I recently completed the 7-Day Buy Nothing Challenge. After spending $0 for the week, I sat down to reflect on what I had learned – what was most important for others to hear. The following are my 10 takeaways from this little spending cleanse:
1. Follow Rules
My head frequently questioned the decision to put away the credit cards and stop spending. I would pass by businesses, and sometimes walk in them, teased by a store’s offerings. Each time I left without spending a dime because I was on a mission.
On Day 0, I outlined a set of basic rules that would help me stay on track. For the most part, they helped. Many times, I didn’t carry a wallet at all. I felt lighter and more minimalistic. Having rules was a nice fallback for people that invited me out or wondered why I couldn’t spend any money.
2. Ignore Critics
Plenty of people questioned my decision to try this. Oftentimes, the skepticism centered on the idea that people couldn’t actually spend $0. For them, people are spending money on rent and utilities all the time. I have a car loan that requires a monthly payment. Maybe the skeptics are right, you can’t spend nothing. Also, I was taken out to dinner for one of the nights, and that seemed to inflame certain peoples’ perspective on the challenge (I was treated to a meal (without request or assumption) by old friends that randomly drove through town. These things happen.).
The only rebuttal for me comes from the reasons for this challenge. It wasn’t about scavenging for food or living out of a van. For me, I was aiming to rescue my finances by stopping all purchases. We are exposed to a wealth of marketing materials that hinder our ability to shop smart. I wanted to turn off all these points of weakness in spending.
In the end, if you try this experiment, you’re doing it for your own budget and life – not someone else’s ideal or idea for this experiment. Stay focused and don’t let the naysayers get you down.
3. Stay Purposeful
Whether you’re motivated to curtail spending for environmental, financial, or psychological reasons, this challenge can benefit you. There’s a tremendous purpose in stretching your prior assumptions around shopping. By starting this adventure, I learned just how difficult it can be, but that an overarching meaning motivated me to continue.
The thought of spending $0 over a week was often enough positive encouragement. In my most difficult periods, where I thought I might just spend money, I thought back to all the reasons I started this journey. I wasn’t going to fail my readers, friends, or my budget.
4. Control Urges
The urge to spend will come. Whether it’s because you can’t seemingly wait or you really need something, your mind will likely trick you into thinking you must go to a grocery store. The reality is that you can do without any one food source for a week. Out of black beans? This doesn’t call for a drive to your local Target.
By beginning to control the urge to shop or impulse buy, this sets a lasting precedent for purchases. No longer do I run to the store on whim or for a random item. When I shop, it’s with a purpose. When I make mistakes and don’t plan my purchases accordingly, I have to wait. Thankfully, that wait saves me big time.
5. Find Free Things
Whether a picnic in the park, concert in the city, or free breakfast from Ihop, your week away from spending money doesn’t need to be austere. From books checked out at the library to fancy stay-at-home dinners with your loved one, life can keep moving in a spending cleanse.
Be proactive and plan for free events and activities in your local community. These options can help get you through the week, while also bolstering your options afterwards.
Here’s a terrific list by The Simple Dollar to get you started: 100 Things to Do During a Money Free Weekend.
6. Be Prepared
By all means, be ready with food preparation. I did not stock up enough on diverse meal options. Before jumping into a week-long spending cleanse, consider what your diet is like and just how much food you eat throughout a week. Use my tips to dominate the supermarket and consider your week in advance.
In cutting out all forms of shopping, I imagined a world where I couldn’t get more food for a week. Thankfully, I was prepared with the basics, but in the future, there are some weak areas that I’ll need to work on.
As the Boy Scouts say, “Always be prepared.”
7. Recognize Accomplishments
Sometimes the challenge was trying because others can spend money around you, but you’re stuck with a $0 goal. It’s important to recognize your accomplishments, strengths, and trials along the way. It truly is amazing to put your wallet away and stop spending anything for a week.
With a tough day, I’d take a break to watch a movie, eat a (healthy) candy, and/or spend time with those I care about. This positive reinforcement and recognition from self and others helped propel me through the last two to three days.
8. Seek Support, Accountability
Because I turned this into a challenge, adventure, and experiment, other people held me accountable. My friends wanted to see me succeed. My girlfriend comically teased me with fantastic foods she was eating, but also kept me on track along the way.
By bouncing the idea off of others, sharing the stories on Facebook and Twitter, and talking with friends frequently, I had a group of people rooting for me the whole way. I focused on their support when the going got tough. This is an invaluable piece of the puzzle.
9. Make Do
As I’ve mentioned a few times now, I didn’t plan very well for food storage. Most of my fresh foods were gone in three days and the diversity of my meals was abysmal. Much like in camping trips or long-term travel situations, I learned to make do with what I had.
This is a lesson in attitudes. Maybe I learned it from running my first marathon not too long ago, but I developed a pleasure in pushing through pain. By conquering your discomforts, you can truly gain happiness.
Days of spaghetti, rice, and beans were boring and hard to maintain, but they helped me get through this journey. They’re staples for most of the world, and I’m thankful to have these basics.
10. Try This Experiment!
Don’t be surprised if I try this experiment out in the future! As the fall school semester rolls around, I’m eager to see if I can go two or three weeks without spending an extra dime. I sincerely hope it inspires others to attempt the $0 week, as well. Just imagine what you could learn about yourself from spending nothing for 7 days.
What’s the longest you’ve gone without spending? Would you try this challenge?