I’ve spent my life in a weird relationship with money. I always worked hard and made more money than most people my age. But money still stressed me out. I felt like I never had enough, and I always felt like I had nothing to show for my hard work in regards to savings. After stumbling upon Briana Firestone, founder of The School of Betty, a platform that empowers women to create better relationships with their money, time, and energy, I found myself inspired to do a no-spend month. The result? I saved more than $1,000. It was like finding money in my winter coat pocket after a long summer. But not only that, I realized that I was using spending like a crutch, much like an emotional eater would use food (I’m an emotional eater too, so life is really a lot of fun!). Here are 5 things I eliminated and how I monitored my expenses more closely.
“The most eye-opening thing a no-spending challenge can do for you and your finances is shed light onto the emotions and the behaviors you have around your money that have become a habit. Most individuals don’t realize that they are spending out of habit and based on their emotions,” explains Firestone.
Figuring out my triggers and knowing that I was able to sock away a good chunk of money in only 30 days, I set out to do a longer no-spend challenge. This time, I was taking on three months of spending on nothing non-essential.
My rules were simple—I was only allowed to spend money on essentials. Essentials to me meant my normal bills—mortgage, lighting, cable, phone, car payment, car insurance, gas, oil, and groceries from the grocery store. In my 30 day challenge, I cut back on spending but this time, I eliminated all of the extras—SoulCycle, Starbucks, SiriusXM, and manicures all had to go. No new clothes, no new shoes, no lunches at Chipotle. I had already cut costs after my first round, too, scaling back on my data plan, cable package, and finding other ways to save money around my home, like replacing all of my lights to money-saving LEDs, so I was already reaping those benefits, too.
I did, however, have an exception to this rule: Gift purchases for events that happened during that time, like a bachelorette party or birthday. But I budgeted for those events before I began my 90 days of no spending, and I set aside the money if I knew I would have a financial obligation. Easy for mom’s birthday, not so easy when your friend is expecting a baby.
I also allowed myself one night out with friends per month—to avoid going stir crazy—but I stuck to a budget. This also allowed me to see what type of experience was worth spending money on and what experiences I was wasting money on. It helped me to focus, as well, knowing that there could be a bit of a reward when I really wanted to splurge on something ridiculous.
“It’s important to go into a challenge with the expectation that it won’t be perfect. In fact, it’s great to build in some treats and rewards along the way,” says Firestone. If stopping all spending for three months sounds too challenging, you could also try these 20 ways to save money you probably haven’t tried yet.
After completing the 90-day challenge, my jaw hit the floor when I tallied up my savings: I was almost $4,000 richer. The rewards were more than financial: I was also less stressed about my finances. Finally, I was able to discern between my needs and my wants. The process enabled me to spot purchases driven by emotions. Even better, I shifted the way I valued money: For example, the time (and money) I spent socializing with friends or my mom felt far more valuable to me than the fleeting pleasure of purchasing, say, two new sweaters (which would have cost about the same).
Firestone says that while this demanding no-spend approach may work for some people, you don’t have to give up everything in order to save some extra money. In fact, she explained that there are plenty of other ways to do a money challenge—all you have to do is look for simple ways to cut back a little.
“A no spending challenge doesn’t have to be extreme in order to have success. You’ll actually have more success if you set realistic expectations. For example, if you go to Starbucks seven days a week, try cutting that down to three days and plan those days ahead of time so they are intentional and not driven by your emotions,” she says. Or, you could try these 10 creative tricks to saving money that you probably haven’t thought of before.