10 Tips for Actually Finishing A No Spend Month
It’s September 2nd and I just finished my first No Spend Month! I went one whole month without spending any money on things other than bills and groceries...... in order to pay off credit cards, save some money and get some stuff done around my apartment. The idea came up in conversation with a friend who has been downsizing and working becoming a minimalist. We were chatting about the future one night pool-side and when she mentioned doing a No Spend Month I jumped at the idea.
Wow, when I started this a month ago I figured it would go the route of most of my projects: steady-on for a few days and then swiftly forgotten about. BUT I surprised myself by totally sticking to this all month long! It feels SO good to have accomplished it AND I even met some of my short term goals in one month.
I not only have the satisfaction of paying off one credit card completely and my second one down significantly, but also gained a sense of control over my finances in order to set myself up for change in the near future. Even just setting the goals I did at the beginning (even though I haven’t reached all of them) has given me such direction and purpose, setting a clear intention for where I would like to be in another year.
As always, I did some research on how to do a No Spend Month before starting, things like writing down your goals and rules, but I also realized a few of my own after completing the month that I'm happy to share here for anyone interested in doing one too!
10 Tips I learned through the process:
1) Start on the 1st of the month
I’m super OCD so starting my No Spend Month on August 1st made it easier to track all month long. I knew on Aug 15th that i was 15 days into it without having to look at a calendar or count down from what day I had started. It made it so that every time I glanced at a calendar or heard the date I was reminded of my No Spend Month project and how I was committed to seeing it through. Hang up a calendar in your cubicle or on your front door to leave a visual reminder you'll see everyday. This isn’t a necessity, but I know that for me, it made the whole process more simple to track!
2) Make a list of GOALS at the beginning
If you do nothing else in preparation for a No Spend Month, a list of goals is a must-do. Not only does it give you intention for setting your mind to starting this project, it transfers into long term goals to give you purpose in general. Ask yourself:
-What do you want to save for?
-What do you want to pay off?
-What behaviors will limiting yourself help with?
-Where do you want to be financially one year from today? Think short-term and long-term.
3) Make a list of RULES at the beginning
Obviously I can’t go a whole month without spending ANY money. There’s rent, of course, and I still have to eat, among other necessary bills like medical, phone, and those damn student loans. But taking the time to list out what is necessary or OK to spend money on this month and what is Not OK (ie: random Target purchases, clothes and shoes, plants, etc) is essential for starting a No Spend Month. Knowing what I have to keep myself from buying and what I needed to spend on totally alleviated any guilt that arose when I felt like I wasn’t saving enough or doing it fast enough because I still had expenses. It also kept me in check when I ran to Target for some quick groceries and passed the tempting $1 aisle….NEED vs. WANT is your basic guideline to live by this month.
4) Make a list of things TO DO INSTEAD of Spending Money
This might seem stupid, but once you start listing out activities, you realize how many opportunities there are in a day/week/month that cost a little here and there and it all adds up! But it is totally possible to spend a month doing fun things that DON’T cost anything. Most importantly this list helped me tackle lots of little tasks I’ve been putting off that I now had the intention to buckle down and get done. It also allowed me to see all the things I’ve been wanting to do listed out in one place and check them off, item by item.
5) Keep a DAILY LOG to keep yourself in check
Log what you’ve spent each day (if anything) to note the inevitabilities that come up throughout the month. I also chose to log what I earned (if anything) from my various side hustles like Poshmark. I logged simple notes for each day of things that had tempted me or unexpected expenses that came up. This turned out to be the sole reason why I think that I DIDN’T totally fail at this. Checking in every day and holding myself accountable kept the rules and the reasons for this challenge forefront in my mind. AND it helped me reflect back over the month now that it’s over and feel all the more proud of myself.
6) Keep a list of things you'll WAIT TO BUY throughout the month
Inevitably at several points throughout the month I realized I was running low on household products, and I thought of items I want or need. I started a Wait To Buy list and added to it every time I had the urge to ‘add to cart’ on Amazon for that tool I might need some day. Instead of buying it right away, I gave myself time to think about whether I really NEED or just ‘want’ that item. It also gave me the opportunity to shop around for the best price over the next month for those items I deemed as NEED. This way, I didn’t feel deprived of buying the things I need, but simply put off the purchase until necessary. I also now have a running list of things to look for in the future so I am more organized about what I want and need in order to plan for those purchases down the road.
7) SHARE what you’re doing with your friends and family!
Don’t be shy, it’s ok to talk about money! The more we do, the more we feel empowered by learning from others or being in a position to help others who need financial encouragement. This whole thing started from a friend sharing her experience with me! By sharing, it also helps your circle to know why you’re declining an invite to dinner out or passing on movie tickets (and that you're not just being anti-social or rude). I was so surprised by how quickly my friends were chiming in with “what a great idea” or “I want to try that!” It made the whole process less secretive and even held me more accountable now that other people knew what I was up to and why.
8) DON’T keep yourself from being social
That being said, I did worry that I would have to decline every invite and feel isolated all month. Wrong! Go to the happy hour, just don’t order drinks! Your wallet (and your health!) will thank you. If you feel uncomfortable without a drink in your hand, order a seltzer and lime - it's free. Most people won’t even notice, and if they do, who cares! It’s just another opportunity to share with whoever is questioning you about your project. I managed to go to two happy hours and on one date during the month of August without breaking any of my rules for the month. My friends didn't care that I wasn't ordering drinks or apps, I made sure I had snacks in my bag or ate before so that I wasn't tempted. And my date was actually fascinated when I told him why I wasn't ordering a drink (or at least he pretended to be!). It felt empowering to be able to go out and do most of the social things I would anyway, but find ways to avoid spending money out and breaking my rules. In the end, I did fewer social things than normal, but never felt deprived or socially isolated.
9) Utilize your phone's NOTES and REMINDERS apps
Since all my tips seem to include some sort of list making, use those apps! They make it easy to keep your rules and goals in the palm of your hand, keeping you on task all month long. Adding the WAIT TO BUY and TO DO INSTEAD lists as reminders with bullets that I could literally check off turned it into a sort of game! It was so satisfying that I got to hit that little bubble and track my tiny accomplishments throughout the whole month. You can even set reminders for yourself to go off at certain points through out the month to encourage you and keep you on track. Have I mentioned that I love lists?
10) Remember...it’s only ONE month!
If you start to feel deprived, or frustrated or impatient, or all three and more....remind yourself how many days into it you are and how many days left you have to go. Does it really feel that unattainable if you break it down? Look how far you’ve already come!
11) BONUS TIP (and the most important): SEE IT THROUGH!
It’s OK if you have to cheat. On Day 19 of my No Spend Month I learned a friend of mine was moving away suddenly and between both our busy schedules we would have to get together before the end of August. She really wanted to meet at our favorite restaurant one more time and I cringed, knowing that would break my rule of ‘no eating out’. But since it was almost the end of the month and I hadn’t broken any other rules, AND because I really wanted to have that experience with her...I decided to cheat. At first I felt guilty that I was letting myself down but quickly realized how far I had already come. I gave myself permission to enjoy this dinner out and knew that by treating her to our favorite gourmet burgers, we’d have that wonderful memory for her to leave town with. Did I have to treat her? No. But I’m glad that I saved all my ‘cheats’ up for this moment that really meant something. I still felt accomplished by having met so many of my other goals for the month and sticking to it through the end. I knew that I was making big changes for myself overall and that this one cheat couldn’t and wouldn't discount all that progress. So cheat if you have to - once, maybe even three times. But don’t give up! See it through to the end (even with a weak moment here or there) and you’ll STILL reap the benefits of a No Spend Month!
I highly recommend doing a No-Spend Month simply as an exercise to inspire you, if nothing else. I am left with such an attitude of ‘let’s keep going!’ that I may just keep seeing how long I can keep this up and how much I can really save! Not once did I feel deprived, or left out as I feared might happen. I made myself share what I was doing with my friends and coworkers who encouraged this and some who even felt inspired to do the same! If you’d like to read my whole journal from my No Spend Month including my lists from the tips above you can see it here. I hope you find it inspiring! If you’ve done a No Spend Month and have more tips to share, I’d love to discuss!