6 No-Spend Tips to Help You Save Money in the New Year
For many people, midlife is a time when things tend to feel pretty settled in most areas. Maybe you have a lot of “life events” checked off your to-do list. But even if your career and family feel relatively stable, it’s still not unusual to have financial debt in your 40s, 50s, or 60s.
Midlife is really a prime time to evaluate your finances and how you’re choosing to spend and invest your money, says Anna Newell Jones, author of The Spender’s Guide to Debt-Free Living. “It’s a good time to ask, ‘Is how I’m living—and spending—working for me?”’ she says. “Have the financial choices you’ve made up to this point truly served you, or have you been going through the motions and doing what you’ve been told you ‘should’ be doing?”
One way to do a financial reset is to take part in a no-spend or low-spend month, also known as a spending fast. In short, spend as little as you can for 30 days, trying to buy only the essentials.
Not only will spending less help you save up extra money that month, but “it helps you step out of the cycle of spending,” Jones says. “The pause gives people the chance to identify what they’re spending money on and ways that they may be hemorrhaging funds—typically without even realizing it!”
If you’re up for a low- or no-spend month challenge, the tips that follow are how to go about it.
1. Spend Time Prepping
Financial adviser Hari Luker, who’s based in Granite Bay, California, does a low-spend month with his wife once a year—and after five successful years, they’ve learned a lot.
“Leading up to our first one, we prepared for an entire month,” he says. “Every night, we handwrote every expense—every single dollar going out.”
Luker and his wife did this prep work to help them find little ways they overspend that happen throughout the year (and throughout life), like unnecessary monthly subscriptions, gas station snacks, fast food, and spontaneous trips to Target or Home Depot.
“This exercise alone opens your eyes to everything [you spend money on] and is a great reset itself,” Luker says. “It gave us an idealistic start for the low-spend month. We had already eliminated unwanted subscriptions and knew where our [issues] were.”
He also recommends reviewing your insurance rates and interest rates—and negotiating with the companies by comparison shopping and asking friends and family whether they’re paying less to help make your case.
2. Set a Savings Goal
First make a list of nonnegotiables— things that have to be paid, like rent or mortgage, utilities, car/travel expenses, insurance, groceries, daycare, etc. Then, look at incidentals and things you can cut: the entertainment budget, dinners out. Then, decide on how much you want to save over the month. “The goal number really helps keep us accountable and on track,” Luker says.
Ema Hidlebaugh is a minimalism expert from Vancouver, British Columbia, and a self described former “messy person” who turned things around for herself in midlife and now aims to help others do the same. Every month, she and her family take a no-spend week, during which she does spend a little, but limits it only to groceries, transportation, and bills.
Taking Hidlebaugh’s no-spend choices as inspiration, you can follow whatever rules are best for you and your family. For instance, you might stick to your usual grocery shopping and go without takeout for 30 days. Or switch to low-cost foods and buy in bulk for the month, but allow yourself a couple of splurge meals.
3. Be Clear About Motivation
Explain to your family members why you're doing the no-spend month, including how the sacrifices they'll make will benefit everyone in the household. Jones says, "This puts you on a stable footing from day one and helps you deal with other people’s opinions—which may not be helpful, despite their best intentions.”
The problem, Jones says, is the perception of hardship. “I’ve found that most people really don’t want their loved ones to suffer, and no- or low-spend months can be seen as a source of ‘suffering’,” she says. On the contrary, the author points out, the restrictions of a no-spend month actually offer huge amounts of relief to those who attempt it.
And on that note…
4. Don’t Worry About What Other People Think
It’s normal to feel apprehensive about how your parents or your sister or your Facebook friends will react to your low- or no-spend month. This makes it even more important to talk about it matter-of-factly without a woe-is-me attitude, Jones says.
Any wavering or tentativeness risks giving the impression that it’s a decision that’s up for debate, when it shouldn’t be. “Establish your choice within yourself first, and only after that will you be able to share it confidently with others,” advises Jones. “And if it comes down to disappointing someone else or yourself, always choose to disappoint others.”
5. Try a No-Spend Week First
For people who want an easier alternative to a low- or no-spend month, Hidlebaugh recommends trying a monthly no-spend week first.
“A week is long enough to practice self-discipline and reset spending habits, but short enough that you don’t feel deprived,” Hidlebaugh says. To make it easy to remember, she always does her no-spend week from the first through the seventh day of every month.
6. See It Through
Even if you find it hard and mess up now and again, Jones recommends doing your best to keep going to your end date. “If you want to have a different kind of relationship with money and spending, you can have it,” she says.
For Luker, his low-spend month has taught him more about his relationship with his finances than anything else. “It's hard; there’s no doubt about it. But with the right mindset and support, it's very refreshing,” he says. “[Now I have a ] mental reference of what it takes to save an extra $100 or $1,000 a month.”
The Upshot: A Spending Fast Is About Empowerment
The truth is that we have two choices when it comes to finances: Either they control us, or we control them. A no-spend month, or at least tracking our spending closely, may not change our lives, but it can at least help us examine that relationship and how we might want to revamp it going forward. That seems worth 30 days of keeping things tight.
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