Not spending money for a month was tougher than I imagined. You know when you pull at a yarn on a sweater and other things start to unravel? Yeah…the February no spend challenge was like that. It was equal parts difficult and eye-opening, and I learned quite a few things I'd like to share as we say goodbye to one of the odder 30-day challenges. Here's what I learned and my tips for making it easier if you'd like to attempt your own.
3 Things Learned from a Month of Not Spending Money.
Planning and Preparation are Key
It feels a little strange to say that you have to plan to not spend money, but when being on the go and paying for things out of convenience is the norm, it can be very difficult to break that pattern.
I think in preparing for this challenge I way underestimated how much planning I needed to do in order to be successful.
Some things I couldn't foresee, like getting the flu and having to go to the doctor. But admittedly, there were other times when I was out running around and I purchased (in spite of the challenge) because it was convenient and I didn't want to think about it.
Like the day I was prepping for a shower and I bought dinner out because it was “on the way” while running errands.
And those kinds of circumstances and decisions do not amount to a successful “no spend challenge.”
My Spending Often Isn't in Line with Values
When you completely shake up your routine or stop doing something for 30 days, it puts a spotlight on those areas. (Like the time I stopped watching TV for 30 days…)
It wasn't until I stopped spending money that I was able to clearly process and look at how I've been spending it for the last year or so since I've become my own boss.
And it's very easy to see that I've been spending, sure, but that most of it isn't in line with my values or what would make me happiest.
In looking over my budget over the last few years, I've put a lot of money into my house. Partially because it's an investment that I hope bears fruit one day, but also because it's a house and it just needs maintenance and care.
But the fact that my house isn't a source of joy for me is well-tread territory on this blog.
I'm not saying I should let my home fall into ruin or anything, but merely that I could scale back and allocate funds for the house into other categories where I derive more enjoyment. I also tend to save up for “big things” and forsake small, smile worthy indulgences in my efforts to cut back or be more frugal.
It wasn't until this month that I realized how big an impact small, simple pleasures- like a great candle or lotion that makes you smile every day when you put it on — can have.
Sometimes these mini indulgences can make an even bigger difference in your mood and stress level than having that awesome new piece of furniture, or TV, or whatever.
Not Spending Money isn't Sustainable for Long Term (at least for me)
While the “No Spend Challenge” brought into focus that I wasn't spending in line with my values, it also affirmed a lot of my other beliefs about money.
Primarily that skipping the daily latte isn't going to make a huge difference long term in your financial goals.
It can, however, make you really cranky when your caffeine supply dries up.
Like any other diet or cleanse they can be a good reset for the system, but they aren't sustainable long terms. It's fun to have a string of no spend days, it's not so fun to have to pare down to the bare bones and sustain it for a very long period of time.
Money is for enjoying. Mama works hard. She wants to enjoy the things.
And having to try and muster up excitement for the No Spend challenge when it isn't in line with how I feel about money or what I try to do with it, made this an even harder challenge to take on for 29 days.
Some people don't have a choice. They don't spend money because they simply don't have it.
While the challenge was effective (I saved ~$500 last month), I spent a lot of energy on not spending money.
What if I had allocated that energy and planning into making more money instead of conserving it.
What would've happened then?
You're Only As Successful as Your Goals
Even though I finished the challenge — I lost a lot of steam after the Flu because I didn't really have a concrete goal in mind.
What was my “reward” for doing the challenge and saving all that money? Not that I need a treat for saving money, but I didn't even have a goal or idea in mind of what I was going to allocate that money toward.
Talk about no plan or lack of excitement. Rookie mistake.
I think any big lifestyle shift needs to have clear, distinct, highly visual goals and rewards attached. Otherwise, it's just too easy to slip back into old patterns.
Challenges are Better When Done Together
After tackling a handful of 30 day challenges (which are some of my most popular posts), this was the first time I opened up a challenge to the readership. Over 100 people signed up to take the challenge with me and weighed in along the way. This kept me going when I wanted to give up.
So maybe challenges and lifestyle shifts need three things: goals, rewards, and people to hold you accountable.
Sounds like hard work, doesn't it? But nothing worth having ever came easy.
So thank you to everyone who signed up for the challenge. If you filled out the form I sent with the link I'll pick a winner on Sunday and reach out about claiming your Starbucks gift card. (So you can enjoy that latte guilt free!)
Summing it up, the biggest takeaway from this challenge is that spending isn't the enemy….if we apply the same thoughtfulness to it that we do with other areas of our lives. It's when we mindlessly spend or do so without thought or care that we get into financial trouble, and end up being really unhappy along the way.