Let’s talk spending. More importantly, let’s talk about not spending money.
Did your holiday spending get out of control this year? Maybe you spent more than you planned. Maybe you didn’t have the money at all but knowingly decided to take on the debt and pay it off later.
How often do impulse buys make it into your cart?
Do you know how much disposable income you would have if not for the impulse spending, restaurant meals and credit card debt?
We ask these questions because many American consumers have no idea where their money goes. That’s because they have a habit of mindlessly buying things that are “just a few dollars” or of overspending even when they know they shouldn’t.
If you can relate, you may be a good candidate for a No Spend Challenge. A No Spend Challenge is exactly as it sounds. You make a game out of not spending extra money for a period of time.
The Do’s and Don’ts
- Do set a start and end date. Many people aim for a month but you might test the waters with two weeks. If you are ambitious, go for two or three months.
- Do pay your bills. That means mortgage, utilities, car payment and all the other regular budgeted bills you pay to keep yourself under roof and your life functioning.
- Do buy the groceries you need. This means stopping to consider whether you’ll actually eat that celery or if you’re buying it out of habit. Buy the things you need and limit the things you don’t need this month. Instead, eat out of your pantry and freezer to get rid of some things nearing expiration.
- Do pay for transportation expenses. Whether it’s a tank of gas or a bus pass, you still need to find your way to work and school.
- Do seek medical care when needed. This challenge isn’t an excuse to skip dental check-ups or to neglect a medical problem.
- Do take some time to think about all the things you buy in a typical day or week that don’t fit into the above categories.
- Don’t take on new luxury bills. Now is not the time to sign up for a new streaming service.
- Don’t buy food you don’t need. Do you already have a cupboard full of cereal at home? You don’t need that box of Lucky Charms.
- Don’t eat out for fun. This is hard for many but we often eat out because we’re too lazy to cook or because it sounds like a good idea. Put the family to work making a meal together with ingredients you already own. We can’t be the only ones whose mother told them they didn’t need a Happy Meal “because we have food at home!”
- Don’t buy single serve drinks and snacks at vending machines and gas stations. Remember all that food you have at home? Pack some of it for a snack. It’s way cheaper and you may find some healthier, cheaper alternatives to the pack of gummy bears.
- Don’t shop for fun or for things you don’t need. That means no new clothes and shoes just because they’re on sale. Did your kid hit a growth spurt? If they need a new pair of shoes, go for it but remember you’re there to buy for your growing child and not for yourself.
See where we are headed with this? If you commit to only buying the necessities for a month or even just a pay period, you will probably be surprised to see how much you have left in the bank at the end.
The best No Spend Challenges are personalized. You may have some rules to bend. For example, there’s no time to cook between work and your college night classes so you grab fast food on the way. Just budget for those allowances and don’t go overboard.
If you have other people living with you, get them involved. Make it a family affair. Your young children may be better at holding you accountable than your spouse because kids often get rules like these better than grown-ups do and they don’t mind shaming you when they catch you red handed.
You may even make it a game and set a goal or a reward. If you hit a savings goal or if you don’t eat out, you get to go to your favorite restaurant at the end.
Most of all, find ways to help you not feel deprived. Remember the commercial that entices us to buy because “we all deserve nice things?” You don’t have to keep buying to have a good time. Make brownies and popcorn for a movie marathon with the family one night. Invite friends over for a game night and ask everyone to bring a snack to share. Brush up on a hobby, go for a walk, visit a free museum, hit up the library, hold a photo shoot with your phone or call a relative to chat instead of spending of money.
There are tons of free ways to spend your time. In fact, if you want to reinforce how much extra stuff you own, spend some time cleaning closets and cupboards, purging unneeded and unwanted stuff that you’ve accumulated. It may discourage you from going out and buying more!
Want to do a No Spend Challenge? February is a great time to test the waters since it’s just 28 days. Then again, why not start today?