I Saved Over $200 on My First No-Spend Week. Here's What I Learned

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KEY POINTS

  • A no-spend day, week, or month means cutting out spending for a set period of time.
  • It helps if you plan it in advance, and decide on your no-spend week rules.
  • You can still have fun even if you're not spending by looking for free activities in your area.

Seven days without spending money may be easier than you think.

A no-spend week can be a great way to reset your spending habits and put some extra cash toward your financial goals. I wanted to try a no-spend week because my spending on takeout meals, socializing, and unnecessary internet shopping had gotten out of control. My non-essential spending easily comes to $200 a week or more, and my first no-spend week was a great hard reset.

My rules for my no-spend week were simple: For seven days, I would only spend money on bills and essential transport. If I needed anything else, I'd just have to make do. If you're thinking of doing the same, here are some lessons I learned along the way.

1. Plan your no-spend week

My first no-spend week mistake was to wake up on a Saturday morning and decide this would be the week. Several friends were out of town, including my partner, so I figured it was the perfect time. I also had a backlog of work to catch up on, so why not?

Well, it turns out it helps to do a little planning. For example, if you're not going to shop at all, then it makes sense to buy groceries before the week starts. My cupboards are relatively well stocked but the week would have been much smoother if I'd planned out what I was going to eat and shopped accordingly.

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That said, I've wanted to do a no-spend week for a while, but kept putting it off. There's no point in trying to do a no-spend week when you've already got several big nights out planned or there's a friend or relative's birthday celebration that you just can't miss. My last-minute decision put paid to that. But for the future, I'll try to fix it for the last week of every month and simply work around any major social events.

2. Plan fun free activities

Who'd have thought that shutting myself up at home for a week and doing nothing but work was a recipe for disaster? I initially thought that by not going out at all, I'd reduce any temptation to spend. But since my biggest spending weakness is internet shopping, being stuck at home with unfettered access to a computer meant temptation aplenty.

Secondly, there's a whole world out there that's free to walk around in it. If a money-saving activity makes you miserable, you won't stick to it and you're unlikely to try it again. After a suboptimal first three days, I made sure to go to the park every day. I didn't take my wallet with me, but I did pack a thermos of coffee so I didn't feel hard done by.

3. Tell people you what you're doing

On day four, a friend who I've been trying to meet with for weeks rang to see if I was free for coffee. One of the best pieces of advice I'd found online from no-spend-week veterans was to be prepared for this scenario. I explained what I was doing and asked if she wanted to come to my place instead. She was more than happy to join in the fun and even checked in a few days later to encourage me.

I also got a call from a work contact inviting me out for a beer. He was only in town for a few days and it wasn't really an option to invite him to my home or a local park. Here I did make an exception because there's no point letting a budgeting exercise damage my work relationships.

4. Be clear about the why

It's much easier to push through when you know why you are doing something, whether that's diet, exercise, learning a new skill, or saving money. In addition to taking a not-so-secret delight in challenging myself, I had three reasons for doing a no-spend week:

  • I want to reset my spending mindset. My living costs have crept up in the past year, and the main culprit is the ease of ordering anything online.
  • I want to put more money into my emergency fund. None of us know what will happen next, but if there is a recession, I'd prefer to have cash in my savings account to deal with it.
  • We recently had building work done and it ran way over budget. Building work always overruns, but hadn't been ready for quite how much it would overrun or how much I'd spend on takeout food during the chaos.

5. Don't give into the temptation to "borrow" from next week

I ran out of milk on day five. As a Brit, functioning without milk for my tea is like trying to run a car with no gas. I told myself that buying milk now is almost the same as buying it in a few days, when the no-spend week is over -- it is the same milk and it isn't as if it's a lot of money. But there is a difference. And if I make an exception for one item, it could spiral into several more. Two days of milkless tea was a good incentive to plan my next no-spend week properly.

Bottom line

I work from home, which gives me a big advantage in cutting out unnecessary spending. I think the biggest lesson is that each person needs to find their own balance and make their own rules. I made an exception for a work contact, but for you it might be needing a gift for a child's birthday party or treats for your pet. If you're planning to make a no-spend week a regular part of your routine, it has to be manageable.

I will definitely repeat my no-spend week. It won't suit everybody, but for me, it was a good way to spring clean both my habits and my cupboards. And socking another $200 away in my emergency fund certainly felt good.

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