It’s time to whip your finances into shape.
Money is the band-aid we place over up the gaping flesh wound that is thoughtless, unsustainable consumerism. The wound isn’t healed just because you smack a $20 on it every few days and absorb more blood.
If your money is busy covering up some financial wounds, No Spend Month is like a trip to the ER. Let’s take a look at what’s really going on under that band-aid and let’s stitch you up so you can heal.
If you are like me, summer is a spendy time. While we didn’t spend a lot of money on fancy vacations this year, those boxes of tomatoes and peaches that I buy to preserve add up. The purchase of bulk meat adds up. Those mason jar lids add up. In my case, the money spent on doctors and surgery and $40 eye drops really add up.
No Spend Month is the anecdote to a spending bender. It’s the long walk and intermittent fast after Burger-and-Wing Fest at your favorite pub. It’s a way to reconnect with your money and learn to value and appreciate every single dollar again.
No Spend Month is living on less – way less – than you think you need, so that when you do trade dollars for stuff that trade is thoughtful and made within the context of your larger values about money, spending and financial goals.
Money and Values
I can’t talk about money without talking about values. The two are and should be tightly conjoined. I don’t really value new or fancy clothes much so very few of my dollars go in that direction. I do value food, so a lot of my dollars are traded for high-quality food and the supplies to help me grow my own.
I’m not here to tell you what you should value. Some people are willing to trade a lot of dollars for the convenience of never cooking, or to keep their house between 71 and 73 degrees all year-round.
But you should know what you value. It should not be as easy to spend a dollar on a latte at Starbucks as it to spend a dollar paying down your mortgage - unless you value the latte as much as you value a paid-off house.
When you stop or dramatically limit spending money (beyond a few key items we’ll talk about) you force yourself to assess the value of each purchase. If your total budget for gas, food, incidentals – everything – is $200 for a family of four – you start to get creative. $30 on market sushi for dinner? No way. Pantry rice + can of tuna and some garden veggies for a $3 homemade sushi substitute? That’s more like it.
You start to force-rank what you’ll buy based on your values and you reclaim those dollars that seem to leak away every month.
I have done this exercise a few times – I think this will be our 4th No Spend Month – and I can tell you that if you currently aren’t really sure how you manage to spend X-thousand dollars every month, it can change your relationship to money.
Is it hard to stop spending? Oh, kinda, but it can also be fun. It’s easy to buy quick solutions to teeny problems, which is where the majority of our leaky-money goes. But there is something fun about being creative instead of spending, too.
It’s nice to treat yourself to the luxury of not having to cook at home. It feels wonderful to buy a new pair of jeans that make you feel fit and fashionable. But that stuff has a way of creeping – the treat of a dinner out becomes the unconsidered everyday convenience-food option. The one pair of jeans becomes lunch-time browsing of H&M or Target “just to see.”
Money leaks away, not because you made a values-based spending decision, but because you treated money like a band-aid to cover up other stuff in your life – not enough time, boredom, whatever.
How Can I Not Spend? I Have Bills, You Know!
It’s true: “No Spend Month” is a bit of a misnomer but it’s a lot catchier than “Values based financial budgeting challenge to spend minimal money on useless crap.” You can decide what to include. We do it this way:
Recurring monthly bills (utilities, mortgage, insurance, etc.) are exempt from the budget.
Current children’s activities are exempt. For us this is a gymnastics class for Oliver and a before-school Spanish class for Bella. These are already paid-in-full, but if we had monthly charges for piano lessons or swimming or something, these charges would be exempt.
Medical bills directly related to my eye surgery are exempt. There will be thousands of dollars of charges we’ll be responsible for over the next several months as they trickle in, and the anti-inflammatory eye-drop I’m on are $40 for about a tablespoon of special eye goo. We value me one day being able to see normally again, so this spending just is what it is and we are paying for it.
Everything else counts towards the “No Spend” budget. Food, gas, dining out, purchases, books, iTunes downloads, new shoes, pet food – everything.
Okay, Then, How Much Can I Spend?
You get to decide your budget for all non exempt items. For our family of four, as in past months, we will be budgeting $250 for the entire month. I would recommend that you consider your typical spending on gas and groceries and give yourself a budget that is doable but uncomfortable. Like, maybe you can make it, but only if you take the bus instead of driving 2x per week. Maybe you can make it but only if you start running local errands on your bike. You can make it, but only if you go from $150/week on food to $20/week on food and use what is already in your pantry. That kind of uncomfortable.
$200-$300 seems to be a good doable but challenging number for many families who are new to values-based spending.
What We Are Starting With
Probably a half-tank of gas in each car (we aren’t running out to fill the tanks).
Fully stocked freezer and pantry (come on, the last two months have been all about laying in food!).
Experience doing No Spend before and the total conviction that we can do this – and so can you!
A primary householder (that’s me!) that is still in recovery from eye surgery. I still do not have binocular vision, I cannot drive, I am limited in what I can do in the garden (nothing dusty or dirty – infection risk) and an attempt to walk about a mile yesterday ended in abject, crying-on-the-floor failure because the double-vision overload of walking with my kids almost sent me into panic-attack mode. So there are some advantages to this (no driving) but some disadvantages too (no walking, somewhat limited householder abilities right now – it’s just a bit harder to do everything).
How You Do It
Step One: Set your budget, figure out how you are going to track. You must write down everything somehow. You can use our Fun Card idea, you can keep a list in a journal, you can note everything on your iPhone. I don’t care. The important thing is that you must account for every dollar you spend. You can either round up/down fairly to the nearest dollar or you can accurately tally to the nearest penny. Either method is fine but if you round don’t cheat it.
Step Two: Designate your goal. If you do this, and you really commit to it, there is a good chance you are going to save a lot of money this month. Where’s that money going to go? Do you have a credit card balance? Let’s pay that bitch off! Do you want to make an extra payment on your house? Depending on how much leaky money you spend, a No Spend Month or two might be able to get you there. Saving for vacation? College? Early retirement? Your No Spend Month proceeds can direct money away from things you don’t actually value and towards things you do.
All this month I’ll be issuing Mini Frugality Challenges designed to help you pare down spending in other areas of your life. I’ll also be sharing resources I love that have helped me get a better handle on our finances and spending.
For now, all you have to do is commit. Rip off that money band-aid and let’s go. No Spend Month starts tomorrow, October 1st.
Are you in?
If you are ready to reclaim leaky cash and apply it to the things you really value, tell us what your No Spend budget is in the comments, what your goal is for the money you save and what you are most nervous about. Got any questions before you commit? I’ll do my best to answer them. Boo-yah!