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OPINION | SAVE YOURSELF: Take the challenge: Live a month without spending

by Sarah Catherine Gutierrez | July 20, 2021 at 1:52 a.m.

Do you know what customer friction is? According to "the internet" it's anything that hinders the process of buying a product. How many times have you gone to buy something and, just because you had to enter your own email and password to login or had to physically enter your credit card number, you abandoned the purchase?

And never went back to buy it.

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These companies know us better than we know ourselves. We are buying "stuff" we don't need. If we really needed it spending 30 seconds to enter a password would not stop us.

You want to save more money? You want to get that retirement savings going? Look no further than the shopping apps on your phone that have nearly eliminated all customer friction. Gosh, we even have a major warehouse in Central Arkansas going up as we speak that has famously eliminated the friction of having to wait more than two whole days to receive an online purchase.

If we want to win this war of spending let's stop fighting fair with "budgeting" and commitments to do better.

Instead, let's fight dirty. Let's do a "no-spend" month.

Remember last week we talked about the 100% rule? It's easier to do something 100% of the time than 98% of the time? That's because of decision fatigue. We can apply that to spending and, folks, the results are in -- these types of no-spend periods are pretty effective at curbing spending.

I have witnessed clients, friends, and strangers on the internet go through "No Buy July" or "No Spend 'No'vember" but I was never intrigued. In fact, it freaked me out. The "what if" statements would flood in. What about Black Friday in November? If a tree falls in the forest and no and no one is around to hear it, did it make a sound? If Black Friday happens, and I buy nothing, did it?"

Because of you, I am mustering the courage to face my fears and will officially enter a no-spend month aligning with Back to School on August 16. I am calling this the "Back to School Buck the Spend Month." I can't imagine a better time to do something like this. We will be on a schedule. We will be eating dinners regularly as a family. Of all the seasons of life in a year, this one has the most routine.

Who should join me in this challenge? I am in the "saver curious" crowd. As you may recall, I am a saver. I save top down. Meaning, in our household we save first and then spend the rest. But, folks, have you filled up your gas tank recently? My life suddenly got way more expensive, and we are feeling the squeeze. My concern is that we will find ourselves knocking on the door of our savings rate to maintain our lifestyle.

If this is you, consider this challenge. In other words, while simultaneously maintaining a pay yourself first savings system, this is adding a bottom-up budgeting process, focused on controlling the spending. Inevitably, additional savings will push up the funnel.

My objective is to have a moment to rethink our expenses with fresh eyes at the end of our no-spend month. I believe that expenses are merely opinions that become fact when repeated over time. Maybe our old expenses will get a seat at our table on September 16 or maybe we will decline to send an invitation after this is all over.

A no-spend month can have particularly profound results for folks trying to stretch into a retirement savings rate or trying to pay off credit card debt. You get a chance to clear the deck of spending, drop in your savings or financial goal, and then when the month is over, fill the spending back in -- at its appropriate level.

I hope you might join me in some version of this challenge.

Here are my rules. Yours may be different.

We will cut all unnecessary spending out of our budget for 30 days, ending September 14. What we can spend money on is bills that keep our home and cars running (including saving into our accrual savings accounts for insurance and taxes), food from the grocery store, our newspaper subscriptions and replacing necessities like toothpaste.

What's getting the boot? Our streaming subscriptions, our impulse purchases, the Starbucks run, clothing, gifts, movies, entertainment, dining out, and all those little things that are clearly so important that I can't even name them as I write.

In theory we will be "saving" money, but there is no such thing as saving any money unless that money is physically saved and put into some kind of long-term savings fund. If savings are put into short-term savings, then it simply becomes delayed spending, waiting for the next time the urge strikes. That could be a fantastic idea to make this a spending challenge to spend later on your real passions and priorities, but I challenge you to be bolder and transfer your savings into, um, savings.

I have heard of people doing this challenge, but it was a private message from Sarah Luz that took me over the edge. She did a no-spend month inspired by "The Contentment Challenge" with Nancy Ray from the Work and Play podcast. Sarah realized that this was a perfect opportunity to get that last 3% into her ideal retirement savings percentage. Most importantly, when her contentment challenge was over, the retirement savings were there to stay, but her spending? By her estimation about two-thirds of it is gone.

She has a long-term practice now of placing items in her amazon cart and waiting three months. Most of the items in there are no longer wanted after the time period.

Intrigued and maybe warming to the idea? Let's get you armed for battle.

I have compiled a number of tips from various bloggers and podcasters with their recommendations on how to survive the no spend month.

Remove passive temptations: Unsubscribe from marketing emails from your favorite stores, unfollow influencers who are constantly pushing products, or even take a pause from social media.

Don't go there. Literally, don't walk into places where you could be tempted to buy stuff. Do online grocery pickup. Oh, and issue yourself a 1,000-yard Target restraining order. My favorite meme of the year is "I saved $178.94 today by not going to Target for deodorant."

Create friction. Delete your shopping apps. Remove auto fill on your phone for credit card info. Make it HARD to spend money.

Clean out. It might seem counter-intuitive, but the less clutter in our lives the less we are tempted to spend. Use this month to find your inner minimalist.

I hope you will join me in some version of a no-spend period. Remember, you get to make up the rules. For inspiration, here are some variations in case my version is not palatable:

• No-spend on clothing.

• No-spend on beauty products.

• Clean out the freezer/pantry weekend.

The point of no-spend is to shake up your spending but also to change your mind, change your habits and drill down to necessities. It turns out that adding a little friction in our life can be a very good thing.

Are you "in?" Email me if you plan to do a no-spend month, and we can compare notes on how it went.

Sarah Catherine Gutierrez is founder, partner and CEO of Aptus Financial in Little Rock. She is also author of the book "But First, Save 10: The One Simple Money Move That Will Change Your Life," published by Et Alia Press. Contact her at [email protected]

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