Our self-imposed “No-Spend September” has come to a close (eleven days ago, obviously), and as promised, I’m providing a little recap of how it went and lessons learned. Highlights of our month of not spending any* money include:
Easy decision making.
As challenging as I thought this endeavor would be given how strict it was, it was actually quite simple in that it removed a lot of need for decision making. Since we decided at the beginning of the month that we weren’t going to go shopping, eat out, swing by the coffee shop, etc., I saved a lot of mental energy in September. Should I buy this – it’s a good deal? Should we do takeout tonight? Can I find a reason to indulge in a latte this morning? No, no, and no. You already made the decision, remember?
This perspective shift was actually pretty liberating. I felt less bogged down by decision making. Less things to clutter up my mind!
Answering the question, “Can we afford it?”
While I typically pull together a monthly budget, it is an admittedly simple document that doesn’t always help in making financial decisions. Kyle and I usually discuss it at the beginning of the month, but don’t often reconcile actual spending at the end of the month. I found that after a month of not spending money, and only utilizing cash for groceries, I got a much better picture of what our margin really is (or could be) every month. This was really helpful regarding some bigger purchases that we have on our “want” list, as well as the smaller purchases that come up. When you know the exact amount of margin you have, you are better able to decide if you can afford it or not. And, even if you can afford it, is it worth it? Which leads me to …
Can it wait?
I found myself asking this question a lot, because obviously, since we’d committed to not spending money, I was very picky about the (very few) things that we did purchase in September. While this isn’t totally sustainable (at some point you’re going to have to buy toilet paper: it might be able to wait until the end of the month, but it probably can’t wait until the end of the next month), I do think this is a helpful question in determining if something is really worth buying. I find this particularly helpful with clothing or things in the home décor realm. I’ll decide I want to buy something, I’ll research it online for a while, I’ll hem and haw about it, and then …. I often lose interest and don’t end up buying it at all! This isn’t always the case, but this last month reminded me that spending emergencies are usually (thankfully!) rare. So if I suddenly decide I need that adorable purse right now, I should probably just wait it out a day or two and see if I really do need it – or even want it anymore.
All about those groceries.
As a part of our No Spend month, we decided to pull a modest amount of cash for groceries. This was partially to try and advance our goal of not spending much money that month, but also to give us a more realistic picture of our grocery budget, since I don’t typically compare projected to actual spending at the end of the month as I mentioned. I wanted to know what a realistic amount to budget for groceries is.
Sticking to this bold grocery budget might have actually been harder than forgoing all other spending this month. I found myself forced to plan out meals better, use what we had, and really evaluate if a grocery store run was worth it. I actually have a few more thoughts about this so I think I’ll save it for another post.
It wasn’t perfect.
As I already admitted, I purchased a ticket to see the musical “In the Heights” at the beginning of September. And we had a few more spending incidents throughout the month: dinner out when Kyle’s Grandma was in town unexpectedly (obviously worth it!), a hardware store trip to buy a replacement part to fix the toilet (I don’t even need to justify this one, do I?), and a gift for a friend’s baby, among a few other things that I think I’m forgetting.
Overall, I’m glad we did this. I’m usually pretty motivated by short-term challenges like this, and I think the insight we gained was really helpful. And, it felt good to accomplish something challenging – and has caused me to think more critically about what I do spend money on.
*We spent some money.