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8 Things I Learned from My No-Spend Challenge


If you've been reading my blog the last few months, you may know that one of my 2020 goals is to "grow in my knowledge and stewardship of our finances." As I was brainstorming ways to make that happen, I discovered The Contentment Challenge hosted by Nancy Ray. It's a three-month commitment where, in Nancy's words:
“I will give up shopping for clothes, accessories, household decor, and ‘stuff’ for three months, to focus my heart and mind on the root of true contentment. I will actively pursue fulfilling activities that will replace my addiction to material things.”
The Challenge officially took place from January - March 2020. This was my first time participating, though Nancy has hosted it for several years. I heard about it while listening to an episode about it on her podcast and felt like it complemented my financial goal for the year. I hoped it would give me an opportunity to slow down, save, and evaluate my spending. Nick and I have been tracking all of our expenses using the Goodbudget app since last November, and that's when I first noticed how much I spent on random things I didn't really need. 

In Nancy's introductory blog post, she outlines some guidelines to help steer the challenge. I kept them in mind but didn't strictly adhere to them. I specifically wanted to focus on the money I spent on myself. I don't personally spend a lot on clothes or household decor, but I have my own money pits – paper products, makeup, books, etc. For example, I still bought a few things for our new baby. BUT I GAVE UP BOOKS. A three-month book buying ban? It was a first! However, Kelly and I had previously decided we wanted to buy at least one book per month from somewhere other than Amazon (ideally from an indie bookstore). So, that was the only exception I allowed myself. 

I'm wrapping up this challenge tomorrow, so I thought I'd share eight things I've learned along the way:

1. Unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe.
The first thing I did for this challenge? I opened my email and unsubscribed from every single marketing list that I was on. There were some I'd meant to unsubscribe from for months and others that I reluctantly removed. What if I missed an awesome sale on something I loved? Well, I probably did miss some great sales – but I also realized how often I was shopping solely because I saw something in an email. This was huge, and I'm not going back. 

2. Skip the sales.
The first thing I learned leads me into the second lesson. While I do love a good discount, I think it's better for me, personally, to buy something full price when I actually need it than to stock up during a sale. I'm more aware now of how often I've used a sale to justify purchases that I definitely didn't need and sometimes never used. But I have started a small list of specific things I "want/need" that aren't urgent and can wait for a sale. 

3. If I can't see it, I don't want it.
I unsubscribed from emails and stopped visiting my favorite online retailers' websites, I didn't see new things that I might like to own. When I stopped visiting my local used bookstore, I didn't know what they did or didn't have in stock. If I didn't wander Target, I wasn't adding things to my cart. It's common sense, but it still amazed me how easy it was to stop spending money once I stopped visiting the places I most likely to spend that money.

4. When I don't buy more, I use what I own.
Here's another thing I learned that will elicit a "no duh" response. When I wasn't buying new things, I started using what I already owned. No new notebooks = finally using some that I'd been hoarding (why?!) for ages. The biggest place I learned this lesson? BOOKS! While I still used the library, I was shocked at how quickly I decreased my To Be Read pile when I wasn't adding new books to it. In fact, I think I'm going to extend my book buying ban!

5. When in doubt, wait it out. 
I've shopped for all kinds of reasons: because I was bored, because I wanted to reward myself, because I was stressed out, etc. That itch didn't go away just because I decided to stop shopping! I started to find something else to do when that feeling hit, but I also let myself put things in my cart to save for later. As I waited before purchasing, I usually forgot about it. And if I still wanted it? Well, it would still be there when this was over.

6. Abstaining adds up.
My objective for participating in this challenge wasn't saving money. I knew that would (hopefully) be a result, but I really wanted to break the habit of impulse buying and mindless spending. But I won't lie: it's been rewarding to see the dollars add up in my bank account. It illustrated just how much I've spent on things I didn't need. YIKES. Talk about convicting and motivating for the future! I'll still shop but with more intention now.

7. Self control is a skill.
Before I started, I knew this would truly be a challenge. Why? Because I'd tried book buying bans in the past, and I always failed. I'd usually start strong, and then begin rationalizing purchases. Since I was fully committed to this project, I took it more seriously. And like a muscle that grows the more you work out, my self control grew every time I followed through on the challenge. The more I exercised restraint, the more I wanted to continue.

8. Need it? Not really.
This final lesson wasn't a surprise: I don't need most of the things I buy. Almost everything I was tempted to purchase was truly a want. There's no guilt or shame in that, but I need to keep it in perspective moving forward. The ability to spend money on things that I want, just because, is something I don't want to take for granted. I'm more content with what I have and more appreciative of the fact that I can buy more. 


Well, there you have it! This challenge ends April 1, but I'll continue to practice the things I've learned during it. Would I recommend it? Absolutely! And like Nancy, there's a good chance I'll be repeating this challenge every year. I have loved the experience and what it taught me. And I think a yearly refresh would be so worthwhile!

You may be wondering: did I buy anything during this no-spend challenge? I've mentioned my one book a month exception, but I did purchase a few more things, too. Later this week, I'll share what I bought the last three months and why. Additionally, I'm planning on purchasing a few things now that I'm done. Check back for that list, too!

Have you ever participated in a no-spend challenge?
How long did it last? Were you successful?

1 comment

  1. I am amazed at your self-restraint! I've been wanting to do this for a while now but I always fail. Great job!

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