Wednesday, January 25, 2017

How to Survive a No Spend Month

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February seems to be a popular month for spending freezes.  Maybe because the holiday craziness has died down and the credit card statements are rolling in, maybe it's that it's a short month, which makes it seem easier.  No matter the reason, I'm always fully on board for spending freezes.  I do think, especially for first timers, that totally freezing your spending for an entire month is incredibly ambitious and not always successful, but that shouldn't deter you.

I don't think I need to explain what a no spend month is, right?  Pretty self-explanatory just from the title.  Just don't spend any money!  People outline their own rules when they embark on these spend less challenges, like making special allowances for birthdays, and of course you still need to pay your bills.  I'd certainly love to not pay my electric bill, but ComEd frowns upon that....  Anyway, I'm not going to say what your particular rules should be, I'm just going to offer some advice, now that you've decided to partake in a no spend challenge, on how to make the month successful, enjoyable, and quick.

Eat From Your Pantry (and Other Stockpiles)

No one is saying that you can't buy groceries during a spending freeze.  You still need to eat!  However. It does help in many ways to just eat from what you already have on hand, for as long as you can.  Obviously you'll save money this way - you aren't grocery shopping.  But it also gives you something to occupy your time with.  One of the issues with a no spend month can be boredom, since you aren't going out shopping, to the movies, to dinner, etc.  Coming up with new recipes and cooking from the things you've had hanging out in your pantry and freezer for awhile gets creative juices flowing, gets the kitchen organized, and gives you something to focus on at home, for free!  Personally, I'd concentrate on the things that you've just randomly had but haven't found a use for (for me, it was a can of green beans, where did that even come from?) and also try making some things from scratch.  I'm guessing you have the supplies for cookies or brownies on hand, just never bothered to make them.  Now is a great time to perfect your recipe.

Make a Wish List

It may seem counter intuitive to track the things you aren't buying, but it really can help in the long run, I promise.  Every time you want to buy something that isn't an immediate need (if it's not toilet paper, pet food, or medication, you're pretty much out of luck, pal) during this month, add it to a running wish list on your phone or Amazon.  Tell yourself you can buy it, you just have to wait until the end of the month, no big deal.  You can even set money aside, either in cash or in an account (or just mentally) to buy that item in a couple weeks.  This way, you're not still thinking about it, it's on the list to be purchased at a future date.  But most of the time, when you get to the end of the month and check your list, you don't even want that item any more.  You probably won't want any of them!  Particularly when you have that pile of money you put aside, which could pay for a big ticket wish list item (or go towards debt), the small things you wanted just don't seem to matter.  This is a good way to approach shopping in general, just sit on it for awhile.  The desire will pass.

Check Things Off Your To Do List

In order to save yourself from going out and doing things that require money, make an effort to stay home and tackle the things on your to do list.  Decluttering, organizing, sorting through your closet and dropping things off at the donation center, finally getting a painting hung, going to the library and checking out a giant stack of books.  Everything you've said 'I don't have time to ____' about lately.  Buckle down and tackle all the things that have been nagging you.  The month will fly by if you concentrate on what can and needs to be done in your own home.

Plan For Your Most Likely Slip Ups

You already know where your money goes that it shouldn't.  You might be pretending you don't, but you do - you never bring lunch to work, you online shop for clothes when you have a full closet, you wander into Sephora for fun, you say 'just two beers and then I'm going home' before suddenly paying for a $100 bar tab.  As much as you want to ignore it, you do know where your money is going that you don't want it to be.  So try to plan for what you're most likely to fail at.  If you're likely to fail at eating out, compile a list of (simple!) recipes that you've been wanting to try.  If you're likely to fail at meeting up with friends for dinner or drinks, make a list of all of the things you could do together that wouldn't cost anything (invite them over for drinks in your own house while you paint your nails and watch Gilmore Girls, for example.  Or go walk dogs at the animal shelter if you won't end up bringing them all home.)

But Don't Plan Too Much

I think this goes against all the usual advice people give about how to go about a no spend month, but I believe the key is in not planning every detail.  The instinct is to look at the entire month and see everything you have going on, planning for every event or dinner, making detailed lists of what items you have on hand and then stocking up on toilet paper before your start date.  No.  Don't do this.  Because you're just going to keep putting it off, waiting for the perfect month.  Newsflash: there will never be a perfect month for a spending freeze.  Seriously.  Never.  There will always be a birthday, a wedding, a retirement party, friends coming into town, a local event, a store sale, Wrestlemania on pay-per-view (no, just me?), the quarterly dues you forgot about.  Plus, another point of the no spend month is to get an honest look at what you actually use, so stockpiling is silly.  Of course it goes against my very nature to not plan for every detail but in reality you just can't when it comes to a no spend month, and anything is better than nothing.  Progress versus perfection, and all that (I have a post about that coming Friday, actually.)  So just... start.  Make some loose rules ('pay bills, don't go out to dinners or for drinks') and then just get started.

Have you ever finished or attempted a no spend month?  Are you planning one for February?  Leave your tips or concerns in the comments!

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