No Spend Days Don’t Work–Or Do They?

No Spend Days Dont WorkI did not do a no-spend January.

I was perfectly upfront about that. I started the year knowing exactly one thing: I would spend money in January.

I did, however, commit to tracking my spending even more diligently neurotically than I normally do.

A month passed. I reviewed my notebook. And what to my wondering eyes should appear? Not a reindeer or a fat dude with presents, but seventeen no spend days. SEVENTEEN.

Seventeen days where no money left my wallet or my bank account. Not for groceries, not for gas, not even to repair the bathroom sink that peed all over my basement. Not even to buy wine or chocolate to make up for the aforementioned sink piddle.

NO MONEY MOVED.

So much to my surprise, maybe I did do a no spend January. Kind of. But did it make a difference to my money?

Why I Thought No Spend Days Weren’t For Me

Let’s back up, so I can make a confession. I honestly sat down at my keyboard when I penned that January blog post and thought, No spend days don’t work.

Of course, I know they work for some people. A lot of people. But I really was convinced that no spend days wouldn’t work for me.

Granted, I absolutely wish former me had heard of no-spend days. Because five years ago, every day was a spend day. Every single day. Something went right? Celebrate and shop. Something went wrong? Grieve and shop. Bored? Buy something.

RELATED POST: Guilt is Not the Antidote to Consumerism

Basically, everyday was a reason to shop, and shop I did. I shopped myself into heaps and mounds of stuff. Shoes, bags, clothes. But I wasted so many dollars on different treats and snacks, things I had coupons for and things I didn’t. Needs, wants, and contact solution that no one in my family or circle of friends could use.

So yeah. In a past life, I needed no-spend days. But I honestly thought I was past that with my current spending, tracking, and budgeting habits. I’m not focused on stemming the outflow of cash or stymieing the credit card swipes. Instead, my goal is to spend purposefully on intentionally, on things that matter. So I wasn’t interested in doing a no-spend January. Moving along. Or so I thought.

No Spend Days Don’t Work…Until They Do

At first, I looked at my no-spend notes and thought, AH HA! I have concrete indisputable evidence that no spend days don’t work. It’s right here.

(Because you know one person’s experiences for a single month can and should be immediately transferred to all of humankind indefinitely. That’s how this works, right?)

And on the surface, it seems that no spend days actually don’t work for me. Here’s what I initially observed:

  • Our total spending for the month was largely the same.
  • We spent in every category of our budget, like usual.
  • I am not suddenly FIRE.
  • I did not receive any new frugality awards.
  • I do not have a cave of gold coins that I can dive into and swim around gleefully.

But then I realized that there are some subtleties that actually probably speak to the real power of no spend days and frugality in general.

  • January is a l  o n g month, and not just because it’s in the dead of winter. There are 31 days.
  • I was on winter break (otherwise known as vacation!) for the first week.
  • I had to go back to work, and my stress level about leaving HP again was through the roof.
  • I was busy, busy, busy.

Despite all of these things, my spending was right on track. That is hugely significant. As someone who is prone to tossing things in my virtual shopping cart to mend a broken parent heart or drowning my stress and fatigue in Diet Coke, I did neither of things.

There was ample opportunity to spend outside of our regular budget. There was even reason to spend. And yet, the sheer fact of manually logging each amount every day into a notebook seemed to be deterrent enough. While it may have felt like these no spend days weren’t amounting to much, the fact that our numbers look exactly how we wanted them to look at the end of a whirlwind thirty-one days suggests there might be real power in paying attention to no-spend days.

What I’m Doing Moving Forward

I am not doing a shopping ban.

I am not doing a no-spend February.

I am going to spend money in February and again in March. I’ll do it all throughout the year, and every year as long as I live.

But I am going to keep tracking my spending. While I don’t know that there’s a need to commit to a notebook each month on top of my manual spending tracker app, I’m going to try it out again for February. And I’m also going to make a note of how many no spend days I have in an attempt to see if no spend days really can work for me.

So Tell Me…Do you track your spending? Do you try spending bans?

18 Comments

  1. Lizzy

    I track my spending in an old school spiral bound notebook.

    Once I tried a no spend month for my dog needed expensive surgery. That month I only bought food and gas ( as well as paying household bills of course). I was able to pay cash for his operation when the month ended.

  2. Fay

    I’m trying not succeeding however my credit card bill has halved however £300 could be saved. I’m making lunch for work & trying not to buy stuff. Maybe I should start to keep a log in Feb 19. I’ve just recently come across FI . I’m a newbie at this. It seems hard work

  3. I try to have at least one no-spend day a week. But success varies. I get frustrated because it seems like each day 1-2 things come up that need some money thrown at them, whether that’s vitamins, groceries, a hair cut, etc. But that may just be because I break everything down into small tasks (chronic fatigue) that other people would otherwise do back to back. Thus they’d have more no-spend days (but also more high-spend days). Or maybe it’s a huge rationalization on my part. Hard to tell. I’m going to be tracking my spending a little more carefully this month to see if I can spot trends in whether I’m mainly spending conscientiously or not.

  4. LX

    No spend days don’t work for our either. Because no spending turns into delayed spending and we buy as soon as that time period is over. Instead we do a frugal February as a reset for our consumerism. We only buy what is strictly necessary for a month. No personal allowance, restaurants, no fancy drinks (coffee or alcohol), and we use up the freezer and pantry. Then see what we truly miss that adds quality to our life, and add it back. I’m looking at you once a month Friday takeout Indian, you spark joy.

    • I think that’s a great way to phrase it. For me, it feels like how I sometimes treat the end of Lent. No chocolate for 40 days…then a bag of it for breakfast and a stomachache to follow!

      That takeout sounds like a wonderful treat!

  5. We track out spending as a couple for joint expenses, but I don’t routinely track how much I spend on my own (gasp, I know). You’ve made me think on the differences between a shopping ban and a spending ban. I would say I successfully completed a shopping ban last year, but it certainly wasn’t a spending ban. Although, if I looked at my spending this month, I think I’d have a similar amount of no spend days at you! January is epically long and dark and cold, so we’ve just been huddling in our house with few excursions to buy things.

  6. I track my spending on excel. I do monthly income statements for my income and all the expenses I do and break them up into categories. And since most of my spending are through credit card, it makes it easier to track how much I spend.
    I tried a no spending month once, i tracked all the days in the month where I spend nothing and ended up doing okay. Probably close to 15 days out of the month was zero spending and it could have been more if I didn’t have days where I spend less than five bucks on small items like chips or snacks. If I just bought those items on days where I spend a lot more then I would have had like 20 zero spending days in that month.

  7. Jo Anne

    I’ve indirectly (like you) done no spend days, but it’s not usually a hard and fast decision that I won’t spend money. I have to say after reading your (and other blogs) that on my big trip to Europe I spend on experiences (like last minute going to Rome… #noregrets) but didn’t feel the need to buy a bunch of stuff just to say I was here! My big present to myself was buying and sending myself a postcard each day of what I did! So I have a visual and written description of what I did for the trip!

  8. tre

    I track all my spending, but no spend months or weeks seem to be impossible right now. Sometimes I think that I will make it through the week without spending money but then LT calls from college and needs something or TT has a basketball game. Maybe there will be a time for that but now I’m just enjoying this period of our life and being conscious of my spending 🙂

  9. I like your perspective on no spend days. We did a no-spend month at the end of last year and it worked well for us. I can certainly see how writing it down in a notebook would make you more aware of your spending habits. We track all of our expenses on an excel spreadsheet – or at least that’s what my husband does. I let him do it because he loves tedious stuff like that.

  10. I put up a no-spend challenge this month and the reader feedback has been very interesting. Some are doing really well, others backslid or were hit with unexpected expenses. All are examining their spending more critically.

    That, to me, is the essence of the no-spend: to interrogate your money habits. It’s not about who wins or loses, or beating ourselves up for perceived weaknesses.

    • I love this, Donna. That’s definitely the lesson I most need when it comes to money: to be kind to myself even during the backsides or the unexpected!

  11. Hey Penny – I’ve always been curious about this myself on whether or not it worked. It always seemed short-sighted in the sense that sure you don’t spend this month, but you need to buy toilet paper at some time 🙂
    Or that silly “don’t buy gas this Tuesday to stick it to the man” one that went around years ago. You have to buy gas at some point if you drive. And work is still there…. I digress.
    It’s just to say that we have inconsistent expenses and they often shift to different months. But it is neat to have your data point to show that spending more or less was the same.

    I’m glad to hear that it worked out, enjoyed the funny sink piddle line (schadenfreude?)

    • I think that’s our biggest thing. We’ve trimmed a lot of the fat, so I don’t really need to dial it in much. It has been eye-opening, though, to see how tempting it is to impulse buy all these little random things for my baby! It definitely helped with that!

  12. Great post! It resonated with me because I also track my daily spending and often aim for no-spend days during the week. It’s difficult but if I grocery shop appropriately, it’s an attainable goal for the majority of the week.

    Have you tried tracking spending using Apple Numbers? I’ve found it to be one of the best free programs for tracking spending because it’s really easy to set formulas and conditions.

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