No Spend Challenge During COVID 19

The Year of Less - No Spend Year

This week, I was reading “The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store” by Cait Flanders, a Personal Finance blogger who managed to pay off $30,000 in consumer debt, lose 30 pounds, get rid of 70%+ of her belongings, and embark on a “No Spend Year.”

I’ve been feeling rather anxious over the past month or so as our country and the world began to spin out of control (understatement of the century?), and people began either getting sick or losing their jobs left and right.

How did I do? Here’s my one month summary of the challenge: No Spend Month

Loss of Control

While I’m surrounded by things I can’t control or change (global pandemic, state of emergency, self-quarantine), something I can control is where I decide to put my money. And money, as many of us are finding out, could become tighter than ever with a national recession looming over us, and unemployment rate reaching all-time highs.

I don’t shop very often for things other than food, but I’ve found myself clicking for things in online catalogues over the past month with some ferocity I hadn’t experienced in a while. “We aren’t doing anything. We can’t go anywhere. So why not buy things to make me feel better?” was probably my thought process. But what use did I really have for another $30 water bottle when I can’t go anywhere?

And every time I did, I had a pang of guilt over the fact that I’m adding to the chaos of the delivery system in this time of crisis with unnecessary deliveries. Maybe if I didn’t order things, it could do a super tiny bit to ease the burden on the postal services and help prevent the spread of the Coronavirus?

While there are purchases I don’t regret (Nintendo Switch), there are others that I could’ve lived without (collapsible water bottle). And to be frank, I could definitely live without anything I bought over the past month other than food.

Personal Fiance

I lived fairly frugally when I was living and working in New York City, spending $1200~1500 a month. I managed to figure out what’s important to me (experiences, food, and periodic splurging on brand name purses). And what’s not (fancy apartments, matching furniture, food deliveries, make up). I was able to live a comfortable life despite maintaining living costs below most studio apartment rent in the city.

When I joined the Personal Finance community few years back, my ability to save, invest, and prepare to retirement accelerated. I began to understand a lot more about what I “needed” to live and feel content, and what I didn’t. Understanding what’s important and what’s not to my values and lifestyle meant I didn’t spend money on things I didn’t value (like drinking). But have plenty left over to spend on things I did love (like soup dumplings in Flushing and Starbucks lattes). It also allowed me to not go broke spending $800/month on medical fees for months as I sought an answer to my chronic pain.

Over the past year, I’ve come to the point where I don’t keep track of how much I’m spending or even if we’re breaking even every month. I used to be very careful with my money and where it went. I prided myself on my savings and investment rates. 2019 was the first year I managed to max out my 401k on top of my Roth IRA. And then, I quit my job, got married, and no longer had dependable personal income.

My mind has been overwhelmed with my new life and my new normal. Even though finances is something I valued for years was suddenly very low on my priorities list.

No Spend Challenge

The author of the memoir I was reading did a whole year of No Spend. I don’t think I’m ready for that. So I decided on a No Spend Month for April. Conveniently, I was reading this book on the 2nd of April. I hadn’t spent anything on the 1st, so I felt it was a good time to try this.

And as I mentioned earlier, we’ve got no where to be and nothing to do. If I’m trying to keep myself from spending money, during self-quarantine is probably the best time!

No Spend Rules

Like every good challenge, there are rules. In this case, it’s more of an “exceptions list.”

Things I Can Spend Money On:

  • Food (Groceries and Restaurants – try to limit to 3x a week of take out)
  • Transportation (Gas)
  • Replacements for necessities (Toiletries, Sanitation Wipes, Toilet Paper – if I can find any!, etc.)
  • Business Expenses (This comes out of a separate fund anyways)
  • Gifts (There are a lot of reasons to give money/gifts in this time of need)
  • Medical Expenses (I have a lot of them. Also, I’m probably going to be buying things like masks when I can find them)

Things I Won’t Spend Money On:

  • Clothes (I have plenty. Even though half of my underwear have holes in them suddenly…)
  • Coffee (This is cheating because I quit coffee in December)
  • “Stuff” (Unless something vital like my laptop or smartphone breaks, they don’t need to be replaced or procured)

The lists are fairly short because I don’t have much going on right now (given the global situation). Over the past month, I’ve come to find that we can subsist on food, tea/coffee, and same few pieces of clothing.

While the pandemic is horrible in many ways, it’s been eye opening in showing me that we really don’t need much.


The author of “The Year of Less” put money she earned from selling her belongings and money she saved by not shopping into a separate savings account. I’m not quite sure how I’ll deal with that.

An interesting idea she had was to put the amount of money you saved by not purchasing something you wanted to buy into a savings account. This forces you to “literally” save the amount of money you’d have otherwise spent. Because I am using a joint account with my husband, I’m not sure if I’ll implement this (I’ll have to discuss it with him before I do it). But it’s a pretty cool idea, and would definitely make this whole ordeal more fun, because the savings will be visible.

Accountability Buddies

Already, I’ve had pangs of “I should buy this!” that I’ve managed to taper down because I was thinking about doing this challenge. And now that it’s out in public, I have to really commit! (I am an Obliger, after all!)

I’ve roped my best friend into doing this with me as an accountability buddy. If you’re interested, too, feel free to hit me up on Twitter, and we can be accountability buddies too!

Anyways, it’s already Day 3 of April, but I figured better late than never to announce my commitment! Only 27 more days left to go!

Hiroko Nishimura
AWS Community Hero. Special Education teacher turned IT Engineer turned Technical Writer. Author "AWS for Non-Engineers" (Manning Publications). Technical Instructor "Introduction to AWS for Non-Engineers" (LinkedIn Learning).

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