Last month my husband and I decided to Challenge ourselves to complete a No Spend Month to give our savings a boost and get our budget back on track.
Well folks, we survived and the results are in.
Keep reading to find out how we went with our No Spend Month, including how much we saved and the lessons we learned along the way.
What Is A No Spend Challenge?
A No Spend Challenge is a simple idea really. It’s a set period of time (maybe a weekend, week, or month) where you focus on avoiding all non-essential spending.
That’s right… no non-essential spending. That means you should only be spending Money on things that you absolutely need to buy.
It’s a great opportunity to save some extra money, get a better understanding of the motivation behind your spending, and re-set your spending habits if you’ve wandered off track.
One of the nice things about a No Spend Challenge is that the rules are flexible and you can really tailor it to your own situation.
You can make your own decision on what purchases will be allowed, what will be banned, and what you’ll make exceptions for. After you’ve set your ground rules, the challenge is sticking to them for the length of your challenge.
If you’re interested in starting your own No Spend Challenge, I put together a No Spend Month Challenge Printable Tracker that you can grab for free, just by subscribing to my newsletter.
Go ahead and subscribe below to grab your Free No Spend Month Challenge Printable Tracker now:
Why We Did A No Spend Challenge And What It Looked Like
Towards the end of April, my husband and I started thinking a bit more seriously about our savings goals for 2019 (yep, we’re a little late getting our act together this year).
When we finally sat down at looked at our numbers, we noticed that we hadn’t saved as much as we had expected for the year to date. After a little further investigation, the reason became pretty clear… we’d been overspending for the last few months. A LOT.
There were a few genuine reasons for our recent spendy behavior, including an unplanned trip back to Australia, but most of it really just came down to lifestyle creep and being lazy with our budget.
With the realization that we were only delaying our own goals, we decided to get back on track and to dive right into a No Spend Month Challenge for 31 days in May.
Our Challenge Rules
The rules of our challenge were simple.
We decided to cut out all spending that wasn’t a fixed or mandatory expense. This included takeout, eating out, work lunches, coffee, drinks, snacks, rideshares, and car rentals, and all shopping.
We still paid all of our bills and other regular expenses for the month, but aimed to cut out almost everything else.
On our “allowed expenses” list, we had groceries and dog food.
We also decided that we would make an exception for any vet and/or medical bills if they came up during the month.
Overall, I’d like to say that our No Spend Month Challenge was a success.
While we didn’t make it a perfect 31 no spend days in May, we certainly managed to curb our recent spendy habits and had a much more frugal month than our previous few.
We learned some really valuable lessons during Our No Spend Month too, which I’ll be sharing with you today.
This is what our month looked like:
You’ll notice that we ended the month with 27 out of 31 no spend days in May. We did have a few unplanned, but not entirely unexpected expenses come up.
- Passport photos (for my husband’s visa renewal).
- Document postage fees (also for the visa renewal).
- An unplanned Costco trip (included as a spend day because we went over our regular budgeted grocery amount).
- New business attire (my husband had some job interviews come up in May and realized that his old clothes didn’t fit anymore).
In hindsight, we really should have seen these expenses coming and budgeted accordingly, but 27 out of 31 days is still pretty good and we’re both happy with what we were able to achieve during our challenge.
But how much did we actually save?
Crunching the numbers and seeing the actual results was definitely the most rewarding part of the challenge.
At the end of the month, I reconciled our budget and calculated our actual spend for May and we ended up decreasing our total spend by a whopping 34%.
Some of the biggest impact areas of our No Spend Month were:
- Groceries – We saved $350 compared to our April grocery spend.
- Eating Out – We spent $270 less on eating out in May.
- Utilities – For some reason, our utilities cost $100 less in May. I’m not entirely sure what caused this decrease.
- Household Items – I stopped buying new gadgets for the kitchen, saving $260 compared to April.
Lessons We Learned During Our No Spend Month
Doing a No Spend Month Challenge was a great refresher for us and taught us some valuable lessons. I feel like it was a great experience overall and has definitely helped us get back on track with our budget and spending.
This challenge reminded me of how easy it is to fall victim to lifestyle creep and spend more than you intend to if you don’t regularly track where your money is going.
Although I already knew that mindless spending is risky, it was a timely reminder of why budgeting is important and has refreshed my motivation to get back in the habit of following a monthly budget and tracking expenses.
Here are some other great lessons we learned during our No Spend Month:
1. We waste a lot of money when we don’t track our spending
This lesson was perhaps the hardest to stomach as there is nothing we can do to fix it. We can’t go back in time and un-spend all of the money that we wasted for the last few months, so we just have to take the lesson, suck it up, and do better going forward.
And although it’s not a particularly nice feeling to realize how much extra we could have saved if we had of been tracking our spending, it’s still a good lesson to learn.
Thanks to this challenge, we’re now re-energized, back on track, and determined to save even more for the rest of the year to make up for a few sub-par saving months.
2. We really enjoy eating out once a week, but we can definitely do it cheaper
Eating out once a week is definitely our main guilty pleasure. My husband and I love trying new restaurants and frequenting our old favorites too. This is not something that we want to cut out entirely at this stage as it brings us so much joy.
Plus, this is one of the main activities that gets us out of the apartment on the weekend so it has that added benefit too.
We usually like to take the time to walk to the restaurant rather than ordering delivery, which means that we get to enjoy a bit of extra physical activity as a part of our weekly food-related outing.
With that in mind, we do plan to budget to eat out once a week going forward. However, the major change that we will make is to set a fairly tight budget for eating out.
To stay under budget, we will focus on eating out during happy hour so we get more bang for our buck, and if we want to go somewhere more expensive one week, we’ll reduce our spend for the other weeks that month to balance it out.
After all, saving money without feeling deprived is all about compromise and figuring out what’s important to you. Enjoying our weekly food outings is important to us, but spending a lot of money on them is not.
3. Beware of little expenses; A small leak will sink a great ship
This is one of my absolute favorite quotes and also a very relevant lesson we learned as a result of our No Spend Month Challenge.
A small leak will sink a great ship.
Just think about it for a minute, and I’m sure you’ll realize just how true this is when it comes to spending and saving.
To me, this quote really drives home the point that small, seemingly insignificant expenses can really derail your ability to save long term. Those sneaky little things that we buy but don’t really need, like daily Starbucks or lunch at work.
Our No Spend Month really emphasized the truth of this concept for us, and how quickly small expenses can add up and completely wipe out any savings.
4. Spending more doesn’t make us happier
This was one of the most interesting and unexpected lessons learned during our No Spend Month.
I’ve always loved researching and shopping for new stuff. It gives me a rush and makes me feel good for a little while (a feeling that is usually followed by buyers remorse and a bit of regret).
Before our No Spend Month, I had myself convinced that I would spend the entire month feeling bored and deprived and by the end, would be absolutely itching to go give my credit card a workout.
The surprising revelation was that this didn’t end up being the reality.
I wasn’t unhappy all month, desperately waiting until I could buy stuff again. I actually found, that after a few tough days getting started (hello shopping withdrawal symptoms), I was actually happy for most of the month and didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything at all.
During May, my husband and I got to spend more quality time together since we didn’t go out as often. We were also more mindful of what we spent our money on, which led to us discussing and re-aligning on our longer-term goals. Not surprisingly, being in sync with your significant other is definitely good for the happiness levels.
As obvious as it sounds, it turns out that happiness is influenced more by the people that you spend time with and the activities that you engage in rather than the stuff that you buy.
5. We really are slaves to instant gratification (but we don’t have to be)
This point kinda ties into lesson #4, and again, it was an interesting one.
During the first few days of our challenge, both my husband and I noticed that as soon as we told ourselves that we couldn’t spend money on something… we desperately wanted to.
The funny thing was that the stuff we found ourselves wanting to buy wasn’t even stuff that we would normally spend money on. It wasn’t stuff that we really wanted or had even thought about much before. We only wanted it because we knew we couldn’t have it.
It’s so fascinating how the human brain works when it comes to the thought of deprivation. It really feels like the best way to get excited about something is to tell yourself you can’t have it.
Luckily for us, we found that this feeling passed after a few days, and it got easier and easier to avoid spending money as the challenge progressed, which is another great learning in itself.
Humans are hardwired to want everything straight away. Immediate gratification has become an expectation, particularly with so many things being available at the click of a button these days.
Denying yourself something you want definitely isn’t easy, especially if you’re not in the habit of doing it. However, I can tell you that it gets much easier every time you do it.
After staying strong and avoiding impulse purchases for the first few days, we found that the feeling went away and we didn’t really think about buying unnecessary things much for the rest of the month.
So the big lesson here is that while many of us are slaves to instant gratification, it’s entirely possible to break the habit and adopt a more frugal lifestyle without feeling like you’re missing out.
6. Planning ahead makes meal times easy
We’re big fans of meal planning and prep and kinda already knew this, but it’s an important point so I’m going to talk about it anyway.
If you want to save time and money every week, meal planning is the answer.
Taking the time to plan your weekly meals ahead of schedule makes mealtimes quick and easy and has the potential to save you hundreds of dollars every month.
We were extra thoughtful about our meal plan during our No Spend Month and the main lesson we learned was that we could reduce our grocery bill even more by focusing on using ingredients that we already had on hand. This helped us avoid food waste and also meant that we spent less on our weekly groceries.
If you’re new to meal planning, I highly recommend that you check out my post Cheap And Healthy Meal Planning On A Budget. It covers my top tips for getting started and the best ways to save money by meal planning.
7. Fun activities don’t need to be expensive
For most people, fun activities tend to involve spending money. Depending on what you enjoy doing and how often you do it, these activities can quickly make a big hole in your budget.
One of the lessons we learned during our No Spend Month was that fun activities don’t need to be expensive.
In our everyday life, we don’t tend to focus too much on finding super frugal activities as we don’t tend to spend a lot in this area anyway. However, during our No Spend Month we had zero budget for activities so it made us stop and think about what we could do for free.
In our quest for frugal fun, we rediscovered how much we enjoy exploring the city on foot on the weekends, unearthed some old games that we had sitting around at home, and found more time to read one of the many books we own.
This was a great exercise because it taught us that we don’t need to go out and spend money to have fun. While I’m sure that we will still do some of our favorite paid fun activities in the future, it has made us realize that paid activities don’t need to be the default. Free activities can be fun too.
8. You can’t (and won’t) account for everything
It doesn’t matter how well you plan your budget and think ahead to cover all of your expenses for the month, you’re bound to encounter some unexpected expenses at some point.
If you’re not prepared for these expenses, they can really mess up your budget. The last thing you want to have to do is take out a payday loan or put these expenses on a credit card that you can’t afford to pay off in time.
This is why it’s so important to have an emergency fund to deal with these issues when they do arise. Another great option is to make use of sinking funds to make sure that you have the money available to manage larger or irregular expenses.
Shortly after the end of our No Spend Month, our dog got sick and we had an unexpected vet bill to pay. Thankfully we had more than enough in our emergency fund to cover this, but it just goes to show that unexpected expenses can and do come up.
9. Saving money is super satisfying (and having a goal helps)
Remember back in lesson #4 when I said that spending money gives me a rush? Yeah, well I re-discovered that saving money is super satisfying too.
While it was a bit of a struggle at the start, by the end of our No Spend Month, my husband and I were quite enjoying the challenge of spending less and saving more.
It was particularly satisfying when we sat down at the end of the month to reconcile our budget and found out that we had saved so much more than the previous month. It was even more satisfying when we added that money to our allocated savings funds and saw them grow.
With our financial goals set for 2019, it’s even easier to spend less as we know exactly what it is we’re saving for, and why it’s important to us.
This is perhaps one of the best lessons we learned from our No Spend Month, as it helped us readjust our spending habits and refocus on what we really want. With our financial goals clearly in mind, it’s much easier to say no to those unnecessary expenses that always seem to come up.
What’s Next For Us?
One common criticism I often hear about No Spend Challenges is that you’ll go straight back to your old spending habits once the challenge ends. For us, I don’t believe this is entirely true and it does make me wonder if the people who make these claims have ever completed a No Spend Challenge.
Completing a No Spend Month has taught us some really valuable lessons, drastically changed the way we think about spending our money, and has laid the foundations for some positive new financial habits.
Now I’m not saying that we’re perfect and will never spend money on unnecessary expenses again, but we have definitely learned some valuable lessons about our spending behavior and motivations. As a result, I truly believe that we will be more mindful of our spending going forward.
We will certainly continue to budget for things that we really enjoy (like eating out once a week and the occasional movie), but we will focus on saving money by avoiding purchases that don’t bring us joy.
At this stage, I think that aiming for a certain number of no spend days each month will be a good approach going forward. This will help ensure that we don’t forget any of the lessons we learned during our No Spend Month.
Have you completed a No Spend Month Challenge? What did you learn and will you do it again? Share in the comments below.
Looking for more money-saving ideas?
6 Easy Ways You Can Start Saving Money Today
14 Things To Buy That Will Save You More Money Long Term
How I Paid Off $33,000 Of Student Debt In 5 Months
How To Save Money Without Feeling Deprived
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The post Lessons Learned From My First No Spend Month Challenge appeared first on A Cure for Monday.