no spend challenge

No-Spend Challenge: That Time I Tried Not Spending Any Money for a Year

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Have you ever done a no-spend challenge?

A no-spend challenge means not spending any money on discretionary items for a given period. Many people attempt no spend months, but back in 2019, we here at Partners in Fire tried a full no spend year.

What a No Spend Year Means

The main point of our no spend year is to stay away from unnecessary spending all year. The primary goal of attempting this challenging feat was to pay off debt and increase savings.

However, not spending anything for an entire year is not feasible. When going into a massive challenge like this, it’s important to set ground rules on what type of spending is reasonable and what type of spending to avoid.

Things To Spend Money on During a No-Spend Challenge

Regardless of how long your no-spend challenge is, you will need to set ground rules about when it is okay to spend money. The longer your challenge, the better your plan needs to be. It’s easy not to spend any money on discretionary items for a week, but it gets more challenging as the weeks turn into months and the months turn into years.

When embarking on this challenge, it’s essential to define what you will spend money on. Bills still need to be paid, and if it’s a lengthy challenge, you may want to give yourself a break with discretionary spending now and again. There may also already be pre-planned events in your schedule, which you need to account for in your challenge.

Mandatory Spending

We’ve all got bills to pay. We need to pay our taxes, utilities, gas, and food. This mandatory spending category covers all of those monthly bills.

Here is an example of mandatory spending for a month:

 

Property Taxes 150
Home insurance 100
Mortgage 1200
House Maintenance 200
Car Payment 300
Stupid Decision Car 300
Car Insurance 300
Phones 300
Utilities 300
Groceries 800
   
   
   
Total Monthly Bills 3950

 

Vacations

A year is a long time to go without seeing friends and family, as we learned with COVID in 2020. Luckily we started this challenge before COVID and decided to take two trips in 2019. One to Los Angeles to visit my friends and family, and another to Savannah to see his. Both of those locations offer us free places to stay, and we can drive to Savannah to save even more money.

It’s important to budget some money for these trips this year because personal relationships are the most critical things in the world, and we don’t want to lose sight of that while trying to save money.

Fun

It might be easy not to spend any money on fun things during a month-long no-spend challenge. However, twelve months of no fun is pushing it. Although we wanted to severely limit the amount of money we spent on fun during our no spend challenge, we wanted to budget some fun money. 

When building our no spend plan, we discussed what “fun” spending we would build. We love video games and wanted to try streaming on Twitch to make extra money, so we decided to buy four new video games over the year. Four games isn’t a lot for an active gamer, but we were willing to make the enormous sacrifice to achieve our financial goals.  

We will also buy a Nintendo 64 and some old-school games (especially Mario 64!). This console will provide us with hours of inside-the-house entertainment so that we won’t be crazy bored.

The final fun spending thing that we are allowing ourselves this year is a few day trips. Getting out of the house and exploring the world around us is essential, even if we have to spend a little bit of money.

Eating Out

It’s impossible not to eat out for an entire freaking year. Therefore, we built an eating-out allowance into our no spend year plan.

I know that’s technically not following the essence of no spend, but when attempting this challenge long term, you need to make allowances.

What We Can’t Spend Money During Our No Spend Year Challenge

Travel

Travel is one of my biggest budget busters. I’ve been on at least one international trip every year for the past five years. I’ve spent close to ten thousand dollars a year on travel.

I love to travel to explore new cities, foods, and cultures, so this limitation will be hard on me. But it will be worth it to ensure that I’ll have the opportunity to travel even more in the years to come.

Shopping

We aren’t allowed any new clothes, new shoes, or new toys. Most of our unnecessary spending has been on frivolous stuff that we find at malls. 

If we will succeed in this no-spend year and achieve our budget goals, we need to totally eliminate this type of spending.

Eating out

Yes, we are giving ourselves a little leeway here, but for the most part, our no-spend year includes no eating out. That means bag lunches, dinners at home, and learning how to cook. Thankfully I have the Healthy Eating Ultimate Bundle, which will help me plan out meals and learn how to cook tasty, delicious meals.

Going Out

I’m a homebody, so this is way easier for me. But the BF loves going out to bars for tasty adult beverages. This is a huge budget buster! One tasty adult beverage costs almost eight bucks! And who (other than me) has just one? One night on the town can easily cost over fifty dollars, which is unnecessary.

We are also going to limit other types of going out severely. Movies, bowling, mini-golf, arcades, coffee shops, malls, and anything else entertaining is all on the no-no list. Sure, we may do one or two of these things this year, but they will be few and far between. Instead, we will have free fun at parks, on hiking trails, and home.

No Spend Year Challenge – How it Went

We kept track during our no spend year challenge to see how we did. Here are the highlights from each month of the challenge!

Keep in mind, that we completed this challenge in 2019. At the time, we wrote a separate blog post for each month, but now that it’s years past the challenge, it felt right to consolidate them all into one post.

No Spend January

Two words really sum up our experience with a no-spend January: Failed It! January was a rough month, and we spent way too much money. Trying a no spend month in the middle of a huge move and renovation was a little ambitious, but we will keep trying for the rest of the year. Here’s how we messed up our no spend January:

Vet Bills

First, we had a medical emergency for our cat that we were not prepared for. There were gobs of blood in her stool. That’s not something I’m just going to let go, so off to the vet, we went! Nearly $800 later, we discovered that there was nothing seriously wrong with her. The vet ran all the tests and decided that the blood was caused by parasites or stress. He sent us off with a de-wormer for both her and our other cat, and we haven’t seen any blood since.

Though I wasn’t ready to spend eight hundred dollars at the vet, it’s something I’d do again in a heartbeat. My cats are a part of the family, and I’ll always prioritize their proper care, even if it gets expensive. I don’t consider a medical emergency a fail, but it did prevent us from achieving some of our goals.

Eating Out

Our biggest failure in January was eating out. I know I said that I wanted to limit my eating out to twice a month, but that just wasn’t feasible this month. We moved into the new house, but our kitchen isn’t ready.

I still need to clean the fridge and a few more of the cabinets before I feel comfortable storing food, and I need to get my pots and pans before I’ll be able to cook anything. Our home goods are set to arrive in February.

DIY

Our most considerable expense in January was our DIY and renovation stuff. We knew we would be spending a lot of money on these projects, especially when we first moved into the house (hence the need for a no-spend challenge!). We spent about three thousand dollars at Lowes during our first weekend, but we got pretty much everything we will need for the first stages of renovation. 

Our mess-up on the renovation side was thinking that we could install the floor ourselves.  As it turns out, we could not.

We ended up paying a contractor a little over a thousand dollars to complete the floor after we failed at it (and it took him over four days. We were clearly in over our heads). We budgeted for the materials but not the contractor. However, we think it was worthwhile to ensure that the living room floors were done correctly.

No Spend February

We spent way less in our no spend February than we did in January. A big part of that was not paying vet bills and having a functional kitchen, but hey, a win is a win, right?

We weren’t perfect this month, though, spending a bit unnecessarily.

Eating Out

I said we did better at not eating out, not that we were perfect. We ate out a few too many times in February. Our goal was to limit dining out to two times per month, but we had six dinners out in February. Most of them were at the beginning of the month before we had a fully functional kitchen. You can only eat so many tv dinners before they start making you sick!

I also failed twice at bringing my lunch to work. This usually isn’t hard for me at all, but I was at a conference for two days, and although I could have packed a lunch, I would have missed out on some networking opportunities with colleagues. Sometimes that is more important than being frugal.

Savannah Trip

Our most considerable expense in February was a weekend trip to Savannah. This wasn’t just a fun weekend get-a-way visit. We had to go pick up our babies! We left the pets in Savannah while settling in Pennsylvania, and getting them back was a top priority.

We also used the trip as an opportunity to see some friends and family, so we spent a little extra money on a get-together. I never regret spending money to catch up with old friends. Relationships are one of the most essential parts of life, and while there are less expensive ways to get together, sometimes convenience has to win out.

The most expensive part of the Savannah trip was gas. I spent about $200 in gas driving to and from Savannah.                                               

No Spend March

I’m starting to get used to this “no-spend” idea. My no-spend March seemed so much more regular and more straightforward than the first two months. Was it just because I’ve finally settled into the new house, or was it because I’m getting used to staying in and not spending money?

Eating Out

I did so much better about not eating out in March! We only had one dinner out the entire month. I bought lunch at work twice – once because I was on the road and another because I owed my group (we meet every few weeks and rotate who buys -it was my turn).

Eating at home is easier when you have delicious foods to cook. The healthy meal plan bundle has helped me expand my culinary prowess. My favorite meal is the Korean beef (it’s so good and easy to make!), but everything I’ve tried to make has been fantastic. Click here for a full review, or go for it and buy the full bundle. It’s still a great price, and you won’t regret it!

Impulse Buy

Okay, I know I built up this terrible impulse buy during this post, but it wasn’t that bad. I spent fifty dollars at Staples. I bought a bunch of post-it notes to help me stay organized, and I purchased two journals, one for me and one for Emma. She’s super creative, and I want to encourage her to pursue things like journaling, reading, and writing.

I also splurged on two books – one for me and one for her. They were five dollars each. The book I bought is “The Physics of the Buffyverse.” How could I resist a book about my favorite show? I bought Emma a book called “Wonder.” It is the full story of one of her favorite movies. It’s a full-on novel, and I was impressed that she picked that out of everything in the book/game store (not that I would have bought her a game anyway). Like I said, I’ll always encourage her to be a reader!

No Spend March Summarized

While we still haven’t perfected the concept of “no spend,” we are doing better with each passing month.  Maybe we will have figured it out by December! But despite our minor failures, this challenge has been great for us financially and emotionally.

Holding myself accountable for not spending any money makes me question whether I need something or not. Do I need to go out to eat today, or can I cook delicious food at home? Do I need to go to Target? I probably don’t need anything from there (and it helps that the closest one is now 45 minutes away!).

This challenge has helped me be more disciplined in my spending, and even if I don’t succeed every month, I count that as a win.

No Spend April

We started the month on a good note. We took a trip to Washington DC to see the Cherry Blossoms – but I mentioned budgeting for short weekend trips in my original post, and we made it as cheap as possible by making it a day trip (a long, long day trip!).

We did have an extra date night at the beginning of the month – we were supposed to stick to eating out twice a month, and we ate out twice in the first two weeks. We also had a concert planned for the 19th (which was spectacular, by the way!), which was going to be a third date night.  It’s hard to say no to a night out when we hardly ever have a night off together.

Spend All the Money April!

April didn’t start bad, and we didn’t spend needlessly. We didn’t buy any new clothes, video games, or anything else unnecessary.

But unfortunately, life doesn’t always like to let you not spend money. We had two insane expenses pop up simultaneously, which completely derailed all the good we were trying to do.

My Baby

The first significant expense was my cat. He had an accident that resulted in a broken leg.  You can read the whole story here, but that horrible situation cost me over four thousand dollars. Pets are expensive, but they are family.

A side effect of his vet visits and me being stressed out beyond belief is that our no eating out rule got thrown out the window. It got thrown off the freaking planet! It was fast food life for me for those first five days.  I was driving to a vet for the first three days and so worried about him that I couldn’t concentrate on cooking and even forgot to make myself lunches.

We probably spent another hundred or so bucks on stupid fast food that week. I guess that’s a drop in the hat compared to the four grand we spent on his leg, but it wasn’t exactly needed.

My Car

The other thousand dollars came in an insurance deductible for the car. We got into a bit of an accident, but unfortunately, there was a lot of damage to the undercarriage. Our deductible is $1000, so we had to pay that right away to get the car fixed. The total damage on the vehicle is over three thousand dollars, though, so I’m glad we have the insurance to cover most of it.

Life Happens

Most of the over five thousand dollars we spent during our no spend April was unanticipated emergency spending. Life happens. It sucks, but it is what it is. Sometimes, the punches come all at once, and we have to take them and roll through.

I am thankful that I’m in the financial position to handle these insane expenses. I can pay for my cat’s emergency without worrying about how I will put food on the table. I can pay to get my car fixed without worrying about not having gas money.

It sucks, and I hate that I’m out so much money so quickly, but being able to handle an emergency is one of my main reasons for pursuing financial independence. I would never want to be in a position where I couldn’t save my cat. He’s my life.

No Spend May

There were only a few things that I went a little overboard on during my no-spend May. I spent a tiny bit too much at work, and I spent way too much booking a trip (that I desperately need!).

Work Expenses

The only thing I spent unnecessary money on this month was work lunches -and they weren’t really for me. The beginning of the month was super stressful for my staff, so I decided to throw them an impromptu pizza party.

It was expensive but worth it to show my team that they are appreciated. I also took one of my employees who had gotten a better position out for lunch on her last day.

It could easily be argued that both expenditures were utterly unnecessary and stupid. I didn’t have to buy my team pizza, and I didn’t have to show my appreciation for someone’s hard work by taking them to lunch.

But I want to be a good supervisor. I want my employees to know that I care and know that I appreciate all of their work. Sometimes, that might require me to spend a bit of money, and I’m ok with that. It’s worth it to make people feel appreciated, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Travel

Ok, this one is bad. I spend a little over $400 booking a trip to Los Angeles. It was last minute and more expensive than I wanted, but I desperately needed this. I’m going to go hang out with my best friends and my sister. A change of scenery with the best people is what I need to help me get over this unexpected break-up. 

In reality, though, it didn’t cost me that much. I had enough rewards points to cover $398 of the $406 I spent on my flight. So really, it was like getting a trip to LA for eight bucks. You can’t beat that! And, I’ll be staying with my best friend in the world, so I won’t have to worry about lodging (and knowing her, she probably won’t let me buy most of my drinks either!).

So yeah, maybe it was stupid to spend money on a trip right now, but I don’t care. I need this.

Dinners out

The only other thing that we spent money on during our no spend May was eating out. But my ex paid for most of those nights out, so I guess I don’t have to include them in my update. At the time, we were together and trying to get on the same page with spending, but since that didn’t work out, I’m not going to worry about the money he spent. That’s his problem.

I honestly don’t even remember going out that often in May. We got pizza hut once, and we went out for Mexican food and a movie on the day we broke up. We didn’t see each other enough to have any other date nights. And I wonder why things didn’t work out. Relationships don’t work if you never make time for each other.

No Spend June

I did a fantastic job of not spending money in June. I paid for the essentials: groceries, bills, utilities, etc., but there were no unplanned expenses and very few dinners out (if you recall, I allow myself two per month).  I spent money needlessly during my much-needed trip to LA, which I paid for in May. Therefore the plane tickets don’t count against my No Spend June. And, if you recall, I got those with my credit card points, so it hardly cost me anything anyway.

Trip to LA

 I took a spontaneous but much-needed trip to Los Angeles during the first week of June. It was a fantastic get-away and precisely what I needed. This trip gave me the chance to refresh and gain some clarity on what I wanted out of life. It kind of interrupted my no-spend challenge, but it wasn’t as bad as possible. And it was totally worth it!

The biggest expense was parking at the airport. I could’ve paid less to park in an economy lot further from the actual airport, but with my flight hours (and considering the trip was only a few days), I felt more comfortable parking in the garage. And the prices at the Philadelphia airport are relatively reasonable! It only cost me $120 to park there for five nights! It was supposed only to be four, but my original flight home got canceled, and I had to stay in LA for an extra night.

My only other expense was food. Fortunately, most of my favorite places are reasonably priced (you can get some fantastic pho and banh mi for excellent prices!). My awesome friends wanted to treat me pretty often (they are the best!), so I only paid for about half of my meals. My friends and I are always super generous with each other like that. We love to treat each other and take care of each other. Those are the best kinds of friends.

All in all, I spent about $150 on food for the entire four-day weekend, and that includes the extra day I had to stay. Overall, I spent about $270 on the whole trip. Not too shabby!

Dinners out

Outside of my trip to LA, I only went out to eat one time in June. One time! Isn’t that fantastic? And, since I had a craving for greasy, delicious fish from Long John Silvers, it didn’t cost that much money.

Yes, I know Long John Silver’s is disgusting, greasy, and a heart attack waiting to happen, but I freaking love it. It’s one of my guilty pleasures. And there’s one about a mile from my house!

Fortunately, I have some semblance of self-control, and I only eat there once every few months or so. But when that craving strikes, I have to have it. It’s only ten bucks, though, so it doesn’t hurt the budget nearly as much as it hurts the arteries.

No Spend July

I guess calling it a “No Spend July” is a bit of a misnomer. I spent tons of money in July!

Buying Some Things

The only things I bought in July were things that will help me with my future goals (and in case you missed it, those goals include full-time RV living and working the Renaissance Fair circuit!).

I had wanted a new set of tarot cards for a while. The ones I have are based on the artwork of Jheronimus Bosch, and while they are wonderfully artistic, the symbolism of the cards was lost in trying to apply his works to the deck. So, I bought the Rider-Waite deck. This deck was drawn with symbolism in mind, so the images on the cards match the meanings. This is super helpful when trying to learn how to read!

I also went to a few indoor flea markets, looking for incredible deals. I found a bunch of older books on how to read tarot. The books were only one or two bucks apiece! This is why I love shopping at flea markets and garage sales, and also why it can be dangerous.

During my no spend July, the final thing I bought was the excellent RV book by Alyssa Padgett, A Beginner’s Guide to Living in an RV. I read the whole thing in about a week! It had tons of fantastic information to help prepare me for life on the road and was definitely worth the money. You’ll be seeing a review of it soon!

All in all, I spent about $50 on all these items, which is not ideal for a no spend month but also not terrible for investing in my future goals.

Expensive Fourth of July Weekend

Ok, I messed up here. I spent way too much money having a blast over the long holiday weekend. We went to Philadelphia and tried a few fantastic Chinese restaurants in Philly’s Chinatown. Delicious!

We also checked out some of the restaurants in my area that I hadn’t had a chance to try yet. Being the chivalrous guy that he is, the new boyfriend offered to pay, but I didn’t feel comfortable having a guy pay for me all weekend. So, I let him pay for the first restaurant, and we split the bills for the rest of the weekend.

Overall, I didn’t spend that much. I spent about fifty dollars on meals out for the entire weekend, a generous estimate. Most of the places we chose to eat at were reasonably cheap. It was worth it to spend some quality time with him and get to know him better (and decide to be in a relationship, yay!).

Trip to Savannah

During my supposedly no spend July, the most expensive thing I spent money on was airfare to Savannah. I haven’t been back since I went to pick up the dogs, and I have some people there that I need to see. They are like my second family outside of my LA crew. Fortunately, plane tickets from Philadelphia to Savannah are relatively cheap, it only cost two hundred bucks. That’s not too shabby for spending a fantastic weekend with some good people!

No Spend August

Or –hemorrhaging money, August. Both names work. I spent a ton of cash this month! And the sad thing is, I didn’t even really buy anything. Where did it all go?

Travel

I’ll tell you where it went. Travel. I spent all the money during my no-spend August on a trip. So much money! I spent four hundred dollars on a hotel for Fincon (worth it?) and five hundred dollars on plane tickets to Los Angeles.

 I was hoping to use my airline miles for the LA flight. Technically, I have enough for the round-trip fare. But of course, American Airlines can’t be cool and let you book on any flight using their miles -oh no. You have to use their unique system for booking with miles that give you access to the least desirable flights – and the better flights cost you tons of miles.

 I should have known better. So, instead, I paid for my plane tickets the old-fashioned way -with Travelocity and cold hard cash (and by money I clearly mean credit – is it even possible to buy plane tickets with cash?)

Bills

Another huge chunk of money went to some bill stuff. I had to renew my home warranty for my house in Savannah (so worth it, though) and pay the property taxes on the house in Pennsylvania. Those bills, although expected, were another two thousand dollars.

Eating Out

The sad thing is that I barely spent any money on eating out during my epic fail of a no-spend August. I stuck to my rule of two dinners out per month. The first one was worth it – I took my boyfriend out to dinner for his birthday.

The second time was just laziness on my part. I didn’t want to cook anything for dinner, so I splurged and ordered a pizza. It was the first time I’d done that in months! And the twenty-dollar pizza lasted me through four meals, so that’s kind of a bargain.

 Having Fun

The worst part about my epic failure of a no-spend August is that I hardly spent any money on having fun. Ok, maybe I spent ten bucks on having a few beers with my buddies in Savannah, but that was it! I spent thousands of dollars while being a homebody! How does that even happen?

Ok, maybe that is less than honest. I also spent about a hundred bucks at the PA Renaissance Faire. I’m not sure if that counts as fun (although I had a blast!). The main point of our visit was to do some market research for when we quit our jobs and work the Ren fair Circuit!

 We wanted to see what crafts were selling well, what markets were over-saturated, and how the card readers put on a show to get customers. This stuff is all vitally important to making out future lives successful.

I spent most of the money on future fun, to be brutally honest. FinCon is in September, and my LA trip is in October, but booking that stuff at the last minute probably isn’t the answer.

FinCon can also be considered a business expense -it’s going to be my first one, so I don’t know what to expect, but I’m hoping to do a ton of networking and learn things that will improve the blog game (I need that!).

The LA trip was all about fun. I’ve been planning this trip for months. I even mentioned it in my original post about my no-spend year challenge! The first trip to LA was an unplanned fluke, but I needed that.

Was My No Spend August a Failure?

Now that I’ve written it all out, I can see that my no-spend August wasn’t as big of a failure as I initially thought. Yes, I spent tons of money. However, most of it was on bills that don’t count against the no-spend month and things that I had already budgeted and accounted for at the beginning of the year. The only real splurges were the Renaissance Fair and eating out in Savannah, and those were not the high-ticket items.

No Spend September

Fincon

Let’s start with Fincon.  I had a fantastic time at Fincon and wouldn’t change it for anything. And I paid for most of it well before the actual event. But still, I did spend a bit of money on gas to drive down to DC and on food for the four days while I was there.

The most considerable Fincon expense was buying tickets for next year’s Fincon. I will take my partner with me next year, so that was a four-hundred-dollar expense. But, I bought the tickets well in advance, so it wasn’t nearly as expensive as it could have been if I had waited.  

I don’t count buying tickets to next year’s Fincon as a failure of my no spend September. It’s basically a legitimate business expense at this point. But, it was expensive, so I needed to include it.

Biggest Expense

My most considerable expense during my no-spend September was all the fun. Maybe this is what happens when you repress having fun for several months – you spend all the money on fun things all at once! The sad thing is that I can’t even tell you how much I spent. But, I can tell you that I had a blast doing it!

We did something fun pretty much every weekend of September. And why wouldn’t we? We have a new relationship, some awesome life goals, and things are going fabulously for us. Why wouldn’t we spend some of our free time having fun? The problem is that most of the fun wasn’t exactly free.

RV Show

We spent twenty bucks per person getting in the Hershey RV show and checking out all the different RVs available. Of course, I can easily spin that as market research for our two-year plan, but still, it was money spent. We did good by not indulging in the overpriced fair food available at the show, but since we live an hour away from the show and were freaking starving, we had to stop to eat before heading home.

This stop made me realize how expensive even supposedly cheap food can be. We stopped at Five Guys, which is a fast-food joint, and it cost us nearly thirty bucks! Now we’ve learned – we may as well spend an extra twenty and grab sushi somewhere. Grabbing fast food isn’t exactly cheap unless you go to one of the big four and order from the dollar menu, which is pretty gross.

Goggle Works and Reading

We spent another fantastic weekend checking out the Goggle Works Art Center in Reading, PA. The free gallery was amazing, and we got to see the works of many artists who had studios there.

Mini Golf and Ice Cream

We spent another fantastic Saturday afternoon driving along gorgeous autumn highways and taking in the scenery. Of course, this adventure led us to an adorable miniature golf course with a dairy, so we had to stop for a round and a cup from the delicious local creamery. Mini golf and ice cream aren’t all that expensive, but it was still money spent when I’m trying not to spend any money. 

Bar Hopping Lancaster

Our most expensive day in September was a night out on the town in Lancaster. We went to a few local breweries, sampled beer, ciders, and meads, and ate many delicious foods. The best part was the meadery, where they let us throw axes!

We also spent a ton of money on food while in Lancaster. There’s this fantastic little hole-in-the-wall Trinidadian food place that my friend raved about, so we had to test it out. Unfortunately, I was a little too drunk to enjoy that type of cuisine, so I got it to go, and we went to Wawa instead.

There’s nothing like a delicious sandwich when you are a little drunker than you meant to be. I ate the Trinidadian food the next day (I’m not wasteful!), and my friend was right. It was fantastic.

Unfortunately, our night out in Lancaster was costly. I had almost forgotten how much just a few drinks at an actual bar could be. I didn’t keep track of all the spending that night, but we easily spent over $100 between us.

Shopping

If you think we spent all the money during the no spend September on fun and that was the end, you’d be wrong. We also spent a little too much money on shopping. I impulse bought a gorgeous set of tarot cards (they just called out to me, as these things do), but that wasn’t it. I also decided to take a trip to Michael’s.

I love to paint (and I’ve even sold a painting or two). I’ve been avoiding Michael’s because I love the store so much. It’s hard for me to go there and not spend all the money.

Unfortunately, I decided to go in this month. I ended up with a bunch of new canvases and paints. My boyfriend is also a real artist, and he’s teaching me how to paint real things (I’ve stuck to abstract in the past).

We now have a scheduled Friday night date night where we sip some tasty drinks and work on our painting techniques, and its’ been great fun. It was worth the hundred bucks we spent at Michael’s to have this date night and learn some incredible new painting techniques.

Future Fun

We also spent tons of money in September on future fun. I booked tickets to see the Black Keys in Philadelphia in October, and I scored tickets to see Greenday play with Weezer and Fallout Boy next summer. I had tickets to see Greenday at the Rose Bowl before leaving California, but I got the job in Savannah and had to move a few weeks before the show, so I didn’t get to see them. Since high school, they have been one of my favorite bands, and I haven’t seen them live since Insomnia came out (Man, that was a long time ago!).

Neither of those ticket sets was crazy expensive, but those online ordering services price gauge you. Overall, I spent about $300 on concert tickets this month.

No Spend September Failure

As you can see, my no spend September wasn’t a no spend September. We spent tons of money on tons of different things.

I think part of the overspending is the fun of a new relationship -we enjoy going out and spending time together, and it’s nice to be with someone who can contribute to that fun. But it’s also been rough sitting at home all the time and not doing anything. I’ve missed having fun.

Although I had a great time having fun in September, I acknowledge that I spent too much. I have three months left on this no-spend year journey, and I’m trying to finish it right. However, I still want to continue having fun and enjoying my life, so we will see what these next few months bring.

No Spend October

Trip to LA

My most considerable expense in October was a trip to Los Angeles at the beginning of the month. However, this doesn’t go against the no spend year challenge because it’s been planned for well over a year. Also, most of the biggest travel expenses were paid for in September, so that doesn’t count for October either (I know, my boyfriend calls me a hair splitter all the time).

The biggest expense of the trip that I hadn’t already covered was the food. However, we only ate out a few times. I had to get some delicious bahn mi and pho because I can’t get those things back home, and I had to visit a few of my favorite eateries.

Weekend Experiences in October

Our most significant overall expense was those pesky weekends. I gave myself two evenings out per month at the beginning of the year, but since most months have four weekends, I’ve been failing at that. We haven’t wanted to be stuck in the house all weekend, so we have to do all the things!

But really, some of the things we did in October were rare occurrences that I didn’t want to put off just because of a no-spend year when I had the money. We scored tickets to see the Black Keys and made an evening out of it with dinner in Philadelphia, which was delicious but not within the budget.

The other event that popped up was Illuxcon – the premier convention for fantasy art. My boyfriend is super into the art world, and some of his favorite artists were going to be there this year.

 Since this is only a once-a-year event and nobody knows whether those same artists will be available to come in future years, we decided to go for it. We also decided to have some lunch and drinks in Reading to stay at the event for longer.  

Random Weekend Fun

It would be nice to say that I limited our going out to these two special events, but that’s not the case. We had one more weekend adventure during October that was terrific fun but a bit expensive.

We decided to hike up in the Delaware watershed area to see the gorgeous fall colors. You can’t beat the free fun of hiking and scenic views, right? I’d call that a win if not for the fact that we decided to visit an Oktoberfest on the way home. Free fun out the window.

We had an epic time sampling some local brews, throwing some axes, and playing drinking games on the fairgrounds (the games were free – the booze not so much).

Shopping

We also did a lot better at not spending money shopping during October, which I think is a huge win. This month, we only bought a few unnecessary items – a few used books for less than ten bucks and some scrapbooking stuff to make a relationship scrapbook (which we already started and is super adorable already!).  I also splurged and bought my boyfriend a print of one of his favorite paintings at the artist’s convention. It’s nice to be able to support art, and it was adorable watching him fanboy over it. A worthwhile splurge!

We did buy a few necessary items during the month as well. It’s starting to get colder outside, and we are trying to wait to turn the heat on.  We thought it would be more cost-effective to buy some cozy indoor winter supplies instead.

We got a new blanket (which the cats love), some slippers, and some toasty winter socks. Nothing here broke the bank or was an unreasonable buy – in fact, they probably saved us money by ensuring that we wouldn’t have to turn the heat on in October! But they were still purchases, so they count against the no spend month.

No Spend October Success

Although I went out twice more than I had scheduled, I still consider the month a success. I didn’t spend loads of money on unnecessary items like I did last month, so that’s a huge win. I was also to find more balance between having fun and restraining myself this month. With two months left on my No Spend Year Challenge, I think finding that balance is essential.

No Spend November

Birthday Present

My biggest expense in November was a birthday present for myself. I’m taking a weekend getaway to New York City for my birthday! My birthday isn’t until December, but I paid for the hotel and the pet sitter (the two most significant expenses) in November. I’m budgeting my food and events money into my December allowance, so spoiler alert, that will probably be my main expense in December.

I’ve only been to New York City once, and that was over ten years ago before I was as well-traveled as I am now. I went for a job interview (I got the job – it was in LA!), but I was only there for a day, most of which was dedicated to the interview, so I didn’t have time to do anything. It’s exhilarating that I live close enough to make it into an easy weekend trip!

Shopping

We had a few setbacks in September and October with the shopping. But I’m pleased to announce that it wasn’t a problem in November! We didn’t do any unnecessary shopping during our no spend November.

The only place we went was Lowes to buy a few extra much-needed home improvement items for the house and a space heater. These items helped reduce our first month’s heating costs, so spending a tiny bit there to save on heating this season was a win. My first heating bill was only $150 (a far cry from the $500 every three weeks it had been previously), and the electric bill didn’t increase at all with the space heater.

Buying Food for Thanksgiving

The most considerable shopping expenditure was food for Thanksgiving. I usually don’t count grocery store food against my no-spend months (we have to eat, right?), but I was shocked at how much the vegetables I don’t usually buy cost. Did you know that cauliflower is almost four dollars a head? That’s ridiculous!

I bought a little extra food for Thanksgiving because I invited a friend to enjoy the holiday with us. This wasn’t planned, so it goes against the No Spend November theme, but I’ll always choose friendships over money. Building relationships is one of the most important things we can do, and if it costs me a few extra bucks, so be it.

Going Out to Eat at Work

During my no spend November, the only thing I failed at was taking bag lunches to work. Don’t get me wrong. I did the majority of the time. However, we did have more meetings this month, which generally resulted in me going out to eat with my colleagues.

 We also had a few going away parties this month, which meant chipping in money for the feast. These events cost me less than a hundred dollars, so it wasn’t so bad.

So What Did We Do in November?

I’m not going to lie. We had a pretty boring November. And I loved every second of it! We had our traditional Friday night paint night every Friday, which didn’t cost a thing because we already had all the materials (Michael’s is great for that, by the way). We also did a lot of gaming (I’m trying to beat Twilight Princess for the first time, I know it’s super old, but I never got through).

No Spend December

I’m not going to lie; by the time December rolled around I was pretty much over this whole no-spend thing. But I still pushed through, and other than my birthday celebration weekend, I didn’t spend much of my own money during my no-spend December.

Gift Money

Did you catch that “my own money” part? That’s how I got around this No Spend December challenge. We bought tons of things, but all of it was with money gifted to us for Christmas spending. No one wants to hear that the money they gave you to splurge on yourself went straight into a savings account. They want to hear that you bought yourself something fun with it and that I did!

We spent tons of money on video game systems, games, and art supplies. It was an epic Christmas for us! Not a bad investment either, since we’ve been more than happy to stay home every weekend and just play our new games. It’s given us something new and fun that will keep us occupied for months! Breath of the Wild has an average playtime of 130 hours. That’s a lot of quality engagement time on just one of the games we got.

Birthday Trip

The only other thing we spent money on in December was my birthday trip to New York City. Luckily, we live close enough to drive, but we wanted to spend an entire weekend so we decided against a day trip.

We spent about three hundred dollars on a hotel and another hundred on pet sitting to make it happen – but it was well worth it. We got to see the MET – something that’s been on my bucket list forever, sample a bunch of different dumplings in China Town, and meet up with some incredible people.

I budgeted six hundred dollars for the trip, and we managed to stay within budget. This is something that I’d been planning on doing since before I even had a no-spend year challenge, so I don’t think it counts against me.

Going Out to Eat

One place where we saw spectacular resilience during our no spend December challenge was in eating out. Yes, obviously, we ate out while in New York, but since that is part of a trip, it doesn’t count. Other than that trip, the only time we didn’t make something at home was New Year’s Eve. We ordered a pizza from the cheap place across the street and rang in the New Year (at 10 pm- I’m too old to stay up until midnight!) with video games and unhealthy foods.

No Spend December Success

All in all, I’d call our no spend December a success. If not for the gift money, we wouldn’t have gotten the games, so that was a happy surprise. Besides that, we did a fantastic job of staying home, eating in, and not buying anything unnecessary. Hopefully, we will take some of the restraint that we learned in December (and throughout the year) and bring it into 2020 (though we have no plans to try to repeat the challenge!).

When Your Partner Isn’t Onboard with your No Spend Challenge

Around the halfway point of my no-spend challenge, I came to a terrifying realization. My boyfriend (now ex) was not on board with this whole thing in the first place.

He seemed to understand how important it was to save money this year but didn’t want to put in the effort to do it.

If you start a no-spend challenge and discover your partner isn’t on board, here’s what to do.

Have an Adult Conversation

The first step to starting a no-spend challenge with a partner is to have an adult conversation. I swear we didn’t skip that step! We talked about how we needed to tighten our belts and not spend money at length when we first moved to Pennsylvania.

We were buying a house that we both knew was a fixer-upper, had just spent tons of money moving, and we were trying to get out of debt. It seemed clear that trying not to spend any money was a great move! And I’m pretty sure I expressed this to my boyfriend, who agreed with me.

Partner isn’t on Board 

As it turns out, Brian was perfectly on board with me not spending any of my money on frivolous things.  He didn’t have a job when we first moved, so of course, he was going to agree not to spend money! But apparently, he didn’t consider that I also meant that he couldn’t spend any of his own money frivolously once he got a job. He blew most of his first paycheck on clothes (which could be argued that he needed for work) but also bought himself a few games.

It didn’t stop with a single splurge after his first paycheck. He bought a few more games and made a few careless fast food runs when he didn’t want to make something to eat. None of these things are terrible – it’s not like he’s spending thousands of dollars at a casino or blowing all of his money on any of these things.  But most of these things were included in the no spend challenge budget, and these small things add up.

I’m not sure if this was a gross miscommunication on our part or if he just can’t help himself and needs to spend money when he has it.

So What Do You Do?

So here’s the crux of it – what do you do when your partner isn’t on board with your no-spend challenge?

More Adult Conversations

Yes, I know it’s excruciating, but the best way to resolve problems in your relationship is to talk about them. Mind-blowing stuff, I know.  Let’s be honest, though, having these conversations is easier said than done. It’s not easy to tell your partner that they haven’t been meeting your expectations, and it’s not easy to hear that they have no desire to.

Brian and I had a long talk about our different financial priorities. I reminded him about all the stuff in the house that needed to be fixed and all the debt that we needed to pay off. He agreed that those things were a priority, but he brought up another good point – our relationship and our well-being are also a priority. We have both been in a slump since moving – winter sucked, our jobs are stressful, and we have very little time for one another. Isn’t it worthwhile to spend a little bit of money on us now and again? And if a stupid game makes him happy and provides hours of entertainment, isn’t it worth it?

Compromise

The end goal of these conversations is to reach a compromise that you are both comfortable with. I’m not ok with Brian spending all of his money on games when we have tons of other priorities. He’s not ok with not spending any money on himself. There is a lot of room here for compromise. He could spend half his money and the other half on house stuff and bills (But I’m not ok with that either!).

In the end, we were able to reach a pretty reasonable compromise. Instead of blowing money each paycheck on games, Brian will save twenty bucks per paycheck for gaming. This way, he still gets to spend some money on games – but having to save and wait means that he will only buy the ones he really wants. It also means there will be more money available for our other priorities.

We also came to a compromise on spending money for our well-being. The two dinners out per month that I allowed for at the beginning of the challenge aren’t cutting it. It’s not that two date nights aren’t enough. That would be more than enough if we were together every night. But we hardly have any nights together. Spending our only two nights, we get together each week watching tv at home sucks. We mixed it up by playing games and going for walks, but we decided not to limit ourselves. 

Instead, we will make sure that we spend the small amount of time we have together engaging with each other. That means that we will attend fairs and festivals, kayak, take day trips, and do anything else that seems exciting when we get a day off together. We also won’t limit ourselves when we have a few hours off together. We will take walks to the ice cream shop, even spend a few extra bucks. That quality walk time is definitely worth the money. 

Compromise Wasn’t Enough

It turned out that the compromise we made wasn’t enough. Brian didn’t want not to spend his money on stupid things, and I didn’t want a partner who couldn’t prioritize me or our financial stability.

We broke up, which turned out to be a fantastic financial decision for me.

Lessons Learned from a No Spend Year Challenge

I realize how naive and idealistic it was to say I wasn’t going to spend any money frivolously for an entire year. However, attempting the challenge taught me a lot about myself, my budget, and life in general, so I’m thrilled that I did it and proud of myself for seeing it through for the whole year (though there were quite a few lapses throughout the year.

Everybody Needs to be on Board

The first big lesson I learned from attempting my no-spend year challenge is that everyone in the household needs to be on board. I started the year in a relationship, and I realized that he wasn’t interested in not spending money about midway through. He had just agreed as a manipulation tactic to make it seem like we were on the same page.  The no-spend challenge was a catalyst that led to the relationship ending.

In the grand scheme of things, that was one of the best things that could have happened. Engaging in the no spend challenge showed me his true colors. If I wouldn’t freely give him money to spend, he’d just steal it from me or trick me into buying it (mixing a gift card in with the groceries and grabbing the receipt so I wouldn’t notice, for example).  Discovering that he was a terrible person was a great lesson and one that I’m glad the challenge helped me learn.

But even if it didn’t turn out that he was an awful person, I did learn that everyone needs to be on board.  You need a partner who will be honest about your feelings. Sometimes it’s easier to go along with what your partner wants because you don’t want to argue or have problems expressing your own needs. These patterns can lead to resentment. It’s better to have honest discussions about both your expectations and desires.

It’s Easy to Not Spend on Things You Normally Don’t Buy

I’m not a shopper. I don’t like to go to the mall and buy new clothes. It’s just not my thing. I wear a uniform to work and pajamas at home. On the rare occasion that I go out, I usually wear jeans and a casual top.

Not spending money on clothing was the easiest part of this challenge. I didn’t buy anything all year. But, if I think about it, was that much of a challenge? I usually shop for clothing once a year, and this year I skipped it. Should I be super proud of that? I don’t think so.

I’m prouder that I hardly bought any new books and (almost) stuck to my two meals out per month. Those are the things I tend to splurge on. Although I didn’t meet my goals every month, I know that being mindful of the challenge helped.

Being Accountable Helps

One of the biggest reasons I was successful during this challenge was because I knew I’d have to write about my failures. Was going out to eat every day that week worth telling all of my readers that I couldn’t keep it together three days in a row? It wasn’t for me, and let me tell you, that’s a fantastic motivator. 

Not everyone is a blogger, but everyone has someone or something that they can be accountable to, whether it’s an accountability buddy, your partner, or even a diary—having that someone or something to be accountable to helps people achieve their goals. I know it helped me.

Cooking isn’t That Hard

One of my biggest concerns in starting the challenge was that I’d have to eat at home. Unfortunately, I was a terrible cook. To mitigate that, I bought a meal planning bundle filled with recipes, meal plans, and kitchen help. As it turned out, I could follow a recipe. I learned how to cook!

I also learned that meal planning isn’t all that difficult. Look at the ingredients you have, decide what you’re going to have for the week, and buy the rest of the stuff you need. This might seem like common sense for those of you who have been adulting for quite some time, but it was an epiphany for people like me who struggled in the kitchen. My no-spend challenge made me a better cook and better at meal planning.

Not Spending Money Turns into Habit

The best lesson I learned from my no-spend year challenge is how easy it is to turn not spending money into a habit. Sure, I had a few failures over the year, but now that it’s January and I can freely spend again, I don’t want to.

It’s easy to run to McDonald’s when we are out, but it’s easy to run home and have a sandwich. It’s easy to order a pizza, but it’s just as easy to stick the frozen one into the oven. Shopping can be a fun relaxing activity, but window shopping does the same, and you don’t have to spend anything. Hopefully, I’ll take these newfound habits into the next few years.

Not Taking a Vacation Sucks

I’ve gone someplace extraordinary every year for the past seven or so years (sometimes multiple times per year!). Giving that up this year was tough. My only vacations this year were short weekend trips. I did LA twice, Savannah once (but that was part of moving – I had to pick up my dogs!), New York and DC for Fincon.

That probably seems like a lot, but I’m used to taking a week or two and going to a different country. Traveling is one of my biggest passions, and not getting to engage in that this year wasn’t easy. It makes me wonder what I’m doing all this for if I can’t do what I love.

Doing Another No-Spend Challenge

Although I learned many lessons from my no-spend year, I doubt I will attempt it again. I might try smaller periods with stricter rules. For example, I might attempt a no spend month where I’m not allowed any dinners out or a no spend week where I can’t even grocery shop.

I definitely won’t try doing a whole year again. It was fun. I learned a lot and probably saved tons of money, but a year is such a long time. It’s hard to stay conscientious that long.

However, I’m glad I did it. I challenged myself and learned a lot about what my spending priorities are. I may have failed the overall challenge, but I’m grateful for the experience.

12 thoughts on “No-Spend Challenge: That Time I Tried Not Spending Any Money for a Year”

  1. I’m on a No Spend Year as well! Actually, I started it 6 months ago, so it’s an 18-month challenge for me. 2019 is my first full year! Also, my Ban began as a Shopping Ban but I realized I was still frittering too much money beyond “shopping” I amped up the Ban to a full-blown Spending Ban by December 2018. So I’m in this with you!

  2. Our family did a no spend “year” in 2018, and I was able to pay off my 2018 goal student loan in October! We finished early and were able to spend freely for November, December, and especially Christmas with no new debt added. We are now on track for round 2 in 2019 to pay off a vehicle. And round 3 in 2020 to buy a new vehicle with cash. The thought of that “free money” at the end of the year was a great mental incentive to stick to it until the goal is complete.

  3. I’m trying lily you. I’ve managed to cut credit card spending by half however 300 per month I need to work on this as I could be saving it. Maybe not so many cinema trips 10 per visit I take my own food. Go cinema every few weeks maybe change this to few months. I’m saving for an deposit on a house years wages & 3 month contingency fund aaaaarrrrrgggg

    1. Oh man movies are crazy expensive! My bf loves them, but at 10 bucks a ticket, then snacks and drinks,it really adds up. There’s so much more I could be doing with that fifty bucks! And you can see the movie on redbox a few months later for way cheaper. I get that going to the movies is an experience for some though, so if it’s your favorite thing you can cut back a little but leave room in your budget to see your favorites.

  4. Started 11/1/18 and got DH to agree to no purchasing meat for 6 months. Our freezers are so full, we are spilling into YD’s home freezer. My no spend means no buying anything we don’t need. For me that means no clothes, shoes, etc. No fabric or anything else having to do with crafts. I am planting seeds for my front yard flower garden. No expensive ready to plant purchases from the local nursery. And the biggest no spend…..gifts. We are very generous and spend a LOT on gifts. We spend over $6000 in gifts in 2018! I have to admit about $3000 was for diamond stud earrings for all three daughters since the last daughter was getting married (at age 37) and it was kind of now or never, so we bit the bullet and did it. The family knows we are doing this and the reward will be a trip to Disneyland for Christmas 2019 with us paying for the VRBO for all 11 of us, 3 daughters, 3 son-in-laws and 3 granddaughters!

    1. Yeah, meat is crazy expensive! Cutting out that has saved me tons of money in grocery bills. I think having an awesome trip as an award for the no spend challenge is an amazing idea! What a great family activity.

  5. Hi Melanie!
    I caught this piece on Rockstar Finance and thought you may live near me since you mention Hershey and Philly. I live in York, Pa and am always looking to connect with FIRE folks in the area, which has been pretty challenging!
    Welcome to PA! And drop me a line if you’d like.
    Barbara

    1. Hi Barbara! I’d love to connect with other like minded folks near me! I don’t know where York is, but I just moved to the pottsville area. I’ll send you an email:)

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