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Do you struggle with sticking to a budget? Do you give in to the temptation to spend money on random things you didn’t plan? Does money stress you out? It may be time for a major reset in the form of a no spend month!
Money makes the world go around. Spending money on the essentials of our life—food, housing, utilities, and transportation—is unavoidable. We also spend money for many other reasons. Sometimes these additional expenditures can be attributed to how we feel. When we spend by our feelings, it’s easy to overspend and blow our budgeting efforts out of the water.
Why a No Spend Month
A no spend month can highlight our needs versus our wants and flesh out our unhealthy spending habits. It’s also a great way to trim the fat and give you a better handle on your finances. With inflation 7.1% higher at the end of November 2022 compared to the end of November 2021, having a good handle on our finances can help us through this time of high inflation. As inflation climbs, we can also be driven by emotions for our financial habits.
The goal of a no spend month is to save money and improve your relationship with spending. It’s also a great time to set up a budget to carry help you through the entire year. If one of your S.M.A.R.T. goals for the year is to save money, a budget will be an important part of achieving that goal. If one of your goals for the year is preparedness, financial health is an important part of preparedness and is one of the steps I recommend focusing on.
Since we’re already several days into the month, you can start your no spend month today for an abbreviated version or save it until next month. While many people choose to do a no spend month in January, after the excess of the holidays, it can be done any month you prefer. Some people choose February since it’s shorter, but March, April, or May will work just as well. It’s the perfect exercise for any time you need to reset your finances. You just may be surprised by what you discover!
How to Plan a No Spend Month
My family decided to use January as a no spend month. A few weeks ago, my husband and I discussed how our no spend month would look. Our goal wasn’t to feel like we were being punished. We also didn’t stock up on things, any more than usual, in preparation of our no spend month.
A no spend month doesn’t mean you’re not spending any money. The mortgage, utilities, and other bills still get paid. Groceries still get purchased (or you could coincide your no spend month with a pantry challenge). We still buy fuel for the cars. Deciding what you will and won’t spend money on is part of the process and another great way to look at your budget.
You decide what you will or won’t spend your money on for your no spend month. Here’s a possible list of things you may choose to eliminate on your no spend month:
- Dining out, takeout, or coffee stops
- Nonfood shopping, both in person and online
- Entertainment, such as movies and concerts
- Subscriptions and/or membership programs (now’s a great time to review these and see if you are truly getting your money’s worth)
- Salon or spa visits
- No credit card expenditures (cash only this month)
- No impulse purchases
Give yourself a lot of grace when doing a no spend month. Mistakes and surprises happen. Use these as an opportunity to learn and grow as you relook at your relationship with your finances.
Check Your Budget
With your spending down to the bare minimum, you can now get a good look at your base budget. If you’re used to living pay check to pay check, you may think you don’t have the money to even put together a budget. The money just doesn’t add up on paper. The reality is, when you have more expenses than income, that’s when you most need a budget. Your budget can help fix many of your financial issues.
I’m a fan of Dave Ramsey and his zero-based budget. A zero-based budget is when your income minus your expenses equals zero. His book, The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness, is a must-read to learn how this budget works and how to use his baby step methods to get out of debt.
Getting, and staying, out of debt isn’t just about creating a budget but about changing your relationship with money. The no spend month is also about changing your relationship with money. Combining a no spend month with a budget makeover (or setting up a budget for the first time) can give you the maximum bang for your proverbial buck.
A big benefit of a no spend month is saving money. This is another time the zero-based budget comes in handy when combined with the no spend month. By giving each dollar a purpose, those dollars that were previously used on items that are eliminated this month still need someplace to go. Building your emergency savings fund or a debt snowball are the most likely places to put this newly found windfall.
As funny as it sounds, a no spend month is a great stress reliever. while many of us make purchases to feel better, it’s still stressful.
If you struggle with impulse buying, the stress of that is taken away for the month. You’ve already made the decision to not make any purchases. One less thing to think about in your day-to-day life!
Life is full of decisions. So many so that decision fatigue is real. Steve Jobs famously wore a black turtleneck, blue jeans, and trainers day in and day out to combat this fatigue. Jobs understood he had a finite capacity of brainpower to make well-thought-out decisions, the same as all of us.
If we spend our day deciding what to wear, where to go to eat out, what to buy… we’re using brainpower that could be reserved for the really important things. Give your brain a break for the month and reduce your stress!
Make it Fun
A no spend month doesn’t need to feel like a prison sentence. Make it fun! Look for inexpensive things to do. If you’re used to a weekly date night, search out fun free things to do. Take a picnic to enjoy afterwards. Or stay home and cook together, then enjoy your meal by candlelight.
Family fun is easy to have at home with game nights or movie nights. We used to make pizza or sushi at home every Friday night as part of our family fun time.
During the winter months, we still try to spend as much time outside as possible by hiking, skiing, or snowshoeing. Tailgating is a fun part of our winter sports. With tailgating, we save big money compared to the cost of dining out.
Expect a bump or two in the road during your no spend month. If things happen, they happen. Dust yourself off and keep going. Every dollar is a step in the right direction.