Tips for a Meaningful No-Spend Challenge

piggy bank

Before I became my fully evolved writer-self who championed the millennial cause, I really enjoyed writing about budgets and personal finance. Of course, these topics are definitely still related to the millennial experience, especially considering how many of us are juggling multiple jobs and side gigs to make ends meet or work toward financial goals. Today’s post is all about a monthly No-Spend Challenge.

Originally posted by credit.com earlier this month, I’m revising the plan for a more topical take on reduced spending for the millennial burnouts reading this blog. Of course, you can always tweak the plan to make it fit your own needs!

No-Spend isn’t really “no” spend

First off, it’s called a No-Spend Challenge, but you’ll still be spending the usual cash flow on necessities like rent, utilities, food, and transportation.

When planning your No-Spend challenge, you WILL spend on: shelter (rent/mortgage), insurance, internet, phone, utilities, business expenses, personal care items (menstrual products, toothpaste, etc.), and groceries. But you WON’T spend on: eating out, coffee shops, clothing, unneeded cosmetics or toiletries (i.e., if you still have a bottle of shampoo in the cabinet, don’t go buy a new one this month), home decor, hobbies, entertainment, or toys.

Why No-Spend?

A No-Spend challenge is a way to streamline your spending so you can put more toward a savings goal, debt payoff, or other financial objective. But you can make it your own, if your budget is so tight you’re really not spending much on those “luxury” categories in the first place.

Alternatives to the No-Spend Challenge

If you like the idea but don’t have the financial wiggle room to change your spending habits, try the following alternatives:

Use It Up Challenge: Don’t buy any new item until you’ve completely used up the current one. A bar of soap, your cabinet stock of facial cleanser (guilty – the discounts at Marshall’s got me), a tube of toothpaste, or even a dish towel with a hole in it can all be used up completely before being replaced.

Pantry and Freezer Challenge: Cut spending on groceries by using up the food in the freezer and pantry. If you’re a stocker-upper who never seems to actually use those stocked up items, take a week or two to limit your grocery spending to only fresh produce and perishables, while you use up your existing stores of frozen meals, grains, canned goods, etc. in the kitchen.

One Week Challenge: If you can’t swing a whole month of No-Spend, try just a week or a weekend. Or don’t, I’m not the boss of you.

Tips to stick with it

I always enthusiastically start a No-Spend month and then end up allowing this or that, and before you know it, oops, I spent what I normally spend in a month on eating out or haircuts or whatever. Here are some tips to keep your spending at bay for this temporary challenge:

Unsubscribe: Take shopping apps off your phone, unlink your cards from your shopping accounts, and unsubscribe from sales list emails.

Think it Through: When you’re itching for an impulse purchase, think about it for at least a minute first. Write down the item, why you want it, what you could do instead of buying it, etc. — by the time you’re done, you will likely be able to walk away from it. Keep a list so you can buy items after your challenge is up (if you still even want them).

Do Free Stuff: A quick web search for “Free things to do in (your city)” will open up a whole new world. The library has events on a regular basis, museums are usually free to the public (or have a free day for local residents), and the spring and summer is a great time of year to go exploring local hiking trails.

Make it Work for You: If you really love the experience of shopping or getting a treat for yourself (no judgment, I regularly have Treat Yo Self moments), make the No-Spend Challenge work for you. Host a swap meet with friends – everyone can declutter their homes and meet up to exchange art, clothes, decor items, and more. This way, you get the experience of new, cool stuff without spending a penny. Or you can have a garage sale, but that is less fun than hanging with your besties all day.

Get the guide!

Download this worksheet PDF to help you find your motivation for a No-Spend Challenge and check off all the days you meet your No-Spend goals:

No Spend Challenge Worksheet PDF

Acknowledge privilege

If you’re able to do a No-Spend month, of course you should support your own financial goals like debt payoff, saving up for a meaningful purchase, etc. However, it is extremely important to check your privilege. Financial know-how can’t be boiled down to just “skip your daily latte and stop getting fast food.”

For people in food deserts, who straddle a benefits gap, or who otherwise struggle to make ends meet, a No-Spend Challenge is not an appropriate way for them to meet their needs. In addition, their small coffee or muffin at a cafe might be the only way they let themselves have a small piece of indulgence. Luxuries are not only for the well-off, friends. Everyone deserves to live well and have a moment of peace.

If you are privileged enough to have the kind of income that makes a No-Spend Month a huge financial boon, consider rehoming some of those dollars to people in need. You can donate to the Reparations Emergency Fund by Nice White Ladies, which helps black women and femmes who need emergency support for shelter and other needs. Or support a charity of your choice to help marginalized populations.


PS. I mention the benefits gap in this post, a topic I also cover in my upcoming book, “The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation.” This book helps people unpack the claims around millennials’ destruction of society by providing a mix of data and stories, plus advice on how to get ahead in a society that blames you for everything. Check it out and find pre-order links at bornagainminimalist.com/book.

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Running on empty: Millennial burnout and why we deserve to stop

burnout

I’ve been listening to a mountain of body positive books lately, like I’m simmering myself in the decadence of self-love until it permeates every molecule of my being. I want every single morsel of myself to be flavored with the spice of confidence and knowledge that I am totally awesome and I don’t have to whittle myself away and restrict my behavior until I’m suitable for the average consumer.

After ravenously listening to Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls by Jes Baker and The Body Is Not An Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor, my copy of the brand-spankin’-new The Fuck It Diet by Caroline Dooner arrived. And this book leans on a lot of the scientific data covered in Linda Bacon’s Health At Every Size.

Everyone benefits from self-love, and the first step toward self-love is changing your media habits as they pertain to how you view and interact with your body. This includes:

  • Unfollowing social media and mainstream media that focus on diet and weight loss mentality, or anything that makes you feel crappy
  • Following social media that focuses on self love, self care, and body confidence, or anything else that makes you feel good
  • Unsubscribing from magazines and returning library books that celebrate restriction, weight loss, and dieting
  • Reading the hell out of books like the above that affirm your desire to love yourself no matter your BMI or body fat percentage

I love the affirmation of books like Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls and The Body Is Not An Apology. They gave me moments of “hell yeah” and “damn right” and “I do what I WANT and if you don’t like me then GO AWAY,” all of which are really nice to feel. But what The Fuck It Diet and Health At Every Size have done is make me super, super mad.

I was so mad that I turned off HAES and called my sister to say, while she was getting a pedicure, “DID YOU KNOW THAT BEING FAT ACTUALLY HAS NO BEARING ON DISEASE? YEAH. FAT PEOPLE AREN’T ANY MORE PRONE TO DISEASE JUST BECAUSE THEY ARE FAT. ALSO THE CDC FAKED DATA AND INFLATED OBESITY RELATED DEATHS BY 94% AND I AM SO MAD RIGHT NOW.”

The truth, they say, will set you free.

It turns out that a lifetime of my bloodwork being great, blood pressure being great, cholesterol being great, prediabetic markers being nonexistant, and overall health and fitness level being great was completely overshadowed by my fatness and BMI. So I restricted, I dieted, I did extreme exercise, and I lost a whopping 99 pounds.

I kept it off for years, too. I was the success story, y’all. I did it. I had made the “lifestyle change.”

And then I left my abusive ex and slowly unpacked that my weight loss had been the only thing in my life I’d had any control over, and every part of me that had been striving for some piece of control and self-efficacy was just burned out and exhausted.

I have gained back 90 pounds. I was struggling with this fact.

But thanks to the knowledge contained within books like The Fuck It Diet and Health At Every Size, I know that it’s not because I failed. It’s because diets fail. They do. They’re designed to fail. No one can sustain such restriction forever, and your body is smarter than you. If you put it into a famine state, it will act like you are in a famine. If you avoid your hunger and fullness cues for decades, you will have to re-learn how to eat.

Listening to HAES on my commute to work this morning, it so happened that I pulled into the gas station to fill up my tank about ten or twenty miles before the fuel light came on. I considered this a huge success. My new year’s resolution was to take better care of my car, which included no longer running it to the fuel light (my previous go-to method).

I pulled away from the pump and turned the book back on, and the topic was hunger cues and when it’s the right time to eat. Each person is different, but the author states that if she waited until her stomach was growling, she had passed from “hungry” into “ravenous” and would likely not make very conscious food choices, as her body would be driving her to eat more food at a quick pace to stop the internal panic of running on empty.

Oh.

Shit. 

The way I operated my car was the way I had been operating my body for years. And let’s not talk about how I routinely run my phone battery charge into the ground and I don’t even know the last time I used, let alone charged, my Kindle.

I’ve been doing a lot of work in therapy lately. I started with body image, and then shifted to rest. One of the thoughts I’m targeting is “I’m not allowed to rest.” Since childhood I have always overcommitted and overachieved, in the hopes of getting recognition and affection from my parents and teachers. Now I do it to impress bosses, peers, everyone around me.

But guess what?

When you keep running on empty, whether it’s your gas tank, your schedule, or your stomach, you are not being a very good steward of your car, your time, or your body.

Millennials are the burnout generation, because we’ve been raised to be. You have to hustle. You have to do so many things, do them well, and do them for a long time, in order to make any headway in life. Retirement? You have to start early! College? Better work as much as possible and take as many classes as you can to get through this expensive experience ASAP. And then haul ass to pay off those loans, what were you thinking? Weight loss? You can’t take over the world if you’re fat, fatty – get moving!

In this world of constant movement, constant stress, constantly worrying what the next problem is going to be, it is radical to rest. It is radical to stop harming yourself with an overcommitted schedule. It is radical, even, to eat what you want, when you want it, without forcing yourself to eat what’s healthy even though it makes you gag.

Fill your tank, please.

With laughter, with dance lessons (even though you’re fat!), with a grilled cheese sandwich, with good sex, with a good long nap, with your favorite book, with a hot bubble bath. Please, take care of you, BEFORE your fuel light comes on.


PS. If you haven’t noticed the new home page for Born Again Minimalist, or the fun link that says “Book” in the navigation – I wrote a book! You can preorder it now!

Learn more at bornagainminimalist.com/book

 

To baby or not to baby: The millennial question

Content warning: This post discusses the decision to have (or not have) a biological child. It also touches on childhood emotional abuse and infertility.

baby stuff

Why aren’t millennials having babies?

Trick question — they are having babies! Obviously. Most of my friends are around my age and have kids. However, millennials aren’t having as many children, and they’re having children later in life, which is apparently some sort of crisis. (PS. It’s not).

Teen pregnancy is down (yay comprehensive sex education). People are delaying marriage and children because kids are expensive and we can barely afford healthcare and rent. And some people, despite the pearl clutching from the elder generations, choose not to have kids at all (and doctors won’t sterilize them because “what if you change your mind or your future husband wants kids?”)

This post is the first in an ongoing series about the decisions millennials are making to become parents or to remain child free.

I’m 30 and childless… for now

When I was about five, I happily announced to my dad that I knew where babies came from. I believed that each little girl had a seed inside her body that would grow into a baby as soon as she got married. I exclaimed, “I have a little baby inside me!” and my dad, very concerned with my understanding of human biology, corrected me. Probably so I wouldn’t shout to people in the grocery store that I had a baby inside me. This is fair, I’ve heard stories of kids shouting in the grocery store.

My whole life, I have wanted to become a parent. But I was waiting for the right time.

As my (first) wedding approached, my dad started hinting about grandkids, and I told him we wouldn’t have kids for a couple years at least. We were both broke, had no health insurance, and were patchworking together a livable income from multiple part-time jobs. Dad said, “I give it six months til you’re knocked up.”

Divorced that husband. No kids.

As my (second) wedding approached, my husband and I were already trying. This was it, I was ready. I was timing my ovulation and tracking my periods and knew when I was fertile. We tried for eighteen months. Nada. MAYBE one chemical pregnancy, because I was sure I’d seen a faint line on one of my hundred tests before I chucked it into the garbage can. My dad continued to ask me, “When are you going to start dropping grandbabies?” every time I saw him, and did not take the hint when I said “We’re working on it.” At one point, he told my husband “Get on her!” like I was his prized mare waiting to be bred. It felt disgusting.

During my second marriage, I was doing a lot of processing of my childhood emotional abuse and neglect. I unpacked that part of the reason I had waited until later in my twenties to start a family was because on an emotional level, I was terrified of my kids feeling the same way I did about my childhood. I wanted to make sure I could take care of them the way I wish I had been taken care of. My mother was shaming, cold, and perfectionistic in a way that left me feeling broken and alone, desperate for any love and attention I could get. It was easy to take advantage of me, and I’d do anything to keep a partner happy if it meant they’d love me in return.

As my second marriage came to a close, I remember asking my husband if we could table babymaking while we sorted out our issues and got on more solid ground. And his response was that if I wasn’t sure I wanted to have a baby with him right now, why was he about to finally go in for sperm count testing? Basically, he made a threat that if kids were off the table, however briefly, then him going to the doctor was also off the table. So if I thought I’d ever want kids with him and wanted him to get tested, I had better be up for kids right that second.

Divorced that husband. No kids.

To baby or not to baby, that is the question.

Now that I’m out of an abusive marriage, living a life I actually love, spending time with people who actually build me up and support me instead of tear me down, and no longer believing that a baby is a must-have for a happy life, I am confused. I know I would make a great parent, but I no longer feel that just because I’d be good at it, I’m obligated to do it.

I honestly don’t know if I want to be a mom anymore. I spent so long feeling called to parenthood that the absence of “the call” feels strange.

At a time in my life when I’m finally paying attention to my needs instead of the needs of others, am I equipped to bring a child into the world and balance my needs with theirs?

At a time in my life when the most I have to do for a weekend away is leave some extra kibble for the cat and water the plants before I go, am I ready to give up the freedom of only being responsible for me?

At a time in the world’s history when everything is a shit show, do I feel good about having a child and leaving them an even more damaged planet to live on?

At a time in my life when I’m sorting through what I really, actually, authentically want for myself, is a baby part of that or is a baby part of the social narrative I’ve been hearing since I thought babies were seeds that grew when you got married?

There is so much to unpack. There is so much to think about.

And, despite the fact that at 30 and society tells me my ovaries will soon dry up and leave me barren, there’s actually a lot of time to unpack and make the best right decision for me. Not the only right decision — I feel like I’d rock parenthood as much as I’d rock a childfree life — but the best right decision for me.

 

 

My body image boss fight

diet culture dinos

Three weeks into my new and improved relationship with food, my resolve was tested. It was the ultimate way for the universe to get right in my face and ask, “Are you sure? Are you sure you love your body right now? You’re not still secretly waiting for a miracle to wake up thinner so you can be happy?”

What happened was that my partner told me he was worried I would reach the upper limit of weight he found attractive on my body.

In the face of this statement, I was shocked, but on some level I also knew it was about him and his own internal and as-yet-unpacked issues about bodies and their worth. I told him that if we got to a point where he was not attracted to me, we’d change or end our relationship so that we both had what we needed.

I was clear about my boundaries: I am repairing my relationship with food, and right now that means that I don’t restrict what I eat or when I eat, and I don’t worry about what I weigh.

I told him I wasn’t going to change to meet his expectations of attractiveness. And he told me he didn’t want me to, but that he had wanted to express his issue before it became a Big Deal in his mind. Which is fair. But also, not super fair. Because the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this issue was not about me. This was not about my body.

This was about diet culture.

Men are not immune to body shame and diet culture. My partner has been as focused on his weight and diet and exercise as I was previously. And the more we talked, the more he realized that he was speaking from a place of weight loss as a life priority, a place of delaying happiness until he hit a certain weight. He told me, “I keep saying I want to get under 200 pounds and then I’ll be able to have a really happy life” and I looked him in the eye and said, “You have a really happy life.”

I bring this sage wisdom to the table after several hours and a good night’s sleep thinking this over. I was scared — not of anything to do with my body, but I was scared because I knew if this became A Thing in our relationship, and he arbitrarily decided that a number on a scale made me unsexy to him, that I’d have to make good on my commitment to myself and break up with him.

There is no room in my life for conditional love or attraction.

But then I realized I was getting way ahead of myself, and we weren’t breaking up. I continued sorting through my feelings and realized that I was a little angry at him. My trust in him was a little rattled.

I had finally shed the giant boulder of shame and self-denigration and disgust with myself after thirty years of snowballing it bigger and bigger. This thing was HEAVY. And then, just three weeks after I had thrown it aside with a resounding, “Fuck that,” this person who I trust and who sees my most vulnerable parts and who loves me… picked it back up and tried to give it back to me.

Did I want to take this shame back, make his attraction to me my problem, chase a pants size to make sure I was pretty enough? Or did I want to slam dunk that giant ball of societal bullshit into a dumpster once and for all?

I am pleased to say that I chose to thank him for his vulnerability in expressing something difficult, but that I would not be changing my lifestyle to make him comfortable, and we would deal with the consequences of that.

After some more space and time to think, we came together again to talk it out a little more. And something that I’ve never experienced before happened: He apologized. Honestly, really, truly apologized. He said that it wasn’t about me or my body, and he was sorry for acting like it was.

After he apologized, something inside me shifted again, and I realized that I had put up a wall between us to protect myself from the same old things I had grown to expect from my ex-husband. A fake non-sorry sorry. An “I didn’t mean to hurt you” that really meant “I would like to hurt you but I don’t want to hear about your feelings when I do.” Being in an abusive marriage will mess up your expectations of other humans a little bit. After so many non-apologies that boiled down to “Well I didn’t mean it like that so you shouldn’t be upset,” I felt heart and loved and valued by a partner.

Where we had once committed to lose weight together and be the “annoying weight loss couple,” we now commit to working on breaking up with diet culture.

 

 

No more food restriction

I’ve always chased success and compared myself to others based on restriction. I can lose weight if I don’t eat sugar. I can get more done at home if I don’t watch television. I can be more productive if I don’t use social media.

The best version of me, the one who weighs 150 pounds and works out every day and truly enjoys salad, the one who works nights and weekends to stay ahead at work, the one who cranks out best sellers year after year because she’s a prolific writer… she’s just around the corner if only the me right now would stop baking cookies and going to bed early and talking to her friends online.

Guess what I’ve decided? Screw all that, oh my god.

I’m fine. I am fine right now. I am living my life right now. And it is a really good one. I am happy. I am taking care of myself. I allow myself to rest. I remind myself to wash my hair. And I allow myself to eat anything.

Yes. I eat anything now. Anything I want.

This has revolutionized my relationship with food. I don’t have to restrict. I don’t have to have a sugar ban or never eat bread again. Y’all. I’m allowed to eat. YOU are allowed to eat. I swear. You’re allowed.

Here’s the thing about food: we kinda need it to live. And we have taste buds. And brains. And when stuff hits our taste buds in a nice way, we like it.

And, in complete and utter news to me, this is not a moral failure. Enjoying sweet or salty or fatty or whatever molecule you’ve banned this month in an attempt to lose those “stubborn ten pounds” is not your failure. Because food is not good or bad. Food is food. Food is neutral. You need food so you don’t die. And it’s okay if that food is a cupcake.

I used to think that a minimalist way of eating was a limit on the types of food I eat. Keep it simple, eat whole foods, eat organic foods, eat fresh and raw foods, eat ethically sourced foods, eat food you can make in one pot, eat food you can eat in a bowl, eat the same foods every day, only eat at certain times per day. The more rules I tried, the more I blamed myself for not being able to follow them. But eating is supposed to be easy. Now, I think of a minimalist way of eating as a limit on restriction. As in, no restrictions. I can eat a sandwich or a cookie or ice cream – even right before bed. Gasp!

The truth about food that I can finally see is this: What I eat has absolutely no bearing on my skills, personality, worth, or beauty.

Turning Valentine’s Day Inward: Self-Love Tips

Around Valentine’s Day, we usually send our love outward to friends, family and significant others. While that is valuable love and time spent, it is so important to make a conscious effort to love yourself this Valentine’s Day! Self-love is a gift that you should give yourself every day because often times we way too hard on ourselves.

Loving yourself entails listening to and taking care of your physical, mental and emotional self. In order to access these different pieces, you need to be honest, vulnerable and kind to yourself. Many people are want to embark on the journey of self-love but have trouble knowing where to start. If that’s the case, check out this self-love post and infographic below by ProFlowers. It includes actionable steps and self-love activities to incorporate into your daily life.

This post was created with help from Kiana Mason of Siege Media. 

How to Declutter Before a Move

moving.jpeg

I found minimalism in times of change in my life. When I was moving into my own place after spending six months living with my parents post-divorce, I looked around and realized I hadn’t touched any of my stuff that had been sitting around in boxes in the basement. So I went through them all and decided that I actually didn’t feel like moving all that stuff to a new apartment. It was my fresh start, so I overhauled my relationship with stuff.

That’s how this blog started. I maintained a fairly average number of belongings, but some people in my life thought I was extreme. I pared down to four place settings of dishes, even silverware. I got rid of my iron and ironing board because I didn’t use them and didn’t mind if my clothes didn’t look perfect. I didn’t have a dresser because I didn’t need one – all my clothes fit into my small closet and a small plastic set of drawers.

At one point, I sold my microwave. I never bought a TV for myself. Rather than buy a coffee table, I spraypainted a footlocker trunk and used that. I had a small table with a drawer instead of a desk. The apartment came with a built-in table and bench breakfast nook. And I was honestly thrilled.

Then I moved in with husband number two. And all of his stuff. Despite years of trying to get the house to a point that wasn’t driving me batty, the stuff continued. And, worse than stuff, the shoving. When you have so much stuff that you can’t even use the things you own without that stuff falling on top of you because you disturbed its precarious situation in relation to other stuff, you have found my personal threshold for the amount of stuff I can deal with.

After therapy, medication for my anxiety, and finally recognizing seven years of mental and financial abuse, I got out of there and settled into yet another fresh beginning for myself. And, as usual, I have been using writing to channel a lot of my recovery process and encourage others to move on from situations that no longer serve them (at best) or are downright harming their mental or physical health (at worst).

When I first moved out and into the apartment, I hadn’t had the time to prioritize or declutter things. I was stuffing boxes and moving fast. It wasn’t ideal. So I decluttered as I unpacked, but I held onto things like wedding photos and cards, things my husband had given me in better times, and practical wedding gifts that were still in their packaging.

On Moving On (And Moving)

When I moved for the second time in 2018, choosing to move in with a partner, I minimized and downsized even more. One wall of my living room was lined with things I wasn’t taking with me to my new home. I gave it away and donated whatever my friends didn’t take. I even sold or gave away most of my furniture.

And all this has taught me that moving is one of my personal decluttering easy buttons. When you’re moving, you have to decide to pack, move, unpack, and put away every single thing you own. Even when I’m not about to move, one of my decluttering questions for myself is, “Would I pack this and move it across the country if I had to relocate?” If no, then I usually donate.

So here’s my quick guide to decluttering before a move:

  1. Set A Limit: If you know you have more stuff than you actually want to pack up and move, give yourself a set limit of how many boxes or containers you can fill from each area in your home. Do you want your clothes to fit into two boxes? One large suitcase? An entire U-Haul? Whatever your limit is, set it, pack, and when you get to the limit of that box/suitcase/truck, you’re done packing and it’s time to start a donate pile.
  2. Get A Buddy: Having a designated packing buddy can help move the process along. Often times, another person’s perspective can be really helpful in deciding what to keep. At a minimum, the packing will go faster because you have more help!
  3. Don’t Declutter Everything: Save the sentimental keepsakes for after your move, if you can. Sentimental items will just derail your progress and you’ll end up flipping through old greeting cards from your grandma and reminiscing over clippings from your college paper. If you do not absolutely have to downsize to the bare minimum, my advice is to pack these right away into a box to be sorted through once you’re in your new place.
  4. Have a Free Stuff Party: If you have enough notice, invite your friends and neighbors over to shop your donate pile. The price of admission can be that they’ll take a bag or box to Goodwill on their way home, so you don’t have to do it!
  5. Pack in Categories: Packing is best done in chunks. Pack your linen closet. Pack your bathroom stuff. Pack your clothing. As you do this, you may naturally notice that you have a lot of freaking towels and decide to donate some of them. See number one – set a limit. As you work through your categories, set limits for each area!

If you have any other advice or questions about downsizing before a move, leave a comment! I do my best to respond to all comments on the blog within 48 hours.