New year, new budget. Do you want to take control of your money this year? Start off strong by doing a low-spend January! I’m sure you’ve heard of Dry January, where you commit to not drinking any alcohol for 30 days. Well, there are also “no-spend” months, but I prefer to call them “low-spend” months, because it’s impossible to spend NO money at all.
What does a low-spend month look like? You only spend money on the necessities: rent, utilities, transportation, subscriptions, loans, groceries, etc. Anything that is not essential or required, like going out to eat or going shopping, is not allowed.
What is the point of this exercise? Not only will it help you spend much less this month (and hopefully you’ll put that extra cash into savings or toward debt), but it will also show you what you really don’t need to be spending money on. It will also show you that you’re capable of cutting back on spending if you put your mind to it.
So how does it work?
Make a List of All the Essentials That You Must Pay For
If you’ve already made a budget, you’ll have this list ready. If not, this is also a great exercise to get you halfway to having a budget! List out all of the things that you know you have to pay for every month. This could be obvious things like rent, utilities, your student loan payment, etc. But it could also be co-pays for a prescription, metro fare, gas, groceries, and more. These should be things that you know you can’t avoid paying for. It’s helpful to have this list because you know you don’t have to feel guilty for spending on these things while cutting back in other areas.
Make a List of All the Non-Essentials That You Will Be Giving Up
Now that you know what’s essential, it’s time to write out what isn’t. Get clear on the things that you know you want to give up or cut way back on during your low-spend month. This could be going out to eat, shopping, Uber, coffee, etc. It’s especially helpful if it’s something that you know you overspend on during a typical month. Challenge yourself.
Check In At Least Once a Week to See How You’re Doing
Just like with budgeting and tracking your spending, it’s important to check in regularly when you’re challenging yourself to spend much less than usual. Set time aside at least once a week to review your bank statements or receipts and see where your money is going. If you notice that you’re having a hard time giving something up, think hard about it. Why is it hard to give up? Is it something that brings you joy, and therefore should be programmed into your basic budget? Or are there other things going on, like taking Uber because you hit snooze too many times in the morning?
Write Down How You’re Feeling About the Challenge
Cutting back on something and changing a habit is hard work. It takes time, and it doesn’t always feel good. So you shouldn’t expect this to be easy, and you should check in with yourself regularly. Keep track of how you’re feeling as you go along. You can do this while you’re tracking your spending. It can be just one line like, “this sucks” or “this is easier than I expected.” This will be a cathartic way to check in with yourself, give yourself a moment to complain, and then motivate yourself to keep going. It will also be a great way to look back later and see that you were able to get through it!
If you don’t think checking in with yourself will be motivating enough, try to find an accountability buddy. If you don’t already have a friend doing this challenge with you, find one! Check in with them once a week and tell them how you’re doing and how you’re feeling about it. It always helps to have a buddy. If none of your friends are doing this with you, join the Money Circle group and post in there!
Make a List of What Was Easy to Give Up and What Was Hard
At the end of this, you’ll have a good idea of what you can go without from now on! Make a list of the things that you actually didn’t mind giving up, and cut back on those in your normal day-to-day. You can decide if you can now make room in your budget to pay down debt or build up savings, or put your money towards other things that you really care about.
This article was originally published on MaggieGermano.com.