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With living expenses and shrinkflation on the rise, we’re all looking for ways to realistically cut costs—whether it’s meal prepping, couponing, or cutting back on so-called luxuries. Some personal finance influencers recommend a “no-spend month,” which is exactly as it sounds: no spending money for an entire month. Here, we’ll cover the rationale, execution, and results to expect once embarking on a no-spend journey. Plus, I’ll recount my own experiences with a no-spend month.

What are the rules?

First, establish your “why.” For me, that was sustainability: while I was shopping mainly second-hand, I realized that I was still over-consuming. If clothes had a funky pattern or were an established brand, I’d put them in my cart (almost reflexively). Once I realized my closet was stuffed with pieces that I never wore or couldn’t match with other pieces, I knew I needed to make a substantial change. Your rationale—your “why”—should be important to you and grounded in the context of your spending: for example, you wouldn’t vow to cut out Dunkin’ if you never go to Dunkin’. Make it equally challenging and realistic, and try to be as specific as possible.

After establishing your why, perform a spending audit. What did you spend money on last month that could have been avoided? Did you buy a new bikini or splurge on one too many happy hours? Establish your wants versus your needs, as a no-spend month seeks to reign in want-based spending. Obviously, you’ll still need to pay your bills and purchase groceries, but you don’t need to place a weekly Amazon order or indulge in retail therapy. 

This introspection is initially useful for embarking on a no-spend month, but it’ll also change the trajectory of your finances: you’ll likely find yourself pausing before making a purchase or taking time to think (really think!) about the utility of the things you’re buying. Will this item be useful for me beyond this purchase? Knowing myself, will I use this item or service as much as I think I will? You’ll be surprised at how much of your spending seems to happen without much thought or future-planning.

How do I maintain a life during a no-spend month?

This is probably the biggest point of contention, and a reason that many people choose to not engage with a no-spend month: it seems like social sabotage. Because the American conceptualization of friendship is around doing and not being, we’re often expected to be doing things with our friends: grabbing drinks, playing mini golf, getting ice cream. A no-spend month challenges you to be creative in your relationships—perhaps instead of getting a meal with friends, they can come over and you can do arts & crafts. Instead of a lavish sushi dinner for date night, cook with what you have left over in the fridge and rent a movie from the library. Thinking outside the box will not only help you maintain your no-spend month, but it’ll lay an applicable foundation for your future saving efforts! Plus, getting your friends, family, and partner on board can a.) help spread awareness about no-spend months; b.) empower your loved ones to take control of their finances; and c.) ensure that you won’t breach your efforts by surrounding yourself with like-minded people. 

During my no-spend month, I was up-front with my friends: I expressed that I couldn’t partake in anything that involved unnecessary spending. They were, to my surprise, exceptionally supportive: we watched sunsets, listened to music, and took walks instead of splurging on food and things we didn’t really need.

Tips for maintaining a no-spend month

  1. Look at your subscriptions. Do you need all of those streaming services? Do you really go to that gym as much as you say you do? Can you just use YouTube or do at-home workouts instead?
  2. Inevitably, you’ll be scrolling on Pinterest—you’ll see an outfit, a set of nails, a bathing suit, or a piece of decor that you’ll fall in love with. Instead of immediately placing it in your cart, keep a list (with links) of the items that catch your eye. In a month, you can revisit the list and your judgment won’t be clouded by urgency; you can discern whether it just caught your eye or if it’s something you really want to invest in and use.
  3. Teach yourself skills! Some of our unnecessary monthly spending is spent on outsourcing different jobs and obligations, like eating, getting clothes tailored, or paying for convenient services. Invest in a cookbook, teach yourself how to sew or crochet, and plan ahead. If you regularly get your nails, lashes, or eyebrows done, you can teach yourself how to do these services. (This is much easier said than done—don’t be too hard on yourself!)
  4. Tailor the month to your lifestyle. If getting your nails done every three weeks is non-negotiable, then that’s a need for you. Importantly, that initial audit will help you identify what’s a need and what’s a want.
  5. Have self-compassion. If you break no-spend, don’t be discouraged! We’ve been conditioned to want and want, so no-spend is an active (and difficult) effort. If you spend one day, make sure not to spend the next. Having grace with yourself—your wants, desires, and struggles—will help you remain inspired and excited.

Hopefully, you're feeling inspired to establish your "why" and begin a no-spend journey. You got this, girl!

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