My no-spend month, the final verdict
One month ago I decided to have a no-spend month, cutting out all unnecessary purchases. It was a last minute decision, so there was no time to prepare and I had to throw together some quick rules for the zero spend period. The time is now up, so I thought it was time to have a roundup post to let you know about the challenges, the plus points and the final outcome.
Challenges of a no-spend month
I regularly write about sales and bargains, and one of the most challenging aspects of having a no-spend month was that there was a constant stream of tempting information coming my way. Having to wave some juicy bargains goodbye turned out to be somewhat difficult, oh the regret, but being publicly accountable helped to keep me on the straight and narrow.
I realised that I don’t have specific times in my week any more where I drift into random shopping mode. This used to happen when I was hanging out at home in the evening, or during a rainy Sunday afternoon, but I might have broken that habit now. Unfortunately, I have to admit that I’m more susceptible to bargain fever than I would like, and that emails from my favourite retailers have more of an effect on me than I’d previously realised.
At one point I tried to talk myself into some non-essential shopping, ‘justifying’ buying something, but I was able to call myself out on that tendency many of us have to start looking for loopholes. No, Penny’s brain, that’s really not essential, and you can’t fool me with all that BS so just stop trying.
There were a couple of occasions when I let myself go ‘pretend shopping’, and put a few things in online baskets with no intention of checking out. I don’t store my credit card details with online shops any more, so that disrupted the impulse to buy for me, although if you are more of an impulsive type of person it might be better to stay out of the shops altogether. Dummy-run shopping sounds like a weird thing to do, and maybe it was, but it did have an interesting advantage.
Plus points of going zero-spend
Going ‘pretend shopping’ made me research potential purchases more carefully, and most of all it helped me to prioritise future spending. I had to look at the total spend for everything I had my eye on, to see how much it added up to – then I took a few items out of the basket to bring it down to what was within budget, and I researched ways to get free postage and packing, plus discounts and possible upcoming sales.
These *are* things that I already use or want and will need to purchase next month anyway, so I’ll be able to shop smarter when I do eventually get around to it. It’s not an excessive amount of stuff, and I don’t have an urge to binge spend or rebel, or have some kind of rebound.
The obvious advantage of going zero-spend for any length of time is that you’re going to cut your outgoings, and I’m sure I’ve saved quite a lot of money. It’s also been kind of fun improvising and using things up, and appreciating what I already have.
The other, less obvious advantage is that it sort of feels like a little holiday from consumerism and the pressures of advertising and materialism. It’s been weirdly… relaxing. While I wouldn’t describe myself as a minimalist, I’m definitely not someone who feels the need to spend to fit in or compete against others either, so I wasn’t sure how that would play out after a month. I’m pleased to report that there’s no urge to keep up with the Joneses, or any crappy Z-list celebs either for that matter.
Having a break from all that mental clutter has made me think more about things that genuinely enhance everyday life, and for me these are spending time with friends, shared experiences and meeting people I have things in common with, learning, and enjoying the creative output of all kinds of people and groups.
It’s also brought more clarity to my work, and ability to plan and be organised. This might be due to the streamlining effect of having less to worry about, and it’s made it easier to prioritise what’s genuinely important.
Final outcome of my no-spend challenge
I managed to go the entire month without any additional spending, so it’s been a success. Considering how little preparation I did in advance of the challenge, this has been a nice surprise and I’m really pleased.
Being allowed to buy basic groceries, make my usual work-related purchases and keep existing social arrangements was probably what made all the difference. There were days where I felt like I was treading water and it was all a little humdrum, but they were made easier by keeping myself busy, and it was balanced out more roundly with some fun nights out.
It’s good to remember that as humans we tend to be hardwired to be able to improvise and problem solve. You can easily live without your creature comforts and favourite brands for a few weeks, even if it’s become a huge part of your regular routine. It’s also helpful to be reminded to be more aware of the things we own, skills we have, and resources we have access to – our brains are usually biased towards looking for whatever we feel we might lack, so it’s a positive experience when we’re able to take a moment to feel grateful and take stock of what’s already there and what’s potentially beneficial.
I think it’s been a helpful few weeks for my habits and my bank balance, so I’ll happily do it again, maybe one or two months per year from now on. It would be an excellent way to save up for a holiday, or rein things in after some unexpected expenses.
Have you carried out a no-spend month of your own? Are you tempted to try one?
I’d be interested to know what rules you would have if you repeated the experiment. How did things like transport, birthday presents, accepting/declining invitations go? I’ve been reading Michelle McGagh’s book and your “rules” sound more livable with.
Hi Frugally Challenged,
Thanks for stopping by! I think if I had more time to plan, I’d still keep existing social arrangements to avoid wasting tickets or running up cancellation fees for people who’ve put down deposits etc. For transport I have a travelcard so I’d keep that and try to avoid taxis or any other transport costs – other people might need to set a budget for petrol etc. For accepting invitations, I’d probably attend birthdays of close friends & family, weddings, big anniversaries etc, other things I’d probably postpone apart from BBQs and dinner parties where I could return the favour the following month.
For gifts and pre-arranged nights out I’d definitely have a price cap as well. People are usually understanding if you explain to them that you’re doing extreme budgeting, especially if it’s for a purpose such as getting out of debt, breaking a spending addiction, saving up for a holiday or a house move, etc. Hope this helps!
Thanks for that. I admired Michelle McGagh and her challenge certainly was very black and white but yours sounds more liveable. Thank you.
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