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The idea of a no-spend month couldn't be simpler: Don't shell out any money unnecessarily for 30 days. In the process, you save big but also begin to understand your shopping tendencies — and which situations make you feel a retail urge.
Of course, actually completing it is the challenge. If you’re thinking of embarking on this now-trendy spending cleanse, here's how to make it through.
Stay Inspired With a Visual Cue
Before you begin, get clear on why you want to complete this challenge, then create a visual to keep you on-track. "If you’re saving to buy a house, print out a photo of your dream home," suggests shopping and trends expert Sara Skirboll. "If you’re looking to pay down debt, write the amount you’re trying to pay off and put it up somewhere you’ll see it every day. When you make your goals unavoidable, you’re more likely to achieve them."
You may even create an old-school sticker chart to mark off your daily progress or use a reward system to keep yourself motivated. (Like, say, springing for a latte on Friday afternoons if you stick to your no-spend plan that week.) Small treats will keep you from giving up.
List All of Your Essential Expenses
Chart out what you’ll need to spend money on during the month — rent, gas or metro fare, insurance and so on — and write down weekly essentials like groceries. Make lists before hitting the store to keep spending in check.
Also plan for any unavoidable purchases that may not technically fall into the "essentials" category, like gifts or celebrations. "Keep in mind any major milestones you might have to spend around like birthdays or anniversaries," Skirboll says. "If there is something you must purchase during a no-spend month, make sure you’re maximizing your savings. Or use tools like CamelCamelCamel, which tracks Amazon prices so you’ll be able to pounce when prices are down."
Keep Track of Your Non-Essential Wants
Create another running list of all the items you want to purchase — but can't during your no-spend month. Consider noting where you saw the item and why you felt the urge to buy it, which can help you recognize impulse patterns. By the time you review your list at the end of the month, “you might be surprised by how much you can ultimately live without," says Liz Mercer, price comparison editor for RankTracer.
Take Advantage of Freebies
One of the major challenges of a no-spend month is feeling deprived because you're missing out. But you're not doomed to spend a month at home, alone, says consumer spending expert Andrea Woroch. Find free fun at parks, museums or the library, she suggests. Organize at-home game or movie nights to minimize spending without killing your social life.
If you decide to put your gym membership on hold for the month, find ways to work out without spending a dime. "Exercise-clothing brands like Athleta offer complimentary Barre, CrossFit and yoga classes while Lululemon provides free yoga on Sundays, among other activities," Woroch says. "Some REI locations even offer free run clubs."
Sweep Your Phone
Resist temptation to shop by deleting any apps on your phone that trigger your impulse muscle. At the very least, turn off push notifications on retail apps that will alert you of sales, Woroch advises. Delete your credit card information from online shopping accounts and unsubscribe from retailer email lists to help keep temptation at bay.
Woroch suggests a social media cleanse to avoid the comparison game — not to mention the targeted ads.
"FOMO often strikes when you see friends post amazing videos or pictures of what they are doing on Facebook or Instagram," she explains. "This may make you feel like your life doesn’t live up to theirs and cause you to go on a spending binge or book a vacation that’s out of your budget."
Resist the Post-Cleanse Buying Binge
Once you've made it through the month, don't reward yourself by speed-buying all the items on your "wants" list. "A no-spend month is no good if you go you go crazy the moment it’s over," Skirboll says.
Instead, take some time to reflect — when you felt like shopping, what types of items you wanted to buy and how certain people or activities may have provided extra temptation. Identify where you can cut back and what purchases you truly missed over the course of the month. Then, move forward with a more enlightened strategy.