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10 things you should consider when you decide to have a ‘no-spend’ month

At the beginning of the year, a group of friends and I decided to challenge ourselves to spend less….to spend nothing, in fact.  We were inspired by a woman in the UK who was frustrated with her unnecessary spending and decided to have a ‘no-spend’ year.  (She had such an interesting and amazing experience spending nothing for an entire year that she wrote a book about it.). We each made our own rules about what ‘spending nothing’ would look like and how long it would last.  For me, this no-spend challenge meant spending no money on anything except for groceries, gas, utilities, mortgage and any health related bills in the month of January.  After 31 days of consciously trying to spend less, I jotted down a few observations.

{ But first a picture.  Because what’s a blog post without pictures?  While I was not busy spending any money this month, I kept myself occupied making images of my family’s life.  It cost nothing and means everything to me }

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1. The proof is in the pudding.  I’ve always been a numbers girl and I could hardly wait to take a look at my credit card statement for January to see how I did.  This is the perfect way for me to measure my performance because I use my credit card for just about everything and (much to my husband’s annoyance) I never have any cash on me.  In comparing my January 2018 spending to previous years, I found the I spent 26% of what I spent in January 2017 and just 18% of what I spent in January 2016!  Pretty amazing, right?  If you’re going to attempt a no-spend challenge, I highly recommend keeping track of your results by looking over your credit card bill, bank statement or receipts.  What good is accepting the challenge if you aren’t going to measure your performance?!  I was curious what I actually did spend money on during the last 31 days. And that brings me to point #2.

2. Spending nothing at all is just not realistic if you have kids.  One morning, about two weeks ago, my son came downstairs and announced that none of his pants fit anymore.  I looked at him standing there is his extreme high waters and realized he was right.  I suppose I could have made him suffer along with me on my ‘no-spend’ challenge but I didn’t.  I went to Target that week and bought him a couple pair of pants.  The important thing to note here though, is that I did not wander aimlessly into Target and come out with a cart full of stuff I didn’t need.  I went in with a purpose, purchased what I needed, and left.  I don’t consider this breaking any rules.  There were a couple of other unexpected child-related charges in the month:  I purchased a yearbook in advance for the kids, I paid for a t-shirt that was required for a music tour at school, etc.  These things just happen!  Going forward, it might be a good idea to have a monthly “miscellaneous children fund”.

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3. It takes 21 days to break a habit. In the beginning, the hardest part for me, hands down, was not going out for coffee.  It is such a treat for me (and I think there are much worse treats in life to have!)  By about week three, I started buying higher quality coffee beans at the grocery store and grinding my own at home.  I’m actually getting better at making good coffee at home!!  And I miss going out less and less. In January alone, I saved at least $50-75, possibly more, by not going out for coffee (because the kids always ask for munchkins when I’m at Dunkin’ Donuts!). Crazy, right?

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4. It helps to leave your wallet at home.  Seriously.  On more than one occasion, I left my wallet at home this month so there was just no option to buy.  Maybe I’m weak or maybe I did it by accident, but either way, it was helpful.

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5. Give it time. If you’re thinking about doing a no-spend challenge, you definitely have to do it for more than a couple of weeks before you will observe any really interesting effects. Nothing really changes after one week, or even two. After all, you are still using all the products that you had in your home at the beginning.  It’s when things start to run out, that it get interesting.  I ran out of face moisturizer last week and I managed to find some samples in my bathroom cabinet that I am now working my way through. I have no idea what will happen after that!  After about two weeks of not spending you really start to recognize tendencies to on-line (or in-person) shop when you’re bored.  You realize that without this activity you actually have more free time on your hands, always a good thing!

How you spend your days, is how you spend your life. ~ Annie Dillard

6. Time is Money. I think the most important thing I realized this month is how much time I saved by simply not buying anything.  Catalogs came in the mail today?  No sense even opening them because I’m not buying.  Straight to the recycle bin.  In fact, there is a great service called Catalog Choice, where you can easily unsubscribe yourself from junk mail.  Amazing!  You can also easily declutter the junk mail from your inbox by using this unsubscribe service. It feels so good to opt out of all of this stuff!!

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7. Plan, plan, and then plan some more. I think the secret to success in a no-spend challenge ( and maybe the secret to success in life!? ) is to plan ahead.  One of my biggest weaknesses as a work-at-home-mom is meal planning.  I really love to cook and it’s just hard for me to know what on earth I’m going to want for dinner in a few days’ time.  In the past, I have definitely been guilty of going to the grocery store multiple times during the week without a list and just purchasing whatever I feel like at that moment.  It 1000% helps to curb spending if you don’t do this.  I am trying (it is hard for me) to plan ahead.  What might we eat tomorrow for dinner? And the day after that?  What about breakfast on the weekend?  Do we have enough eggs?  I am making grocery lists, people!  And using them!  My grocery bills totaled about 25% less this month.  I attribute it to planning ahead.  One thing I find very helpful to avoid impulse snack purchases for children is to always keeping a box of cereal and/or a bag of goldfish in the car. I keep it up front and out of sight and use it in emergency situations ( which is like every day ).

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8. Changing the rules is OK.  It’s awesome, and in fact recommended, to set rules for yourself in the beginning.  But I think it’s also important to reevaluate and change the rules as you go.  I realized that while I wanted to curb spending on unnecessary items, I don’t want to stop spending money on experiences with my family.  Tickets to a movie or a museum or an overnight away? Totally OK in my book.

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9.  Monkey See, Monkey Do.  This experiment has been a great topic of discussion with my kids.  Although they were puzzled at first, it has led them to consider that our family does have enough, actually more than enough.  I even overheard my almost 3 year old say scoldingly to his big sister “we don’t need to go to the store because WE HAVE ENOUGH STUFF!” ha.  I am rubbing off on him.  Despite the whining and complaining about being bored, I am insisting they just play with the stuff we already have.  It’s amazing what happens when you completely declutter a room and then set out just ONE basket of toys.

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10. If nothing else, this experiment has simply made me more mindful of my spending behavior. Do I miss roaming the aisles of Homegoods in search of hidden treasure..? Sure, maybe a little bit. But I definitely don’t miss the time I would have spent in the car, in traffic, and in line buying an item I didn’t really need in the first place!  Now I can stay home and snuggle on the couch with my babies just a little longer.

And that doesn’t cost a penny 😉

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Our group has decided to continue the no-spend experiment into February.  I have a feeling things are going to get a bit more intense!  Wish me luck!!


Cara Soulia is a Family Photographer living in Needham, MA with her husband and three kids.  She specializes in capturing emotion and human connection in a beautiful and artistic way.  See more examples of her work or get in touch if you’d like to find out more about having photo session with Cara!

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