30 Days of Zero Spending

by Dan Walsh

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Lessons from a month-long miser.

Today is the first day in over a month that I can freely spend money. I put myself on a spending freeze for the month of January, and now that February has arrived I want to reflect on everything I learned. This little experiment started as a small personal challenge and a way to make up for the annual holiday spending binge. Limiting my spending had unintended side-effects however. It caused me to notice and reflect on habitual behaviours of mine, as well as find new solutions to problems that can usually be solved by spending money. So how’d I do overall?

Spending zero money for 30 days was easier than I thought it would be. Just to be clear, I was spending zero money on unnecessary spending. That means I could still pay my rent and buy groceries etc., but I couldn’t go out for lunch, buy new clothes, or other purchases like that. In the nature of full disclosure, I want to start this post with a list of items I did buy that weren’t part of the sanctioned rules.

Unsanctioned or Dubious Purchases

  • 3 website domains (justified because they are part of a yearly goal)
  • Sherlock, season 3 (can’t justify this)
  • $100 worth of Bitcoins (it’s a good time to buy!)
  • Lunch out for myself and two others (justified because they were grocery-like)

Ok, now that those are out of the way, let’s dive into the interesting stuff.

What I Learned

I buy a lot of stuff on Amazon. Most of my purchases are ebooks, and I became frustrated when I finished a book and couldn’t buy a new one. I was limited to the books I had already purchased and hadn’t read yet – which isn’t a bad thing. I wasn’t always in the right mental space for those books though, so now I have 8 or 9 that I’ve begun and abandoned.

Going out for coffee is big part of my routine. I never really tallied it up, but I must buy at least 3 or 4 coffees per week. It’s an excuse for an afternoon walk during the week and a way to bond with coworkers. Sipping a coffee at a cafe is also a nice way to spend a few morning hours on the weekend. Most of my weekday coffee intake was replaced by afternoon tea at work. I was able to sneak in a few coffees by cashing in on cafe loyalty cards, which ironically meant that I bounced around to multiple shops and was definitely unloyal. I was also able to strategically get a free cup once a week when I purchased bags of beans, which are sanctioned as groceries. My coworkers also treated me to a cup o joe on a few occasions, to which I am indebted.

I buy apps and music more than I realized. This only happened a few times, but it was frustrating. A song would get stuck in my head or the perfect app would solve an issue I had, but I couldn’t buy them. I either had to wait until February or resign myself to listen to the songs via streaming services.

I like being generous. I like paying for others from time to time. I think most people do. It’s one way that I show I care, and I felt hindered in this regard. Money, however, is a shallow way of showing affection. I realized I was sort of copping out in this regard. I need to find more meaningful ways to show those in my life that I care about them.

Speaking of showing I care, going out on dates with Angelica was tough. In a great act of understanding for her eccentric boyfriend, she had to pay for all the dates we went on this past month. I definitely owe her and some of my friends for all the treating they did over the past 31 days.

Conclusions

The one decision to refrain from purchases took many smaller decisions off my plate. This effectively relieved a large burden of stress that I didn’t know I was shouldering. I no longer had to deliberate if I should / shouldn’t buy an app. As frustrating as it was, I couldn’t buy a new, which meant I never had to worry if it would be worth the price. I didn’t have to mentally haggle with myself before going out to eat and I never had buyers remorse at a larger than expected dinner bill.

Through this experiment I realized that buying stuff – anything – creates a lot of opportunity for doubt and regret. It’s easy to buy something once a day. At the end of the month that’s 30 potential opportunities to doubt oneself.

“Did I make the right choice?”
“Was it worth it?”
“Maybe I should have saved that money instead.”

I easily refrained from $300 worth or purchases this past month. That savings seems like a bargain when compared to the stress and doubt I removed from my life. The whole experience strengthened my discipline and ability to delay gratification. I put off a lot of purchases, so the current model isn’t necessarily sustainable. But perhaps the relaxation gains can be maintained with better planning and rules on what I will or won’t buy.