What I learned from a two-week spending ban

I'm officially back at university. Only it's not been the easiest return to school, thanks to the joys of student finance. Term started late August, only my student loan wasn't scheduled to arrive in my bank account til nearly three weeks later. That meant three weeks with only the leftovers from my summer work to keep me afloat - financially I was running on fumes. My solution? Two weeks of no spending bar the essentials to try and right the ship. (Spending ban sounds a little harsh - maybe I should have said a no spend fortnight?)

No spend weeks, months, and even years seemed to become popular a couple of years ago. Journalist Michelle McGagh wrote a book called The No Spend Year (she wrote a piece here about how she got through it), and lots of bloggers have tried similar experiments. I'm not sure I could go a whole year, but two weeks seemed doable. There's no one set of rules for a buy nothing year (or buy nothing two weeks!) but mostly it involves only spending on essentials, like groceries, transport, and medical expenses. All spending on fun stuff, like going out, new clothes, a haircut or a couple of beers after work? That's all over.

Here's what I learned from my own buy-nothing experiment.

My spending isn't what I thought it was 
In my mind, I'm pretty frugal - I don't buy expensive electronics or high-end garms. But I guess the difference between the vision in my mind and the reality is a bit like the difference between a profile picture on Facebook and the photo someone takes of you at three in the morning.

I decided to begin my no spend two weeks on a Monday, and I thought I'd be able to go til at least the weekend before really feeling the pinch. As it turns out, I felt the pinch on Monday...

I'd keep thinking 'I'll just stop into the supermarket and pick up something extra for dinner', 'I've got a half-hour break between lectures, I'll just get a coffee', or 'I'll rent a movie tonight.' Only, I couldn't and didn't to any of those things. It's surprising how many times I would have made small purchases in the course of an average week - and all those purchases would have added up to a big hole in my budget. I guess I'm not as frugal as I thought!

My stores really came in handy
I couldn't buy anything new during the no-spend week - but that didn't mean I couldn't use all the stuff I already had. My three kilos of red lentils came in handy for making meals that lasted the week, and made a load of cous cous with chick peas and roasted veg for lunch. There was even a box of chocolates I brought back from my holiday which I rationed to one a day so I kept my sweet tooth happy. When I felt thirsty I finished up that blackberry gin from last Christmas, and the tail end of a bottle of rum - no need to go to the craft beer shop up the road to find if they've got any new tins in. I even got out a needle and thread, and patched up holes in my socks so I didn't need to buy new ones. Maybe bulk buying isn't such a bad idea after all.

I couldn't get to the end of the two weeks without spending nothing
When I started, I was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to get o the end of two weeks without spending on something. And it turns out I was right: my dad told me that, at the end of the week, would be his and my mum's wedding anniversary - and it was a really BIG anniversary. I found a nice card in my stationery stash - only I didn't have any stamps. Mr Flicking the Vs was fresh out of them too. So, I cracked - I went out and bought a book of first class stamps. Yeah, it cost me £4, but I think that's probably a price worth paying to celebrate my folks ancient marriage.

I managed to save a lot of money (for me at least)
Thanks to the strictures of student loans, I'd thought I was pretty good at budgeting: I know roughly what I've got coming in, and I know roughly how much is going out (and that it should be a bit less than the amount coming in). I know my yearly, monthly, and weekly budget pretty much to the pound. I know, I sound like I'm really fun at dinner parties, right? So, after two weeks of not spending, I managed to save the equivalent of nearly a week's worth of cash. I'm just as surprised as you are - I was massively clueless about how much money I'd been spending on what we'll politely call non-essentials (read beer and after-school supermarket runs). Which brings me on to..

I'm definitely going to do it again
Not only did I manage to save a surprisingly large stash of cash, it wasn't really that painful to do a no-spend fortnight. After I adjusted my mindset to not spending on pointless crap all the time, I didn't really miss the spending. I'm not sure I'd be able to do a no-spend year, or even a month, but I predict lots more no-spend days and weeks in my future!

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  1. Well done on the saving - but don't tell too many people in case the Man decides they can reduce student payments :-) Seriously, you made a few success of a bad situation.

  2. That's great that you were able to save so much from your spending ban, and that you also allowed yourself to buy stamps when you needed them!

  3. Only buying stamps is pretty impressive (very impressive)! I need to try something like this. I don't buy extravagant things or go out places that you pay for (often anyway) but I know if I tracked my spending the coffees, little food purchases and similar would add up. As a student (many years ago) I tracked all my spending in a spreadsheet and I was obsessive about it (and don't want to go back to that!) but know I wasted less money as a result. A middle ground might be worth seeking out...

  4. I follow a tip from some budgeting article i read a very long time ago and i budget my pocket money for the week and withdraw that in cash and leave my debit and credit cards at home.
    Handing over cash for silly things makes it much more “real” than swiping a card, and if i spent my pocket money all by tuesday then that was that until the next week!
    I also learned to always pack snacks with me and a reusable bottle of ice water since it seems im most likely to spend a little here and there for a snack or something to drink


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