don’t really, truly want to be like them, right?
So why on Earth do we act like we our goal in life is to keep up with them? Why do we trade in perfectly good vehicles that are no longer the latest model, for a mere fraction of what we paid for them? Why do we throw out last year’s perfectly good clothing?
It reminds me of The Sneetches. You remember how they went back and forth from star-bellied to plain-bellied? It’s ridiculous, and yet it so eloquently and simply describes our society.
Everyone wants to be a part of they hypothetical ‘elites’. Well, the sneetches traded all of their money for social standing. They ended up with neither social standing nor money.
A no spend month will provide you time to disengage from the rat-race, and to stand back and see how absurd it is. Maybe it will remind you that your worth is not dependent on stuff. You are a child of God! He wants you to have financial peace.
You can learn patience from a no spend month.
My mom always told me, “Never trade what you want most for what you want at the moment.”
What do you really want?
I’ll tell you what I want. I want my mortgage gone. I want my retirement fully funded. I want for my husband to no longer be dependent on his paycheck and benefits so that we can travel full-time. I want financial peace.
Currently, our only debt is our home, because we have pretty good financial habits. We’ve spent the last TWO years saving up cash for a new minivan.
Yes, I said minivan. The funny thing is that the 2019 Honda Odyssey is my dream car. I can haul 4 x 8 plywood sheets in the back, and I can haul my kiddos with their cellos, violins, bagpipes, guitars and harps to orchestra rehearsal.
I know minivans are considered nerdy, but I don’t care. We’ve already established that I’m not friends with the Joneses. I’ve driven a Suburban for the last thirteen years, and it’s getting old. Plus, two kids went away to college, so I now only have six kiddos at home.
I’m going to LOVE my brand-new (paid for with cash) minivan with it’s entertainment system and on-board vacuum, and automatic doors. We’ve finally saved enough and we’re buying it in the next few weeks.
Since we saved up (TWO years, people!) we don’t need a loan. We can go into the dealership expecting to pay below MSRP. And what would have been our car payment goes into investments, so our money is working for us instead of the bank.
My point is that our bad habits, like eating out, and shoes to go with every outfit, are what we want now. The debt-free lifestyle and early retirement will elude us as long as we cherish our bad habits.
Your no spend month will force you to give up your bad habits temporarily. But hopefully long enough to give you a taste of the financial freedom and peace that patiently saving up (and foregoing purchases that prevent you from saving) will bring.
No spend challenges can curb impulse spending.
Who hasn’t gone to Target for eggs and left the store with two carts (because that was all you could push/pull) full of stuff you didn’t need? I always, always, always laugh when the cashier asks me if I found everything I needed.
During your no spend challenge, you probably won’t be going to Target much. Praise and rejoicing! A reprieve from temptations!
I think this is one of the main reasons that no spend challenges work. If you don’t go shopping in the first place, you won’t be making impulse purchases. If you actually do run across something you think you’ll die without, you have to wait until the end of the month to buy it.
All that time to mull it over will probably convince you that you don’t need it. At least that’s how it works with me.
After a month of mulling over a purchase, if you still feel you need it, then you probably do. Go buy it at that point without regrets!
Turn this process — thinking purchases through carefully over time — into a habit, and it will bless you for the rest of eternity by freeing you from the economic burden of impulse purchases.
Your no spend challenge will motivate you to save consistently.
Savings challenges, which turn a goal into a game, can be motivating all by themselves. It feels great to create a goal (not spending any money on certain things for a month) and then accomplish it!
But you know what’s even more motivating? Watching your savings account balance grow! And you know what’s even more motivating than that? Investing your savings and watching it grow even faster.
Hopefully, these little savings challenges will help you develop a consistent savings habit.
A no spend month can help you declutter.
We talked previously about how a No Spend Month can help you clean our your pantry, fridge and freezer. But what about your closet? And the rest of your house?
I once watched this show on HGTV about a designer who created beautiful room with items the homeowner’s already had. She’d scavenge through their home, taking a lamp here and a rug there, until she had created a really beautiful space.
I consider myself somewhat minimalist, but still I know I have enough stuff sitting around to pull that off. And I think I could do the same thing in my closet — creating cute outfits from rarely worn items I already have.
Not buying anything for a month will prevent more stuff from coming into your house. But even more importantly, it will help you see how much you already have and think up ways to either use it or get rid of it.
It can teach you gratitude for your blessings
Several times during this challenge, I found myself overwhelmed with gratitude for all the blessings Heavenly Father has blessed us with! I felt so grateful as I paid each of our music teachers, for the wonderful experiences they provide my children.
I felt grateful that we’ve been able to stockpile staples, which made not buying groceries spectacularly easy, because I know that I can take care of my family if ever we experience an emergency or natural disaster. I felt grateful to have a nice, warm, lovely, safe home.
And I felt particularly grateful to be able to sock away savings for our upcoming trip.
My Final Thoughts on this No Spend Month
Since you’re putting away credit cards, only purchasing necessities, and generally living frugally during your No Spend Month, use the void where your bad habits (like recreational shopping) existed, to create better financial habits.
You can actually earn money in the extra time and space you’ll have. Use those extra funds to pay off debt or save for a new vehicle so you can pay cash and leave the debt cycle behind for good.
It’s also a great time to look carefully at your budget and make any necessary changes. I was able to see that my ‘incidentals’ category has grown bloated, and I’ll be working on my budget.
You could come out of this No Spend Month a much more financially savvy person!
Have you ever participated in a no spend challenge? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.