I wanted this to be a guide for people who have no clue how to start budgeting and being conscious with their money; something I would have loved to have had when we started out.
When we really want to strip the spending down and purpose our money towards something important (like finishing off my student loans), we do a no spend week. Which sounds really nice. But what does it actually mean? What do we do and not do and how??
Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail.
The first thing I fell like I need to do is to define what “No Spend” means here. A no spend week is successful when you don’t spend any money on anything other than necessary and budgeted for items, like your rent, groceries and electric bill. You can’t very well call your student loan company and say “sorry, I know my payment is due this week, but I’m on a no-spend challenge so its going to have to wait.” No spend is no food other than groceries, no new toys, clothes, housewares, movies, no nails done. If you get sick and have to go to the doctor, go. That’s necessary spending. If you’re sick of cooking at home and go out to eat… not so much.
For a no spend week to work out you need to prep like your life depends on it. If this is your first time, look back at your bank statement from last month and see what you spent that wasn’t bills, savings goals or groceries. What did you buy? What did you buy without even thinking about? Now make a plan on how to not do that.
For me the usual perpetrators are fast food, take out, Target runs of primarily clothes and kid’s stuff. And also online shopping. Shopping online doesn’t even feel like I’m using real money, its just magical that I click and type and the mail brings me gifts. Right around the time when I was getting my credit cards returned to me maxed out, I had my debit card number, expiration date and CVC code memorized so that I didn’t even have to get up and make the long lonely walk to my wallet to impulse buy.
Anyway, the prep I usually do starts with heavy meal planning. I plan all meals and snacks for the week. I get all my cookbooks out, open up my “Budget Meals” board on Pinterest and dig out my plan from last week to see what worked and what didn’t. For more info about this, see my other post about Meal Planning, Even When You Hate It. Add a few alternates and snacks in there too. Do you usually go out for ice cream Saturday night? Plan make at home sundae night instead.
So now that food is covered, what else are we going to be doing except eating? You have to think of some stuff to do to keep away the not-so-emergency Target runs that end up being a two hour aisle-wander with a full cart. For me, the kids are out of school now, so to keep them from catching cabin fever, I have to have something planned.
Luckily, my mom has a pool. Which is awesome, but kind of a pain since I usually end up chasing Ben around the perimeter for a few hundred laps, sweating on the hot concrete.
Everyday I plan something. Kids love novelty, but it doesn’t even have to be as much as a pool day. We can eat lunch outside one day, or visit the playground near the house, or visit the library. Sometimes I DVR a kids movie earlier in the week and we pop some popcorn one night and have a movie night. Tuesdays I deliver for Meals on Wheels and the kids (especially Abby) think we’re just going to visit their (elderly) friends.
If you have a friend who consistently invites you on fun days out to expensive parks and activities, make a preemptive strike and invite them over for a nature hike, Slip N’ Slide party or a move night.
If you crave more than playgrounds and playdates, Google free fun in your area. during the summer, a lot of museums, historical places and some smaller zoos offer one day of free admission. In Massachusetts, its sponsored by the Highland Street Foundation and you can read more about it here.
The last thing I suggest for a successful week of not spending is to remove temptations. Fill your gas tank and then take all of your credit and debit cards out of your wallet. This way, after you’ve recovered from the panic of leaving the house penniless, you won’t accidentally find yourself in the line of Dunkin’ Donuts, or ordering out Tai food at work as your carefully packed lunch sits in the break room fridge.
Go through your email and mark all of those promotional messages as spam. Groupon, Amazon, Wayfair, even my beloved Etsy can go to the junk folder. If you’re not buying anything, don’t even look at it. I also deleted all the corresponding apps, and went into my phones browser and close all the shopping tabs I keep open (because I always have 1,000 open tabs).
Stay tuned for tomorrow as I break down how we put our plan in motion for day 1!