The “No-Spend Day” Challenge

The other day I was listening to some stock-picking gurus review several of their favorite picks. One of them mentioned Visa and Mastercard as one of their favorite companies given the “new, electronic economy.”

They went on to say, “I mean, think about it. Does a day go by that you don’t use your credit card four or five times a day? Coffee shop on the way to work, lunch, grocery store and gas station on the way home.”

I suppose they are right; we do seem to use our credit and debt cards several times a day. I guess we could just as easily use cash. Well, maybe not just as easily – after all, those card readers at the gas pump are pretty convenient.

The question is, would we spend cash so easily? The bigger question is, why are we consuming so many things every single day? Can we not go a day without buying something? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself lately, and I’ve made it sort of a challenge.

A “No-Spend” Wednesday

Yesterday was a good example. We had breakfast at home, as we typically do. No stops by Starbucks on the way to work. At work, I drank water and avoided the vending machine (not hard to do since I’m trying to eat better, but the occasional diet soda is still my weakness).

Lunch was a brown bag from home – a roast beef sandwich, a portion of cottage cheese and a water. After dinner at home I ignored the the blitz of “deals” that often hit my inbox – Amazon’s deal of the day (yeah, the 32BG thumb drive for $22 was tempting), a $1.99 movie rental opportunity, etc.

Fortunately, my wife agreed to a “No-Spend Day,” too, so her and the kids made it a point to avoid some of the infrequent treats they enjoy throughout the week like the once-a-week visit to Sonic after school to grab a half-priced drink. Sure, it would have only cost them a couple dollars, but we were making a point not to spend any money. Not even $1.00!

Lessons Learned from a No-Spend Day

The exercise has made us more aware of two things: we have a lot of little money leaks in the average day. And two, we need to find more activities that don’t cost money. My kids are ahead of the adults on this one – they have already asked about going to the library this weekend to stock up on some new reading material.

The weather has improved to the point where doing things like taking a picnic to the park once again sounds enjoyable. My son has asked me to start taking him fishing (a sneakily expensive hobby, but very low cost once you have the basic equipment).

We are also on the lookout for things to do nearby that don’t cost much, or are absolutely free. These may be community events or events sponsored by local businesses. Check the Living or Community section of your local newspaper to find out what’s happening in your area.

So, to wrap things up, I challenge you to schedule a no-spend day in the very near future. It’s sort of like a fast, but instead of giving up solid foods you’ll be giving up spending money, just for a day.

You may find that by stringing a few no-spend days together, or dedicating a day of the week as a “no-spend day” every week, helps you significantly reduce your monthly expenses. 

Disclaimer: I own no stock in Visa or Mastercard


    • I too have several no spend days during the week. But I think it is because I’m a stay at home mom so since I only buy groceries about twice a week (and only need to fill up the gas tank about twice a month) the other days don’t usually require any money because the things we do are already paid for (preschool, my gym membership) etc… We visit the library every week and have two park days and have our snacks at home, so those require no additional expense. I also have sort of a “yucky” feeling going into big box stores so it’s not an enjoyable experience and I tend to want to get in/get out.

    • It’s the same here – grocery shopping on weekends, gas once a week or less (not always on weekends), maybe one meal out a week or less… it isn’t disclipine at all. With both of us working full-time, the weekends are the only good time to run errands. It isn’t at all out of the ordinary to have four or five “no-spend” days every week.

  1. I try to have “No Spend Days” as much as possible..
    But I find that I have to plan them out a bit ahead of time.

    – The car(s) can’t be out of gas
    – We have to be well stocked on food, baby supplies, etc
    – I have to have something to bring to work for lunch (altho a sandwich will always work in a pinch)

    It seems like my last few NSD’s have been sabotaged by one of these..

  2. Our family started “Fiscal Fasting” after watching the show “Extreme Cheapskates” on TLC. For all of 2012, we vowed to spend no money on Wednesdays. Then, once per month we ramp it up and do an entire week.

    The week long experiments are quite the experience. They take careful planning to make sure our young boys have enough milk, etc. We try and use up as much stuff in the house as possible, and we take the time to look for ways to stretch the dollar and cut bills.

    It really has been a rewarding experience, and we have written about our experiences with Fiscal Fasting several times with more posts planned in the future.

    I’m glad to see other people performing the same exercise. I encourage you, Frugal Dad, to see how the family does on an entire week long Fiscal Fast!

  3. This is kind of funny, because the only reason I don’t have “frugal” days is because I ended up deciding it was cost/effort effective to buy lunch from my heavily discounted cafeteria each work day.

    Weekends often have at least one day like this if you discount “essential” spending like Groceries.

    Cool 🙂

  4. Hi Jason , I love the idea of no-spend days…I try to see how many days in a row I can manage without spending all the time! Weekdays aren’t as bad if I plan ahead, but weekends are much harder for me.

    I’m thinking of doing a monthly spending fast challenge on our blog as well and reporting on my progress. The idea would be to give myself a very limited amount in discretionary spending (say $25 per week) for a month to see how I survive. I hope you’ll check it out when I do 🙂

  5. This is definitely a much tougher challenge for a whole family than for a single guy on his own, but with smart grocery shopping , gift cards from Christmas, and planning, I can probably go for a no-spend week or two every month. I just might have to try it!

  6. If this focusses people on their extraneous spending, great. Unfortunately, I think some people treat it as an opportunity to “fight the consumerist system”. In the latter case, it doesn’t encourage the true lifestyle changes necessary to improve our debt-ridden world (no credit, true frugality, sale of personal vehicles, etc.)

  7. It’s a good exercise to become more aware of your spending, to do it more mindfully, but I doubt practically anyone (barring the extremely impoverished) ever have a true no-spend day.

    For example, one of the ways I save money is to ride the bus rather than have a car. The fare for a bus ride here is $1. There’s a machine at the bus depot that dispenses six bus tokens for $5, so it’s basically “buy 5 get 1 free.” Now, if I buy some tokens on Tuesday and I have Wednesday designated as a no-spend day, and I use one of the bus tokens on Wednesday, I’m not directly spending money, as such — but I am, really, because I’m just getting the benefit on Wednesday of money I spent on Tuesday.

    Similarly, if I use any electricity on Wednesday, even if only for the refrigerator, I’ll end up paying for that at the end of the month. Any food I eat that day was purchased beforehand. If you’re fueling up your car on Tuesday so you know you won’t need to on Wednesday, you’re only shifting the time of the purchase, not eliminating the purchase itself. That’s the key: actually reducing expenses, not just shuffling them around in time. That’s much harder.

  8. Great idea! We are planning on trying this no-spend day challenge soon. It seems like this has increased your awareness and your family’s creativity. We are hoping for the same!

    Thanks for another great post!

  9. We just ended a “no spend money” month in January. Only house bills and groceries were allowed along with pizza day each Saturday. The kids went along with it too. Ended up $800.00 richer by the end of the month. So far this month, while we did buy a few things, we are all spending very infrequently now and continue with the mindset that it’s better to have money in your pocket than junk in the house.

  10. Along with no spend days we now have “no drive” days, it makes us combine errands, saving time & money

  11. I often have unplanned “no-spend” days. Like the idea of putting it into a regular schedule. Wednesday is as good a day as any.

  12. I think we all have tried to have a “no spend day” but something like gas for the car, lunch money for kids, ect… I found myself always spending more spending twice as much a day or two before trying to get ready for that NO SPEND DAY.

  13. We have a lot more no spend days now that we have a baby that is a lot of work to pack up and take out. I would like to make more of a conscious effort to have no spend days though- and for the both of us, not just myself at home.

  14. One day is very easy, or even one week is fairly easy… two weeks is not usually a problem…
    Getting to a month tho??? Usually I am happy if my spending (not including of course utilities) is under $200 for the month – including groceries and gas…. I call that good 🙂

  15. I work full time / self employed where I do have to buy things and get reimburse fully. So it is easy to NOT spend my own money and NOT feel deprived.. since I get to keep the things I purchase for FREE as part of my work assignments.

    This month 150.00 in fun a Soho Store Jewelry .. a necklace and bracelet set. I did have to add 15.00 of my own money since all came to 165.00; but usually I stay within my reimbursement budget.

    It goes on and on .. free breakfasts and lunches instead… so it is all GOOD so far this month; and free candle; and an 8.00 pair of socks.. free postage to mail things to my sons college twice..

    I’m a Mystery Shopper of course if you did not guess.. made 2800 last month and 200 in reimbursement. I rent my garage for 200.00 a month to supplement my income since I do not drive.. only take buses and trains… and walk for miles too. I get good child support for my 16 year old on..

    NYC is expensive but ways to survive too. Money is tight; since I still want to be home by 3 PM to be here for my son. Do not want even a teen alone with friends and such. Keep the family with a grown up supervising.. all balance.

    I love your blog..

  16. I too have many no spend days per month. I usually run errands and get groceries on Saturday mornings, as I work during the week. I drink coffee at work, where it’s free, and make my own on the weekends. I pack my lunch for work all except 1 or 2 days per month, and then I pitch in with some other ladies to get pizza or sandwiches from a local shop, and it’s not very expensive.

    It would never occur to me to buy coffee every day, and grab lunch, stop after work for snacks or fast food. It’s good to know I’m in good company, though! 🙂

  17. I always smile a bit when I see articles on no spend days. I just don’t get what most folks are spending on that would need to be dropped? If you work a standard Monday – Friday job, you make your coffee pack a lunch, spend all day at work, go home and make dinner and then do whatever you do in the evening – supervise homework, go for a run, cut the lawn/shovel the snow, read, do a hobby, go to sleep. Where in all of that was I supposed to be spending money?
    Every Saturday we do our groceries for the week (using a list based on our meal plan for the week), fill up the gas tanks, and do any errands on the list (oil change, new shoes for child A, haircut for child B, BD gift for best friend for next week). All shopping is only for the specific item on the list. I guess if you don’t regard shopping with no purpose in mind as a leisure activity then not spending is actually the norm and not the exception.
    Once the weekly Saturday spending is done, there is rarely any other spending done. Ever. Our weekend activities usually involve outdoor activites/sports, chores around the house, and just spending time with the kids. We use the library for books and movies or we swap with friends/family. We rarely go to restaurants but make weekend meals a family event with the kids helping choose the meal and learning to prepare it.
    Even when we travel we spend very little. Our last vacation was a week in San Fransisco. We all flew on points earned by purchasing everything on our credit card. The hotel was free with points earned by frequent stays on business travel. We chose a hotel which included breakfast, for lunch we popped into corner grocery stores and assembled a picnic to enjoy with a view of the Bay. Dinners were definitely a cost, as were fees to see the attractions we went for (Alcatraz, streetcar passes etc) but really dinner and attractions were the only costs for the holiday, and there are online coupons available for most of them.
    For us we’ve changed our perspective to assume that a normal day involves no spending. Any exception to that is scrutinized carefully. Most of what others seem to consider as normal spending isn’t part of our budget, and instead we’ve consiously chosen to divert a large part of our income to extra retirement savings and mortgage payments. Our focus is on early retirement, while still travelling regularly. When you know what your priorities are, it’s really easy to cut out everything else or find a free alternative.

    • it is good that you are saving the way you want to for your future. Your condescending tone puts me off a bit though. How are you able to aquire all the points on credit cards on business travel without spending?

  18. The no spend day challenge and a record of where you are spending the rest of the week will have you amazed by the little things we waste on. I hope you can stick to this for a while. Stay young and thrifty 🙂

  19. Going a day is simple and it feels really good. It is like a small, personal victory. The one thing that I hate though is when I (You) do so well but then one day you pop a big purchase and it feels like you are right back where you were. Learned to stop those big spending impulses.

  20. Wow, I thought I wasn’t doing well enough with my average of 15 no-spend days a month! Guess I should pat myself on the back! Last year, when I started doing no-spend days, I started at 6. This year, up to 15–and constantly trying for more. And it’s not that I’m not buying things… it’s that I try to group my purchases, which means planning ahead. It also means I rethink any small purchases, i.e., do I really want to lose a no-spend day because I didn’t make coffee at home? Nope!

  21. I tried a no spend day this week… then I realized my car’s inspection was due. Then the mechanic told me I needed new brakes – pads and rotors!

    My “no-spend” day ended up setting me back $350. :-/

    I’d like to try again next week, but I’m afraid of what might spring up!

  22. Way to go, Jason! We’ll definitely try ‘No-Spend Day’, and perhaps a ‘No-Spend Weekend’ once a month. Wonderful idea, thanks FrugalDad!

  23. I am not sure if we are weird or what, but we limit our spending to one day a week, unless it is an emergency. Meaning, on Friday we allow ourselves to go out for dinner, that is when we do our shopping and that is our night for movies or other activities. That’s it. During the week, work lunches are leftovers, we make gallons of iced tea and use that instead of pop…we entered our marriage with each of us having a lot of debt from each having had a catastrophic illness where insurance did not cover a lot of things. We spent five years paying off $125,000 in combined bills and then just kept on a pretty austere budget—our house is paid off, as are our two vehicles and we have no credit card debt. Our big splurge is that once a year we take an expensive trip to another country, but other than that we live modestly. Having no debt means living without a lot of the stress other folks and couples have. Sometimes I would rather go out on a whim, but, really, the trade off is well worth living a deliberate (as opposed to undisciplined) life.

  24. I like this idea although not if it drives people to spend more on other days. Living frugally is all about making smart choices with your spending and not just one day a week. Sometimes people need “tricks” or “tactics” to get them to stop (or curtail) spending and maybe this will help. If you don’t think of living frugally as a sacrifice but as more of a challenge to live differently, you’re much better off – in many ways!

  25. “After dinner at home I ignored the the blitz of “deals” that often hit my inbox – Amazon’s deal of the day”

    I find that avoiding things like this is the only “easy” part of this challenge. Food, coffee, cigars are the things that I have to work on. My plan is to do a better job of stocking up on consumables and get a better cost by buying in bulk or just buying before the need is there and I am willing to pay whatever the price is at the time.

  26. This is great, those few dollars you spend every day add up. When I decide to challenge myself and don’t spend those few dollars every day for a few weeks, I like to save them all in a jar and then use it towards something I need, not something I want in the moment. You really don’t notice how much you spend until you stop spending it!