When the urge to buy hits, write it down and wait

The Buffalo News - - MON­EYSMART - Start­ing slow The chal­lenge gets rough store Vic­tory at the gro­cery I caved learned An­other step back, kind of Alook­back­atwhatI

ori­tize and re­ally think about what you’re do­ing,” she says.

How to pre­pare be­fore the no-spend week

Ac­cord­ing to Larsen and Wil­liams, one of the most im­por­tant as­pects of a suc­cess­ful no-spend chal­lenge is de­vel­op­ing a de­tailed plan be­fore you be­gin. Get your fam­ily or part­ner in­volved, sched­ule free ac­tiv­i­ties in ad­vance and think crit­i­cally about your es­sen­tials.

This is prob­a­bly where I first went wrong. I’m not a great plan­ner.

I did choose a week in which I had no nec­es­sary ex­penses due. The only thing I re­ally needed to buy was food, since my tiny kitchen prevents me from keep­ing too many items stocked in the freezer or pantry.

I looked back at my gro­cery spend­ing over the past few weeks to de­ter­mine a food bud­get. Usu­ally, I’ll buy items through­out the week as I need them, know­ing that I’ll likely dine out at least a few times. On av­er­age, I spend about $50 each week gro­cery shop­ping this way.

Based on min­i­mal cal­cu­la­tions and a lot of guess­work, I set­tled on $80 for my food bud­get to off­set the meals I would nor­mally have eaten at restau­rants.

: Day one was Tues­day, which meant, like usual, I packed my lunch and ate break­fast on my way out the door. A busy day at work and the prom­ise of con­tin­u­ing my lat­est Net­flix binge made it easy to head straight home and make an easy din­ner.

I pur­posely chose an easy start­ing day, but it kept me mo­ti­vated.

Larsen rec­om­mends start­ing slow to ease your­self into no-spend pe­ri­ods. Try to ac­com­plish a sin­gle no-spend day, then two or three and even­tu­ally a week or more. Even small pe­ri­ods of sav­ing can add up quickly.

: My first real chal­lenge On Wed­nes­day, I was still rid­ing the high of day one’s suc­cess un­til I checked my mail­box and found a be­lated hol­i­day card with, oh no, a pre­paid Visa gift card in­side. My fin­gers itched to log on to my fa­vorite on­line stores and start shop­ping, but I stuffed the card deep in­side my bag, out of sight.

My first real chal­lenge came that night. I planned to at­tend a small con­cert with a cou­ple of friends, a semi-reg­u­lar week­night oc­cur­rence dur­ing which I would usu­ally spend money on food and drinks and maybe even splurge on a Lyft home.

In­stead, I avoided the bar and took the train home after the show ended, with­out even a late-night dol­lar pizza slice. Both my wal­let and my early morn­ing alarm thanked me.

: Just when I started to think ev­ery­one was over­stat­ing the dif­fi­culty of this en­tire thing, my usual spend­ing vices ap­peared.

I woke up Thurs­day to pro­mo­tional emails from my fa­vorite stores of­fer­ing limited-time sales. The neigh­bor­hood news­let­ter I sub­scribe to gave a new restau­rant rave re­views. One of my fa­vorite artists an­nounced tour dates. Day three was rough.

After speak­ing to Wil­liams, I learned that this would have been a great time to start keep­ing a list of all the things I wanted to buy. She does this monthly.

“Take a sheet of pa­per and ev­ery time you have the urge to buy some­thing, write it down and make your­self prom­ise you’ll wait un­til the end of the month,” she says. “That’s a re­ally help­ful tool to make you re­al­ize just how of­ten you do im­pul­sive spend­ing. You can re­ally see how strongly you feel about that at the end of the month.”


On Fri­day, I vis­ited Trader Joe’s with my $80 gro­cery bud­get in hand.

Mak­ing an ef­fort to be more pur­pose­ful with my pur­chases, I bought a week’s worth of break­fasts, lunches and easy din­ner op­tions, and my to­tal came out to only $58. Un­der bud­get!

A sin­gle trip to the store in­stead of my usual mul­ti­ple per week helped me make more thought­ful food choices and kept me from over­spend­ing on things I don’t need. I spent only $8 more than my weekly av­er­age, but I left with much more food than usual and a plan to make it last.

Larsen trims her gro­cery bill even more by us­ing a gro­cery de­liv­ery ser­vice to mit­i­gate im­pulse buys. When or­der­ing on­line, “I know what’s on my list and that’s all I can get,” she says. “Some­times, I don’t even want to go to the gro­cery store, be­cause I start wan­der­ing down aisles. If I just or­der it and this is what they bring, that’s all I can have.”

: Sat­ur­day I re­al­ized how help­ful a well-thought-out plan would have been.

I knew go­ing out with friends would lead to spend­ing money, but it was too late to per­suade mine to change their plans. In­stead, I stayed in to meal prep and catch up on chores. I wouldn’t do this ev­ery week­end, but it did help me prac­tice say­ing no and set­ting bound­aries for my­self when I need to save. It also mo­ti­vated me to seek out free ac­tiv­i­ties for next time.

My time at home led to an­other is­sue, though.

The con­cert that was an­nounced day three? Sat­ur­day af­ter­noon, after watch­ing (many) YouTube con­cert videos, I felt like I had to buy tick­ets im­me­di­ately. I caved. I bought them.

To make my­self feel less guilty, I did at least use the pre­paid gift card from day two.

Larsen says this is a strat­egy she’s used be­fore. “I would find lit­tle ways I could make money, and then when I knew I had to spend it, I didn’t feel like I was tak­ing from my bank ac­count,” she says. “I was just us­ing that ex­tra fluff I had brought in. I didn’t want to see any trans­ac­tions on my debit card.”

She rec­om­mends tak­ing the ex­tra time you have dur­ing the chal­lenge to sell clothes you no longer wear, or, like me, search for un­used gift cards.

Though it felt like a big step back­ward, Wil­liams says it’s im­por­tant not to let a set­back throw you off com­pletely. “I think that’s where a lot of peo­ple get in trou­ble,” she says. “There’s al­ways go­ing to be stuff that comes up, so it re­ally is just about be­ing able to roll with it and say, ‘OK, I’m go­ing to go to this, but then I’m not go­ing to go to movie night on Tues­day.’”

: Sun­day didn’t fare much bet­ter. I spent the af­ter­noon at a friend’s birth­day brunch, but again, I found a way to jus­tify my spend­ing. Be­cause I didn’t use my en­tire gro­cery bud­get for the week, I used that ex­tra $22 on brunch (plus an ad­di­tional $20 I still owed). It still felt like cheat­ing. Wil­liams told me there’s no shame in bud­get­ing for ex­tras up­front, es­pe­cially if you’re at­tempt­ing a long-term chal­lenge. It’s not about de­pri­va­tion, she says.

“You’re al­ways go­ing to have those sur­prise things that come up, like the brunches, so maybe next time you bud­get for sur­prise stuff.”


A sin­gle trip to the store in­stead of my usual mul­ti­ple per week helped me make more thought­ful food choices and kept me from over­spend­ing on things I don’t need.

The chal­lenge ended Mon­day, and hav­ing a week­day sched­ule again made it much eas­ier to not spend money. I suc­ceeded, but it only un­der­scored how much I need to work on my week­end im­pulse pur­chases.

This chal­lenge may not be sus­tain­able for me long term, but I learned a lot about my spend­ing habits and I’m work­ing on in­cor­po­rat­ing some as­pects into my daily life.

As the week went on, I found I wasn’t as con­cerned with suc­cess or fail­ure as I was in­ter­ested in see­ing where my spend­ing habits have been throw­ing off my big­ger sav­ings goals. I def­i­nitely need to work on say­ing no, make smarter de­ci­sions at the gro­cery store and find ways to keep from shop­ping out of bore­dom.

Com­pared with my reg­u­lar weekly spend­ing, I saved about $160, after sub­tract­ing my gro­cery bud­get and the two pur­chases I made, which is a sig­nif­i­cant amount for me. And it felt re­ally good to de­posit that ad­di­tional $160 into my sav­ings at the end of the week.

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