January is both the best of times and worst of times to start a No Spend challenge.
Yes, you’re probably broke after the holidays. But the January sales offer you thousands in “savings” on anything and everything – and billboards shouting “Treat yourself!!” As it is cold and pretty miserable in the Northern Hemisphere at this time of year, it is easy to forget that you’d save 100% of your money if you didn’t buy any bargains – and to be tempted with a short term fixes to feeling better.
I confess that I have attempted a No Spend year for the last couple of years – and it has fallen by the way side within weeks when some necessary purchase hit the books and, rather than just accepting it as a one off, I fell off the wagon immediately.
This year I have to re-pay the eye-watering cost of my divorce… So, this year failure is not an option. I will stick with it!
So far, these are my Top Ten Tips to set yourself up for success in a No Spend challenge…
1. Cancel your cards
But not for the reason you think… much as cutting up credit cards and moving from plastic to cash for essential purchases are both good moves, actually cancelling your cards has another bonus.
When I went to my parents over the holidays, I realised my debit card was missing. Now – it was probably at home, but I couldn’t be sure so I had to cancel it. This led to unintended consequences…
Suddenly, to my surprise, I started to get emails from companies telling me that they had been unable to take payment for all manner of subscriptions. Nothing truly necessary but rather magazines, iTunes, craft boxes, digital apps and more. Suddenly they were all cancelled. And I had about £100 left in my pocket which I would otherwise have lost without even noticing.
Now they have been gone, I am not allowed to renew any of them until the end of the No Spend Period (when let’s face it, I probably won’t want to).
2. Remove your card details from Paypal and online shop accounts
It is far too easy to buy at the click of a button when your card details are stored by your favourite online shops.
Just the act of removing your card details from your accounts will make you more mindful about what you spend. No Paypal one click, no Amazon one click – no more mindless purchases. The only online shops which still have my card details are Sainsbury’s and my milkman – as I will still be buying food!!
3. Go through your Direct Debits and Standing Orders: delete any which aren’t strictly necessary
What money is going out of your account regularly that you don’t even notice any more? Some direct debits and standing orders will still be necessary of course – mortgages, rent, insurances etc. However, others will likely be legacy subscriptions or payments for things you don’t really want or use any more. Or luxuries that you are just not priority purchases in a No Spend year.
4. Create a “No” mindset
I vaguely remembered during the 80s when actors from a UK based teen TV drama, Grange Hill, released an anti-drug pop song called “Just say no”. This principle popped into my mind a few times recently.
There is power in simply but sternly telling yourself “No!” – then physically moving away from whatever you’re tempted by and moving on.
For example – my au pair ordered herself my favourite creamy curry from our local Indian restaurant. I didn’t join her as take away is a no-no on the No Spend front but additionally, I am on a health kick. After she had finished – there was a tempting little bit of sauce in the bottom of the tin, about to go in the bin. I grabbed a spoon just to have a tiny taste… but found my brain barking “No!” at me.
I was quite severe with my “No!” and quite surprised to find that my reaction was to put the spoon down and walked away. I noted a feeling of satisfaction which felt so much better than that cold, left over curry was ever going to anyway! Similarly, if I have gone to browse internet shops – a sharp “No!” followed by closing down my phone and intentionally doing something else has already led to new habits.
Generally I am an all or nothing person – and find going 100% with a No mindset actually much easier than 95%. That last 5% can confuse things – and swiftly extends to 80%… and so it goes on.
As such, I recommend that even if you are thinking of just having a frugal year – start by spending a period of time enforcing complete No Spend for at least a month. This will change your mindset – and help you appreciate what you can and can’t live with.
When you create a “No” mindset, you simply don’t have to make so many decisions any more. A default “no” brings a beautiful simplicity to life!
5. Unsubscribe from all marketing emails and hide tempting adverts on social media
No Spend life is so much more difficult if you are constantly bombarded with emails tempting you to treat yourself. Or telling you your favourite luxury or online course (my downfall!) is 30% off.
Create a new habit of opening all marketing emails and then clicking: Unsubscribe, delete. Repeat…
Create this new new habit and you’ll not only have more money in your pocket, but also more spare time and less stress. Imagine how much time it will free up not having to debate with yourself about whether you actually deserve a treat or not… and how much less stressful life will be when you don’t have to deal with twinges of buyer’s remorse, or work out where to put yet more stuff!
6. Create your own rules
I haven’t yet defined my rules for the No Spend, as such. Currently I am just sticking with “No” as a blanket position. If there is a desperate need for something, I know it will soon become apparent and I can seriously prioritise the expense.
For example – the the garage roof has sprung a leak… if I leave it unfixed then a few hundred could suddenly cost me thousands if part of the structure rots and needs replacing.
There are essential costs – mortgage, travel, childcare, food etc. But – for the moment absolutely everything else is a straight “No”. Other necessary expenses such as birthday gifts can be managed to a budget. Everyone will have different priorities – so it is important to work out what is right for you and your family.
7. Tell your nearest and dearest
Some of the trickier aspects of No Spend can be the perception and expectations of others. They may want you to go in on a family gift, take a holiday,or go out to eat. Some may even feel threatened by your decision because it can shine an uncomfortable light on their own spending.
I have already been described as “stingy” but am confident in my purpose so am ok with that. For me, dealing with that perception is far less stressful and upsetting than looking at depressing financial statements!
I recommend that you tell those who matter what you are doing, explain that this could impact how you spend time with them in the coming year and ask for their support. If you find a buddy who wants to do it with you – great!
Your virtual nearest and dearest can also be great for helping keep you accountable… that is, in part, why I am sharing this with you!
So, thanks for helping me to stick to this!
8. Find a supportive community on Social Media
Most likely, within the circle of people you know – you’ll be going this alone. If you are on Social Media – this could create a problem as you see people sharing images of new purchases, enviable holidays and fun nights out. Here, social media is both your enemy and your friend…
To combat the FOMO – I would recommend doing two things:
Firstly, go through your feed and identify any of your friends who’s posts spark (even slight) envy or negative feelings. Now – unfollow their feed and mute their stories. I generally believe this to be a good approach – but during No Spend you do not want their choices to make you wobble over yours…
Secondly – search for likeminded groups on line. There are plenty of No Spend and minimalism groups to join on Facebook. Similarly following #nospend or #minimalism themed hashtags can help to motivate you. Sign up for a few of those, amending your settings so posts from that community and their choices fill up your timeline with other inspiration and good ideas.
Just to note – for this challenge – I really recommend joining actual No Spend (rather than frugal themed) groups – at least at the beginning. You need to develop a new habit and mindset… and although spending less and being frugal is a good thing – the real value here is to shift to a default mindset where you don’t feel the need or desire to buy anything non essential.
9. Choose a start date – and make necessary purchases beforehand
I started my No Spend on the 1st January this year. But in the days before I made some necessary purchases which will stop me from needing to shop in the early weeks when I am creating new habits.
I ordered a replacement oven, bought the birthday gifts for my youngest’s 2nd birthday, our Eurotunnel tickets for visits to see my family in 2020, a wall calendar for our home and a Photobox credit so I can make the family photobook that I have been putting off for months!
At 11.55pm on the 31st I was scrabbling to make the final purchase in time – but since then I have bought nothing non-essential.
10. Reconsider your food shop and prepare to meal plan/batch cook
Take aways and expensive food luxuries are not an option on No Spend. As such, I have been searching out bulk cooking recipes for cheap and healthy meals like bean chilli, lentil lasagne and hearty soups. (I even had a go at recreating my favourite curry for our local to fill that gap… not bad!)
Usually we spend about £70 a week on our family shop, but the latest shop went in at just over £100. However I should be able to get enough meals prepped and in the freezer for this to last us for much more of the month. If you haven’t already – now is the time to learn to meal plan and budget. If you don’t know how to yet – check out Pinterest – and you will soon be an expert!
In meal prepping you also need to consider packed lunches – as buying lunch (and any drinks or snacks) at work is now out of the window. I have leak proof Tupperware, a Klean Kanteen and a box of herbal tea to keep me going throughout the days.
11. Create new habits which don’t involve spending money
If you like to go shopping every lunchtime… or like to internet shop at night, plan in a advance how you can spend your time differently.
I find browsing Amazon very therapeutic – the wonderful books, gadgets, inspiring toys for the children: a mindset that you are always one shopping spree away from living your perfect life.
When the goods arrive on my doorstep – the reality is I am never more excited a purchase bout them than in the moment before I make that decision to buy it.
It is that moment that sparks the joy… often even more than the reality of having the purchase in my own home. I guess it is less fun to see the reality of money debited from your bank account (or your credit account increase!) Not to mention the low level stress of finding somewhere in the house to store yet more stuff.
It is time to find alternative sources of pleasure – and fill your time with those instead! Look up free activities in your area. Or make your way through the pile of books that you have previously bought but not read yet (I can’t be the only one!)
Finally – what if you fall off the wagon?
In terms of mindset, my first month of No Spend is going well. I have walked instead of getting cabs (even in the rain), resisted buying books I wanted and not bought a single coffee or sandwich whilst away from home.
However, there have already been some of those very large unavoidable and essential expenses (think legal fees big!) this month.
My daughter’s birthday is also coming up and there are a few things I really wanted for her. My secret is to confine these essential purchases to a particular pre defined time slot, like an hour. I found the items I wanted, bought them and closed down the pages – moved on. No taking the opportunity to sneak in a gratuitous mega-browse on Amazon! Back to the No Mindset.
Focusing on your long term purpose
Finally, a word on finding your purpose behind taking on this challenge.
Yes, this is about creating a new calm mindset. If you see it through, you will reduce financial stress, reduce clutter in your home and also be safe in the knowledge that you are being a good financial role model for your kids.
This is about creating your own destiny in a world where we are simultaneously bombarded with temptations to spend more – whilst also being told we have a pension crisis and as we live longer, unless we are sensible now, we will struggle to live comfortably as pensioners.
It is only a year of No Spend… but it will undoubtedly change your life, your spending and the security you can hope for in the future.
The way I see it – that really is the best way to treat yourself!
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