Note from Amy- I am SO thrilled to be featuring one of my amazing friends today as we continue our m challenge towards saving money. Our family tries to take on a yearly challenge to dedicate one month towards not spending any money. No spend challenges are something that I find help me to regain focus and discipline towards saving. They also highlight some of my terrible habits that I have towards spending money unnecessarily. I had the incredible honor of following Shanna through social media as she challenged herself to not spend money for one month. I asked if she would let me share her journey because I found her story so incredibly inspiring. Are you giving up anything for Lent? Perhaps this story of transformation will help inspire you and consider the savings a gift to those in need or to help your family save more this year. I hope you enjoy Shanna’s transformation as much as I have!
It’s always been important to me to do what I love. The problem is that goods and services cannot be bought with emotional contentment – you have to use money.
I’ve never been good with money, but I’m not irresponsible either. In fact, I’m quite frugal by most standards, but I don’t earn much money. With my master’s degree in contemporary dance, I’ve danced and taught classes for a small company and taught dance at a community college. I’ve held many other jobs as well; all low paying. For years I’ve pieced together a living by holding more than one job at a time. I currently work full-time for a non-profit, teach yoga twice a week and I have several regular massage clients.
But life is expensive, especially if you don’t live near your loved ones. Clothing and food also cost money. Despite being generally frugal, my deficits accumulated. After ten years of working hard and not earning much, I had gotten into some bad habits and some bad debt. My journey to dig myself out was an eye-opening experience.
In January 2014, I made some pretty lofty personal finance goals for the New Year. First, I wanted a new job that paid at least $10,000 more per year. Second, I wanted pay off my $10,000 in credit card debt (although at the time I didn’t know how I would do it). Third, I would sign up for a fitness challenge at my gym, take first place, and win the fancy $75-a-month executive membership I could not afford.
I would win 2014! I would be confident, fit, and debt free by 2015!
So it began. My husband Matt got me a new interview suit at an after Christmas sale, and then I signed up for the two-month fitness challenge at my gym, planned a strict diet, and revised my resume. I had a determined mind and a hopeful heart.
By mid-February, that vigor and determination became… well… less vigorous. I was becoming increasingly frustrated because I wasn’t finding anything but parallel moves in my job search. The lack of job prospects was crushing my spirit as well as my motivation. I felt like I wasn’t making any progress towards my prosperous new year.
I began looking for some positive reinforcement, so I decided to commit to a 30-day meditation program being offered by my friend and fellow yoga teacher Erin Menut. Every day during those 30 days I would receive an email and an audio recording from Erin. I would read along and listen to the affirmations and reflections.
On day six the affirmation was: “I am here. I have arrived.” Erin talked about being present by acknowledging the present situation rather than ignoring how things are and looking toward brighter times. She told a story about her friend with credit card debt and called it “an extreme example of this.” Her friend was struggling with credit card debt and when Erin asked if she had a good repayment plan in place, she said “I don’t even know how much I owe. I don’t like to look at all of that stuff because I am afraid to find out how bad it is.”
Yikes! Erin and I never talked about my financial issues, but she might as well have been quoting ME! I too had never sat down with all my credit card bills to really look at the interest rates and fees and come up with a consistent plan to pay them down. I had been simply ignoring all that stuff and hoping for a brighter future. Not only did her friend say exactly what I would have, Erin also called her friend, and by proxy called me, an extreme example! In her reflections on her indebted friend, Erin went on to talk about what it means to be brave—the ability to face and conquer our fears so that they no longer control us. I needed to be brave – I had to figure out how I would tackle my financial mess.
On one of the days that followed day six, I was standing in Mountain pose repeating the affirmation “I am here. I have arrived.”, when I suddenly realized that part of the reason I was feeling so helpless was because I never actually asked for help. After that realization, it didn’t take me long to contact a credit counselor. I made an appointment and, to my absolute terror, would face my fears by sitting down and looking at my financial mess. I would go over a budget with my counselor. I would put a repayment plan in place. I would force myself to take control.
The appointment came, and my terror was realized. I remember the gulp of emotion that swelled up in my throat when we added everything up. My credit card debt wasn’t $10,000, it was $13,860.84! Through heaving sobs, I asked the counselor if I could call her back, and hung up with her. How could I let this happen? How did I continue to allow myself to spend? After I wiped the hot angry tears from my face, I felt my mind beginning to clear. Sure, I was angry and embarrassed, but knowing the number actually relieved my fears. It wasn’t a million dollars. It certainly wasn’t zero dollars, but it wasn’t insurmountable. In being known, the number lost its terror.
$13,860.84 was surmountable, if I could only figure out a way to surmount it.
Then I remembered Amy Clark. I read Amy Clark’s blog post about her no-spend challenge a few years prior. I decided to go back and read her post again. She and her husband and two children (one in diapers) budgeted $250 for groceries (including diapers), and declared that there would be no other spending outside of gas and utility bills for an entire month. I did a quick calculation of my prior month of spending. HOLY CRAP! I spent $300 alone at the grocery store! Yep, alone… that doesn’t include what my husband spent—AND we don’t have little mouths to feed or butts to diaper! It took me until April to get my mind set, but on May 1, inspired by Amy, I committed to a no-spend challenge of my own. I would pay my bills as usual and give myself $150.00 to spend on gas and groceries through May 31.
Coincidentally, I actually got to see Amy in April when she was in Salt Lake City attending a crafting conference. We were able to steal a little time together. I told her that I was planning on doing the challenge and she was more than encouraging.
On May 1, the no-spend challenge began. I found myself posting on social media about my progress and experience, which forced me to be accountable.
This photo is from day one. I’m very happy that I live only two miles from work. During my no-spend challenge, I rode my bike to work every day. I spent no money on parking and no money on gas.
Day two, and the no-spend challenge was already inspiring me to learn new skills! Before the challenge, I would have just walked my bike two blocks over to the bike shop and had someone else change my tire for $10. There was no way I was going to cheat on day two! So, with a little help from Matt over the phone, I was able to change my own tire. He was beaming with pride.
During the no-spend challenge I was constantly reminded that there were plenty of ways to entertain myself for free. On day eight, I remembered how to use the public library.
The challenge also inspired me to get creative with spend-free gifting. This is Anna. I like to call her my gluten-free girlfriend. Day sixteen of no spending was also her last day as my co-worker. Just because I couldn’t spend, didn’t mean I couldn’t give her a great parting gift. I made her Super Power flaxseed bread entirely out of ingredients I already had in my pantry. A plain lunch sack and reused ribbon made for quite a lovely gift wrap. (If I do say so myself.)
In case anyone was wondering, I didn’t win first place in that fitness challenge… I came in second, and won a six-month executive membership! I had FREE access to this gym including laundry service during the entire no-spend challenge. What a luxury!
Committing to the no-spend challenge not only opened my eyes to all free resources I had access to, now my perspective was beginning to change. I noticed my thoughts moving away from scarcity towards gratitude.
This photo was taken in City Creek Canyon on day twenty during a seven-mile run. I remember feeling overwhelmed with joy and gratitude for all this beauty and fresh mountain air that I get to enjoy near my own back yard.
“Cleanliness is next to godliness.” My thoughts were also moving away from I can’t afford…, to I can afford…
I can always afford a clean home. This photo was taken on day 21. I spent hours cleaning the apartment and I was pretty proud of the results. Just look at those shiny wood floors!
Remember all that money I was spending at the grocery store before? During the no-spend challenge that wasn’t much of an issue. I stuck to the budget of $37.50 a week on groceries (including wine). I rationed. I clipped coupons. I dug deep in to the pantry to use what I already had. Instead of spending so much money at the grocery store, I was spending quality time with good friends. This photo was taken on day 23 when my sweet friend Amelia made me this beautiful and delicious vegetarian dinner. We ate it on her porch where we spent the rest of the evening sipping wine and dreaming out loud.
Throughout the month, in addition to dinner invites, I was also receiving gifts from many of my friends who found out I was doing the no-spend challenge. Chocolate bars, flowers, garden veggies, and more! Jenita, my best lady from Cleveland wanted to send me a bottle of wine. She knows me well and probably figured that I would run out of that first. However, she found out that sending alcohol to Utah is a felony. (Ridiculous) So instead of wine, she paid for a Gallup strengths finder test and emailed a link. The test was intended to help me understand how to use my strengths at work and find out what kind of environment and team I need to succeed. Jenita is a good listener.
I had a special moment on day 28. Here the photo caption reads “Studio time! In the home stretch and finding more and more gratitude for what I already have. I get to spend time alone in this beautiful space before class on Mondays & Wednesdays. This morning at Avenues Yoga was particularly uplifting – doors open, birds singing, clear mind, not a want in the world.”
This was day 28 and I wasn’t even thinking about what I would be spending my money on after the next three days. On that morning, in that solitude, I was complete. I felt like I could go on forever without a spending fix.
Here it is, the moment of truth. On June 1, I sat down and added it all up. I saved $702.90 during the 31 day no-spend challenge! My husband and I used $400 of that to buy plane tickets to Chicago for our one-year anniversary trip, and I threw the remaining $302.00 at my credit card debt. In September, we stayed on the lake where we got married a year prior and spent quality time with my side of the family. While $400 only covered the cost of one ticket, we didn’t have to use a credit card to cover the rest.
I haven’t used a credit card since before the challenge. I believe the no-spend challenge actually cured me of my debting and credit card use. Now, if I have a big expense coming up, I save my money and plan for the expense instead of automatically pulling out my credit card. That’s huge for me, because I feel more in control of my own finances. In October, I took another 31-day no-spend challenge and used the money I saved to buy plane tickets back to Indiana for Christmas.
It’s been a year now and I only used that interview suit twice. I didn’t get a new job, and I’m certainly not debt-free. I didn’t succeed in meeting those lofty goals, but I think I still won in 2014. Some financial success did come my way. I received a nice bonus a work back in July, and got some new Thai Yoga Massage clients and gigs throughout the year. Most importantly, I learned a few things. I learned that I can’t run from my fears and expect anything to change. I learned that in order to be able to take control, I have to be brave enough to bring my full attention to the present situation. Presently, I am healthy and I am loved. I know that I still have a lot of work to do, but I’m here in the present, and I’m resolving my financial problems.