January: my least favorite month. The glow of the holiday season is fading, the novelty of cold and snow is getting old fast, and everywhere I turn people are making half-hearted resolutions. I'm not one to deride anyone for trying to improve their lives, and I'm happy to cheer anyone on in reaching their personal goals. But January is full of lies, and those lies are often based on how we want to be perceived by others. Take, for example, the lies every mom tells herself during No Spend January.
The idea of a "no spend" day/week/month is not limited to January, of course, but it seems to be, based on my research, the most common time of the year when people try it. The premise is extremely self-explanatory: you don't spend money (without really good reason) for a month. While I'm personally not planning to take part in 2018, I get the appeal. It's an idea that speaks to our January desire to enter the new year with a level head and better habits. (And seriously, go you! You can do it! This is a good thing!) It also speaks to our cultural obsession with 30-day fixes, with are, at the very least, problematic.
Now, I'm not attempting to talk you out of anything. This is your life, dear reader, and I'm all about supporting others. But I'm also about being realistic, and if No Spend January is a goal you're preparing to make for yourself, then you're probably going to be lying to yourself in the following ways:
"I'm Not Going To Spend *Any* Money"
You are because, unless you're already living a no-spend life off the grid (in which case "no spend January" is just "January") you have vital expenses, including but certainly not limited to: housing, transportation, electric, water, childcare, food, cell phone, etc. Some people doing a no spend month/week pre-pay everything up front (including stocking up on food) and, well, that's still spending money in January, friends. Also, it's a tremendous luxury to have the funds to pre-pay an entire month of expenses.
Other people recognize that "no spend" means you're not going to spend outside of items of absolute necessity. In those cases, even the necessities are stripped down to Spartan proportions: no budgeting extra gas money for non-essential travel, no random fun purchases from the grocery store, no turning on every light in the house just for the fun of it, and certainly no dinners out or happy hours.
Regardless, you're still spending some money one way or another.
"This Will Be Fun"
But like, how? I feel like at best it would be neutral. Sure, maybe you can find some fun getting creative around the house finding entertainment since you can't go out or something, but there's nothing precluding you from doing that in a regular month. Also, let's be honest: austerity measures are rarely fun. Aggressively working to change habits is also rarely fun. This is probably not going to be fun. If you're lucky, it won't suck too much.
"This Will Be Easy"
No, honey. Just, well, no. Not only do the vast majority of us spend money every day, but kids are expensive AF and constantly pop up with new and annoying needs and "needs." This is going to be a challenge, to say the least.
"This Will Be Impossible"
It's not. It's not easy, to be sure, but people only spend money on necessary expenses all the time, sometimes for years or lifetimes. It's called "being poor."
Yes, it's the hot new trend sweeping the nation: poverty, it's so hot right now!
In all honestly, this is sort of an issue I have with posing this exercise as fun or virtuous or some sort of novelty. Almost 13 percent of Americans live below the poverty line and, frankly, those hovering just above it aren't exactly living the high life. I'm not saying that doing a "no spend" month is bad or insensitive in and of itself, but I would say that being mindful of how you frame and discuss the endeavor is important and can be an important aspect of this experiment.
"I'm Sure I Can Just Use What's In The Pantry"
So, you're in the middle of No Spend January. You look in your pantry and all the foods your child likes to eat have been eaten. Granola bars, fruit pouches, animal crackers? Yeah, they're all gone. "Well, we have bananas," you offer.
Scream, follow by a declaration along the lines of, "I want a cup of milk!"
The milk is also gone.
Come dinner time? You have a can of black beans, diced tomatoes, a jar of capers and some rice, which will make for a delicious stew if you add the right spices. Your child is having precisely zero of this.
Certainly you can use what's in your pantry for this exercise, but the "just" is probably a bit flippant.
"This [Insert Item Here] Doesn't Count"
Yes. Yes it does. That's the damn point!
"This Will Solve All My Financial Problems"
Like, for a month. And that's if you're lucky. But unless you have a plan in place moving forward, No Spend January is not a reset button. Sad fact: there is no reset button. Financial solvency is an ongoing effort. There's no easy fix and no big secret, except for being born rich. And that's not so much a secret as a fact that many wealthy people want desperately for non-wealthy people to forget by talking about ambition and grit as though that alone were responsible for their millions.
"I Can Keep This Up"
Not really. It's just not practical. Unbudgeted expenses are eventually going to come up — a trip to the doctor, a plumbing issue, a flat tire — and you're going to have to spend money. Maybe this exercise can help you budget better moving forward, which is great, but you're going to have to figure that, at some point, you're going to buy again.
Also, let's face it: you're probably going to go back to buying "unnecessary" things as well, and that's fine. Indulgences are good for you!
"My Kids Will Learn From This"
If your kids are anything like my kids, they will get jack out of this. They're either not going to notice or they're just going to be intermittently annoyed for the month of January, when you keep telling them they have to eat water crackers instead of Goldfish or that you can't buy whatever or go wherever.
Depending on age, kids are actually incapable of seeing too much of the world beyond themselves, and that's OK. That's as it should be, so don't get too bent out of shape if at the end of this venture your kids haven't begun investing their piggyback in a Roth IRA.
"This Will Go Along Great With My Juice Cleanse"
First of all, maybe rethink the juice cleanse all together because your liver does all the detoxing your body needs and you need more calories than a couple juices a day can afford you. Secondly, those juices are really expensive and are therefore completely counterproductive to not spending money in January. And last, but not least, stringent budgeting and being hangry (and you will be hangry on a juice cleanse) is an absolutely terrible combination. Don't do it!
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