No Spend January: Shifting Spending Habits in the New Year

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I have decided to embark on a “No Spend January.”

Before you decide I am crazy, dismiss me, and go on your way… let me explain. 

See, I am not one for resolutions – I am a bit cynical about “new year, new you” type things. But I have been feeling the weight of the excess that comes in the stretch of Christmas preparations, especially when it feels like “Christmas” launches commercially after Halloween these days. 

And I have been a little too loose with the Starbucks drive thru, thanks to a toddler who thinks 5:20AM is an acceptable wake up call. 

And, well, while we are on the subject, I have been using Target runs as sanity breaks a little too often. I go in with a list, and come out with that list plus maybe fifteen things. 

So I decided to hit “reset” on my spending habits. A friend of mine mentioned she was doing a “No Spend January” and asked if I wanted to try it out; honestly, my first thought was to laugh and run. But then I thought about how overwhelmed I felt from all the holiday spending (coupled with a three-month long kitchen renovation that was endless and expensive). So, I thought – why not try? I won’t call it a resolution – so if (when?) I fail, I won’t feel bad.

Here is what I’ve learned so far: 

  • “No Spend” actually means whatever you want it to mean. My friend that challenged me to this is giving herself $25 a week for eating out and coffee runs and is not going to buy any clothes. Another friend has decided she is not buying any new clothes, she isn’t buying anything from Amazon (outside of her subscribe & save), she will only eat out on Saturdays, and she’s giving herself a $10 Starbucks budget a week. To make a “no spend” month work, it has to work for you – meaning obviously there are things you have to spend money on — bills, rent, basic food items, gas, random fees for your child’s school, but the idea is to be purposeful and thoughtful in what you’re spending and when. It is about evaluating your spending habits and identifying where you need your “reset.” Start the month by setting your own goals. 
  • Having a support group helps hold you accountable. My friend that challenged me invited me to a Facebook Messenger group with a few of our friends. We all shared our goals and we do daily check ins. There have been a few times where one of us sent out an SOS for something that they were thinking about buying, and we have been able to be the voice of reason to help them during a time of temptation. Whether you enter into this with a group of friends or you just tell your best friend or spouse what you are doing, being able to verbalize your goals makes them tangible – you are more accountable when others can support and rally around you. 
  • Rid yourself of temptation – unsubscribe, unfollow. One of my biggest issues with spending habits is that anywhere I go online, I am inundated with things to buy, sales that are too good to be true, and social media influencers prompting me to “swipe up to buy.” It is so easy to click through to that website, cart, and buy – especially when your credit card information autofills or you have one-click on your Paypal. Part of the no spend reset means getting rid of this consumerist noise. I recommend Unroll.me for easily unsubscribing to mailing lists – it is free and evaluates your email for subscriptions, allowing you to check yes/no, and then it unsubscribes for you. I had over 1,000 email subscriptions that it found – things I had certainly not signed up for, things that were emailing me sales daily. And the same with text messages – somehow I have several stores that text me their sales and deals. When I get their text, I have unsubscribed from that service as well. And those social media influencers? They don’t really love the Amazon fashions as much as they say – they love the commission they make off you. Unfollow or mute them. Lastly, go into your browser and delete your credit card information from autofill. When you have to physically go get your wallet and enter your information, you are creating a much needed pause for your impulse buying. 
  • Stay away from your bad habits – literally, physically stay away. Utilize Target drive up and Kroger pick up to stay out of the store. If you can’t see the cute pillows and delicious cheese dip, you can’t buy it. Making a list and ordering ahead makes you think through what you need – one of my issues is going into the grocery store without a plan andgrabbing things as I go. As an added bonus, you don’t have to take off your comfy house pants to go pick up your groceries and essentials. Both Target drive up and Kroger pick up are free services. 
  • Utilize an envelope system for your budget. If your goal involves identifying categories for spending and setting budgets (like my friend’s $10 Starbucks budget a week), make it easier for yourself and go to a cash only system for those items. Want to stick to $50 in eating out a week? Go to the bank and get the cash – put it in an envelope and use that money for eating out. When it is gone, it is gone. If you don’t want to carry cash, my friend is doing the same thing with her cash app – depositing the money weekly. 
  • Write down your spending habits to track them. This one seems obvious, but most people these days swipe and go, relying on their online banking to track how much money they have in their account. Gone are the days of writing your spending in the check ledger and balancing your checkbook. Without careful monitoring of your account, things can get out of hand quickly. So for your reset in your “no spend” month, write down what you’re buying. You can do this in the notes app of your phone or in a physical notebook that you keep in your purse. You can do it for all your spending or just your target areas. 
  • Build in a pause when shopping. When adding things to your cart (online or in person), there is an instant gratification that comes with buying things. For some people, shopping is a source of endorphins – a shopping high. Keep yourself from falling into the endorphin trap by building in a pause – an amount of time you think would be helpful to make yourself consider what you really need. If you’re shopping online, set down your computer or phone and do something else before coming back to the cart. If you’re in the store, take a few laps. If you still feel strongly about what you’re buying, go for it — but you may decide you don’t really need all of it. 
  • Use a credit card for the month. Now this one is a little crazy – and may not be right for everyone, but if you’re wanting to track your spending habits for a specific category or categories, put just those transactions on the card for the month, with the caveat that you must pay the amount completely off at the end of the month. Because so much flows in and out of debit accounts, this is an easy way to see how much you’re spending without breaking it down. 

So what did I decide to do for my “no spend” month? Here are my rules:

  1. Write down any purchase over $50 on the memo board in the mud room (public shame for the win)
  2. No children’s clothing unless an essential need (no buying ahead, no large purchases)
  3. Anything I buy has to sit in my cart for at least 10 minutes while I do something else and think about the purchase.
  4. No impulse buys (only things on the list/planned purchases/essentials)
  5. As much as possible, use curbside pickup to avoid temptation

And hopefully, a month of “no spend” will be just the reset that you need to take control of your purchasing and be more mindful about your finances. Aside from the fiscal implications of the no spend month, my ringleader no-spending friend shared with me an article about the emotional toll our consumerist purchases take on our lives – the excess clothing, the clutter, the storage systems we have to employ. So buying less means you have less “stuff,” less to launder, less to clean, less to organize. 

One last tip – once you have your no spend month and want to track your finances better long term, check out budgeting websites like Mint.These free sites categorize your purchases for you and will alert you when you are nearing your self-created budget for that category. Work smarter, not harder to manage your finances!