5 Easy Rules to Follow for a Successful “No-Buy Month,” According to Financial Experts

published Sep 9, 2021
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Credit: Diana Liang

Have you noticed an increase in certain spending habits recently? Maybe now that your favorite local restaurants are open again for indoor or patio dining, you’re grabbing happy hour or brunch more often. If you’re returning to the office, you may have gotten a little carried away updating your wardrobe. Perhaps staying at home has led you to impulse shopping online when you’re bored and you’d like to divert your attention to something else.

Regardless of where you’re spending your hard-earned money, if you’re feeling concerned about how much cash you’re dropping in a certain area of life, you may have considered trying a “no-buy” month to rein in your spending. No-buy months are a popular practice to help you re-examine your shopping and spending patterns and potentially gain control in areas where you tend to overdo it. Of course, embarking on a no-buy month isn’t as easy as going cold turkey; you need to buy food, take care of yourself and your family, and get from place to place. If you’re up for a challenge, these tips from financial experts will help you get started and make the most of your no-buy month and potentially glean some worthwhile money habits for the future too.

1. Keep it simple.

It’s not realistic to say you’re going to stop spending money on everything you enjoy all at once. In fact, the pros advise keeping things as easy as possible to see success. “Simpler is actually better. When you focus on one thing at a time, you have more brain energy to reflect on why you’re overbuying and figure out creative ways to meet the desire without spending,” says Jen Smith, the founder of Modern Frugality.

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner, the founder of Making Sense of Cents, agrees. “You should figure out why you want to complete a no-spend month, what your motivation is, and whether or not it is realistic for you and your situation,” she advises. “For example, if you have no food in your fridge or pantry, it’s probably fairly impossible to start a no-spend month when it comes to food.”

2. Do some prep work.

Much like the old fable says, it’s always worth doing the extra work to be prepared for the future. “Give yourself at least a few days to plan and prepare for your no-buy month,” says Smith. “Figure out what you’re buying now that you don’t want to be buying on your challenge and make a list of things you can do to avoid it when the urge comes. You’ll also want to stock up on any essentials you would’ve bought during the month.” For example, if you’re going on a camping trip during your no-buy month and don’t have thick hiking socks, grab ‘em now! It would be completely understandable to buy socks mid-month as an emergency expense, but the more you can prepare now, the less you’ll feel disappointed, or like you “ruined” your streak.

3. Identify an easy place to start.

Maybe your downfall is workout gear, or perhaps you can’t turn down an invite to the latest trendy restaurant. Figure out your “no-buy” category and try to choose something you know you can stick to. Smith often advises starting by nixing dinners out for a month, and then working up from there. 

“Most people will need to buy groceries during a no-buy month, so eating out is where I tell most people to start,” she shares. “Check your spending for the last three months and see where you’re overspending the most. Is it one restaurant in particular? Takeout in general? Eating out on weekends? Start with your biggest problem area, plan how you’re going to tackle it, and spend a month focusing on how to improve it in a way that lasts.”

If food takes up the majority of your budget, plan ahead when you’re out and about to reduce impulse spending when hunger strikes. ​​”When you leave your home for a long amount of time, I recommend bringing your own drinks and snacks,” says Schroeder-Gardner. “This way, you won’t feel too hungry and then feel forced to grab something quick to eat at a restaurant.”

If shopping is where you see the biggest spending throughout the month, consider unfollowing tempting Instagram accounts and leaving your credit card at home when you’re out and about — just bring cash for the essentials so you won’t be tempted by a new dress or pair of shoes. Can’t stop buying books? Make a plan to read through your stash, visit the library more often, or borrow from friends.

4. Get creative with “free” activities.

We tend to automatically resort to spending money to fill our time, whether it’s going out for coffee or happy hour, a trip to Target, or even a sporting event or festival,” says Smith. Instead of shopping or bar-hopping to beat boredom, she recommends implementing low-cost or free activities like inviting friends over for game night or baking. “Try as many free activities as possible in hopes that some will stick beyond your no-buy month and save you money long-term.”

Scroeder-Gardner recommends checking out events in your community to keep you feeling involved without breaking your no-buy promise. “Restaurants and stores have freebies all the time,” she advises. “This could be something small such as free coffee, free ice cream or a free concert in your town.” If you pledged not to buy coffee for a month but you have a free punch card or Starbucks points, you can definitely use those — after all, you’re not spending anything! Is there an art gallery opening on the weekend? Get all dressed up and support a local artist for an evening out. 

5. Don’t give up.

Thirty days really isn’t that long! Don’t be discouraged by your plan; instead, think of it as a motivator. “Think about how much money you’re saving,” says Schroeder-Gardner. “While you may not be saving a large chunk of money each day, over the course of a month it most likely equals a nice amount of money saved.” And if you mess up and buy a pair of earrings or a plate of fries, don’t give up entirely. Just re-commit and keep moving.

This post originally appeared on Apartment Therapy. See it there: 5 Rules to Follow If You Want to Try a “No-Buy Month,” According to Financial Experts