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Money Management: Try a January No-Spend Month

Written by Teri Cettina on January 2, 2013 in Family Money  |   6 comments

After the spend-spend-spend frenzy of December, you may be worn out. Shopping might seem like a chore rather than a pleasure. You may be yearning to do something more meaningful than add “stuff” to your home and wardrobe. And your wallet may be raising a…

money management budgetAfter the spend-spend-spend frenzy of December, you may be worn out. Shopping might seem like a chore rather than a pleasure. You may be yearning to do something more meaningful than add “stuff” to your home and wardrobe. And your wallet may be raising a white flag, too, begging you to let your credit cards cool off after more than a month of heavy use.

So why not practice your money management skills and make January a no-spend month?

Money management rules for your no-spend month

First, consider this project a little break from shopping, rather than a punishment for overspending or breaking your budget. You’re not trying to whip yourself back into shape with the financial equivalent of a crash diet. This experiment can be much kinder.

Give yourself this month to notice how many things you buy out of sheer habit, boredom, or an “it’s on sale so I should get it” urge. See what creative ideas you come up with to not spend, just for 31 days.

Some families may keep this challenge a bit loose. They might head into January with a goal of simply spending as little as possible on non-essentials. But to make it really interesting, consider giving yourself an uncomfortably tight but doable budget for buying essentials. For instance, blogger Rachel Meeks of Small Notebook recently set a screamin’ $400 monthly budget for her family of four to cover food, gas, household items, and entertainment.

A tight budget like this means you’ll need to plan on using up all the food you have on hand. Those forgotten cans of beans or tuna languishing in your pantry? You’ll soon be happy to have them. The mystery meat in your freezer? Time to defrost it. Buy only the food items you really need to get by, and get creative about planning your meals around less expensive ingredients for four weeks.

Since you won’t be going out to dinner or movies this month, look for new ways to spend your time. Could you work on some neglected home repair projects? Great—but only if you already have the necessary supplies on hand. Or maybe you’ll find that this is the month to finally finish some half-done craft projects, organize your basement, or check out some extra DVDs and books from the library. If friends want to get together, invite them over for tea or coffee instead of meeting at a restaurant or coffee shop.

The hardest part for some folks is missing out on all the January post-holiday sales—so don’t tempt yourself. Don’t even set foot in a mall or look at the sales flyers. Visualize all the holiday-related items piled up messily on sale. You’re not missing much.

Other budget tips for a buy-nothing challenge

Blogger Leo Babauta over at ZenHabits created a similar stop spending project in December—his “Buy nothing until 2013” challenge. He suggests simply putting off your “wanna-have” purchases until your no-spend period is over. Jot them down in a wish list and look at it in a month. If you still really want or need a particular item at the beginning of February, buy it. However, pushing that pause button on your purchase might help you rethink it. Do you really need it? Could you find a cheaper solution for it? If it’s something you need only occasionally, could you rent it or borrow it? Get creative.

A few words about temptation: If you cave in and buy something during your no-spend month, don’t beat yourself up. Chances are, you’re still spending much less than you normally would. Small slips are really OK. Move on.

The fun part comes at the end of your month, when you tally up what’s actually left in your bank account. According to some financial experts, you may wind up with at least $500 extra at the end. Now you get to decide how to use that stash—to fund an upcoming family vacation, pay down some debt, or bolster your rainy-day fund. The choice is yours. And it will feel very freeing to know that you earned it by simply stepping off the consumer-spending treadmill for one month!

Teri Cettina is a mom of two daughters and freelance writer who specializes in personal finance and parenting topics. She blogs at Your Family Money. Follow her on Twitter: @TeriCettina.

6 comments

  1. Aly says:

    $400 a month for 4 people is not a no spend month it’s slurging. I read that artical/blog before finding this one. Her family’s spending must have been way our of control. She doesn’t count rent/hydro/ect in the budget for no spend. so thats $400 for Food and entertainment. Which is just insane. We don’t even live all that frugally and spend openly. still topping out under $200 and food is included. Our no spend budget. ( not including rent, because everyone seems to be leaving that out) Is $100. For the month. ( oh i should mention, that will include books my husband buys for his studies. he wouldn’t agree to lay off for a month.)

    • Anonymous says:

      *splurging ( i see other spelling errors too, eek)

    • EFX Moderator, EM says:

      Aly, good points. Since bills like rent, utility bills and car payments still need to be paid on-time to stay on good terms with your lenders, they weren’t considered part of the No-Spend month. This is to cut out all of the “extras” in your budget, like eating out or shopping for extra clothes. These impulse purchases can really add up. Try going a month only spending money on the necessities and you could see a difference in your monthly budget. Thanks for posting.

  2. Karin says:

    She also does not include
    Rent, insurance, and bills,*Health expenses, *Work expenses, Savings and investments, Tithes and gifts

    Which are all things We include in our no spend month.(except savings.. obviously all the money you are not spending goes to savings) for 2 people $500

    if you don’t include them our No spend month is $25

    * i don’t know what she means by this… We don’t have monthly health expenses we also don’t have work expenses.

    She includes
    Groceries & eating out,Gas, Clothing, Household items, Entertainment in the no spend.

    And why doesn’t she include the phone bill. We pay just $30 a month for our phone (its a cellphone) but I know people (i.e. my sister) who pay more then $150 a month for one line.

    I guess its a do what you will. But we plan to spend the bare minimum. We tend to do that anyway, but we’ve been a bit loose recently and a challenge like this could help us get back to where we where. ( i bought oreos yesterday… like a crazy person haha)

    • EFX Moderator, EM says:

      Karin, A no-spend month is a great challenge, but shouldn’t keep you from paying your essential bills like rent and insurance. It’s fantastic that you can cut down your extra expenses to only $25/month. It’s a great opportunity to build up your savings and shift your budget to the essentials. Let us know how it goes and how your savings improves. Thanks for posting.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Other ways that help ease the transition are what we have called “No money Mondays”, where we do not spend anything AT all on Mondays. There are 52 of those crazy days in a year, so nearly two months of no spending. Once you get used to Mondays or Thrifty Thursdays where you make yourself dig out and defrost, you can go to one week a month of no spending. If you do that once a month, you will have actually not spent during three months of the year. Of course, you can’t not spend on Monday only to splurge on Tuesday or save for a week and binge the following week for this plan to work. The idea is to put a pause on the purchase. Frequently, if we forgo the impulse we will realize we can do without.


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