Are ‘no-spend’ days a good idea?

No spend days

Are you tempted by the thought of a ‘no-spend’ day? Or of stringing a few of them together into a week, month or, not for the faint-hearted, year? I can see the appeal. The very first task I set myself when I started blogging about my finances, in my first ‘year of thinking about money’ just over 2 years ago, was to cut spending on all except the essentials, and my tactics included ‘no-spend’ days. It worked well for me. Not only did my spending start to get back within my means for the first time in a while, but it was a great way of kick-starting my new financial plans. A couple of years later, and I’m less enthused with the concept.

What exactly is a ‘no-spend’ day?

The idea is to remove or reduce spending on non-essential items. Usually your essential expenses are those that are fixed and occur every month, often paid by direct debit or standing order. Rent / mortgage payments, and bills, fall into this category. If we’re looking at our overall financial picture, these should most definitely be reduced as far as possible, but they don’t fall within the realms of a ‘no-spend’ blitz. Continue with these payments. (Note that any fixed, regular outgoings such as magazine subscriptions do not fall into this category. You can live without these!)

Our ‘no-spend’ lens is pointed instead at our irregular, variable expenses, and the aim is to make these as low as possible. My view is that you should use your discretion in deciding which of your expenses, outside of bills/rent/mortgage, could cross the line into essential items. For example, it’s not an option for me to walk or cycle to work, so the cost of commuting to London is a non-negotiable, fixed expense. However, if you live close to work, you could consider both walking and cycling, and therefore cut the cost of transport. I put moisturiser and contact lenses within ‘essential’ items. You may consider otherwise.

We all need to eat, so there will always be grocery expenses. But, we should be looking to be as thrifty as we can be during this period. A meal out, or take-away, are probably not essential expenses, fun though they may be. You get the idea.

Why bother?

With ‘fun’ items most likely under the ‘no-spend’ spotlight, why even consider embarking upon a ‘no-spend’ day, or longer*? Usually we’re trying to spend less in order to save more. Money we’d ordinarily fritter away could be used to pay off debt, or put towards savings. Here are some benefits of ‘no-spend’ days.

*Let’s face it, one day is not really going to make much difference. Any benefit will only really come from several days strung together, maybe one per week over a longer time period, or a working week with weekends off, or a whole week, or month…   

10 pros of ‘no-spend’ days

  1. If you’ve no idea where your money goes, it’s a great way of discovering what you’re tempted to spend cash on.  
  2. If you’ve had an expensive few weeks or months, it’s a way of regaining control and getting back on track by having a frugal few weeks.  
  3. Small expenses add up. Without realising, it’s easy to spend far more than you can afford on seemingly insignificant purchases.
  4. If you’re struggling to save, it’s a way of eliminating unnecessary expenses, so that you can focus on what’s really important to you.
  5. It’s very easy to mindlessly spend, and this is a way of stopping impulse buys.
  6. It’s a way of focusing attention on unhealthy spending habits to see if you can unlearn some of that behaviour.
  7. Discover how much extra you have each month, after essential expenses, so that you can better use your money in future.
  8. It’s a good way of setting yourself a challenge, and giving your finances a kick up the backside, especially over a limited period of time.  
  9. You might find cheaper, good alternatives to current expenses, that you wouldn’t ordinarily have considered.  
  10. They can be motivational, generate enthusiasm, and be fun – especially if you get others in on the act with you.

So, what are you waiting for? ‘No-spend’ days are great…aren’t they?! Well, yes, to a point! They can be useful for all of the above reasons. However, I think that once they’ve achieved their main aim, which in my view is to become more mindful about our spending, they should be ditched in favour of a financial plan that you can completely forget about. Here are a few reasons why I dislike ‘no-spend’ days.

And some downsides of ‘no-spend’ days!

  1. Success is achieved by depriving yourself. It’s all about resisting doing something, rather than focusing on a positive action. Swapping shop-bought lunch for home-made lunch is a much better goal to set yourself than having a ‘no-spend’ day, even if you’re doing the first to achieve the second.
  2. It’s easy to beat yourself up and feel guilty if you ‘fail’ and spend money. There will always be unplanned, unavoidable expenses over which you have no control.
  3. There will be days when we want to treat ourselves and, if we can afford it, we should enjoy ourselves.
  4. It’s tempting to jiggle your spending to fit in with the ‘no-spend’ plan. Filling up the car with petrol the day before, so you can claim a ‘no-spend’ day the following day, doesn’t improve your finances.
  5. Strict budgets, like diets, are almost impossible to stick to for any length of time, when willpower runs out and real life (and a binge) returns. It’s far more sensible to set a weekly or monthly budget, with some wiggle-room for random expenses and fun, which can be sustained long term.
  6. It’s illogical. It doesn’t matter how much you spend each day, rather whether you spend within your means. If you divide your monthly budget into equal daily amounts, and merrilly spend this every day, you’ll be OK come the end of the month. Conversely, you could spend nothing all month, patting yourself on the back at how well you’ve done, then have a blow out on the last couple of days, destroying all of your hard work.
  7. Abstinence only works for certain types of personalities. For some, myself included, as soon as they tell themselves they can’t have something, they want it all the more. The boring approach of setting a budget, and allowing myself some flexibility, suits me far better.
  8. It’s not healthy to constantly think about money. Much better in my opinion is to reach the point where you are in control of your finances, and they run quietly in the background as you get on with life. ‘No-spend’ days are useful for the opposite reason, in that they force you to think constantly and deliberately about your finances.

Mindful spending within budget 

Thinking about money over the past couple of years has improved my finances, and made me more mindful about my spending. I’m starting to see the results of saving more, which has happened partly because I’ve become more frugal with everyday spending. I regularly have ‘no-spend’ days not because I’m consciously challenging myself to do so, but because my behaviour has changed so that I achieve this without thinking.

Out of interest, I just spent 5 minutes going through my ‘Spending Tracker’ app to see how many ‘no-spend’ days I’ve had so far this year: 

  • January – 12
  • February – 12
  • March – 8 (so far, it’s the 18th today)

That’s about 40% of the days in each month. That first January, when I set myself a goal of having as many ‘no-spend’ days as I could, I managed 18 days, or nearly 60% of the days. I could therefore definitely increase the number of ‘no-spend’ days I have in a month….but I can’t see the point. I don’t want the unnecessary baggage of feeling guilty because I happen to spend £1.80 on some eggs, thus ruining a ‘no-spend’ day, because I forgot them in my normal weekly shop. I know when I’ve been overspending, in monetary amounts, not in volume of purchases, which is ultimately the most important thing.

I’d be interested to know if any readers have tried ‘no-spend’ days, and what you think of them.

2 Responses

  1. weenie says:

    “For some, myself included, as soon as they tell themselves they can’t have something, they want it all the more”

    This is why I wouldn’t specifically set myself ‘no spend’ days as it would undo my natural tendency to not spend anyway and focus on ‘spending’, if you know what I mean! Most days, I go to work and I don’t even bother to take my purse with me as there’s nothing I need to buy.

    I think if you are trying to figure out where you money is going, this might be a start to set some good habits.

    • Sarah says:

      I know what you mean 🙂 I don’t think I go anywhere though without my purse, maybe I should give it a try too!

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