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Do No Spend Days Work?

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BudgetsA few years ago (it’s actually now more than ten years… but in an effort to not feel as old, I’ll say “just a few”), when I was tracking my budget down to the penny, I went a little overboard with Excel and my love of statistics. After a few minutes of finding every delta and calculating every percentage, you don’t really have much that the spreadsheet can grind for you. You run out of things to calculate.

So one of the things I thought to track was something I called $0 Spend Days. Today, people call them “no spend days” or “zero spend days.” The basic gist was that it was a day in which you charged nothing to a credit card and spent none of your cash. You’d still have amortized fixed costs (rent, car payment, gas – things you paid for once but used over several days) but that wouldn’t count.

Benefits of No Spend Days

The big benefit of tracking no spend days was that I now had a greater understanding of my spending habits, even more so than just budgeting. With budgeting, I didn’t have a goal. I just tracked my spending.

With no spend days, I felt like I was playing a game in which there was a score. After the first month, I realized that so much of my spending was on lunch. My patterns emerged because I looked with purpose. My weekends were shot because I was going out with friends, but Monday through Thursday represented the best opportunity to have a no spend day because most of the time it was just $6-8 on lunch.

Mondays usually had a grocery store trip and Tuesdays were the most frequent no spend days, but Wednesday and Thursday were toss ups. So to increase the no spend days I started bringing lunch in.

Gaming No Spend Days

There’s no real reason to game no spend days because no one else saw my budget and, even if they did, it’s not a game. If, however, you wanted to, it’s quite easy to defer or accelerate spending. I could easily buy everything I needed on a Sunday (buy groceries, fill up the car) and then made it four days without spending a penny.

This is part of the reason why those “don’t buy gas on this date” is symbolic but otherwise useless. OPEC doesn’t care, oil companies don’t care, and only the gas station cares a little bit. Deferring or accelerating spending is a simple matter, especially if it’s just by one day. Plus, if you’re really in a jam, nothing is hurt if you break the self imposed symbolic embargo.

Do They Work?

The big question is do they work in terms of managing your money? I think that anything that increases your awareness of your spending will help you in the long run. Calculating no spend days isn’t necessarily going to help a tremendous amount but you never know. I gained a greater understanding of my spending habits, but that’s something I could’ve done if I made a concerted effort to sit down and study my spending habits (which I didn’t). The no spend concept simply made it a game for me.

(photo: taxcredits)

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10 Responses to “Do No Spend Days Work?”

  1. I think they work if you have some nonessential daily spending like coffee runs and lunches out. It really only counts if you don’t make it up by replacing it by buying on another day you normally wouldn’t. Like you said, it doesn’t help if it just defers or accelerates a cost, only if you eliminate it.

  2. I personally haven’t tried no spend days, but knowing myself I think I’d end up spending more. Not because I’d actively try to game it, but I’d feel so good about not spending all day that I’d reward myself by spending more the next day.
    I’m not a big fan of strict budgeting either – like you said, the trick is to become more aware of your habits, and then you can try to curb the bad ones with small changes over time. For me, I just ask myself – twice – before any purchase whether it’s something I really need.

  3. I have a friend who adds “no driving” to his no spend days. He tries not to drive the car on several–I think it’s 3 or 4–days each week. I’m not sure if he games his system in the way you describe or if the main effect is just to complicate his life, but I’m guessing yes to both. Is he really saving money and cutting his environmental footprint (which I think are his motivation)? I’d like to think so, but I sort of doubt it, at least by more than a trivial amount.

  4. Daniel says:

    Most of my days are “no-spend” days. I only buy what I need to buy.

  5. Shirley says:

    I find that no-spend days work especially well for me at the grocery store. If I keep an ongoing list of what I need and then shop just once a week, I follow the list much more closely and really cut back on impulse spending.

  6. Steph says:

    I don’t have a “No Spend Day,” but I do designate one day a week where I can eat out for lunch. This lets me catch up with friends, stick closer to my diet plan and not be tempted (as much) to eat out on other days since I have a fixed day rather than a “whenever I feel like it” approach. No to curb my “household” spending. I’m a sucker for a “good deal,” but it’s only good if you actually needed the item…

    • Daniel says:

      Steph, I do this too. I meet one friend for breakfast or lunch each week, and it’s a great way to keep up with them.

  7. admiral58 says:

    I don’t have many no-spend days, but I do try to lower my average-spend days as much as I can

  8. Becca says:

    As someone else mentioned above, nearly every day is a no spend day for me. I only spend money on essentials, and almost never spend money on coffee or lunch during the day. I’ll bring coffee from home if need be, and I bring in a lunch nearly every day.

    I say on average, 4 or 5 out of 7 are no spend days.

  9. ace carolla says:

    fiscal fasting! it’s always a feat when i can get a no spend cheapy day in. i’ve even rode my bike to work to make it even more of a no spend day.

    the gratification that comes with a no spend day is cool.


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