It’s as predictable as family drama around the holidays. The calendar flips over to a new year and everyone starts planning to be their best selves. There’s no judgment here, I too believe that a new month and a new year means that I can eliminate all of my old habits, just because I really, really want to this time.
For me personally, January is all about getting our budget back under control. The best way for me to reset the way I think about money after a month of financial gluttony is with a No-Buy month.
Every year on December 26th I awake in a panic as we’ve spend the last several months in a state of excess. I usually get up super early, pay off our credit card and then plan out our budget for the rest of the year. (This isn’t quite the behemoth task it seems like because we already have our budget pretty much dialed in.) Then I march into the new year with a feeling of power. We’re going to add to our savings! I’m not going to overspend on vacation! We’re going to talk about money, and if we can afford things, and not be ashamed to say “Sorry, but that’s not in the budget for us.”
A no-buy month in January is a great way to reframe my thinking about what we really need as well as to be super aware of what we’re spending money on. We’ve got some ideas that will help you if you’re taking on a similar challenge.
Tips for Success in a No-Buy Month
Decide on the rules. Will you spend NO non-essential money at all? Are you allowed to spend gift cards? Are there birthdays or other special events this month that you’ll need to plan for? Be realistic in setting your goals. It’s supposed to be a challenge, but you need to set yourself up for success.
Delete or hide shopping apps from your phone. You can choose to hide these apps in a folder, but I would prefer to delete them completely. You can add them again in the future if you need them, but the added step of downloading them might stop you from an impulse purchase.
Unsubscribe from promotional emails. I get several emails a day from one retailer alone. Use a service like Unroll.me to quickly move all of these emails out of your inbox.
Find a no-spend buddy. Having an accountability partner will help you stay on track. Whether it’s someone on-call to listen to your texts about how much this sucks, or someone to share your daily success with, everything is more fun with a friend.
Cash is king. I know we’re all dependent on cards and apps and Venmo these days, but using cash as a strategy in sticking to your budget is a system that WORKS. Budget for any non-essential items for the month and take out that amount in cash. When it’s gone, it’s gone. This is a visual way to see what you’re spending, rather than pretending like $20 credit card swipes don’t really count. (It’s easy to add multiple $20 transactions into hundreds of dollars a month spent without thinking about it!)
Don’t completely deprive yourself. It’s easy to get frustrated and think that you can’t do anything fun all month, but really it’s time to get creative. Invite a friend over for coffee and muffins that you’ve baked, rather than meeting for breakfast. Stream a movie and make popcorn at home. Keep cookie dough in the freezer (even store-bought is fine!) for the occasional treat.
Shop your stash. If you’re not a naturally organized person, which I admit that I am not, sometimes your home is a host of hidden treasures. If I clean out my closet or my bathroom drawers I’m likely to find things I didn’t know I owned. Maybe there’s a stash of sheet masks or an unopened lip gloss hiding in a drawer. BOOM. New stuff without shopping.
Embrace the library. Okay, this is a very specific form of not-shopping, but heading to the library and bringing home a stack of books scratches the itch of needing to buy something. As a bonus, you’re not increasing clutter because the books will need to be returned.
Reframe your thinking. It is very easy to fall into a negative place during a no-buy month. Rather, think about the money you’re saving, the money that will be there in case of an emergency, or perhaps to help fund a vacation or big purchase that you’re saving for.
Accept the challenge. We hope these tips will make it easier to get a handle on your budget, but we also know that this is a challenge. There will be parts that are harder than others. There will likely be a point at which you will whine about not wanting to make lunch at home. Think through to how great you’ll feel at the end of the challenge when you’ve succeeded in your goals and possibly broken some previous habits.