As I sit here starring at a gas station Diet Coke on my desk, it shouldn’t surprise me that I’m about to type this. I don’t do No Spend Months. In fact, I rarely participate in No Spend Challenges.
But–I thought long and hard about doing one in the month of January. And now it’s time to unpack why I didn’t.
After I take a sip of my Diet Coke.
The Purpose of No Spend Months
I love the feeling that comes with a new year. Or even a new month or a new week. There’s something about Fresh Start Energy that I love.
But just like I’m a big fan of starting a new year simply, I’m also a big fan of being careful with that Fresh Start Energy. The Lazy Genius says it best on her podcast: There’s a difference between overhauling your life and tending to who you are. I much prefer the latter.
But for many people, a new year is the perfect time to hone all of their gusto and tackle a big, bold endeavor. And sometimes that endeavor is getting their finances right.
Don’t get me wrong. I love when people love No Spend Challenges. I think if something makes finances fun and brings them into focus, it probably has a lot of benefits. In fact, I feel that way so strongly, I kind of mentally got swept up into one this year thanks to Instagram.
My No Spend Month That Wasn’t
I am a sucker for a well-crafted list. I also have a soft spot for graphic design. You see where this is going, don’t you? There are so many beautiful, simple, and streamlined no-spend month trackers floating around Instagram that I couldn’t pull myself away from their siren song.
So I started 2023 with a heightened awareness about my spending. I was really relishing in the possibly of being able to fill out one of these snazzy graphics, adding it to my Stories.
And then…my husband happened.
The First Problem
We were a few days into the new year and two different Amazon packages arrived. What could this be? Why were there boxes? Didn’t we finally end the deluge of deliveries?
It turns out that he rightly and smartly ordered screen protectors for our kids’ electronics–HP’s Switch and Squish’s Fire. Both cost far more than we will ever spend (thanks, Grandma and Grandpa Penny!), and we definitely didn’t want to have to repair or replace them. So he spent about $20 to keep them safe.
And here I was getting bent of out shape over these orders (more on that later!).
The Second Fail
Then, about a week after the Amazon expenses, we were slammed with another expense. A whopping $7 and some change at McDonald’s. I finally lured HP to the bank–which he used to LOVE–and he spotted the nearby drive thru, convincing me to swing by to pick up a treat for him and his little sister.
At first, I was really frustrated. And then I realized that I actually support just about anything that gets my kid back on board with building strong money habits. As much as I laugh about the notion of him channeling his inner Scrooge McDuck while he dives into his pile of allowance money in his night table drawer that he’s squirreled away over the past few months, I’m actually much happier having that in a bank.
Because we have a 1.5 year old who figured out how to scale the baby gate. Nothing is safe. Including his cash. So into the bank it goes and into the drive thru we went.
Third Time’s a Charm!
The final nail in my No Spend Month coffin happened in the form of an email. No, it’s wasn’t a promotional offer or a once-in-a-lifetime sale. (I’ve actually basically unsubscribed from essentially everything if you must know!) It came in the form of a note from a long-time friend and former coworker suggesting that I grab lunch with him and another current coworking bestie.
I was going to say no. After all, I was on a No Spend Challenge. Wasn’t I? It sure felt that way when I opened the Instagram app!
But then I realized the one thing I needed more than to meet some arbitrary measure of financial fitness was to take my $9 and go have a Mediterrraian bowl at the local gyro place with my pals. My soul sang. We stayed through all of lunch and our plan period (don’t tell my boss).
I’m having a good school year for a change, and I still haven’t felt as energized as I felt coming back to work that day. It was exactly what I needed.
What I Learned from Failing a No Spend Challenge
If a tree falls in the woods and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? If you only mentally commit to a No Spend Challenge while scrolling Instagram and then get McDonald’s, did you really fail it?
I don’t know that I actually failed a No Spend Challenge because I don’t know that I actually ever did a No Spend Challenge. At least not this month.
Honestly, I didn’t tell anyone about it (that’s lesson one!). I didn’t make a cute Instagram graphic either. But in my mind, I was thinking about my money more thoughtfully than I have in months.
Regardless, this Schrodinger’s spending challenge that both was and wasn’t actually taught me a lot.
Lesson 1 – Joint Finances Require Joint Effort
No Spend days, weeks, months, and years look different when you’re a single pringle than anything else. Of course, I should have told my husband. I honestly probably should have prepped my kids. But there’s no real way to succeed in a No Spend Challenge if you go it alone…while having a family.
The money my husband spent was already built into a budget and was actually a really smart money move. As for the Mickey D’s? Questionably necessary and entirely unhealthy, but seeing my son excited to save made it more than worth it.
Even if these were both financial flops, I’d have no one to fault but myself. Combined finances mean spending and saving both have to be team decisions.
Lesson 2 – Money Has No Value
The real reason why I don’t jump into these challenges like the frugal fanatic I am is because I’m not sure I like the ultimate lesson. Money isn’t good or bad. Money has no moral value. And yet, these challenges certainly assign one.
I don’t like feeling shame around my money. I felt that for years and years. It’s gross. It weighed me down and burned me out. Obsessing over every penny in a document–no matter how aesthetically pleasing–feels like if Diet Culture and Scarcity Mindset had a baby, that’s what you’d get. Restriction that’s hard to sustain with a whole lot of shame mixed in.
But let’s say that I could participate in the challenge only joyfully. Imagine a world where I got to the end of the month and took a high-speed victory lap around my dining room table or around my social media circles.
I’m not sure money is supposed to feel triumphant either. Money is a tool meant to help us add joy to our lives; not become the source of our joy. And I think that’s one thing that a lot of people in personal finance mess up–myself first and foremost!
Lesson 3 – It’s Built Into Our Money Plan
Perhaps the biggest reason why I can’t be bothered to complete a No Spend Month with fidelity is because my entire exist is basically one.
No, I haven’t gone back to my frugally painful ways where I’m actually being cheap and sacrificing the qualify of my life.
I mean if you ever dig into the fine print of these challenges, most people seem to set it up as a way to flag impulse spending. If you plan out your spending at the start of the month, you still get to put a cute little happy emoji for the day–whether you spend money or not.
But that’s already how we live. We start each month with spending money allocated for ourselves and our kids thanks to our budget. Then, we use that as a guardrail to help us plan our wants and needs, our fun and frivolity.
Final Thoughts on Failing a No Spend Month
If you try a spending challenge and find yourself feeling shame or sadness, know you’re not alone. Very few money things work for everyone. That’s why this little slice of the Internet is called personal finance.
Rather than letting feelings of shame (or even triumph!) around money fester, embrace the fail. Lean into it. And see if you can strategize something else that works for your finances.
But if you do No Spend Challenges and they help you see money in new or more exciting ways, that’s amazing. Keep it up, and let me know so I can cheer you on.
I’ll toast to you with this Diet Coke.
So Tell Me…How are your finances looking? Do you do no spend challenges?