Monday, March 23, 2009

Unexpected effects from my no-spending challenge

When I initially planned my no-spending challenge, I was looking to save a little money toward my goals and learn to separate what I could do (e.g., go to the thrift store every weekend) from what I needed to do (e.g., buying food and seeds for growing food). Strangely enough, the effects of this self-imposed challenge are still felt even today.

For example, I needed furnace filters as I had just used the last one in February. One of my two local hardware stores was having a "20% off everything you can fit into the bag" sale with the caveat that I had to pay $1 for the reusable bag. I had been at the other hardware store using a $5 coupon, but was unable to buy furnace filters as they were out of my filter size. However, I noted the price of the filter. With the 20% discount, I could get the filters for over 75 cents less than the other store. So, I picked up four furnace filters. I found myself wandering around the store, looking at other possibilities to buy at 20%, but found myself either saying "I don't need that" or "I could make something like that". That was unexpected.

While I did end up with a year's supply of furnace filters and some mouse bait (I hate voles!), I did not walk out with more than I truly needed. While I had read that it takes a month to really change a habit, I had not realized that my no-spending challenge and the mentality it fostered would change how I behaved. I not only question more what I really need to buy but I also find myself spending less time in places I usually browse for items like the thrift store and craigslist. Getting out of the habit also seems to carryover from the challenge.

This no-spending exercise was not perfect. For example, I still enjoy going out to lunch with friends and feel less guilty now that it is allowed again. I also recently made a run to the grocery store for junk food--not a great use of time or resources. But I have learned where the give is in my budget, that I can live with less without compromising my health or my enjoyment of life. I have also stimulated my thinking, wondering if there is another way other than buying it. Yes, I have moved on to buying used rather than new, but can I make it myself or something similar enough to do the job? Using what I have on hand decreases the clutter and I need all the help I can get with that.

So I challenge you to do something differently for a month. You can pick any month and anything. For example, try using cloth towels and cloth napkins rather than paper products and see how that affects your life. Or you could cut your eating out allocation in half and see how creatively you can think about spending time with friends. Let me know what you did and how it went for you. I would be interested in learning how changing one thing affected you.


  1. I'm glad for you! It took me a while to get to that point, but I also only buy things I need now, the monetary savings now outweighs the short-term "high" I get from buying something I want. I had a dollar-store habit for a long time, I'd buy useless stuff, just for the sake of spending, although in my case, it was a direct result of boredom. I actually set myself a challenge last pay period (I have to go 2 weeks at a time due to the anxiety of it all!). I set myself a very detailed budget for "food, gas and dogs". I'd always lumped it all in one number and I'd figure it all out come payday. But this time, I made subheadings: dog food, dog care (that's stuff like toothpaste, ear stuff...), dogs' meds, my food, laundry expense, house care (like cleaning products), my care (like shampoo), gas and entertainment. I keep all receipts for at least a few months, so I went back and took a look at the usual items I purchase and I was able to allocate that way. Now with this detailed allocation of my expense, I can see where I have wiggle room and where I don't, like Winston's meds - no wiggle room there; but if I'm short one week, I'll skip the movie rental. I couldn't live without my spreadsheet! I think it's a good exercise and learning tool for my future as a homeowner.

  2. Hi Rain,

    I agree that a detailed spending plan really helps me keep on track. Wiggle room is good and knowing my limits is good as well. I can even plan for both regular (e.g., auto insurance) and irregular (e.g., auto shop) expenses as well. I am glad your spreadsheet is working well for you.