As a result of some uncontrolled spending in January, I put myself on a strict financial diet for February. I tracked my daily spending to the last cent and resolved to not make purchases unless I really needed to. My strategy looked like this:
I wasn’t always perfect. Concert tickets for the summer all seem to go on sale in February and there were some opportunities I couldn’t miss. But I learned so much about myself and my habits in the last month.
1) I’m very impulsive with money. On the night of the Super Bowl, I tried to buy a case of Tastykakes while drunk. Luckily my card wouldn’t go through and I (also luckily) didn’t have my credit with me because I hid it from myself (also while drunk) and I can’t find it.
2) Wishlists work. I created two lists – Wants and Needs. Needs are obviously prioritized and include things like new sheets. The Wants are things I’d typically buy myself in the moment, and maybe regret later. By adding it to the list, I can let some time pass and see if it’s still something important to me. Maybe someone needs a gift idea for me? Maybe I don’t want that thing anymore? Do I want this $300 water bottle filled with diamonds? Yup. Do I need it right now? Probably not.
3) Make your wallet inconvenient to access. This was so simple and SO unexpectedly effective! I switched from a messenger bag to a backpack recently. To access my wallet, I need to take the backpack off, unzip the compartments, and dig it out. It’s kind of a pain. When my wallet was easy to access in a side pocket, I could whip it out all too often. Now when I stroll through The Strand, I have to really think about if I want to hold up the line to excavate my wallet to buy a new book. I keep daily essentials like my work badge and MTA card on the back of my phone, but not my debit card.
4) Don’t autosave card numbers into websites. One-click purchases are just too convenient… and often thoughtless! I took my numbers off Amazon. Seamless. Paypal. Modcloth. Pretty much everywhere. Ticketmaster got to keep my card info. That’s it.
4a) DO automate saving! I had an ambitious savings goal of $1,000 for the month. Granted, tax returns helped with that quite a bit, but my bank also lets me set goals based on timing and then automatically moves money into those goals every day.
5) There’s a lot of free stuff to do around the city. I kind of knew this already. But I rededicated myself to finding free or cheap things to do. There’s lots of free music. Free tastings. Cheap performances at the PIT. One of the reasons I LOVE living in NYC is that i consider my crazy rent part of my membership
6) I appreciated my paid activities more. Like lunch with Tony. And Galentine’s Day festivities. Likewise I felt bad about money events I can’t control – like a “team lunch” that we had to pay for ourselves where I ended up with a $21 appetizer-sized crab cake after splitting the bill 😑 It was really a lesson in value over cost and how to balance the two.
7) Rethinking gift giving. I tend to throw money at spoiling the people I love. It’s a Taurus thing reinforced by my Dad’s specific way of expressing love. For Valentine’s day, instead of a fancy night out and big gifts, I got Ryan a Movie Pass subscription and a poem I wrote about him when I was SIXTEEN. So now we can have a cheap date night at the movies whenever we want!
8) I didn’t check my bank account as much. Because I wasn’t worried about money! Usually in the week leading up to payday, I’m anxious about my account. I check it at least once a day. I always pay all the bills first, but when I’m frivolous with money I don’t feel secure. Since I was very closely tracking my spending, I always knew what was in my account without even having to check. It was a much better feeling!
9) My friends are awesome. Not a new lesson, but it really helped to have friends who understood my experiment and were supportive of the mission. No one was offended if I said no to a spendy hang out. I really appreciated their company instead of worrying about how to keep everyone entertained.
10) I have a mild shopping addiction. It gives me a RUSH to pull out my credit card and punch in the numbers… and then guilt. I feel out of control when I buy things sometimes. I don’t want to feel like that. I channeled that energy into working out or discovering an amazing piece at one of the museums I have memberships with.
I highly recommend trying a No Spend month! The daily spending tracking habits I’ve developed will continue forward, help me save more than I ever imagined, and force me to prioritize my needs over impulsive wants. If you try this experiment, let me know how it goes!