What I Learned After Doing My First No-Spend Month

by | Jan 30, 2022 | Hustle, Popular

It’s all about accountability, amirite? At the beginning of this month, I announced on my Instagram account that I’d be doing a no-spend month.

Announcing my no-spend month on Instagram

And why would I ever want to do that? Well, even Homo Money bloggers have room to improve on their financial sitch, and my non-cooking, take-out ordering a** needed to get her spending in the Restaurant category in check. Ya hear?

In case you missed it, I wrote about restaurants being a big area for improvement in my post called Financial Hygiene 101. That article has a spreadsheet and overall strategy for how I hone in spending only on the things that matter to most.

After 30 days of a no-spend month, I nearly cut my non-housing spending in half and saved $1,228 in my infamous categories, which included Food and General Shopping. This was all thanks to a little behavior modification, learning to not rely on restaurants and take-out orders.

If you’re interested in doing something similar, this is how I got the party started.

    The Rules I Set for My No-Spend Month

    General categories of things to cut out for my no-spend “diet”:

    • Restaurants and fast food (this includes my favorite coffee shop, Holsem)
    • Retail therapy shopping (Amazon, Target, Costco, etc.)
    • Décor (HomeGoods, Lowes, IKEA, etc.)

    Things that were allowed in my no-spend month:

    • Any food from the grocery store
    • My dog’s food and treats
    • Gas to drive to work
    • Utilities
    • Cleaning supplies

    Getting Myself Ready

    To start, I went into the “Trends” of my Mint account, and clicked on “Spending by Category.”
    last 6 months of my spending according to Mint

    From here, I did a quick scan of the categories that I knew I’d be cutting back on, fixed a few charges that got miscategorized and pulled out the following data for my baseline that I hoped to cut out from my average monthly spending.

    my spending categories to improve

    My First Impression of My Current Spending Habits

    I was happy to see that my restaurant spending was only $20 a day. While that is probably higher than pretty much everyone in the FIRE community, I am admittedly a non-cooker who tends to order a lot of take-out, so I actually expected this category to be higher.

    My monthly non-housing spending has always been around $2,500/month and, based on the table above, $1,319 of that spending was in non-essential categories, like food splurges and retail therapy. My goal for the month of January was to spend $1,000 less in the categories above.

    Here’s how it went…

    Week One

    My first trip to the grocery store was less intimidating than I expected. My objective to only buy essentials actually made for a fun challenge. In reality, the only thing that was “off limits” during my first day of grocery shopping was fresh flowers (#decor). That made for an easy transition into my no-spend challenge. While I was shopping, I realized that later in the month, I’d need to be prepared to not spend anything on clothes or haircuts as well. Well world, get ready for a shaggy-haired me!

     

    Week Two

    My friends were surprisingly accommodating to my no-spend “diet” and agreed to help me cook at my condo or treat if they had invited me out. If a friend treated, I offered to return the favor next time, so I guess this did rack up a “debt” for future months, but this only happened a couple times so I was okay with that for now. Between DMV renewal fees and maintenance from being in DC most of last year, my car had some unplanned expenses for me this week so it was nice to have my spending lower than usual to lessen the sting.

     

    Week Three

    More unexpected expenses from another car repair: $60 for the car part and $80 for a mechanic to install it. Also had a gnarly clog in my high-rise pipes that cannot be fixed with some Draino (it corrodes our building’s pipes supposedly) or a handheld pipe cleaner (I tried). That meant I had to hire a plumber to do an intense snaking of the entire plumbing lines from my bathroom into the main drain for the building. There was about 1.5 years of buildup in my pipes that needed to go, girl! I switched my soap and added a hair strainer to help prevent this from happening again. My friends have been great about accommodating my no-restaurant and no-bar plans for this month. I hosted a few different friends for dinners that I cooked, which was a new look for me. 

    Week Four

    Coming down to the last week, I’m looking forward to some simple pleasures in my life, like going back to a little social time at fast casual spots around town. As the month draws to an end, I feel myself looking forward to a poke bowl or a taco that I didn’t make myself. I celebrated the end of the month by hosting a couple friends to a home-cooked mimosa brunch at my place, followed by disc golf in the park. I did it!!!

    disc golf in the park

    The Final Results!

    Here’s a quick comparison of my splurge spending for January 2022 vs. my average monthly spending. Because I cut out bars and restaurants, it was no surprise to me that my spending at the grocery store went up a bit.

    before and after spending comparison

    My goal for the month of January was to spend $1,000 less in my non-essential splurge categories. In the end, I saved a total of $1,228 in my problem spending areas!

    Here’s how my expense breakdown looked in Mint:

    My January 2022 spending summary

    My $22 restaurant charge (above) was from fish tacos and beer spent last month which took a few days for the charge to post, so I didn’t count that in my spending for the month. And the $29 for Movies was for streaming services that I need to pay for at my Airbnb short-term rental. So overall, I achieved my goal of avoiding the temptation to spend in my normal categories of weakness: takeout food, coffee shops, and random retail therapy.

    But those wins were not without their share of struggles. As I mentioned, I had a lot of unplanned expenses that seemed to pop up like Pop-Tarts.

    My Unexpected Expenses from January 2022

    • $257 DMV registration fees, late fees, and REAL ID fees
    • $50 California smog check
    • $290 for plumber to unclog pipes in bathroom sink and tub
    • $65 knock sensor needed for my car
    • $80 for mechanic to install the knock sensor
    • $742 TOTAL UNPLANNED EXPENSES

    While these unplanned expenses were definitely a bummer, it was encouraging to see that a month of irregular expenses all coming due at the same time could be easily covered without needing to dip into my emergency savings.

    My Lessons Learned from the No-Spend Month

    I realize that my no-spend month was a bit extreme to continue for an entire year, so for me, this was not exactly a sustainable lifestyle. But it helped me achieve what I think will be a healthier balance in the future. I plan to use my oven for more than storing sweaters moving forward (#sexandthecity), and I feel hopeful that I might be able to save about half as much each month as I did in January 2022 and not even feel the pinch now that I’m more comfortable in the kitchen.

    My hope is that this past month of changing up my routine with help me do more meal prep in future months. I believe my new-and-improved HOMO Money lifestyle will help me to treat restaurants and takeout as a once-in-a-while special treat, and allow me to redirect my savings to other categories like giving, vacay fund, and my real estate down payment fund.

    I have to give a shout-out to my friends for putting up with me this month with all my no-spend rules. One of my friends even said he was inspired to try a no-spend month himself! Ultimately, this month of behavior modification gave me a reason to host more people over at my place, forced me to learn how to cook more things at home, and showed me that social time with friends does not have to involve paying a typical brunch tab of $40+ per person after accounting for food, drinks, and tip.

    Beyond the money, I have to say that I loved how the focus on groceries for my food budget has allowed me to be more generous without even thinking about it. When I was going out to restaurants all the time, there was a constant nagging feeling that I needed to try to save money. I was that guy at the table who would ask for separate bills if I didn’t drink any alcohol and everyone else did.

    But when everything is made at home, the groceries are cheap by comparison! It came naturally for me to host friends and make food and drinks for more people than just myself. After seeing it firsthand, my friend Eric said I was “the hostess with the mostess.”

    I’ll toast to that. Cheers!

    celebrating brunch at home with friends

    7 Comments

    1. Janice

      Wow! It sounded painful but very rewarding!
      I love that you are feeling more comfortable in the kitchen!

      Reply
      • H.M.

        Thanks. It wasn’t too painful, actually. I’ve done dry (no-alcohol) month before and thought this was actually easier since I allowed myself to basically buy myself whatever I wanted as long as it came from a grocery store. After the gym tonight, I was craving some protein and saw an Indian marsala simmer sauce at Trader Joe’s. I never thought I’d be somebody to buy a fresh chicken breast and simmer sauce and make it for dinner, but that was me tonight! The no-spend month seriously forced me out of my comfort zone, in a good way, which I thought would never happen!

        Reply
    2. Robert Bender

      Noticed in your monthly expenses you carry term life, any reason why, if you do not have dependents? And you do not indicate auto costs, ie depreciation or set aside to replace car when it wears out? Any particular reason, as I know the auto can be a continuously revolving car loan every time you replace it, and many guys get hit without funds to replace them?
      Keep saving, I reFIREd at 51, and is great to not have a boss.

      Reply
      • H.M.

        Thank you for your comment. Great questions! It sounds like you’re referring to the itemized expenses in my Financial Hygiene 101 post. As for term life insurance, I signed up for that about 10 years ago. Wanted to get it while I was young and healthy to lock in a low rate of $24/month so I had it for later in case I got married and had a family to insure. And because I’m still single, just last week I emailed the insurance agent and requested that they cancel it now that I have enough in my net worth to be self-insured (for when the day comes that I do get married). He hasn’t replied to my email yet. (Coincidence?) So, I’ll probably need to follow up again to get that cancelled. As for a sinking fund on the car, mine is a 2006 and I’ve had it paid off for over 10 years now, so I choose to focus all my savings on my real estate down payment fund. Once I use my VA Loan to buy my next piece of RE in a couple years, it’ll probably be time for me to “shift gears” and start saving for another (new to me) car at that point. Very impressive that you hit FIRE at such a young age. Any best practices you’d recommend that helped you do it so young? Sounds like you may have laid for groundwork for FI before it became a popular topic of conversation!

        Reply
    3. Cliff V

      Since February is a shortonth, I’m going to try it!

      Reply
      • H.M.

        I love that! Haha! Keep us posted how it goes. You might just inspire the next reader to follow in your footsteps!

        Reply
      • H.M.

        Did you give it a try in February? I’ve been thinking about a followup post to this and how much the lifestyle change has stuck with me one month later.

        Reply

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