What I learnt from a no-spend week
6 min | 11 May 2023
A no-spend challenge means only spending money on necessities for a period, such as a week. All ‘luxury’ or non-essential purchases are technically banned. The idea is to save money and learn about your spending habits to see where you could make cutbacks in the future.
Could you go for a week without spending money? It sounds extreme, but it’s a great way to understand your budgeting and decide what you really need. We asked Nikki, 30, a London-based copywriter to try it. Here’s what she learnt.
Why I was up for a no-spend week
I’m not as extravagant as my shoe collection may suggest, but I’ve developed some pricier habits recently. I like a luxury candle and spent more on dinner deliveries last year than certain celebrities devoted to space exploration. Oh, and there’s my £10-a-day fancy chocolate bar habit. Yes, £10 a day.
Faced, like everyone, with rising inflation, I wanted to see if I could economise further.
Bring on the no-spend week!
I budget £40 for my weekly shop and stop at a cash machine. Paying in cash means I can physically see what I'm spending, and I have to stop at my limit. Plus, smaller retailers occasionally give discounts for cash.
Getting the best-value groceries means shopping around, but after I've stopped at the greengrocer, a market and a supermarket, I'm left wondering if it's time efficient to be this frugal.
This week, I've stocked up on vegetables, grains and a few essentials, and my total is £20. I head home and make a big batch of carrot dhal, portioning it out for the week’s meals.
I mostly work from home, so there's no cost to commute from my bedroom to the kitchen table.
On my lunch break, I have a little dance break with my cat, Miss Moneypenny, then call my boyfriend.
He tells me he spent the morning walking and hit the good charity bookshop. I contain my jealousy and ask him about his shopping trip so I may live vicariously through him. He mentions he’s picked up a neat edition of a book I wanted for ages – how’s that for a novel way to save.
A year ago, I’d think I was too tired and deserved to have dinner delivered. Today, I feel self-congratulatory about having planned ahead. Simple maxim: for me, there is always food at home, because there is.
Off to yoga class first thing. After the session, I resist the temptation to buy a coffee.
After work, I get a text from a friend asking to hang out. She lives nearby, and the weather is lovely: we can meet halfway. I'll walk, so it's a free day out.
I tell her about my week of abstinence and lentils, so she suggests we cook dinner together. We make curry – the perfect opportunity to use up my forlorn vegetables.
I check my email and see a lingerie brand I like is offering 10% off – but are they ever not running a deal? I close the tab and do actual work. Lesson: deals are rarely deals, 10% off underwear is a questionable concept, and it's a good idea to unsubscribe from retail emails to avoid temptation.
At lunch, I have my WFH usual (toast with peanut butter and jam) and resist scrolling my favourite shopping bid website. The thought of someone listing something I want and another person getting it, well, it makes me fret. But if years of vintage shopping have taught me anything, it’s patience. I remain strong.
In the evening, I virtuously eat my prepped dinner while streaming something terrible.
This is a good reminder to keep track of what you're paying for. Look for subscriptions going out of your account that you no longer use. And ensure you're not paying for others outside your household to use your account for an additional fee, if they're not part of an official family package.
Reading and talking are apparently substitutes for streaming. I vow to try them.
I’m in the office today, but I’m running late, so I take a bus then the tube. Had I planned ahead, I could have walked to the station – maybe the office. At least I remembered to pack a lunch last night (the last of my prepped meals).
After work, I head to a friend’s comedy show. Reaching out to your real-life social network is a great, if unconventional, way to save – your friends are likely to do interesting things and invite you along.
My boyfriend lives nearby so I meet up with him afterwards at a pub down the street. Totally useless tip: get someone else to take you out.
I used to go out to breakfast every Saturday, but now I love making them at home.
What did I learn?
I spend an embarrassing amount on fancy chocolate bars, which I did not do this week to avoid having to mention them here. That alone saved me over £50 and kept me pretty close to my grocery budget. A single change can make a big difference.
I knew I was overspending on buses and tubes, but I was shocked at how it added up – almost £5 a day. I’ve resolved to leave earlier, walk more often – and invest in better outerwear.
Now that I have a clearer picture of where my money goes, I can devote a little to the extravagances I truly enjoy. Only a saint can keep up 24/7 austerity – us money-mortals need an incentive. And there’s no better incentive to save than occasionally not saving.
I got a better appreciation of what really makes me happy: good friends (and cats). And I learnt that socialising doesn’t mean spending. If you're determined to keep costs down you’re likely to be more successful. Miss Moneypenny isn’t entirely convinced, but I am.
Groceries: £50 (£40 on Sunday, with a midweek top-up on fresh produce and cat food)
Electricity: £25 (I signed up for a fixed tariff two years ago)
Yoga class: £12 (a small price to pay for inner peace!)
Secondhand books and a 1960s blouse: £8
Half a cider and a pint of lager: £6.80
Overpriced candy bars: £0
Groceries: £50 (including chocolate bars – those one-off card purchases add up)
Lunch out on days in the office: £20
Coffee after yoga: £5
Ska and reggae all-dayer entry: £5
Soul night entry: £10
Drinks at both events: £20
Breakfast at cafe: £10
Limited-edition luxury candle: £68
If you've been inspired to spend less and save like Nikki, you could open an easy-access saver account with Chase¹ and start saving with as little as you like.
¹ 18+, UK residents. A Chase current account is required to open a saver account. T&Cs apply.