I Failed at a No-Spend Month Challenge, and I’m Okay with It

Woman browsing clothes for sale

I had an expensive December. Between buying Christmas presents and an international trip during peak travel season, I finished 2017 feeling a bit broke. As a result, January seemed like the perfect time to do my first no-spend month challenge. I’m frugal, I assured myself. It’ll be easy. Well, as you already know from the title, it wasn’t easy. I failed. But I’m okay with it (mostly). Here’s why.

I set strict ground rules

According to the rules of a no-spend challenge, you can only buy absolute necessities. I decided that for the sake of convenience, I’d allowed myself to pay recurring monthly bills, even though I have to admit Netflix and wifi aren’t necessities. Here’s a list of everything I planned to purchase in January:

  • Rent
  • Trash Fee (imposed by my apartment complex)
  • Water
  • Electricity
  • Laundromat Fees (I don’t have a washer/dryer in my apartment, so I use the laundry room in my building – $1.65/wash, $1.60/dry)
  • Netflix
  • Wifi
  • Gas
  • Groceries (My general rule was that if I could buy it at the grocery store, it was allowed)

I pay car insurance and renters insurance biannually, and neither was due in January, so thankfully I avoided those expenses. For everything on the above list, I didn’t set a budget. I know that’s a big no-no in the personal finance community, but I’ve never been big on budgets. First of all, I’m all about convenience, and setting and tracking a budget seems, well, time-consuming (bad answer, I know). Secondly, I’m pretty frugal, and I figure if I need to buy toilet paper, I should be able to buy it without worrying if it’s in the budget.

I cheated, but I don’t regret it

The girls’ weekend

The first challenge came in the second week of January, when a good friend reached out and invited me to spend the weekend with her and a few friends. It would involve driving, but gas was in my budget, and we’d be staying at a friend’s house, so no cost for accommodation. I knew it wouldn’t be free though – there would surely be meals at restaurants and activities. Still, I hadn’t seen some of these friends in a few months, so I said yes.

The first day we went to a ceramics painting studio. You select a piece of pottery, paint it however you like and they glaze and fire it for you. I could have opted to sit there, paint nothing, and pay nothing, but I didn’t. I selected a big platter, because I didn’t already have anything like it. It cost me $27.35, including the studio fee, and I’m really happy with how my platter turned out.

The next stop was a Mexican restaurant for lunch. I paid $15.76 for two of the best tacos I’ve ever had and a margarita. No regrets.

The next day we did brunch, and again, I didn’t hold back . I sent $20.32. All in all, the weekend cost me $63.43, and I was really glad I did it.

Still, when it was over, I promised myself that I’d get back on the wagon, and there’s be no more spending in January. That lasted a week.

The tennis fees

The next Sunday was a gorgeous day, so I signed up for a tennis clinic, which cost me $9.79 (a savings of $10.21 thanks to some rewards points I accumulated).

After a few years’ hiatus, I started playing tennis again last year. I’ve been attending clinics because they’re cheaper than joining a club, and I like the flexibility of only attending when I’m available. Still, I miss the competition and camaraderie of playing in matches, so I signed up to play in a spring league. I found out the next week that I’d been accepted.

It cost me $44.00 to join the USTA , and $39.20 to register for the league.I hadn’t realized it would cost that much, but the league lasts for four months, so I think it’ll be well worth the money.

It’s only January 27th, but I’m calling it. I failed at the no-spend month challenge. I’ve spent $156.42, but I don’t regret it. Every one of my purchases was worth it in my opinion.

I didn’t buy unnecessary items

Okay, I know that girls’ weekends and tennis aren’t “necessary” expenses. So why don’t I feel bad about failing the challenge for them? I’ve discovered it brings me more joy to spend money on experiences than on objects.

For example, usually I go shopping for clothes at least once a month. I may or may not buy anything, but this month I didn’t even look. I also didn’t buy lunch at all during the work week. Sometimes by Friday, my fridge is looking a little empty, but this month I made it work. I found that I really didn’t miss either of these things, so I’m going to try to make buying objects more of a special treat than a regular occurence. Experiences feel more necessary for my happiness.

I developed new hobbies

Another great outcome of doing a no-spend challenge is that in searching for free ways to spend my time, I developed some new hobbies. Not allowing myself to spend money on tennis clinics for the first couple of weeks of the month found me desperate for some form of free outdoor exercise. I started running, which I’ve never done particularly seriously, and I’ve discovered that I love it. I’ve been running three times a week, and set a goal of running a 5k in March.

I’ve also been cooking more elaborate meals for myself. Having more time on my hands, and lacking the ability to go out to eat, has motivated me to try lots of new recipes. So far, lemon orzo, satay chicken, and chow mein have been successes, and I’d rather not admit to the number of failures.

I’d do it again

I’d absolutely do a no-spend month challenge again, and I’d recommend it for others, even though I failed the first go around. I learned a lot about myself and what expenses I really value. I also saved money over what I’d typically spend in a month.

Would you consider doing a no-spend month?

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