No-Spend Challenge 2021: The First 7 Days

Two Monopoly Men conversing about saving for the future

Earlier this month, I replaced a pair of broken headphones, paid for a $238 dentist visit, and backed a Kickstarter. Afterwards, I was feeling pretty tapped-out financially.

It’s not that I didn’t have the money for these things: I’ve earned more this month with two broken legs than I did earlier in the year with working legs. Rather, I was displeased to have exceeded my monthly discretionary spending budget. It’s one category of many that I track using the “Mint” finance app (which I highly recommend).

In response, I reallocated the dentist visit and Kickstarter charge into my budgets for October and November, respectively. That meant I’d have little-to-no room for discretionary spending for two months.  In effect, my dentist visit had eaten up next month’s “fun money” (it wasn’t fun). A shame, but that’s life™: We have fickle, fragile, fucked-up bodies that constantly need maintenance and repair.

But this series of events got me thinking. Most of my discretionary spending over the last few months hadn’t felt essential. And if I’d be eschewing non-essential spending for the next couple of months, why not see how long I could maintain the habit? After all, the more I save, the sooner I can escape the Canadian dystopia and buy a house in a country with reasonably priced real estate.

So began the No-Spend Challenge 2021.

The Rules

In theory, the No-Spend Challenge 2021 rules are simple: Don’t spend any money on non-essentials. But in practice, the rules are a little more ambiguous, since the definition of “non-essentials” can vary from person to person.

So, for clarity, here’s what they mean for me:

  • Allowable expenses: Rent payments; groceries; utilities; business services; health, hygiene, and personal care items; pet food.
  • Unallowable expenses: Take-out or delivery food; food and snacks outside of requisite groceries; alcohol; other recreational drugs; new digital entertainment purchases; online shopping; additional digital subscriptions

The Benefits (So Far)

Obviously, saving money is the main benefit of restricting spending like this. But I’ve also noticed some psychological benefits: Namely, gratitude for existing possessions and decreased materialistic urges.

Before this challenge, I always enjoyed deciding where to spend each month’s “fun money” (about $300 CAD/month). It was a way to reward myself for continuing to work full-time while healing. And since I’m essentially housebound, most of that spending happened online. On a whim, I would enter some query into a search engine, and the online shopping vortex would provide. A video game, an action figure, whatever.

But here’s the thing: While I understand the value of “treating” oneself, these purchases never felt entirely warranted. Within days of tearing open an item’s package, opening its box, and basking in the ephemeral delight of consumerism, the novelty would fade. It was as if the anticipation of receiving an item in the mail was more enjoyable than the item itself. For this reason, I felt I could forgo these kinds of purchases entirely — especially if doing so means “treating” myself to a more significant purchase later (say, a roof over my head).

So far, I’ve been able to resist the urge to spend with no issue. And in tandem, I’ve developed a greater appreciation for the things I already own. For instance, the No-Spend Challenge has renewed my desire to tackle my sizeable video game backlog, which includes dozens of unfinished and unplayed titles.

The Future

Past the next few months, I’m not sure where I’ll take this challenge. It’s only been a week, but so far, the main takeaway is that I could probably tolerate a reduced discretionary spending budget (such as $100/month).

I’ll definitely keep you posted.

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