No-Spend Days? Why They Don’t Work

What is a No-Spend Day?

 

No-spend days or spending fasts are times when you make a promise to yourself not to spend money on certain days or certain periods of time.

There are some people who find these to be very effective.

Case in Point:

A Year of Tracking No Spend Days (and the privilege of doing so) by Tread Lightly, Retire Early

How I Bought No Clothes For Over A Year & Lessons From My Clothing Ban by M @Radical Fire

If you have tried these and they work for you then great!

But here is why I advise NOT to do a spending diet.

Using Motivation To Help You Change

We like to think that making big, bold moves will help us. We like to imagine ourselves doing a complete overhaul of our lives within days. TODAY I will change. TODAY I will become the person I want to be. I will become more organized, on top of my finances, more mindful, a better person etc. We want to be all those things and we WANT IT NOW! We usually feel like this after a particularly motivating experience. A motivating experience can either be something positive or negative that convinces us that we must change our behavior. The problem with motivational experiences is that they give us a temporary “high”. We get all gung-ho to change and improve but then the high wears off, we face an obstacle, we fail at what we are doing and we give up.

Motivation is temporary. As Zig Ziglar so famously said, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing-that’s why we recommend it daily”. Its a good quote and true on many levels. The problem is that unlike bathing we can’t just jump in the shower every time we need a good dose of motivation. It has to come from somewhere and sometimes even our trusty sources of motivation let us down.

Motivation is like a shower that only works sometimes, when we least expect it and sometimes the water is cold and sometimes the water doesn’t come at all- even if we are standing and screaming at the shower head. So the metaphor doesn’t totally track but the point is that motivation wear off and then you are left with what exactly? The high is gone, the purpose is gone-we are only left with the actions that we have taken so far.

Have You Ever Physically Fasted?


I am Jewish so I have done my shares of Fasting. I, and many others, have the routine down pat. Before the fast I drink a lot of water, cut down on coffee and eat a large supper or breakfast. I eat healthy food that will digest slowly and make sure I am full. Then I fast for however long. Then I eat a huge meal (cinnamon buns, soup and bagels- always!) afterwards. If the point was to lose weight or to enforce good eating habits then it would be a bust. Good thing its not about that. Its about the moment of fasting. In that sense, fasting works. When you are doing a food fast it gives you time to focus on spiritual matters beyond eating. It takes away something that you do often- that we take for granted and forces you to focus on something else.

If you want to approach a spending fast the same way- go ahead. If you feel that your whole being is consumed by shopping then this might be the right tactic for you. But for most people, its not about the drastic measures of fasting. In fact, fasting just makes us load up on the opposite before and after.

Fasting is not Sustainable

What do I mean? If I am not eating on Tuesday then I eat more on Monday and Wednesday to make up for it. Whats more is that I am putting a lot of energy and effort into a behavior that is NOT SUSTAINABLE. Unless you are a super committed minimalist or living off-the-grid, you are not stopping to shop and spend money and you are not eschewing all materialism (if you are: you can stop reading. I’m not talking to you). So if you don’t spend money on Tuesday, you are just pushing off your spending to Monday and Wednesday AND you are putting a lot of effort and energy into an unsustainable behavior.

I am going to assume that you, like me, have limited reserves of effort and energy to out forth. So you, like me, want your actions to make a really big difference and to actually get you to wherever you want to be. If you want to change- then the actions you do should lead to change. You don’t want a quick-fix that won’t last. You want real, lasting change.

Extremism Doesn’t Work

I don’t recommend not spending money or not going shopping. This also goes if you enjoy shopping. If you really enjoy the shopping experience or the hunt of the deal- why should you take that joy out of your life? Why should you forbid yourself that enjoyment? What you should do is try to reconcile the two things that you need (or want) to do with your need (or want) to save money and make better financial choices. What you need to do is to be able to make a change that can last and make a real difference- not bounce back and forth between extremes (I ranted against extremism before. Extremism is bad and you should be wary of those preaching extremism in personal finance).

No Spend Pinterest

Change Your Lifestyle

Which brings me to my point- don’t put yourself on a fast or a diet. Put yourself on a “lifestyle”. You know those annoying people who preach a certain diet or whatever by saying “It’s not a diet. It’s a lifestyle”? Well, I’m stealing it. Change your whole lifestyle- not one day.

How? Why? Why is it easier to change your whole lifestyle as opposed to committing to something for one day? Well, its not easier. I never promised easy. But it is effective. Do you want the way that is easy or the way that works? Well this way works. You don’t get the same type of awesome feeling in that moment but you WILL see change. Those changes will be more effective in the long run because they will be consistent and they will LAST.

Now I am leading up to the big reveal and its going to be disappointing because its not a trick or hack or anything like that. It all comes down to the budgeting. Disappointing, right?

Just like when it comes to eating healthy. The best way to approach a healthy diet (except in very specific circumstances) is to eat healthy ALL THE TIME and occasionally indulge in a treat. Fasting or cleansing doesn’t really work. Eating healthy every day works.

The same with personal finance. Fasting or binges doesn’t work. Sticking to a budget works. Your budget should include the shopping you need to do and the occasional treat. To put this in perspective: saving $5 every day for a month will get you more than saving $100 one day. This is especially compounded if you get in the habit of saving every day instead of randomly every so often.

Make a budget, stick to it and you will see results. Click To Tweet

I told you it wasn’t so exciting. The things that work very often are not exciting

What Do You Want?

Do you want to get your financial life in order?

Do you want to finally be responsible about your money?

Do you finally want to start saving money for emergencies, life events and retirement?

Do you finally want to start paying down debt?

Then- no gimmicks, no tricks, no “no-spend days”. Basic budgeting. Take a pen and paper and figure out where you want your money to go and then follow it. Make a budget and stick to it and then you can do all those things.

My very first piece of advice to anyone looking to get there financial life in order is: MAKE A BUDGET.

Here is my Basic Guide to Budgeting to help you get started.

Good luck!

6 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Recommend No-Spend Days

  1. I 100% agree! I was going to use the dieting/fasting example but you hit the nail on the head. People who do crazy diets lose weight quickly but because they haven’t developed a unsustainable diet they start eating unhealthily again as soon as the diet is over and so put all the weight back on. I think these mindsets are unsustainable and unhealthy!

  2. Great thoughts here and I agree 100%. It reminds me of something ESI wrote recently on why you shouldn’t always just lend out money to a friend of family member in debt. They got in debt for a reason, and a one time fix won’t solve the root cause of the issue. Just like 1 day of not spending money won’t fix any deep rooted budgeting issues! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thanks for putting this message out there! I agree that we need to get rid of head games if we want to make long-lasting changes in our lives. That being said, I’m also trying not to buy clothes for several years. However, I know it’s a weakness of mine (clothes-buying) and I want the challenge.

    If people want a random challenge to get them started and exercise a muscle for the first time, that makes sense. I just hate the idea of someone staying home or away from friends because they don’t want to buy a coffee or something that day. Go out with your friends. Just learn how to spend sustainably and not treat money like a punishment.

    1. I think that cutting down on spending and shopping can be really good for people who shop too much. I linked to a few posts where people found that a no-spend challenge really helped them. I think that in order to make lasting changes you have to change your behaviors and not focus too much on quick fixes.

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