Using A No Spend Month to Payoff Debt

I didn’t want to write this blog post. If I challenged myself to a no spend month and failed, it would be a lot easier if I hadn’t told anyone my goal. Or if I found a really awesome pair of shoes on clearance…

Using A No Spend Month to Payoff Debt

I first read about the idea of a no spend month {setting a strict budget for essentials like food and housing, but giving up all non-essentials} well over a year ago. Ruth at Living Well, Spending Less has a great 31 Day Series with her personal guidelines and experience.

As with the Whole30 challenge, I was looking to modify this challenge to fit my current circumstances. Namely, the fact that my husband should not be obliged to participate in every random idea I read about online. Yes, budgeting and paying off debt is absolutely a team effort. You need to agree where you will spend your income before it arrives and you need to be prepared for the unexpected. However, I was deciding on January 31st that a no spend month would be a great way to “find” extra money to payoff our next debt – not exactly time to plan ahead and get him on board. More importantly, since we started pulling out cash for him to carry each week, he rarely spends any money outside of that budget except to put gas in his vehicle.

That left the ball squarely in my court. What was I willing to give up in order to achieve the goal? More importantly, where were all the small leaks in our budget? Clothing? Groceries? Eating Out?

The best way to figure that out was the no spend month challenge. The only way to stick to a strict budget for groceries and other easy-to-overspend categories was to use cash envelopes.

One week in, I figured it was time to confess my commitment to the challenge and share some of the strategies I’m using to stay the course.

1. Cash Envelopes – Your grandmother’s way of spending: put the cash aside for a category and only use that money. When you run out, you’re out. I am not using actual envelopes right now, but instead created some dividers for my wallet with scrapbook paper and my laminating machine. You can find the tutorial here. I even used the calculator app on my smartphone and a list to do the grocery shopping. Old school, except for the smartphone I guess. When we were first married and living on an E2 military salary, I couldn’t afford not to use a calculator when shopping.

2. Journaling – I started a list of all the things I wanted to purchase, but didn’t fit the guidelines of my no spend month. Even though we have cash planned for clothing purchases for example, none of them will be for me this month. So the cute shirt on clearance is still at the store. The shoes on clearance for $5 are still in Payless’ inventory. The bogo offer for Redbox went unused. I even skipped buying a bottle of water when running errands because I’d simply forgotten to pick up the one I made at home before I left. If I would have wanted my kids to learn from the consequences of their actions, why wouldn’t I expect the same of myself? {I was only out for an hour, it wasn’t life threatening}

3. Accountability – I spoke to a good friend about the challenge and of course, now I’m sharing here. I’ve read some interesting material about studies showing you shouldn’t share your goals publicly, that it somehow tricks the brain into thinking you’ve already accomplished the goal and you’re more likely to miss the mark. I know for me this is simply not true. Every goal isn’t mean to be shared with the entire www, but I probably would be the proud owner of that cute shirt and clearance shoes if it weren’t for the fact I knew I’d be posting about this. How much easier to get them the first couple days of the month and then declare a no spend month for March instead?

This challenge isn’t born out of a place of desperation like it might be for some facing a job layoff or pay cut. Although that would be a great time to try it. This challenge isn’t about proving anything to my husband or demanding he change anything about himself {if you are the nerd and he is the free spirit, beware using ‘challenges’ to try to change your spouse}.

This challenge is about being intentional, an exercise in telling myself no in the short term for a longer term gain. In many respects, it is a lot like the Whole30 changes were for me. Discipline and intention now, for a greater goal of becoming debt free. Like losing weight is ultimately about calories consumed and calories burned, becoming debt free is about increased income and decreased spending. Completing a no spend month to payoff debt focuses on decreasing spending.

Living on less than we make, what a concept!

Have you ever done a no spend month? Would you?

Pin It