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Embarking on a No-Spend-Month

Updated on October 20, 2018
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Sarah has just done a 180-degree turn from impulse shopper to budget-crazed saver.


I don't normally write about personal finance but this is the beginning of my first no-spend-challenge. If you read frugal living blogs occasionally (or religiously like me) you are bound to have come across it previously, however, if this area is new to you then let me share my understanding of the no-spend-challenge:

  • you still pay for bills and essentials (whether groceries belongs into this category seems to depend how far you want to go); and
  • whatever non-essential categories you have in your budget you don't spend, looking instead for free alternatives.

It sounds super straightforward and like anyone should be able to do it. General advice on how to cope includes tips like:

  • look at what usually triggers your spending and prepare a plan for those situations (for me it tends to be boredom so when in theory when I feel like I want to spend money I should remove myself from my laptop or the shops);
  • visualise what you want to use the money for and think about how happy you will be once you have the money saved but if you aren't the visual type a mantra could work, too;
  • if you are a credit card user, hide your card...

A wise person should have money in their head, but not in their heart.

— Jonathan Swift

Money and the heart

For my challenge, I haven't really set the stakes particularly high. I am, so to say, just dipping my toe in by saving my fun money for this month and our eating out budget. The savings from the eating out budget will just discreetly go into our savings, however, the fun money is required for a more immediate need...

I need new boots for winter (yes, actually need them since the ones I have worn for the past two winters can't be mended this time round). Naturally, I have researched the world of winter boots a fair bit now and I have seen only one pair that I really liked. They cost more than boots I have bought in the past but my newly frugal mind is hoping that I'll get more than two winters out of them. The problem is: I have put a little bit of money towards them already and also have gift cards I can use but without a successful no-spend-month this month they will remain off-limits.

And maybe this is my problem: the pressure to succeed first time round is definitely on. For the last two days all I could think about were other replacements around the house that are kind of needed but not as important as keeping my feet warm.

Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.

— Epictetus

Not spending is a great time for self-reflection

It might be early on in my challenge but I feel like I've already learned an important lesson about my relationship with money.

Saving unconsciously by automatically transferring money into my savings is easy, I can do that without feeling deprived of something. However, for me, saving up for a short-term goal is so much more effort.

In the past I put convenience and a "need it now"-attitude before quality. I would have just thrown a bit less money at a genuine need to prioritise some wants at the same time. Not having a budget in place back then really wasn't a clever thing to do and certainly explains why my overdraft was such a regular visitor for a while.

Boredom clearly isn't my only trigger for spending. I kept busy yesterday but kept thinking about all the nice stuff I should just have. There is certainly a little sense of entitlement there that I haven't experienced in a long time. Ouch.

I think it's fair to say that I didn't learn much financial wisdom from my parents and the only lessons I had were the kind of indirect ones you pick up as a child. Although my parents are very different people in almost every aspect of life, they like to have the finer things in their own ways and spending was a kind of bandaid for both of them.

In that sense maybe it's not surprising that in the past I have fallen into the same pattern. Although it's not that long ago that I told my partner I have seen the light already, maybe that's not as true as I would like it to be.

Rationally, I firmly believe that this is my life and that I alone am responsible for my decisions and mistakes, including the financial ones. I would also go as far as saying that I want to resolve these issues myself and whenever parents or in-laws are trying to save the day I feel offended.

Emotionally, I think I have a long way to go but I hope sooner or later the heart is going to catch up with my head.

MId-month update

Ok, it has actually been a bit longer since the middle of the month was last week, however, I am feeling a little bit more at peace with my experience.

I should say that the supermarket rewards program I have signed up to around here has ironically helped my endeavours. They offered additional points on certain days this month only so rather than going shopping on a weekly basis, I have adapted my grocery shopping habits. I've done two big shops this month only which feels weird but is easy enough to do with a bit of forward planning.

Funnily enough, emotionally I'd like to go to the supermarket more often even though I know our household needs well enough to only shop twice a month. I can't explain it myself but it is an interesting insight and might just show me that there is room for improving the grocery budget, too.

In general terms, though, the temptation to spend money on "wants" spontaneously has mostly disappeared as I have concentrated on avoiding my triggers and those winter boots I have been eyeing up for ages are now looking affordable.

I haven't ordered any food in as of yet although there were times were family have treated us to a take away. Technically, I guess that's not against the rules, however, it isn't exactly in the spirit of going without either. In light of this, I will probably extend the challenge to next month, too.

If you are trying to not spend money this month or have successfully completed the challenge already, I'd love to hear from you!

© 2018 Sarah


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