It’s that time of year again…. Even if you are careful with your spending and have budgeted for it, Christmas is an expensive time. I always like to start the year with a no spend January to get myself back in control.
Although I am specifically talking about January, you can do a no spend month at any point during the year. Some people like to have one in October, to help them save for Christmas. Others prefer summer time to recover from or prepare for the annual vacation.
It doesn’t have to be a whole month. If you are somebody who finds it difficult not to spend constantly, perhaps begin with a certain number of no spend days a month or have a no spend week.
Why do a no spend January?
Let’s face it, most of us don’t put money aside all year for Christmas. Neither do many people have large stashes of cash sitting around to buy all of the gifts and food that are required. Even if we are organised and start buying ahead, there are always things we forget or fail to factor in, like the work Christmas meal or the impromptu meet up with friends at the pub.
When your bank account is feeling empty, a no spend January gives you the opportunity to regroup, to slow down the rate at which your money disappears from your account and to take control of your finances. If you are in debt, a no spend January will give you extra resources to pay off some of what you owe.
Breaking free of bad habits
Beginning the year feeling anxious and out of control can set the pattern for the months ahead, whereas a no spend month can help you break free of some of the negative behaviours that made you over spend in the first place. A period of limited spending gets you out of bad financial habits.
Another plus side is that when you are consciously not spending, it tends to make you more creative and appreciative of what you already own.
If you do have problem debts that are just too overwhelming to be resolved with a no spend January, websites such as Debt Camel and the Money Advice Service are full of advice and strategies to get yourself out of debt.
A no spend January doesn’t actually mean you buy nothing. It simply means not buying anything that is non-essential. So, you pay your rent or mortgage, your household bills, transportation costs and buy groceries. However, you ignore the sales, you don’t buy any new clothes, furniture, books, music, films, makeup or treats. You don’t go out to dinner, to the pub or to the cinema.
For us, this isn’t very different to usual. We are experts at not spending! Especially now that I am self-employed, our income isn’t big enough to be spendy all year round.
Nevertheless, I always find it amazingly liberating to have a no spend January, or any no spend period I happen to set myself. I find that it is easier than telling myself I will try not to spend much – too vague and wishy-washy.
A no spend January is easy to explain both to myself and other people. For example, if someone asks me to do something or go anywhere that costs money I will simply explain that I am doing a no spend January. They are usually really interested and some even join in.
Generally I find I get out of the spending habit and this spills over into February too.
Things to do instead of spending
If you are somebody who enjoys shopping for fun, a no spend January is the ideal time to rethink your hobbies and interests. What can you do instead by yourself, with friends and family instead of shopping?
Could you go for a nature walk or cycle, do craft activities with your children, find the films you always wanted to see on Netflix or watch your old DVDs? Do you have a shelf full of books you have never got round to reading or a half completed sewing or knitting project to finish? How about kicking the new year off with a new exercise regime? There are lots of frugal exercise ideas here.
I find a no spend period is a good time to cook some thrifty recipes. Baking is something I enjoy, so rather than spending money, I can devote more time to creating delicious cakes. Let’s face it, most of us have a cupboard full of flour and items like cocoa and dried fruit that probably need using up.
Shop from your wardrobe. This is a great time to reorganise your wardrobe and dig out little worn clothes, rather than spending money on new items that you don’t need. You could even sell items that you know you will never wear on eBay to make a bit of extra money.
Set goals to motivate you
Set yourself some savings goals to inspire you and make you more determined not to spend any money. If your money isn’t going towards paying off debt, could you put some away in an emergency fund? Would you like a family holiday? Do you need to kick off your teenager’s university fund or are you likely to need a new car in the near future?
We really enjoy time away and always budget for a holiday. A no spend January helps to budget towards this. We don’t spend a fortune on expensive cruises and the like, but think it is really important to have time to unwind. I have lots of ideas for frugal holidays in this post.
Low spend grocery month
Getting into no spend mode tends to focus my mind on keeping our grocery spend as low as possible too. This is the time to do an audit of your cupboards, fridge and freezer and see what needs using up. At this point you might have a lot of Christmas leftovers, so maybe you can freeze some or make soup to make the most of the money you have spent and help prevent food waste.
Plan your meals to incorporate what you have. If you have sausages in the freezer but no potatoes, use your stores of pasta instead to make a sausage ragu. Think of a recipe to make to use the couscous that has been sitting there for a year. Use more pulses and beans instead of meat and eat vegetarian a couple of times a week.
I always make sure our larder is stocked with the essentials to make quick, easy and frugal meals. Having items like eggs, rice, pasta, tinned tomatoes, tinned tuna and sardines, cans of chick peas and frozen vegetables helps to keep our grocery spending low as I can always throw something tasty together with those.
Are you planning a no spend January? What advice would you give to those attempting it for the first time?
You can also come and find me on Instagram where I will be posting regular tips and updates on my no spend month!