No Spend Days Done Two Ways
In January, we set a monthly financial goal to have 10 no-spend days as a way to kick off our 2019 savings. The plan, albeit crazy, is to use the no-spend days as a way to jump-start our savings for our family’s 2019 Journey To $100k.
If you have not read about My Impossible Financial Goal: Journey To $100k you can read that article here.
But what exactly is a no-spend day, how are they helpful and what qualifies? Keep reading because we are about to take a deep dive and find out what this no-spend day thing is all about.
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What is a No Spend Day
No-spend days are exactly as they sound, a pledge to yourself, to not spend money on any given day. In the personal finance community, I have heard about no-spend weeks, months and even no spend years. Um….No Spend Year, you say? Yeah, that is a next level kind of dedication.
For the purpose of this article, we are talking about no-spend days. Why? Because a no-spend day is a baby step, and I like gradually moving away from bad habits. Plus no-spend days are more of a fine tool to reign in spending. Kind of like using a scalpel instead of a sledgehammer to fix a family’s finances.
What Qualifies As A No Spend Day
It came to me as a bit of a surprise that people have different opinions of what qualifies as a no spend day. Can a day where you spend money still count as a no-spend day? Maybe, depending on your definition.
I first heard about the idea of no-spend days exactly one year ago after reading the blog Tread Lightly Retire Early. When I learned about no-spend days, it was a revelation to me. Although these days probably happened organically for our family on occasion, I had never thought to track or designate days of zero spending.
When I began to track our family’s no spend days, I chose to use the strictest definition. On my no spend days, no spending would be allowed to occur not even a mortgage payment. If we slipped and spent money even on a coffee it would be a fail.
Using this very strict version of no-spend days means it is difficult to get more than a handful during a month. 10 no-spend days in January will definitely be a challenge.
Here is what Angela from Tread Lightly Retire Early has to say about no spend days.
I’ve been tracking our no spend days for over a year now, starting with “No Spend November” in 2017 and even created a Facebook group for accountability. For me, they’ve been a game changer because they put a stop to the mindless spending trap that’s so easy to fall into: just a coffee, just a quick lunch, just a tiny Amazon order…. by focusing on as many no spend days as I can in a month, we save an extra $300-$500 each month.
After I began my January no-spend day challenge I received some questions on my Instagram account asking about no spend days. The most common question was if I spend money on a day, but the money was already budgeted, would this still count as a no-spend day? Initially, my response was no, for the reasons I outlined above.
But what about people who used a zero-based budget. Now here is where things get blurry.
A zero-based budget is a budgeting system primarily for those with stable incomes where every dollar gets assigned to a category: $600 to food, $300 to dining out, $100 to coffee shops, etc.
For those families on zero-based budgets, no spend days are days where money is not spent above their budgeted category. From the example above, if someone stayed below the $100 coffee shop budget, and wanted to go to Starbucks, then that would still count as a no-spend day.
In my mind, with this more loose definition, it would be easy to string together a long streak of no spend days.
I suppose the difficulty would arise if you were spontaneously invited to dinner with friends or drinks after work with colleagues.
How Are No Spend Days Helpful
It is said, ‘personal finance is personal.” Each family has their own unique set of circumstances. For our family, a variable income and living dangerously close to a grocery store create some challenges.
We struggle with food expenses. Eating out is not the problem, it’s the expensive grocery store less than 5 blocks away. A chronic habit of poor meal planning leads to frequent trips to the grocery store.
Our frequent trips for food staples like milk and eggs turn into $40 of spending once a few impulse purchases are added in.
This is really where the power of a no spend day shines. By avoiding trips to the store all together we save three ways:
- First, it forces us to use the creative side of our brain and eat from the pantry or freezer. This is the most frugal option.
- Second, knowing we have planned a no spend day, we are forced to meal plan at least a couple of days ahead.
- Third, staying out of the store altogether eliminates impulse purchases, which are usually high margin items and not healthy, like chips or candy.
Are No Spend Days A Gimmick
Are no spend days a gimmick? If used as a fine tool to curtail spending, I don’t think they are. Sure, you can push spending to either side of a no-spend day and defeat the purpose of the challenge. For that matter, you can cheat yourself out of any challenge if you want. But if you harness the potential power to save, no spend days can become an extremely useful tool for your family, potentially saving hundreds of dollars each month.
How To Save On Spend Days
On days that you plan to spend, there is no reason you shouldn’t try to save some money. Every dollar matters. In the past couple of months, I have been using two apps to help me save on purchases.
Ibotta is a smartphone rebate app where all you have to do is snap a picture of your receipt and the rebates are deposited into your account. Items and product categories change occasionally so it is best to scan the app for items that are already on your grocery list.
Sign up with Ibotta here to claim your free $10.
Ebates. I love Ebates. Of all the money-saving apps, this is my favorite. My wife buys all of her vitamins and running supplements on Amazon. Since signing up for Ebates we have racked some serious cash back. My favorite part is once every 3 months Ebates mails you the rebate check. I use my Vanguard app to deposit that check right into my IRA. It is almost like free money!
Get $10 for free just for signing up with my Ebates link.
Ways We Manufacture No-Spend Days
We struggle to have no-spend success when my wife and I have days off together. From coffee shops to restaurants, the temptations are worse days we call “date days.” Here are a few ways we have found success to overcome the urge to spend.
- Go for a run together. We love our days off and we love running so this is a perfect fit for us. We drink homemade coffee in the morning and spend midday running through the beautiful forests of the Pacific Northwest.
- Clean the house. No seriously, when we are busy cleaning we don’t have time to go spend money.
- Go to the library. Public libraries are utopia to someone on a budget. We have a library within walking distance of our house. They have a huge wall of magazines and of course free books.
- Netflix. We love to shower after our runs, grab a quick snack from the pantry and watch a Netflix show or movie before our two boys get out of school. This is a favorite low-cost activity in the winter months.
If we are able to pull off 10 no spend days in January, it will become a new family record, by a long shot. Although we have not really kept track of no spend days in the past, I think the past high water mark was 3 in a month. Eeek!
I have not used color pencils in years, but one of the most exciting parts of a no-spend day is coloring in the box. The picture below is a simple calendar that I am using to track my no-spend days. I find using some sort of graphic to keep track of your progress very motivating.
Despite my wife’s occasional objections, I am thoroughly enjoying the no-spend day challenge. Psst! Don’t tell anyone but I may just keep this one alive and shoot for 10 no-spend days in February too. If you have followed my blog, you know I have a propensity to gamify life. To me, this is just one more way to keep things exciting.
Do you use no-spend days? Have you found them useful? Leave me a comment and let me know.