While we can all go a little overboard with spending at any point in the year (guilty!), the new year especially can bring with it the reality check of all that holiday spending…that festive optimism has a way of easing its way into the wallet, doesn’t it?
For this reason, taking stock of where you are financially and where you need to be is a good spot to start come January. One way to set yourself back on-course is to make up for that overspending by taking on a no-spend month challenge.
But, before you do, here’s what you need to know to up your chances of successfully sticking with your goal.
The name is a misnomer
Now, while the challenge is called a no-spend month, it doesn’t quite mean that you can’t spend anything at all. Instead, it is customizable to you and your specific situation. Some expenses are unavoidable (i.e. your cost of living expenses such as electricity, rent, groceries, etc.). But for this period, the point is avoiding any discretionary spending – your “wants” category.
Start by reviewing what you need to spend on, and then make a list for anything else that’s a “nice-to-have” but not absolutely necessary. Better yet, set time aside to make a budget with your anticipated expenses. This will allow you to identify and minimize any spending outside of those necessary expenses.
Make it work for you
Pick a timeframe that is imminent and realistic. While some people opt to do a full month, others may want to start with one day a week or a full week and build up from there. Next, pick your start date and end date. Some may want to get going right away mid-month and take it through to the next 31 days, while many others go for “Frugal February” because it is the shortest month of the year. Find what works for you.
Clarify your goals
Your challenge will be a lot easier to stick to if you are clear on what you’re trying to accomplish. Are you trying to build back up your emergency fund, pay back loans or create an account cushion (so you can avoid those pesky monthly bank fees)? Or are you looking to save for a bigger item, such as a bike, or a dream vacation for when normal life resumes? If you need visual reminders to keep you motivated, vision board it, or tack on images of these goals in places you’re prone to look. If journaling is your thing, add it in.
Create a support system
You’re more likely to stick with a goal if you let others in on what you’re trying to accomplish. It helps create accountability, and potentially allows you to rally with others who are also trying to achieve the same thing. Having someone to turn to when you get tempted to spend will help keep you on-track.
Build a buffer
If you know that some weekdays you’re too exhausted from a busy day at work to make a full dinner from scratch, work in a buffer for a day when you’ll need to order takeout. The idea is to make this challenge sustainable, but to push yourself beyond your routine of reflexively spending on things that aren’t absolutely necessary. (And if cooking is your challenge, try one of these make-ahead dinners for a smoother week ahead – your future, exhausted self will thank you).
Track your spending
Every time you do spend, note it in a log or a budgeting app, so you can make sure nothing slips through the cracks. With online shopping, and no tangible exchange of money, you could be spending even without realizing it; all those subscription boxes don’t pay for themselves. By actively logging your spending, you are spending more mindfully and intentionally.
Seek out no-spend alternatives
Look for no-spend alternatives to keep busy. Seek out new podcasts, go for a skate at your local rink, or download e-books freely available from your local library. Whatever you do, divert your attention when you get tempted to shop out of boredom. Find other free ways to fill that void.