Back at the end of April, I realized that I needed to save a lot of money really quickly. I decided to set myself a challenge to spend no money in May. Of course, I knew that I would have to pay certain things, such as rent. But I decided to try not to spend anything above and beyond the unavoidable costs of living. It seemed like a good idea. However, I failed at it. Here are the five things that I did wrong with my challenge to spend no money all month.

1. Failure to Set SMART Goals

If you want to make and stick to a budget, then one of your best bets is to use SMART goal setting. This would ave served me well with my challenge to spend no money. If I had been more specific, creating measurable goals for myself, then I might have stuck to the plan better. Instead, my plan was too vague.

My plan was simply not to spend money unnecessarily. I defined necessary as: “

2. Ignoring the Strength of My Cravings

The number one thing that I consistently spend too much money on is food. I spend money on farm food delivery, ordering takeout, getting stuff at the grocery store, shopping at the farmer’s market. I buy high-quality, local, small batch food. It’s not cheap.

I told myself that I was going to be able to just “shop the fridge” for the entire month of May. Technically, I have plenty of food in my pantry and my freezer. I got a big farm food delivery right at the start of the month. I should have been able to stick to my challenge to spend no money on food.

Nevertheless, I broke down within the first third of the month. I got bored of the food I had at my house. I developed stronger and stronger cravings. Tasty, satisfying food sounded too good to pass up. In this instance, I think I should have budgeted for a certain amount of treats. I didn’t, so I just let the entire plan fall by the wayside.

3. Giving Up Too Quickly

My big failure, truly, was not getting back up on the horse once I fell off. For example, once I ordered takeout once, I gave in. I didn’t try all that hard to stick to my challenge to spend no money all month. I let myself fall into that pattern of, “well, I already messed up, so I might as well not bother now.” I didn’t go crazy spending money on everything, but I did stop trying to restrain myself on food spending. Inevitably, that led to other slip-ups as well.

The lesson here is that as soon as you make a “mistake” in any plan, you should get right back to the plan. Don’t wait. If you’re on a diet, and you eat a bite of chocolate cake, that’s okay. Be gentle with yourself. However, don’t use it as an excuse to eat the whole slice, then the whole cake, then cake every day for a week. The same thing is true when it comes to money challenges. If you spend, it’s not a license just spend more. It should be incentive to start anew with the original plan.

4. I Let My Puppy Change My Plans

What can I say? I have an adorable young puppy who currently dictates a lot of the choices that I make. It’s hard raising a puppy! It’s also expensive.

Of course, I accounted for some of the puppy’s costs in my original challenge to spend no money in May. I spend a lot of money on my dogs’ food. I knew I wasn’t going to “shop my fridge” for the dogs. Therefore, their food costs were part of my “must spend” exceptions. That’s okay.

However, there were a lot of costs I didn’t anticipate. I could have resisted most of them, and yet I opted not to. For example, I decided that my puppy needs to start going out twice per week with a dog walking pack. I just can’t give him the exercise that he needs without compromising my own work flow. I did consider fee-free options. For example, I thought about partnering with another local pup owner, offering to take their dog twice a week if they would take mine twice per week. But ultimately I decided that the ease and convenience of an established pack made the most sense.

They don’t invoice me until the end of the month. Therefore, I technically didn’t break my challenge to spend no money. I won’t pay them until June. However, I’m aware I’m accruing unplanned costs. Moreover, it led to additional immediate spending. He didn’t have a good collar or a tag with his phone number on it. I didn’t want him going out without me if he didn’t have those things. So, off to the puppy store we went.

And we are actually going to have to go again, because I just realized today that this chews-everything puppy chewed his collar to the point that it won’t work anymore. Speaking of chewing things, I also paid to replace my phone charger cords because he chewed through those. Ah, the unexpected costs of a puppy.

5. Failure to Tie The Challenge to My Deeper Values

Ultimately, I think the real problem is that I wasn’t truly committed to my challenge to spend no money. I didn’t pay attention to the “R” part of SMART goal-setting, which is the rule that goals must be “relevant.” In other words, you are most likely to stick to a goal if you find that it ties in to your deeper core values. I do think saving money is important. But I hadn’t really done the deep work around this.

I wanted to save money because I was feeling the strain of financial changes. However, I suppose that deep inside, I resented those restrictions. Since I hadn’t tied the goal to things I believe in, it was easy to slide off track. Once I had, it was easy to just keep sliding.

So, I’ll have to rethink things. I do still need to save money. Should I try another challenge to spend no money in June? If I incorporate what I learned here, I might be able to make it work. But perhaps a stricter budget with some freedom to spend a little might work out better for me. I’ll have to think on it.

What most often holds you back from sticking to your financial goals?