So, as I explained in my New Year post – I am undertaking a No Spend Challenge in 2020. This is now well underway and here is the first of my monthly progress reports…
Ok. So, first things first. Let me just get this out of the way, right at the start: January 2020 turned out to be one of my most expensive months. Ever.
In terms of outgoings, extortionate legal fees to finalise my divorce were the bulk of the cost, swiftly followed by the need to get not one, but three roofs repaired! And a whole host of emergency, time critical expenses…
In truth, January outgoings have, somewhat ironically, equalled and even surpassed those of the most expensive months of my life: wedding, honeymoon, downpayment on my house… You get the picture.
However, this reality has only made me more determined – and indeed, made successfully completing the challenge ever more necessary!
So, moving swiftly on…
These first few weeks have been a huge learning curve. And – bearing in mind that each of the massive expenses were unavoidable, not spending on frivolous items has meant that January still less expensive than it might have been! Perhaps even more so, seeing as it was such a stressful few weeks, and I am susceptible to retail therapy!
Rather than falling off the wagon as my wallet took hit after hit, I soon decided that January should be considered a “practice” month. I kept up good intentions, learnt a lot about my priorities and focused on setting myself up for success to continue this Challenge throughout the year.
Setting myself up for success
Over the last few weeks, my thinking on how to succeed at a No Spend Challenge has started to crystallise.
There are several elements to consider:
- Identifying my spending triggers
- Focusing on the unexpected benefits of not spending money
- Setting up no spend rules in the real world
And although real life has been piled on the financial pressure, this reality has actually been positive if only in the sense that I can now see with even greater urgency the need to embrace and succeed at this challenge.
Identifying spending triggers
I have realised two key things which I will need to manage in order to succeed in this challenge.
Firstly, I use shopping as a coping mechanism when I am stressed; retail therapy distracts me when times are tough. As you can imagine, working through all the recent divmin hasn’t been helpful on this front! But, with light at the end of the tunnel on that front, I am hoping to master that in the coming months. In the last few weeks, I have found some ways to change my behaviour on this front, as described in this post, but have indulged in some internet window shopping.
Fortunately, I now understand that the moment right before you checkout, (whether online or in a real shop), is pretty much the pinnacle of love for any impulse purchase. And a lot of other non-essential purchases as well. Because, then it hits the bank balance and starts to clutter up the house so – unless that purchase really sparks sustainable joy – it is all down hill from checkout! So, if there is any doubt in your mind about the purchase when considering buying it – just don’t do it. It literally isn’t worth it.
I expect this realisation to save me huge sums in the future.
Shopping on Autopilot
Secondly, I shop on autopilot, buying things without even thinking about it. I noticed this recently when walking past a row of shops… a pharmacy and a health food shop. Now that I avoid going into shops unless I have a specific need, I walked on by, but noticed my brain was whirring in the background: “Is there anything I need from the health food store? Maybe we could do with some short grain brown rice…”
Similarly, with the pharmacy, I was mentally scanning our medicine cabinet thinking of things I could usefully buy. Had I not been on a No Spend Challenge, I would probably have gone in to both shops and bought things I clearly didn’t really need, as they weren’t already on my “essentials to buy” shopping list…
And this brings me to the second part of the realisation: if I do go into a shop I am not focused and am open to buying more than I need. So the reality is – pre-no spend – had I gone into either the health food or chemist shop, I wouldn’t have left with just the one item that I had just created a need for in my head. I would have added a couple of impulse purchases to my basket as well!
Between those two shops, I could easily have spent £50 without even thinking about it. With a brain on autopilot like that over the weeks and years – I can only begin to imagine how much money I have spent unnecessarily! Time for that to stop…
If you are partial to milk in your tea or coffee… or have children who like cereals – this one is for you: keep a tub of powered milk in the pantry. It may sound silly, but how many times have you had to “just pop out for milk” – only to return 45 minutes later, laden down with a couple of bags of groceries that you didn’t really need. So – make sure you have an emergency milk stock and you could end up saving you hundreds – if not more.
(Trust me – you can’t tell the difference – and neither can your kids!)
Unexpected benefits of not spending money
I normally spend a lot on food – both on groceries at home (about £90) and meals on the go at work (£… I dread to think). There are four of us under our roof and we all enjoy yummy food as treats. I have noticed this month that I have a tendency to feel anxious if there isn’t a good stock of food in the house. This is something I will be working on over the coming months.
In order to make the No Spend Challenge feasible, I have needed to change my habits – and have learnt to:
- implement a grocery budget,
- meal plan,
- batch cook,
- take lunches, snacks and drinks to work, and crucially
- stop all trips to Pret for a latte and warm pain aux raisins (This was critical. So gutted!)
So, I set a budget of £70 a week for groceries and this had to cover all our meals. In order to make this go further, I batch cooked a large number of meals (lots of bean chilli and lentil dishes) at the start of the month. I froze these and they will keep us in meals until February.
I have also been on a health kick for the last few weeks. So – an unexpected benefit of buying less food has been I have automatically eaten less! But I have also eaten more healthily – as my homemade food is undoubtedly healthier than a processed shop bought sandwich and chocolate pudding (my go to!)
Similarly, avoiding spending money has also made me make other healthier choices, for example – on shorter journeys, I have opted to walk rather than take a taxi or tube throughout the month.
I have also been more resourceful and embraced DIY. For example, I identified a small wasps nest in my garage. Normally I would have immediately called the council and paid £60 for them to take it away… but, no. I googled how to remove it myself and it turned out to be a ten minute job! I also mended a couple of small items, including a glue gun rather than replace them.
Between these points and that I am an aspiring minimalist, these early findings already feel like, combined, they are going to make a far reaching changes to the rest of my life.
Setting up No Spend Challenge rules in the real world
How can No-Spend work when you have a life, children, inevitable expenses? Each month I will be addressing a tricky area of No-spend and breaking down how I have approached it. For this month – it is birthdays.
Budget Birthdays (including mine!)
There are so many birthdays coming up!! A friend who undertook a similar challenge told me recently that she managed birthdays by buying an array of cards and gifts in advance of the Challenge. Unfortunately we didn’t have this conversation until mid January – but it is a very good tip.
Regarding birthdays – this is particularly tricky for me as I love spending generously on others. Historically, even if I am not spending on myself I felt that gifts for others was an enduring, excellent reason to spend money. As such, telling friends and family that I am not spending on them this year is a wrench which challenges deeply held beliefs and habits. Even though I know that only a percentage of gifts, that I have carefully selected for people, will be truly loved by them and others will undoubtedly be unwanted gifts cluttering their houses somewhere!
There is a lot for me to unpick here about my habits and beliefs over the year. Fortunately, my father – who’s birthday was in January – wonderfully helped me get off to a good start when he declared that he didn’t want any gifts off me until the storm of the divorce costs situation had passed. I hugged him with gratitude. It is always lovely to be reminded that those who love us most can be so selfless and focus on what they see as the best for us.
Not spoiling my baby
Next up, however, is my daughter’s second birthday, this week. I am aware she is only two and her birthday could pass by without a mention or a penny spent – and she’d be none the wiser. However, this would be too far a departure for me. So, I allocated a smaller than normal budget and added birthday gifts of cash from family, who are more than happy for me to buy gifts on their behalf. Happily, I have been able to buy her a good amount of items from my wish list!
I also want to take her and the family to the London Science Museum which I love and which has free admission! With a packed lunch and just transport costs – I am hoping to create big new memories. I noticed myself slipping into old habits though as I considered an exhibition which looks wonderful for children at a cost of £15 per adult. Thankfully, I was able to throw off the “but its her birthday!!” thinking – and acknowledge that the Science Museum is full of wonders enough for two and three year olds – without forking out £60 for the adults to go to the add on exhibition.
I have also realised that we have an abundance of toys and games in the house – many of them gifts which we just haven’t been able to use, so throughout the year we will be regifting toys and presents rather than shopping for new gifts each time the girls are invited to a birthday party – my 3 year old has already received three invites in three weeks!
And not spoiling myself either!
I have not bought anything which we didn’t need. For example, I absolutely love the Almanac books by Lia Lendertz. I treated myself to the 2020 edition for Christmas – and when my mother picked it up and realised what a delight it was, I happily gave it to her. Rather than immediately buy a new copy for myself as I would have normally done, I have put it on my March birthday list – which is requested by loved ones.
Similarly, I am also adding to my birthday list small things that I want that aren’t necessities but which I would normally buy quickly, as no individual item would cost much. But, the moment you give yourself permission to buy something is probably the moment that you love it most. Let’s see which items I still want in two months!! I bet at least 50% will fall off the list!
Avoid False Economies
A No Spend Mindset goes hand in hand with frugal living – but I have discovered that this can lead you to buy the cheapest option, only to have that turn out to be a false economy.
Back in December, both my pairs of commute/work shoes developed a hole in the toe. The trainers I wear for the commute and my beloved red French Sole ballet pumps had given me five years service – both were very comfortable – but they were passed their best. As I cannot have my toe poking out of my shoe and look professional at work – this, for me was a necessary replacement spend.
I found a heavily discounted pair of trainers which fit the bill of both (a) comfortable for walking long distances in London and (b) looked respectable enough that I wouldn’t feel embarrassed by my footwear if I bumped into a client or colleague between meetings. They rubbed a hole in my heel the first couple of times I wore them but these are just teething problems and with the help of some Compeed blister plasters, we are getting through that.
As for the ballet flats…
Now, for the in-office ballet pumps, I bought some beautiful red (very cheap) shoes. I shouldn’t really wear ballet pumps as they give zero support, but I have done well over the years with French Sole as they are well structured. Whereas the cheap equivalents: disaster. I was basically lame by the end of day one. I persevered with days 2 and 3 – but frankly, it was clear that these were a false economy.
As such, in January, I found and bought a replacement pair of red French Sole ballet pumps (in the sale… so I got them at 25% off). On first wearing they were like heaven. I also paid for the orthotics and associated appointments. None of this is cheap but I struggle to regret it.
My Mini No Spend Challenge for you…
Has my No Spend Challenge made you curious about doing something similar? I am going to share a mini challenge with each of these update posts to give you a taster for what such a challenge might feel like for you!
So – an observation I have had about myself throughout this process is that I get anxious at the idea of leaving the house without cash or a card. I have yet to entirely unpick this aspect of my money mindset – however, I notice that the less I spend, the more this vulnerability has subsided.
So – I have a challenge for you: Go out for the day without your wallet.
Of course, plan in advance so you take food and drinks with you – and make sure you have just enough for transport home – but, don’t take any other cash or cards (or other electronic payment methods) with you.
How did you feel? What difficulties did you encounter – if any? Did any vulnerabilities surface? Consider repeating the exercise a few times and seeing how much more comfortable you get with the idea of not using money.
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