Rethinking the No-Spend Month

In my last post, I told you about how I did really really well at the no-spend thing… until I didn’t, and that one day came when I spent $19.99 on a purse and almost threw up because of the guilt.

The thing was, as we moved into March, I kept thinking about how the no-spend month was so eye-opening to me and how valuable it could be to continue it. Obviously though, I needed to rework the terms of the project because it was completely unreasonable for me to feel that kind of guilt over a $19.99 bag.

(You may be thinking that it wasn’t actually unreasonable and that I’m just trying to forgive myself by placing the blame on the terms of the exercise. And maybe you’re right. But that’s some soul searching for another day. For now, I’m letting myself off the hook.)

I’ve already acknowledged that I didn’t put a ton of thought into how it would work, and maybe that was the problem. Neither my husband nor I had really ever looked into tracking or managing our spending. We have a decent sized emergency fund (but it could be bigger), I have a pension with my employer (but I should have my own retirement savings), we’ve never missed a bill payment (but do we pay ourselves enough?), so we thought we were okay. We had a budget document but we only referenced it once every few months to try and make ourselves feel more disciplined – we didn’t actually monitor our spending or consider our budget when we were making spending decisions, so it was useless.

I think then, when I did the no-spend month, it was like quitting a bad habit cold turkey. That shit is hard to do. So maybe I need to ease into it. Start with less spending, focus on smarter spending, and actually practice using our budget.

Back at the drawing board, I considered the following things:

The drawbacks

  • completely restricting all spending was maybe a bit too prohibitive for me right off the start because I dropped the ball and then felt beyond guilty about it.
  • I was avoiding replacing things that ran out (necessary things like shampoo or dish soap), meaning that I would have a much bigger bill in March. Not spending in February didn’t mean that those things didn’t need to be bought – I was just putting it off.
  • turning down all invites from friends in the long term won’t work – I still need to be able to enjoy a social life.
  • when I got into March, I still felt guilty spending. A few days ago, I had a terrible headache at work, and had a long internal debate over whether to go to the drug store across the street to get some Advil. Spending too much on unnecessary things is bad, but spending on necessary things like pain-relief shouldn’t be something to punish myself for.

The benefits

  • having an “extra” $1000 to put towards debt is obviously the best reason to keep doing this. Financially it’s awesome, and psychologically it felt like a victory.
  • not being able to spend money on something in February made me stop and think about whether it was something I would want in March – if I didn’t, then it wasn’t necessary at all. This process made me think critically about my spending choices more than I ever have before.
  • an odd result was that it made me look at how much stuff I have – since I wasn’t buying anything new, I was very aware of what I already owned and how unnecessary a lot of it was.
  • I put one thousand more dollars towards my debt above what I paid down last month (I know I already said that, but it’s so awesome, I felt like it should be counted twice)

Based on that reasoning,  I felt that the benefits far outweighed the drawbacks, so some version of this exercise would absolutely be worth continuing. I just needed to figure out what that would look like. Rethinking it to get rid of some of those drawbacks would make me more motivated to actually stick to it.

Then, right at the end of February, I stumbled upon And Then We Saved, and author Anna’s concept of a “spending fast”.

Through my own experiment, I learned that a spending fast is not for me, because of this resentful spending followed by guilt. A spending diet, however, I can do. The difference, Anna says, is that in the spending diet, you don’t restrict all spending – you allow yourself a small amount (she allowed $100 a month) as money that you can spend at your discretion. If I had done that, I wouldn’t have had such an intense feeling of guilt over the bag purchase.

So, inspired by Anna, in my monthly budget – the one I’m going to stick with – I added in $100 for “fun money”. That way, I can go back to Charming Charlie and buy five crossbody bags if I want to, without feeling like I need to throw myself into a lake to repent.

Has a shopping ban or no-spend month worked for you? Do you have any tips for me?

2 thoughts on “Rethinking the No-Spend Month

  1. In the past, I’ve only given myself 5 or 10 days in the month were I could spend money. That way I was conscious of what I was spending but didn’t restrict myself completely.

  2. That’s awesome that you did it! I have tried and failed so I’ve discovered that my budget is the best way to control my spending, quite similar to how Anna does it.

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