Who doesn’t want extra money in their savings account at the end of the month. Tired of having an empty wallet and staring at your account having a balance of zero. No matter your reasons, improving your finances should always be one of your goals. Building a plan and following a plan is easier than most people make it. You don’t need Harvard level of finances to start changing some of your terrible money habits.
This article will not focus on one month “buy nothing” plan. A buy nothing month is simple: buy nothing that’s not a necessity, and simplify your spending on necessities as much as possible. That means having the willpower to walk away from buying anything that is not necessary for your everyday existence. That means avoiding going out to watch every summer movie, eating out every night, and buying those headphones that you don’t need.
If this sounds a bit extreme, it is. A buy nothing month is hardcore personal finance, but if you’ve been struggling to get your money in order, it’s time to turn off the spending altogether. You’ll learn a lot about your relationship with money when you’re constantly feeling the urge to spend and having to resist it. Learning to free yourself from the urge to spend is genuinely rewarding, so don’t be surprised if you emerge from your month with a new perspective. Also, you will have money put away in savings and you will no longer be broke.
If you normally spend lots of money on going out to eat each month, this will be one of your biggest money savings, and also the biggest challenge. Stocking up on frozen entrees isn’t an option: they’re full of sodium and aren’t very nutritious. You can, however, have a few around for the days when work goes late and you come home utterly exhausted. Beyond that, it’s going to be you and your kitchen taking care of the meals — and without Starbucks to make your coffee for you, you’ll be up early taking care of breakfast. A little bacon and eggs in the mornings has more flavor than that drive-through breakfast sandwich you normally fuel up with, and costs pennies compared with fast food prices. And if you’re the type who sleeps to the last possible moment, a quick breakfast smoothie can be ready in less than a minute — plus it’s easy to take in the car.
Since you won’t be going out this month, you’ll need to focus on entertainment that doesn’t cost anything. That doesn’t mean you need to be a social leper, but hitting the bars isn’t in the cards this month. What you can do, however, is have people over to the house, make dinner for some friends and play some board games. If you already have the gear, activities like fishing and camping make a great choice. And you should still catch the big game, but watch it on somebody’s couch instead of at a sports bar.
In your alone time, be sure to spend a few minutes reflecting on your month. If it helps, you can jot down notes about your experiences to reflect on later. And reading should be at the top of your list of entertainment activities — it’s good for your brain, makes you a better man, and you’ll finally be tackling all those books you’ve bought but never read. If you’re the rare man with no unread books in the house, head to the library for a lifetime’s worth of free reading, and grab some CDs and movies while you’re there.
Consider the role bills have in your life. Know any friends who have a gym membership they never, ever use? It’s wasteful, and cutting that expense would save them money every month. So, go through all your subscriptions, bills and fixed costs, and suspend everything that can be paused or “turned off” for the month. Even though you may not get rid of the bill by suspending it for a month, you’re cutting through all the financial noise in your life, and the simplicity of this month will help you realize what’s actually worth keeping and what’s just fiscal clutter. If anything is more costly than it is useful, get rid of it. So, if you’ve been enjoying your Netflix, keep it, but if you’re not getting value from it, maybe you’re better off without it after all.
Bills and memberships are a special case with the buy nothing month: you can’t cancel your subscription to a magazine for a month and some memberships can’t be suspended for a month. They still get reviewed this month, though: use this time to review all of these costs, and decide whether or not they actually add value to your life.
It’s also important to make sure that all that money you saved goes to something useful. Don’t just leave it in your checking account to disappear a little at a time: save it, invest it or pay off some bills with it. Finally, it’s tempting to spend lavishly once the month is over. With the pressure of living so frugally finally off, many people go on a spending spree and undo all the saving they just did. So don’t “treat” yourself to something; just go back to your old spending habits, unless your old habits suck. Allow yourself a pat on the back for achieving your goal, then spend within your means and enjoy the nest egg you built up in record time.