I challenged myself to spend NOTHING for 15 days – here's what happened
When was the last time you had a day where you spent nothing? Don't worry, I didn't know the answer off the top of my head either.
But those little spends sure can add up quickly without us even realising, such as paying for parking, a bottle of water etc. You know the score, and I feel you.
Sometimes it's unavoidable. But on top of this, I also love a bargain. While I'm still relatively new here at MSE after starting my job back in July, I wouldn't consider myself a MoneySaving novice.
I try my best not to pay full price for anything such as clothes, events and eating out, so if there's a discount code, I know it, if there's a loyalty scheme, I'm part of it. But despite these cheap thrills, I found my 'good' habit for bargain hunting was adding up too...
The lightbulb moment
I had this epiphany one lunchtime at MSE Towers, when I found myself window shopping once again nearby. Because just looking at the sale rail is OK, right? One thing's for sure – I wasn't always following Martin's Money Mantras if I found myself enticed by a deal.
As part of my job, a lot of my working day is spent reading amazing and inspiring stories from users on the MSE Forum – and I quickly realised to be truly MoneySaving, I needed to be following in their footsteps. So I marched back to the office, and signed up to my first ever forum challenge, the October No-Spend Days Challenge.
What are No-Spend Days (NSDs)?
The challenge itself is quite straightforward – don't spend any money on as many days as you can.
You can set your own target, and decide what counts as a spend and what doesn't, for example, you may decide that spending on petrol and groceries won't count during the challenge.
Easy enough on paper, right? But I knew my Achilles heel would be avoiding an impulse buy. Ahead of my challenge, I asked a few Forumites for their top tips. They said:
- Have a budget.
- Have a meal plan and take your own food, drinks and snacks for when you're out and about.
- Buy secondhand wherever possible.
My No-Spend Days diary
Having taken these tips on board, I worked out my budget and decided to aim for an ambitious 15 No-Spend Days, which many people set as a goal.
I decided not to count rent, petrol, groceries, contributions to my savings including a Help to Buy ISA, direct debits such as my phone contract and car insurance, and travelling to work, as spending. It's worth noting, I sometimes pay to upgrade to a quicker train and use the tube, which I have counted as spending.
I began my diary on payday and stuck at it for 29 days, until the day before my next one. Here goes...
- NSD. I got a £6 refund when I returned an outfit I bought in a sale. I took my lunch to work (there's also a forum challenge for that) but after a late finish, I used a voucher in my Burger King app to get some 99p nuggets. Don't judge. Overall, I'd count that as being £5.01 in the black? Not a bad start...
- £2.10. I ran out of hairspray. I'm kicking myself knowing I could have bought it cheaper elsewhere.
- £33.00. It's my friend's wedding! I spent £12 on drinks, £13 on Uber, £5 on trains... and a measly £3 on 'dinner' – a chicken Caesar salad on the go. Wild. At least I avoided buying cheesy chips. Go me.
- NSD. Lazy day today with a family roast dinner. I am so chuffed. I just really hope I can keep it up.
- NSD. Well, I did it again. I took my lunch to work as planned, and I think that helped massively.
- £2. It's not much, but it was on a birthday card which I know I could have got cheaper elsewhere. This challenge is making me question everything.
- £30.40. Today has not gone well. I paid £8 to park at the station instead of my usual lift (love you Dad). I also bought a £9.60 peak upgrade to get to and from work quicker with my 16-25 Railcard, which meant I also paid £4.80 to get the tube, oh – and £8 on medication, which I wasn't expecting, after I had to go home ill.
- NSD. Only because I worked from home after being ill yesterday...
- £35.09. I forgot to pack lunch – rookie error – so I spent £3.99 on a meal deal. I also bought a £25 ticket for a West End show for a friend's birthday, and extra tubes and trains home added £6.10 to my overall spend today.
- £51. I knew today would be pricey. £24 on three drinks while out for my friend's birthday. Ouch. Plus £27 on discontinued make-up in B&M – MoneySaving in the long run, but it's not helped towards my challenge efforts.
- NSD. I spent today doing housework after my 5k run. Nice and chilled.
- NSD. Success, but I can feel myself about to fall off the wagon, and I'm trying desperately to cling on by my fingernails (which, incidentally, look awful after one broke in the morning meeting).
- £6.50. I parked near the station today (for £5 this time, phew). Bought a birthday card for £1.50 – so obviously not learnt my lesson from last time; bulk buy packs of cards, or better still, make one.
- £4.20. I'm finding myself getting really frustrated, even when I only spend a little. I went to a free yoga class after work, upgraded my train ticket for £3.70 to get home quicker, and bagged a 50p chicken wrap in the reduced section on the way home.
- £18.90. Halfway through and my aim of 15 NSDs is becoming less and less attainable. £12.50 spent on little bits I needed, £5.40 on a train to see my boyfriend, and £1 on a cheese pretzel for lunch.
- 63p. I popped into Tesco on my way to work, and grabbed an own brand microwave rice for 63p. I nearly spent up to £2 on a branded one, but decided to downshift.
- £58.43. It's the weekend. £28.64 spent in Tesco for afternoon tea bits for friends who came to visit. At least I got some Clubcard points. We then headed out shopping. I'm still thinking about a pair of boots I saw, but bought some small family Christmas gifts instead.
- £16.40. I met my friend for a rare brunch date (soooo millennial, I know. Cringe!). £3.40 (ouch) on two hours' parking, and £13 on food, two pots of tea and a fresh orange juice.
- £16.97. I searched high and low before work for any dregs of cough sweets and syrup to no avail. £10.97 spent on meds. I also met my friend on my lunch break and bought a £6 smoothie to be polite... I nearly threw it back up when I realised the cost.
- £4.40. I paid a visit to my grandparents after work, and stopped by M&S to get some fancy biscuits. I also picked up some reduced pitta and hummus for my lunches for the rest of the week.
- NSD. Ate the pitta and hummus for lunch, as planned. I went to yoga again, and then straight home after work. No pricey ticket upgrade for me today. No sir!
- £66.70. My nails have broken and I couldn't hold out any longer, so I got gels for £20 (half the price of my usual acrylics) and had my eyebrows shaped for £5. I also invested in a much-needed pair of £25 ankle boots (different to the ones I can't stop thinking about). I paid £5 to park at the station, £3.70 for a different train home and spent £8 on a few bits I needed for my forthcoming trip to Bournemouth.
- £15. Before I went on my break to Bournemouth, MSE Tine suggested I withdraw all my spending money in cash to help me budget, so I took out £40 a day. Today's a good start, as I bought snacks and gave £10 to my friend for petrol.
- £50. Drinks, dinner and taxis in the evening. My friend paid for afternoon tea as a thanks for coming to visit.
- £27.50. I returned the favour at our favourite dessert parlour to say thanks. I've come back with £27.50. It feels so nice looking at my bank account and seeing I have no pending transactions. I've surprised myself.
- NSD. I brought lunch into work with me, and avoided all temptation after a full-on weekend.
- NSD. I'm so close to the end now. While I know I haven't reached my target (which I'm a little gutted about), I'm pleased today has remained another NSD.
- £13.50. Today I was at a training day, so I paid £5 for station parking. I upgraded to the quicker train coming home for £3.70. I also paid £4.80 for the tube.
- £50.70. I paid £7.70 for a return train upgrade and bought a £1 deodorant. But I accidentally ended up in a shop closing down sale. After a whole month without buying new clothes, I officially caved and spent £42. It's not the best end to my challenge, admittedly...
What I learnt after nine No-Spend Days
In the end, I managed nine No-Spend Days, six short of my target of 15. On five of the 20 days where I spent money, my overall spend was less than £5, so that's something I guess.
Taking part in the No-Spend Days challenge was much more difficult than I ever anticipated. The principle seemed so straightforward, but the reality was far from that, and I discovered just how easy it is to beat yourself up about spending. But my efforts have inspired my boyfriend to try it this month, and that's an achievement in itself.
My aim is to revisit the challenge in six months' time, to see how far I have come - and hopefully you'll see a few more blogs from me in between now and then. So here are five key things I will be taking away from the last 29 days:
- Be organised. While for the most part I was good at bringing in my lunch regularly, I found the smallest unnecessary spends, such as hairspray and deodorant, were a result of not planning ahead.
- Willpower. I knew this would be the hardest thing for me, but when I really did want to make a purchase, Martin's Money Mantras helped me rationalise whether it was necessary or not. I also think walking away from a sale, and returning the next day to see if I still really wanted an item helped. After all, I managed to avoid the more expensive boots...
- Compromise. You can't always get what you want. For example, gel polish instead of acrylic nails. The challenge really made me weigh up the value of services and products against their cost. And I've discovered that a) no one notices and b) I won't self-combust if my nails aren't as long as my arm once in a while.
- Utilise loyalty schemes. I definitely could have saved more with the schemes I'm signed up to by using my points and rewards. I'm going to make this my mission next time.
- Find a budgeting method that works for you. MSE Tine's tip to withdraw cash really helped me cut down on unnecessary spending. But equally, others like to keep track using their online banking, or by creating a spreadsheet. Find a way that works and stick to it – see our Budget Planner.