I set a strict budget for Christmas. I made a diligent spreadsheet. I shopped sales. And I still blew past my limit without even realizing what was happening, despite my best intentions.
Like many people, I ended up spending more than I intended this holiday season.
My Christmas shopping spree hurt my budget and threatened my financial goals for 2017. But I’m determined to get back on track as soon as possible — that’s why I’m deeming January a no-spend month.
Monthly money challenge: start a spending detox
Just like I feel that I ate way too much junk food during the holidays, I also feel like I spent too much money on clutter and stuff I didn’t need. I want to start 2017 strong by taking a break from spending money on unnecessary things and focusing on my financial goals.
As it turns out, I’m not alone in my mindset. Thousands of people each year participate in the January Money Diet, a 30 day money-saving challenge. During the month of January, you only spend money on essentials like food, and you focus on living well without unnecessary spending.
This is not my first no-spend month; in 2015, I went all of November without spending money on nonessentials. I was able to save money and avoid taking on any holiday debt as a result. It’s a great way to get yourself on track and prepare for — or recover from — major events.
The rules for the month
There are some expenses I simply cannot get rid of (no matter how much I may like to), including rent, utilities, and home internet — without an internet connection, I can’t work and pay the bills. Those expenses are non-negotiable, but my husband and I will ruthlessly cut other areas.
Gas for the car is a must, and groceries, too. But the grocery budget will be reduced by about 50 percent. We will eliminate the sweets and snacks we love, and the convenient ready-made meals from Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. We’ll do a lot more from-scratch cooking during the month, stretching our grocery budget further.
Clothes, dinners out, and trips to the movies are all eliminated. Instead, we’ll take trips to the park with the dog, we’ll use our library card to rent movies, and we’ll check out free community activities around town.
This is a significant change for us, but it’s certainly effective. When we sat down and did the math, we estimated that we would save about $400 in extraneous spending. That money can go a long way in helping us build our savings back up.
Results to expect
A no-spend month is more than just a way to save some money; it’s a detox that helps reset your mindset. After overindulging and overspending over the holidays, it can help you readjust your approach to money.
You can significantly change your financial outlook in just 30 days. While we think we can save $400, the results over time are more significant. That money bolsters our emergency fund, which means we’ll rely less on credit cards if a crisis pops up. By saving money, we’re less likely to end up in debt.
After we get used to spending less and living without so many extras, we can make do on a smaller income. That means we can save even more after the 30-day challenge is over. One simple month of not spending can compound to have long-lasting effects.
Make it a game
There’s no doubt about it: Going a whole month without spending money is tough. The best way to make it doable is to make it fun. For us, that means making it competitive.
My husband and I try to come up with the best free date ideas, the tastiest cheap dinners, and the most innovative do-it-yourself solutions. The only prize is bragging rights, but we’re both innately competitive people.
Turning a no-spend challenge into a game makes it more fun and less of a strain. If your family is struggling to get through, try different ways to make it fun for you.
Find an alternative
At some point during the month, you’ll be tempted to fall into your old habits. When that happens, find a free alternative to help you stay on track.
If you feel the urge to shop, clean out your cupboards and closets at home. You might unearth a long-lost item, making it feel like new all over again. When you’re craving your favorite meal from the restaurant down the street, recreate your own version using pantry staples at home.
Remember: You’re only doing this for 30 days. Stay motivated and those few weeks will fly by.
Start 2017 off strong
If you overdid it over the holidays, don’t get bogged down with guilt or shame. Instead, start fresh and get your finances back in shape with a no-spend month.
Not only will you save a lot of money and pay back debt, but you’ll reset your habits and be better prepared to manage your money for the rest of the year.
If you’re ready to get your finances in order for the new year, try these 31 tips to get your finances in shape for 2017.
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