It has been a very long time since I took on a personal no-spend challenge. I’ve done well with budgeting and saving in recent years. Therefore, challenges like that have fallen by the wayside. However, due to a variety of financial challenges in the past year, including challenges associated with COVID-19, I am in the position where I would like to save as much money as possible. Therefore, I plan to make next month a no-spend month.

What is a No-Spend Month?

A no-spend month is one of the toughest money challenges. In fact, when you look at personal finance challenges, you’ll often see that they recommend a no-spend week or even just a single no-spend day. Can you go a single day without spending money? Usually, yes. But a whole month?

The idea behind a no-spend challenge is, obviously, not to spend any money. Of course, the reality of my life is that I can’t spend zero dollars in a whole month. There are certain bills that I absolutely have to pay. For example, I can’t just fail to pay my rent this month. So no-spend in this case really means “no unnecessary spending.”

What Spending is Truly Necessary?

In order to actually maximizing my savings from this personal finance challenge, it’s important for me to get really clear on what I mean by “unnecessary spending.” After all, it’s easy to justify expenses as “necessary” when you really want to purchase something. That can quickly defeat the purpose of the challenge.

Here is how I have chosen to define what spending is necessary during this challenge:

Spending is necessary this month only if failure to spend would incur objectively negative repercussions.

For example, if I don’t pay my rent, then I upset my landlord and incur a late fee, which is a negative repercussion by objective standards. If I had no food in my house at all and didn’t spend money on groceries then there would be health repercussions. However, since I have food in my house, I can use what I already have. Therefore, spending on extra food is unnecessary.

Where to Make Spending Cuts This Month

It will be necessary to spend money this month on rent, utilities, and credit card minimum payments. Next I need to go through the following items and see if I have enough of them to last all month:

  • Food for myself
  • Food for the dogs
  • Household supplies (such as trash bags)
  • Personal care supplies (such as shampoo)

Those items are necessary. However, if I have enough to last the month, then I want to use what I already have instead of purchasing anything new. If that means eating rice and things-previously-frozen for a whole month, so be it.

I’m pretty sure that I actually have enough of all of those things to last the month, except the dog food. The dog food is already slated for automated delivery.

What About Monthly Subscriptions?

Speaking of automated delivery, there are a lot of things I’m automatically signed up for each month. I use delivery systems to get weekly produce deliveries, bi-weekly complete meals, the dog’s food and meds, my own meds, my contacts and shaving supplies and so many other things. I can go through and pause some of those subscriptions for the month.

For example, I have plenty of razors so I can pause the shaving goods delivery. I do not have enough contacts to last the month, though, so I have to decide – does a no-spend month mean that I just wear glasses all month long? In this case, yes. I want to save as much money as possible. I return to my rule: Spending is necessary this month only if failure to spend would incur objectively negative repercussions. Wearing glasses instead of contacts for one month isn’t objectively negative. Therefore, I’ll pause that subscription.

Dealing with Shared Subscriptions

What about the other things that I subscribe to, though? For example, I have Netflix, Hulu, and Philo subscriptions for watching television. Should I cancel those? Is it worth the hassles of canceling them for only one month and then resuming them? After all, they aren’t that pricey. And yet, taking a month off of them would not objectively incur negative repercussions. If I’m going to be ruthless about saving absolutely as much as possible, then I need to cut those out.

There might be a loophole here, though. I share some of my subscriptions with my family members. For example, I pay for Netflix and Hulu accounts that allow multiple users. My parents and siblings utilize my account. I have never asked them to chip in because I would pay for those things anyway. But perhaps now is the time to ask them if they want to pay for a month of service or if I should cancel it completely during my no-spend month. If they chip in, I don’t have to spend anything and can still enjoy the entertainment. If they don’t think it’s worth it, then I’ll go ahead and cut it off.

The Purpose and Benefits of a No Spend Month Challenge

There are multiple benefits to attempting a no-spend challenge like this one. First and foremost, it cuts out all unnecessary spending, which means saving a lot of money. That’s the key reason that I’m doing this. I want my finances back on track and eliminating all possible spending is critical to that.

However, this is also a great chance to reset financial priorities. It’s so easy to get in the habit of routine spending. I eat out a lot through Postmates. I flip frequently between the three different streaming television apps that I use. These things are nice, and on their own they are not that expensive, but those little costs add up. By cutting everything out for a month, I can get a better sense of what I truly want to spend money on each month. Perhaps I’ll discover that I don’t want to resume any streaming television. Or maybe I’ll pick just one of the three to resume after the no-spend month is up.

Finally, this type of money challenge helps me really tune in to my impulse spending. It’s so easy to stop into a coffee shop and pick something up (even in these socially distanced days!) That’s why even a single no-spend day or week can be beneficial; it shows you clearly where you’re just throwing money away. A full month of this attention to spending always helps me get back on track. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

Have you ever done a no-spend money challenge? For how long? What were the best and worst parts of it?