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I Tried It: The No-Spend Weekend

Blue Trees at the Currier Museum

Ever wonder how those lifestyle trends or subscription services you see on the internet make a difference, or how they can affect your budget? In our “I Tried It” blog posts, Service CU employees share their experiences so that you know what to expect. Read our previous post on capsule wardrobes here.

Each January, after the many excesses of the holiday season, we inevitably encounter the obligatory ads, articles and testimonials about cleansing, detoxing and fasting. These short “reboots” to the system are supposedly a great way to kickstart healthier living by temporarily limiting what we eat or drink; however, the health benefits of these methods are widely debated.

In contrast, a spending fast can provide a fresh perspective on how and why we’re using our money and can help to energize good spending habits going forward. With that in mind and a resolution to cut out some of our unnecessary spending, I decided to try a two-day spending fast or a “no-spend weekend.”

Why would anyone do this? Would we be holding ourselves hostage to a weekend of housework and being sad? What effect can two days possibly have on a household budget? At first the whole idea of not spending for two days felt more like an endurance challenge or willpower test than something that would help long-term. But with my husband’s buy-in, we embarked on a late-January weekend of spending detox.

Define Why

Whether you’re challenging yourself to a no-spend weekend, week, month or year, the goal of a spending fast is to limit your spending to only the necessities for a pre-determined amount of time. But what is your ultimate goal? If it’s just to say you can, well I suppose that’s all well and good, but I typically don’t like to deprive myself just for fun. My why was defined after looking at our spending habits and realizing my husband and I were spending an AVERAGE of an unbudgeted $370 every weekend. That’s insane, right? But while our workweek schedule is pretty regimented, the wonderful freedom and flexibility of the weekend seems to send us into a frenzy of spending. If we could skip the unbudgeted stuff for just one weekend, we would easily cover the cost of the rental car for our upcoming vacation.

Make Your Rules

There must be rules. Without them you are likely to very quickly go down the slippery slope of, “well this doesn’t count.” Make it very clear both for yourself and anyone participating, when the challenge starts and ends, what constitutes an emergency, if there is any type of spending that is allowed. Based on the amount of time you choose, the necessities may be different. While you may not need to buy gas or groceries over the course of two days, eating, getting to work and paying bills all fall into the “need” category over a longer period of time.

As for us, from Saturday when we woke up until Monday morning, there would be no unbudgeted spending. Unbudgeted was the key word for a couple of reasons. First, (and perhaps most importantly) I had scheduled a hair appointment for this particular weekend months before. I plan for these in our budget and I was not going to miss it. Second, weekends are when we typically do things such as grocery shop, schedule bills to be paid and gas up the cars for the week. As these are also all budgeted items it didn’t make sense to muck up our schedule just to pay them after Monday morning. All other spending (barring emergencies) was off limits.

Start Not Spending

I believe it is far easier to actively do something than it is to actively not do something. For this reason I did, and would highly recommend, planning some things in advance that are free. For me, a Saturday hair appointment is commonly followed by brunch out with my mom or shopping with friends. As those activities would be off limits, I opted to use my membership at the local art museum and met my mother for an afternoon in the galleries. It was great to get some use out of my membership and enjoy an exhibit I may not have scheduled time for otherwise. And while my husband and I did use the self-imposed spending freeze to catch up on some chores around the house, we also found the time to take our dog out for an adventure at a new location, try some new recipes, visit with our neighbors and watch a whole season of “You’re the Worst” on Hulu. I also spent some uninterrupted time sketching in my studio and finished the book I was reading.

Figure Out What It All Means

Before I did it, I was skeptical of the value of the no-spend weekend. Being frugal for two days was certainly not going to suddenly provide us a way to retire 20 years early. But after spending two days hyper-aware of not spending, I did realize how often and easily we spend on things that we don’t need. Looking back at that average weekend spend, about a third of it can be attributed to eating out or ordering take out. As two people who actually enjoy cooking, if we spend one weekend a month eating at home, we could add over $100 to our monthly savings contribution. If we were to commit to six no-spend weekends a year, we could stash it in a Click here to learn more about SCU’s club account and potentially have a really substantial vacation fund.

The truth is, saving doesn’t have to be torture or total deprivation from all things fun. By taking a little bit of time to jumpstart our financial health, I not only found ways to save, but a wealth of opportunities to enjoy the time, people and places already around me.